It’s a novel approach but then Fokofpolisiekar (FPK) has always been just that, ever since a bunch of mates were - as the legend has it - lying about drunk, stoned or both in Bellville and a police van drove by with its lights and sirens on.
They made waves wherever they went.
The conservative Afrikaans establishment was horrified by the profanities on stage as much as the unashamed hedonism.
There were fights, stage invasions at music festivals and always controversies, like the time bassist Wynand Myburgh wrote ‘fok god ([email protected]#$ God) on Afrikaans pop singer Bobby van Jaarsveld’s wallet in the early hours of the morning after an epic session.
In typical FPK style, as the controversy totally dominated the Afrikaans media for weeks, the band eventually appealed - typically tongue in cheek - for the readers to forgive them, as Jesus would have.
None of it ever affected their popularity.
Instead the band, which went into recording hiatus almost a decade ago, continued to tour every year, to increasingly sold out venues, releasing a couple of EPs, getting a documentary made and a book written about them.
They even got into the craft beer market in 2013 with four different beers named after some of their most iconic songs.
The brewer went bust, but Die Bende (the gang) were undeterred, doing a lot of practical research in bars and elsewhere to establish that the market in South Africa was lager not Weiss Beer, IPA and ales, either amber or red.
They met with Devil’s Peak Brewery and so Fokof lager was born, first on tap and now rolling out for the rest of the month in pint bottles in independent bottle stores across the country.
The band has always been astute, ahead of the curve technologically and in terms of marketing - the beer was Venter’s idea as far back as 2003.
They’ve never had a record label either, but produced their two previous albums and EPs as joint ventures with producers.
For Selfmedikasie they turned to crowd funding, smashing all South African records in the process.
“We knew the support was out there,” explains Myburgh, “we were playing to sold out crowds, and we’d come to the end of recycling our material, we had to record a new album.
“The crowdfunding gave us no reason not to make it.”
It also gave them total creative control over the album, beholden to no one. The runaway success, fans smashed the R500 000 target in nine days and eventually more than doubled it, eventually became a news story in and of itself - and a handy marketing tool.
It was a salient lesson too, most of the fans were buying the merchandise FPK had put on offer from limited edition high tops to leather jackets and sun glasses, not actually the music.
As song writer and guitarist Hunter Kennedy explains, “you have to adapt your profile, your live shows, it’s not the music sales anymore.”
Streaming, and especially digital piracy, has totally disrupted the traditional recording business model, forcing musicians, if they want to make a living from their music, to diversify.
As such FPK remains the one of the most successful bands around, having spawned Van Coke Kartel, AKING and Die Hewels Fantasties, and now lead singer Francois van Coke’s own solo career, with the band mates rejoining every year for an FPK reunion to go on the concert circuit locally for their fans.
But the band also allows them to give vent to the socio-political commentary that they became famous for, that probably wouldn’t sit too well with their other musical projects, admits Kennedy.
“When the band began,” says Kennedy, “we’d always hoped it would be the springboard for other things.” He still seems a bit mystified by it’s success.
“You know with our name, it was like trying to run the 100m after we’d shot ourselves in the foot.”
Maybe it’s been the commitment of everyone involved in the project, for the journey, not the rewards.
“We’re totally invested in it,” says Myburgh, “that’s why we never complained in the beginning when we were poor, sleeping on the floor on tour, not bitching when the van broke down in the middle of nowhere.” FPK was at the forefront of other innovations too, like the determination to make music videos to accompany their singles.
“We made a video of Hemel op die Platteland,” remembers Van Coke, “that was probably only flighted twice on TV and then when DSTV launched MK, their music channel, they were looking for material and it and all the rest of the stuff we had done was broadcast almost continuously for about the first fortnight.”
“That’s always been the Fokof vibe,” says Myburgh, “we’ve done things not to make money or for any real purpose except that it felt right at the time, that it was creative.”
Some of the rest was just as organic, like the infamous fighting in Nelspruit and other places.
“Look, in truth, that was probably down to our behaviour in the bar that caused that, more than people being offended by what we were singing,” Van Coke grins.
“Jissis, maar ons het gelyk soos k*k (Jesus, we looked like shit in those days),” laughs Kennedy.
“We were poor, living from hand to mouth, dressed like vagrants. I would have [email protected]#ked us up, myself,” remembers Van Coke.
Now the band is in its album launch period, having debuted Selfmedikasie last weekend at Cape Town’s Rocking the Daisies, shows in Bloemfontein and Pretoria this week and Johannesburg tonight.
They still love touring, but these days - most of them married with children - there’s a lot more to go home too.
“When I was 23 and on the road it was epic,” remembers Van Coke, “I had no reason to go home, which was only a room with a mattress on the floor and some dog eared porn magazines.”
His band mates hoot delightedly.
“Now you carry your porn on your phone!” cackles Venter.
Van Coke grins.
Touring is better though than the legendary days captured in the band’s documentary Forgive them for they know what they do “we get to sleep in proper beds and the Kombi doesn’t break down,” Van Coke says.
Once legendary for his own excesses on stage, including throwing up from too much liquor before - and during - shows, he’s toned it right down. And the rest of them?
Kennedy smiles, “some still do, some don’t but the fans are convinced we get on stage hammered every night and play.”
The new album will delight fans. The biting socio-political commentary is there, the same angst that beset FPK as young Afrikaners in Bellville, wanting to strike out against the sins of their fathers who had been part of the apartheid system, the discordant punk meets grunge, underscored by Venter’s Duracell bunny drumming and Johnny de Ridder’s guitar.
But there are also more contemplative ballads and gentler melodies befitting a market that’s no longer teenage rebels without a clue, but rather a displaced white tribe of Africa struggling with bonds, hire purchase and parenting.
It’s offset by the band’s customary self-deprecation.
On the beer packaging there’s an exhortation to rebel against the system, scream at the world, stick up your middle finger, segueing into “or you know, this is just a lager, buddy. Fukn have a few.”
Much has changed since 2003 when the first EP As Jy Met Vuur Speel Sal Jy Brand (If you play with fire, you’ll burn) hit the South African market - and yet a lot is still the same.
The name Fokofpolisiekar, for one, admits Van Coke, was ‘completely unacceptable’, now there’s a lager brand that states quite simply ‘Fokof’.
The boys from Bellville set out to have a fun, change the stereotypes of how the rest of the country saw Afrikaners, to change the narrative.
“We never fitted in,” says Myburgh, “we tried to move out of Bellville - even though most of us moved back there.
“The funny thing though was we never realised how many other people felt exactly the same thing as we did. It’s been the coolest thing,” muses Kennedy, “fans come up to us at the shows and say we’ve inspired them to think, to live their lives and not accept what they were told to.
“We started this band because we thought there was nothing out there for us to relate to (in our society). Now it feels like we’re back there again.”