Thursday, 23 February 2012

Dead Kennedys


   Dead Kennedys are an American punk rock band formed in San Francisco, California in 1978. The band became part of the American hardcore punk movement of the early 1980s. They gained a large underground fanbase in the international punk music scene.

   Their music mixed the more experimental elements of British 1970s punk with the raw energy of the 1980s American hardcore punk scene. Dead Kennedys' songs mixed deliberately extreme lyrics with satire, sarcasm, and irony of social and political issues of the 1980s.

   In the mid-1980s, the band was embroiled in an obscenity trial in the United States over the artwork of their album Frankenchrist (1985), which included the explicit titular subject of H. R. Giger's Penis Landscape. The band was charged with distribution of harmful matter to minors, but the trial ended with a hung jury.

   Dead Kennedys released five studio albums before disbanding in 1986. In 2001, the band reformed without original singer Jello Biafra, who had been in a legal dispute with the other members over royalties.

   The band played three performances in October 2010. At one of the concerts, they debuted their first new song since 1986, "You're Such a Fake".

   Since the dissolution of Dead Kennedys, Biafra has continued to collaborate and record with other artists, including Mojo Nixon, Al Jourgensen of Ministry, and the Melvins, and has become a spoken word performer, covering political topics in particular.

   Dead Kennedys formed in June 1978 in San Francisco, California, when East Bay Ray (Raymond Pepperell) advertised for bandmates in the newspaper The Recycler, after seeing a ska-punk show at Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco. The original band lineup consisted of Jello Biafra (Eric Reed Boucher) on vocals, East Bay Ray on guitar, Klaus Flouride (Geoffrey Lyall) on bass, and Ted (Bruce Slesinger) on drums and percussion. This lineup recorded their first demos. In early to mid July, the band recruited 6025 (Carlos Cadona) as a secondary guitarist. Their first show was on July 19, 1978, at the Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco, California.

   Dead Kennedys played numerous shows at local venues afterwards. Due to the provocative name of the band, they sometimes played under pseudonyms, including "The DK's", "The Sharks", "The Creamsicles" and "The Pink Twinkies". The band's real name generated controversy. Wrote San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen in November 1978, "Just when you think tastelessness has reached its nadir, along comes a punk rock group called The Dead Kennedys, which will play at Mabuhay Gardens on Nov. 22, the 15th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination. Despite mounting protests, the owner of Mabuhay says 'I can't cancel them NOW — there's a contract.' Not, apparently, the kind of contract some people have in mind." However, despite popular belief, the name was not meant to insult the Kennedy family, but to quote Biafra, "to bring attention to the end of the American Dream".

   6025 left the band in March 1979. In June, the band released their first single, "California Über Alles", on the independent label Alternative Tentacles. The band followed with a well received East Coast tour.

   On March 25, 1980, Dead Kennedys were invited to perform at the Bay Area Music Awards in San Francisco to major record label artists to give the event some "New Wave credibility", in the words of the organizers. The day of the performance was spent practicing the song they were asked to play, the underground hit, "California Über Alles". In typically subversive, perverse style, the band became the talking point of the ceremony when after about 15 seconds into the song, Biafra said, "Hold it! We've gotta prove that we're adults now. We're not a punk rock band, we're a new wave band."

   The band, who all wore white shirts with a big, black S painted on the front, pulled black ties from around the backs of their necks to form a dollar sign, then started playing a new song entitled "Pull My Strings", a barbed, satirical attack on the ethics of the mainstream music industry, which contained the lyrics, "Is my cock big enough, is my brain small enough, for you to make me a star?". The song also referenced The Knack's song "My Sharona". "Pull My Strings" was never recorded for a studio release, though the performance at the Bay Area Music Awards, which was the first and only time the song was ever performed, was released on the band's compilation album Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death.

   On August 21, 2008, the band announced an extended break from touring due to the health-related issues of Flouride and Peligro. They stated their plans to collaborate on new projects. The band performed a gig in Santa Rosa, California in June 2009, with Peligro returning to the drum kit.

