19 Mar 2016

Bonaparte returns to Cuba Street

From RNZ Music, 12:30 pm on 19 March 2016

Bonaparte is the moniker of Berlin-based electro-punk musician Tobias Jundt, who's known for bringing animal costumes and a sense of carnival to his high energy stage show.

Bonaparte at the Mighty Mighty

Bonaparte at the Mighty Mighty Photo: Kirsten Johnstone

Tobias – originally from Switzerland, conceived Bonaparte while travelling through Europe in a 1960s rally car with a guitar and a desire to dance.

He settled in Berlin for a while: “I rented a 350 square metre place for 800 Euro a month … it was so cheap. But heating – that was a problem. You had to make the decision some days – do I light the stove? Or do I go to the club and dance? And most times the club won.”

Bonaparte outside Mighty Mighty

Bonaparte outside Mighty Mighty Photo: Kirsten Johnstone

The minimal techno of Berlin may seem an unlikely inspiration for punk-pop songs, but the beats were accompanied in Tobias’s head by the seeds of songs.

Escaping Berlin’s cold winter, he made his way around the world to New Zealand in early 2006, to attend Fat Freddy’s Drop producer Mu’s wedding.

The two had become friends in Berlin: "[Fat Freddy's Drop] are really big in Europe. I think many New Zealanders don't even realise that they're actually huge.

"They've definitely been ... part of why it's fun to come back [to New Zealand] because I know people here and their families and they're also known for music and party and family and food. And that's kind of the things that define me."

While in Wellington Tobias found some black face-paint and slapped it around one eye, put on a furry animal hat and a Napoleonic era jacket and the Bonaparte experience was complete.

He went on to write most of his first album Too Much in New Zealand: "The sunshine and the freedom elements in the album – I do think I felt more of that here."

Ten years later and Tobias is back for another wedding. He’s brought the family this time – his daughters are two and six. They’ve spent six weeks travelling, writing, performing, and recording some sessions with the Fat Freddy’s horn section.

We're strolling along Cuba Street, reminiscing about Wellington's legendary venue Mighty Mighty, which – back in 2006, inspired the album's first song, 'Do You Want To Party'.

The song immortalises what is a very special place in the hearts of some Wellingtonians: "Do you want to party with the Bonaparty at the Mighty Mighty in Wellington? / Do you wanna party with the Bonaparty in the room at the top of the stairs?"

"Ten years ago was just a magic time and we're sitting here on Cuba Street, which was a very important place because Mighty Mighty's up there. It's quite heavy how many people say, 'Oh now that Mighty Mighty is gone...', you know it's just a little place up there ... through the door, up the stairs.

"These spaces that pop up and they create this energy, it becomes ... a scene. It's the people who do it, the energy that it gives you, it's the feeling of 'something important is happening here and now', and it gives you an extra boost of energy and you do stuff that you might not do otherwise."

"I'm happy that the Mighty Mighty is on the first song of the first record ... I love that it's there forever."

"Sometimes is good when things don't last forever because they can live on in our memory and become this legendary place. If you last too long you mess it up sooner or later."

These days Tobias has lost the face-paint – it eventually gave him an eye infection. He’s stripped the costumes right back, and his music, while still energetic, is taking a slightly gentler acoustic.

He’s been collecting supplies for refugees in Berlin, and the weird political climate of Europe is influencing his songs.

Tobias is toying with the idea of moving here and opening a place in the vacuum that Mighty Mighty left. He groans at my predictable suggestion of a name – Bonaparte’s Retreat.