Music Festivals

Minnesota's Poliça Address Police Brutality With "Wedding"

In 2016 the Minneapolis-based rock band Poliça released its latest album United Crushers. Recorded in real time with musicians and songwriters working together more closely than on the group's previous records, United Crushers has a more organic feel. The songwriting also suggests a willingness to take greater risks both sonically and with the subject matter that vocalist Channy Leaneagh addresses.

United Crushers has received mixed reviews from fans and critics, and beat-maker Ryan Olson, who is making a rare live appearance with the band in Denver for the UMS, admits that the album is perhaps less accessible than the band's previous offerings. Criticized by some for being entirely too self-obsessed and uncomfortably open about personal affairs, Leaneagh has offered a different perspective this time, suggesting she was looking to the world around her for inspiration. What was perhaps lost in translation for some listeners was that the world around us in the years 2014, 2015 and especially 2016 has not been exactly comforting or cheerful, or conducive to the kinds of pop songs expected from the band.

But the subject of police brutality was very much on the minds of the members of Poliça, particularly following the July 7, 2016, shooting of Philando Castile by a police officer in the suburban Minneapolis town of Falcon Heights.

“We're in the middle of a race war, or at least a military takeover, where our city is filled with racist cops, as are most cities these days,” says Olson. “Or have been for a while, I guess. Not really a brand-new thing.”

That climate of deep concern over the exposure of police brutality nationwide had emerged perhaps most dramatically following police officer Darren Wilson's fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. The ensuing riots were the subject of national news and brought widespread attention to the ongoing tension between African-American communities and law enforcement, not just in Ferguson, but nationwide.

With Poliça's song "Wedding," the group addresses such police brutality. “It's about the marriage of the cops and the drug war, really,” says Olson.

The music video for “Wedding” is a catalog of brutal police action on the national and international level interspersed with imagery that could have come out of Sesame Street or Wonder Showzen. That the catchy-yet-moody song is so accessible heightens the impact of the contrasting visuals. It also speaks to an unfortunate reality of life for young people growing up in an era where the world seems headed toward social, political, economic and ecological disaster. In the current climate, a pop band could choose simply to write uplifting songs — like Nero playing a fiddle while Rome burns — but Olson offers a different perspective.

“That we have to teach kids how to survive interactions with police is totally fucking insane,” Olson says. “[The song and video] was a commentary on how that's a lesson you have to teach kids, that a lot of [cops] aren't the good guys. Any of them that have defended the actions that have happened are not the good guys."

"It totally changes the perspective of when I was raised, it was much more that career cops were good guys, buddies, theoretically," he adds. "Now no one thinks that at all. It takes a suspension of disbelief that cops are not going to kill you. It's not a brand-new thing at all, but it's getting crazy out of hand with militarization of the police force and the blue brotherhood problem. It feels like a year from being a fully occupied nation right now. Cops getting off and the NRA getting stronger? It's insane shit.”

Poliça plays Sunday, July 31, 8:30 p.m., as part of the 2016 Underground Music Showcase, at the Goodwill Main Stage.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.