   In August 2010 the Dead Kennedys announced plans for a short East Coast tour. This lineup assembled for this tour contained East Bay Ray, Peligro, Greer, and bassist Greg Reeves replacing Flouride, who was taking "personal time off" from the band. The tour dates will include performances in Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., Portland, Maine and Hawaii.

   The Dead Kennedys performed what appears to be their first new song in 24 years, "You're Such a Fake", during their October 16, 2010, concert at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington, D.C. In addition, the band played a reworked version of the old song "MTV Get Off the Air", now re-titled "MP3 Get Off the Web", with lyrics that were "changed to be about people downloading MP3s and how much they suck for doing it."

   The original logo was created by Winston Smith. He later contributed artwork for the covers of In God We Trust, Inc., Plastic Surgery Disasters, Frankenchrist, Bedtime for Democracy, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, the back cover of the "Kill the Poor" single and the Alternative Tentacles logo. When asked about the "DK" logo in an interview, Jello Biafra explained, "...I wanted to make sure it was something simple and easy to spray-paint so people would graffiti it all over the place, and then I showed it to Winston Smith. He played around with it, came back with a bunch of designs that had the circle and slightly 3-D looking letters and he had ones with different patterns behind it. I liked the one with bricks, but ultimately I thought simple red behind it was the boldest and the best."

   Dead Kennedys were noted for the harshness of their lyrics, which generally combined biting social satire while expressing a staunchly left-wing view of contemporary America. Unlike other leftist punk bands who use more direct sloganeering, Dead Kennedys' lyrics were often snide. For example, "Holiday in Cambodia" is a multi-layered satire targeting both yuppies and Cambodia's then-current communist Khmer Rouge regime.

Legal conflicts:

   In the late 1990s, former band members discovered problems with the amount of payments which each band member had received from their record label Alternative Tentacles. Former band members claimed that Jello Biafra had conspired to pay lower royalty rates to the band members. Although both sides agreed that the failure to pay these royalties was an accounting mistake, they were upset that Biafra failed to inform the band of the mistake after he and his co-workers discovered it.

   Biafra claims that their lawyers had told him only to correspond through lawyers and not directly with the band, as the conflict over payment had apparently arisen before the accounting mistake was discovered. Both sides claim they attempted to resolve the matter without legal action, but the ultimately complicated legal dispute (involving royalties, publishing rights, and a number of other issues) soon led to the courts, where Biafra was found liable for the royalties after the jury determined that he had committed fraud and malice, and was ordered to pay damages of nearly $200,000, including $20,000 in punitive damages, to the band members.

   Malice was defined for the jury as "conduct which is intended to cause injury or despicable conduct which is carried with a willful and conscious disregard for the rights of others". Biafra's appeal was denied; he had to pay the outstanding royalties and punitive damages, and was forced to hand over the rights to the majority of Dead Kennedys' back catalogue to the Decay Music partnership.

   The jury and judges also noted, in their words, that Biafra “lacked credibility” on the songwriting issue and found from evidence presented by both sides that the songwriting credits were due to the entire band, using a clause in the band's written partnership giving a small share of every Dead Kennedys song royalty directly to the band partnership.

   Biafra had received sole songwriting credit for most Dead Kennedys songs on all released albums for the last 20 years or so without complaints from the band, though a minority of songs had given credit to certain group members or the entire band as a whole, indicating a system designed to reflect the primary composers rather than a regimented system like the Jagger/Richards partnership; today, most Kennedys reissues list the songwriters as "Biafra, Dead Kennedys", indicating Biafra's lyrical contributions—which the band doesn't dispute, or else simply as "Dead Kennedys"). Ray, Flouride and Peligro found new distribution through another label, Manifesto Records.

   This dispute was hotly contested by all concerned who felt passionately for their cause, and the case caused minor waves within punk circles. Biafra claims that guitarist East Bay Ray had long expressed displeasure with Alternative Tentacles and with the amount of money he received from them, thus the original incentive for the discovery of the back payments. It was found out that Alternative Tentacles was paying Dead Kennedys less per CD than all the other bands, including Biafra himself, and not informing his other bandmates, which was the fraud. Biafra accused the band of wanting to license the famous Dead Kennedys song "Holiday in Cambodia" for use in a Levi's jeans commercial, which the band denied.

