This was a big weekend for punk music in NYC. Against Me (see previous post) and Silversun pickups (post coming soon) playing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; The Queers playing on a Manhattan party boat (missed that one) and the Afro-Punk Festival in Brooklyn.
The Afro-Punk Festival has come a long way from the very first one, which I attended a couple years back that was a nice but humble affair that featured a film screening of the Afro-Punk documentary followed by a couple of performances by a one or two punk bands for maybe a couple hundred or so folks.
Props to the organizers of this event, James Spooner and Matthew Morgan, because the event has really come a long way in a short period of time. This year, it was a 3 day almost mini warped tour type of affair in a pretty big park in Brooklyn, complete with exhibitors, skateboard and BMX bike ramps and a hell of a lineup of Afro-Punk bands including the legendary “Bad Brains”.
For the second time this week, I took the train over to Brooklyn, and thanks to recent MTA service cuts due to irresponsible spending over the past few years (another post at another time on DDMD) it took me almost an hour to simply cross under the East River. So I arrived pretty late with only about an hour or so of the festival left before it closed for the day. I paid the $20 cover anyway because I really wanted to see punk legends “Bad Brains”.
To my pleasant surprise, just before BB took the stage, two really, really young Afro-Punk kids were jamming their brains out (no pun intended) and the crowd, like I, was digging it. The guitar/vocalist was off the hook and the drummer looked like he maybe just began 1st grade.
I taped some video of one of their performances and I’ll try to post some later this week. I did get a little uncomfortable when some dude behind me yelled out “damn you nig****s sure can play” and I’m thinking “Oh God, this is gonna be a bad scene”… but I saw it was a black dude who yelled it out and while that may or may not have made it “ok”, I still don’t think the very mixed crowd was very cool with it.
I didn’t catch the name of the young punk band, so if anyone knows, please pipe up, cause these dudes were good and I’d love to get their CD (I guess they started putting out CDs when they were like 2 or 3?).
By the time the Brains hit the stage you could feel the excitement in the air. The sun had just gone down and when these legends of punks came out my arm hair was on end. I started out on the front row, right next to the blaring speaker, so the sound from the first video of their opening is distorted, but it is at the tail end of this post if you want to peep it.
Later, fearing permanent hearing loss as I once again forgot my earplugs, I stepped back to see the show and got some good audio (though not as good video) of their well known song “Banned in DC” (video forthcoming).
I’m kicking myself for not getting my act together ahead of time and trying to obtain a press pass so I could have shoot some really good video and photos for you guys.
But I’m thankful I was able to hit this festival again. It reminds me a lot of what we are doing with the documentary “Punktology” showing how punk is so beyond what stereotypes mainstream media forces on the genre. It has spread to become a worldwide phenomena in places you might not expect like Cuba or our latest trip, Honduras or in this case, representing another deep part of African American history usually ignored.
I’m always glad to see when a group of people struggle to break the chains of their own stereotypes rather than feed into them and follow the masses and what the media says they “should be”.
I remember when the show I created and used to Executive Producer, American Latino TV & LatiNation, featured a segment on the Latino contribution to hip hop. I received a really angry email from an African American viewer in Los Angeles who was offended and very upset that we had dare showcase a segment that outlined American Latinos contribution to Hip Hop. He felt we were trying to water down the African American contribution by producing such a segment and he likened it to what the “white man” did when he stole rock and roll.
These days, I don’t believe any race or ethnicity can take full responsibility for creating 100% any popular music genre or any large scale art form for that matter. For one thing, we’re all mixed up whether we know it or not. We are each other.
Also, knowing there is nothing original under the sun, once something hits a “tipping point” then by definition, usually everything is almost always a derivative work of several people’s work and usually is a mixture of several influences. This is not to say there is no originality in art, there most certainly is. The combination of influences, the unique twist that someone gives their art can certainly be original. And in the jungles of the amazon or the remote areas of Africa, I’m sure there are tribes with truly unique art forms we’re not even aware of.
This dude and I exchanged a couple of emails as I tried to explain that we didn’t say that Latinos invented hip hop but they they contributed and to deny that was silly. I also tried to school the guy on Bad Brains, stating a parallel to how African Americans had contributed to punk. He wasn’t hearing it.
At the Afro-Punk Festival, these were true punks, to the core. Most of the attendees were black but many others, like myself not. I love going to punk shows in NYC because the true diversity of punk music, that we’re trying to show in Punktology is on full display .
Black punks, Brown punks, Asian punks, Latin, White and all mixed up. For a genre that was unfortunately tainted with the broad mainstream media brush of simple anarchy tinged by racist Nazis, I believe punk music to be the most authentically diverse and tolerant music genre around. Race, gender and sexual preference matter little. Love of music and philosophy much.
And unlike the poser white, suburban youth who ape hip hop and rap, most everyone in punk music is authentic and loves it and not doing it because it’s the “in” thing to do, cause lets face it, it’s not the “in” thing to do.
I think you have to love it, cause there is little to gain from pretending to like punk music. It’s not very glamorous, the venues are usually small and hard to get to, the music is loud, sometimes distorted and often even out of tune; as a dude I can tell you, I don’t often go for the chicks (the crowd is most often 70% or 80% male). And that is what I like about punk. I don’t really care what I look like when I go to a show. All the sexual politics that surround most social gatherings are gone. Love of the music is what brings everyone out.
The Afro-Punk Festival shines a much needed spotlight on a too often ignored subculture of a subculture, African Americans (or people of African descent) in punk music. Bad Brains are the historical poster child and probably most influential artists of this subculture but they are certainly not the only ones and the festival demonstrates that.
BB does do a great job representing their role in the scene and they still kick ass after all these years. In addition to their hard core songs which whipped the crowd into a frenzy, they also played a couple of good, mellow reggae tunes reminding the crowd the link between the two genres. I hope I can get to Jamaica and discover more of that link for the documentary soon.
In the meantime, this rambling bit of a post was really me thinking out loud about ethnicity and punk music. I think all sub genres of punk, be they hardcore, punkabilly, afro punk.. should be celebrated and at the least respected. Bad Brains is not only a great Afro-Punk band, the greatest ever I’d say but they are much more than that. They are a great punk band period, as evidenced by their hard core, diverse and worldwide following. I’m glad I was able to witness these legends live.
I’d love your comments as well. I don’t propose to have all the answers and my thoughts are constantly evolving to changing information.
In the meantime, enjoy this Bad Brains video and I’ll try to get their Banned in DC video up soon. And as always more photos from the festival and concert can be viewed at our Flikr page. Enjoy!