Forget the Sex Pistols, forget the Clash, The Dead Kennedys were unquestionably the best punk band ever. As offensive and aggressive as Eminem, the pistols and Amen put together and as intelligent, purposeful and passionate as Public Enemy, Godspeed.. and Radiohead.
This archive live album was recorded 15 years ago, but sounds more relevant than ever before. Replace ‘Reagan’ with ‘Bush’ in the ‘we’ve got a bigger problem now’ remix of California Uber Alles and it could have been written yesterday. Ageing rockstars are still ‘bragging that they know how the niggers feel cold and the slum’s got so much soul’ (Holiday in Cambodia). The police still kick the shit out of anyone they feel like (Police Truck, Riot). The ozone layer’s still dissolving and the seas’ are full of crap (Moon Over Marin). Beer-swilling jocks are still beating on fags with their baseball bats (Goons of Hazzard, Too Drunk to Fuck). Government is still hopelessly corrupt on both sides of the Atlantic (I am the Owl). Record Company scum are still forcing safe, sanitised versions of angst and rebellion to the world’s youth (MTV Get off the Air!). The gap between rich and poor continues to grow (This Could Be Anywhere) and, for the majority of earth’s citizens, life still sucks (Kill the Poor, Hellnation).
Before you get the idea that this is just a politics text book though, I’d better stress that it’s also a furious punk assault of the highest order. Musically, every American punk band (and especially those in the California scene) owe a huge debt to the Kennedys. They practically invented the unbeatable combination of subverted pop tunes, kick-ass hardcore, clever wordplay and sing-along choruses that can be heard subsequently in everything from Black Flag to The Offspring.
And they’re pretty fucking good when it comes to playing live too. Though endless hecklers, stage invasions and fights, the rhythm section never misses a beat whilst East Bay Ray forgets punk rock purism and plays guitar like Hendrix’s evil twin. Meanwhile, Jello Biafra comes on like a nightmarish combination of Bill Hicks and Iggy Pop, mixing improvised political ranting with bare-chested pogo-ing and random acts of violence, to great effect.
This is more than just a good punk rock album, this is the absolute definition of punk rock, as the band and their audience channel their anger into an attempt to tear down the established order using nothing but white noise, black poetry and kinetic energy.
As the directionless rage of the nu-metal generation is bought up wholesale by the record industry and channelled into ultimately safe product with no agenda beyond shifting units and filling pockets, we desperately need bands like the Dead Kennedys. Bands who care about something, bands who can spread new ideas, bands who can change the way their fans see the world, bands who can inspire the kids to turn off MTV, throw out their Nikes and kick out the motherfucking jams!
So it’s a bit of a bugger that they split up in 1986. But where are their replacements?
Sure, the likes of Anti-Flag, Propagandhi and the (mighty) Dillinger Escape Plan have their moments, but they just can’t seem to match the Kennedy’s wit, or their knack for mixing politics, humour and good tunes, and they rarely get mentioned outside the punk scene anyway.
Rage against the Machine are capitalist phonies. The Manics are just a bad joke without a punchline. No Logo is on sale in Smiths for £8.99.
Buy – sorry, steal – this album (and the other DK reissues) from HMV and get in touch with the real revolution.
(um.. sorry if I got a bit over-excited back there .. I’ll put on some Alfie to calm myself down..)
10Ben Haggar's Score