   Biafra apparently pushed this issue in court, although there was no hard evidence and the jurors were apparently unconcerned with corporate use of independently produced political music. Biafra would later complain that the jury was not sympathetic toward underground music and punk culture. The song never appeared in a Levi's commercial, although in interviews Biafra described the situation surrounding the commercial in detail and was able to give specifics about the advertisement, including the name of the advertising agency that had created the commercial's script.

   Biafra's former bandmates maintain that they sued because of Jello Biafra's deliberate withholding of money, though when pressed they have acknowledged that the payment was an accounting mistake, but insist that Biafra was wrong in failing to inform the band directly. Details about this issue remain scarce. The band also maintains that the Levi's story was completely fictitious and invented by Biafra to discredit them. Ultimately, these issues have led to a souring of relationships with the erstwhile bandmates, who still have not resolved their personal differences as of 2008.


Current members:
  • East Bay Ray – guitar (1978–1986, 2001–present)
  • Klaus Flouride – bass (1978–1986, 2001–2010, 2011–present)
  • D. H. Peligro – drums (1981–1986, 2001–2008, 2009–present)
  • Ron "Skip" Greer – vocals (2008–present)
Former members:
  • Jello Biafra – vocals (1978–1986)
  • 6025 – rhythm guitar (1978–1979)
  • Ted – drums (1978–1981)
  • Brandon Cruz – vocals (2001–2003)
  • Jeff Penalty – vocals (2003–2008)
  • Dave Scheff – drums (2008)
  • Greg Reeves – bass (2010–2011)


   Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables is the debut album by the American hardcore punk band Dead Kennedys. It was released in September 1980 through Faulty Products in the United States (later by the DK's own Alternative Tentacles label) and through Cherry Red Records in the United Kingdom. It has been certified by BPI gold. The best selling and generally the most critically acclaimed album by the Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables has become a major staple of American punk.

   Lead vocalist Jello Biafra's strong political statements on songs such as "California Über Alles" and "When Ya Get Drafted", launched the Dead Kennedys into the political arena.

   Musically, Fresh Fruit laid the blueprint for future Kennedy's releases: loud, noisy, fast, but with a sense of dynamics and musical individualism. The surf and rockabilly-inspired riffs owe something to the Ramones' most influential recordings, drawing from early American AM pop and rehashing it in the immediate, aggressive context of punk rock. The lyrics lend a significant bite to the breakthrough of the already strident musical assault. On the original vinyl version Side A was tracks 1-7 and Side B was tracks 8-14. The songs on Fresh Fruit were recorded live with minimal overdubs limited to vocals and the addition of rhythm guitar in places.

   The photo on the front cover, showing several police cars on fire, was taken during the "White Night Riots" of 21 May 1979, that resulted from the light sentence given to former San Francisco City Supervisor Dan White for the murder of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.


   In God We Trust, Inc. is a hardcore punk EP by the Dead Kennedys; it is now reissued with the Plastic Surgery Disasters album. The thrashing, lightning-fast beats and shouted (often jumbled) vocals, on the first six tracks, resembles Washington D.C.'s punk bands of the time; more than on any other Dead Kennedys release, the music here is conventionally "hardcore." The album spends the first two tracks attacking organized religion before going on to attack such diverse topics as Neo Nazis, President Ronald Reagan, the pesticide Kepone, and the kind of governmental indifference that vastly worsened the effects of catastrophes like the Minamata disease. "We've Got a Bigger Problem Now" is a lounge jazz remake of "California Über Alles" from the previous album with Ronald Reagan instated in place of Jerry Brown. The EP also includes a cover of the theme song from the 1960s show, Rawhide. On the original vinyl version, Side A was tracks 1-5 and Side B was tracks 6-8. On the original cassette version, Side A contained all 8 songs, with Side B being left intentionally blank. Printed on Side B was the explanation, "Home taping is killing record industry profits! We left this side blank so you can help."

