What do franchising and punk have in common? Quite a lot, discovers Calum Harvie, as he meets the Belfast Chapter of The Verboden Boys.

There aren’t too many bands quite like The Verboden Boys. Actually, that’s not true: there are in fact several bands called The Verboden Boys peppered around the globe. But we’re not talking rival outfits here – these are essentially different iterations of the same band, operating independently on a franchise, or chapter, basis. Each chapter works from the same list of song-titles, but interpret the meaning and content independently, as they see fit.

“Back in 2015, Dennis [from Antwerp’s Ultra Eczema label] sent out a public invitation via social media to set up your own chapter,” says Johnny Titrot of The Verboden Boys Belfast Chapter. “There was no information beyond ‘TVB is a repetitive punk band with short songs’. No recordings, no visible aesthetic to get a handle on, no band history, nothing. You just had to send him an emial if you were interested in joining, which I did. The email I got back was almost like a manifesto – it pretty much assumed you were now ‘in the band’.” As set-ups go, The Verboden Boys is certainly unusual, but at the same time it arguably embodies what it means to be punk. “There were some rules, but they were quickly countered by a statement that being in a punk band with rules is shit, so feel free to break them,” Johnny says. “The openness of the whole idea really appealed to me – things like age, sex, gender, ability, race, culture, background and so on were irrelevant. Just raise your hand and you’re in, if you want to be. For us, punk has always been more about doing your own thing and doing it for yourself. So punk, as cliched as it might sound, meant freedom.”

Each chapter of The Verboden Boys works from the same list of song titles, although there is no restriction as to their interpretation. Those you hear on the collected demos of the Belfast Chapter, for example, are utterly distinct from those recorded by, or example, the Montreal Chapter: “I thought the song titles were incredible,” Johnny says. “Perfectly inline with the concept. Really open-ended, almost classic sloganeering punk phrases. I mean, ‘Call The Police’ – how can you not want to write that song? How does it not almost write itself as soon as you read those words in that context?” One might imagine that working from a pre-determined list of song titles would be a detriment to the creative process but, says Johnny, the Belfast Chapter have found the contrary to be the case. “Once you read the song titles, you start imagining how they might sound – how the Mother Chapter does them, how people on the other side of the world you’ll probably never hear are going to do them, how you’re going to do them yourself. It was like a throwback to being a kid and reading reviews of records you’d probably never hear and having to imagine what they actually sounded like – except now, after imagining it, you go and make it. Fuck knows why I never thought of doing that as a teenager, but better late than never!”

Of the Belfast Chapter itself, Johnny adds: “As well as stuff like Sore Throat and Old Lady Drivers, we’re all huge fans of those weird DIY post-punk 7″s where there’s an A-side that sounds like nothing else you’ve heard up to that point, followed by a B-side that bears no resemblance to what you just listened to. So, we didn’t set out to try and sound like anything in particular, especially something people would immediately recognise as traditionally ‘punk’. We just stuck to the ‘free to experiment’ approach from the start. But I’d say that if you like the approach of bands like Phantomsmasher, OLD, Harry Pussy, Smegma, Today Is The Day, and so on, there’s a high chance you’d like The Verboden Boys.”

Band From Reality: The Complete Demos by The Verboden Boys (Belfast Chapter) is out now on Doggy Bag Records |

This feature was intended for publication in ZT issue 084, but due to lack of space it’s landed here for you to enjoy online instead. Subscriptions and single copies available here:

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