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What is Punk? Insights from the Dead Kennedys and Jello Biafra

What is Punk?

An Interview with The Dead Kennedys in 1983:

What does punk sound like?

The Dead Kennedys from 1981:

Is punk dead? Should it die? Can it die?

Jello Biafra in 2013:

There is something very self-righteous about punk at times. I think Biafra tries to balance that with a certain amount of irony. I am not sure if he succeeds. Few do.

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  1. Music has played a role in popular protest for centuries, from the Cutty Wren, in protest at the Poll Tax of 1381, to Billy Bragg’s 1980’s Red Wedge, or the Levellers, via songs in protest against industrial machinery, agriculturalist price fixing, Chartism, the Great War. America, too, has its protest song traditions, and Biafra’s contributions to the latest round of anti-capitalist agitation are more fun than most.

    During the Seattle protests, Biafra managed to form an ad hoc band. Consisting of, in addition to Biafra himself, Krist Novoselic of grunge sensation Nirvana, Kim Thayil of lesser known but damn fine grunge outfit Soundgarden, and Gina Mainwal of Sweet 75 (who I’d never heard of), this band formed under the moniker “The No WTO Combo”. Biafra re-worded a couple of old DK numbers (Let’s Lynch the Landlord, and Full Metal Jack-off), and wrote two new songs (Electronic Plantation, and New Feudalism). Getting the venue they had set an eye to in the chaos proved too much, so they relocated an acoustic set. In the end they got to perform at their intended venue, and recorded this set. As the liner says, “Produced by Necessity, Recorded Live surrounded by cops and tear gas by Mark Cavener at the Showbox Theatre.”

    This has been preserved for posterity by Alternative Tentacles in a mini-album release, “Live from the Battle of Seattle” (Virus 250). Included on the EP is also a Biafra speech from the night, Battle in Seattle, that details some of the history of NAFTA, GATT & the WTO alongside Biafra’s reasons for opposing them. The insert includes essays on the WTO from the Institute for Consumer Responsibility, and on the spot reports from Novoselic and Biafra, as well as the lyrics to the songs.

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