   During 1980 and 1981 the American punk scene saw an influx of 7" EPs from Washington D.C.'s Dischord Records from bands like Minor Threat and Teen Idles. These little high-tempo records packed in 7 to 10 songs each and helped define the 1980s genre of hardcore punk. In wanting to pay tribute to this faster form of punk rock, and to showcase the talents of their new drummer D.H. Peligro, the Dead Kennedys put together some new material and amped up a few songs that had only been heard on their 1978 demo and in early live shows. These songs became the basis for In God We Trust, Inc. Keeping with the rough-hewn style of D.C. hardcore, bits of tape leads announcing the take number and including drumstick clicks and count-offs precede many of the record's songs.


   Plastic Surgery Disasters is the second album released by the Dead Kennedys. It has been reissued with the EP In God We Trust, Inc., which are the last eight tracks on the CD. The cover photo is "Hands" by photographer Michael Wells. The same photo was used by other San Francisco based punk band Society Dog for their EP .....Off of the Leash, released in 1981. The inside cover art features Winston Smith's collages.

   Musically, many different elements bubble to the surface on Plastic Surgery Disasters, including surf-rock, oddly psychedelic guitar textures, and traditional film music, including sections and guitar fills that resemble Ennio Morricone spaghetti western scores. These elements are not always immediately apparent under the high-speed thrash of music, but they are an indication of the Kennedys' musical uniqueness. The DKs would further these elements, to some extent, on their next release, 1985's Frankenchrist.

   On the 2001 Manifesto release of the album, the beginning of "Government Flu" is a separate track entitled "Advice from Christmas Past". There is also a typing error on the Manifesto CDs so that "Bleed for Me" is entitled "Bleed for". On the original vinyl version, Side A was tracks 1-8 and Side B was tracks 9-14. Some vinyl versions have Side One as tracks 1-9 and Side Two as tracks 10-14.


   Frankenchrist is the third album released by the American hardcore punk band Dead Kennedys in 1985 on Alternative Tentacles.

   The album was a subject of controversy because of a poster inserted in the original record sleeve. The poster, H. R. Giger's Landscape #XX, or Penis Landscape, was a painting depicting rows of penises and vulvas. The band was brought to trial for distributing harmful matter to minors, and though the case did not result in a conviction, Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles was driven almost to bankruptcy. Only through the support of fans was the label able to stay alive. Biafra gained attention as a champion of free speech, and was subsequently one of the most active opponents of the Parents Music Resource Center. The cover itself depicts a Shriners parade.

   The album is an example of the progressive, psychedelic side of the Kennedys' musical personality. The spaghetti western soundtrack influence is also noticeable in the horn parts and in East Bay Ray's atmospheric guitar work. Frankenchrist is noted for its relative lack of traditionally 'hardcore' material. Most of the songs are slower and longer than the majority of other Dead Kennedys songs. "M.T.V. − Get off the Air" is notable for its pointed slam of the music establishment and "Stars and Stripes of Corruption" for its exegesis of Biafra's political philosophies.


   Bedtime for Democracy is the fourth album released by Dead Kennedys. Songs on this album cover such common punk subjects as conformity, Reaganomics, the military, and even criticizing aspects of their own punk movement. The title of the album is a reference to the 1951 comedy film, Bedtime for Bonzo starring Ronald Reagan. There is a typing error on the Manifesto CDs so that the time length for Gone with My Wind is printed ":43" when it should read "1:43". On the original vinyl version, Side A was tracks 1-11 and Side B was tracks 12-21. It also came with a mock periodical in the form of a thin newspaper made up of collage art, called "Fuck Facts."

   The East Bay punk band Isocracy parodied the name in their 1988 EP, Bedtime for Isocracy. The cover art depicted the band together in a bed, accompanied by Jello Biafra.

And now fellow rockers enjoy some hardcore punk:

No comments:

Post a Comment