Punk Rock Rebels, Repressive Regimes Fight Back

Today is the 33rd anniversary of the Elk’s Lodge riot in downtown Los Angeles where the LAPD cracked the skulls of punk rockers at a multiband show near MacArthur Park. Officers in riot gear stormed the historic Elks Lodge where local bands X, the GoGos, the Plugz, the Alley Cats and the Zeros were headlining, swinging batons, terrorizing and arresting young citizens for being different.

Rock and roll has been the music of rebellion and social change since the 1950s, and each successive wave of youths have discovered its power (chords) and embraced its do-it-yourself aesthetic. Punk rock and technology, from cassette tapes to MP3 and file sharing have made music the most easily understood and easy to identify mode of rebellious self-expression. The music, lyrics, and yes, fashion have been and are still threatening to the powers that be: Los Angeles Police chief Daryl Gates viewed punk rock, especially the band Black Flag, as a major threat, regularly sending in riot cops for their shows and says Black Flag drummer Greg Cameron:

Gates would get Black Flag tour dates and phone ahead to the local law enforcement agencies in those towns to “warn” them that Flag was coming.

Today punk rocks continue expressing dissatisfaction and challenging authority; and while punk may be almost 40, its revolutionary, self-empowering spirit has spread throughout the world to some of the most oppressive regimes, where musicians and fans are being imprisoned, “re-educated,” and murdered for daring to think and act differently.

In the past month in Iraq, per Reuters, 14 youths were stoned to death in Baghdad

in what appears to be a campaign by Shi’ite militants against youths wearing Western-style “emo” clothes and haircuts, security and hospital sources say.

Emo is modern style of punk music and dress that evolved in the late 1980s and is still popular with youth around the world. The Iraqi government has denied emo was the reason for the youths’ brutal death, but over the past weekend:

Militants in Shi’ite neighborhoods where the stonings have taken place circulated lists … naming more youths targeted to be killed if they do not change the way they dress.

The Guardian UK reports that in December 2011, where Indonesian youth which has been expressing itself through punk rock for two decades:

[A] punk gig took place in Aceh, Indonesia, the “special province” of the country that has its own police force pledged to maintain sharia law. Supposedly because the event’s organisers had forged official documents to gain the requisite permit, 64 of its attendees – who had travelled from all over the country – were arrested, and taken to a nearby detention centre, before being transported to a “remedial school” 37 miles away. There, their mohican hairstyles were forcibly removed because they were deemed “insulting to Islamic traditions”. According to a police spokesman, the group was held there to “undergo a re-education, so their morals will match those of other Acehnese people”. Demonstrations followed not just in Indonesia, but in London and San Francisco.

The recent Russian election brought punk rock to the forefront in the former Soviet Union when members of the feminist guerrilla punk collective (punk rock was the first genre where women/girls played all their instruments themselves) Pussy Riot were charged with hate crimes and violating a public order the day before the election, which kept Vladamir Putin in office as expected. Two members are still jailed and on a hunger strike.

Meanwhile last night at the über-hip SXSW in Austin, Tom Morello played a live concert for Occupy SXSW (Occupy Austin) attended by lots of folks who weren’t credentialed for the laminate-only festival/industry schmoozefest which was shut down by the police. Today, to celebrate the six months anniversary of the Occupy movement, there’s a Million Musician March for Peace taking place right now through the streets of Austin. Let’s see how the cops behave.


Art: Raymond Pettibone for Target Video, private collection

HT: We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, by Brendan Mullen and Mark Spitz

DMCA Abuse on YouTube, Punk Bands Targeted


In recent months there has been a slew of DMCA takedowns on YouTube affecting numerous punk bands.

Apparently SST Records, owned by Greg Ginn, has been utilizing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to claim copyright infringement on a vast number of videos that utilize brief clips of music from Black Flag, including skateboard videos made by fans. Well, gosh, that’s what copyright holders can do, though it does seem sort of mean.

SST has also claimed multiple copyright takedowns on bands that have nothing to do with SST, including X, Fear, Sin 34, Lower Class Brats, Puzzled Panthers, and the Adolescents. Also affected, videos made by fans under Fair Use, utilizing snippets of  songs.

YouTube user Creamy GoodnessX writes that SST:

have since admitted that they never even viewed the allegedly offending videos before issuing the strikes! Rather, they used automated software in their campaign, in many cases resulting in false DMCA takedowns of videos that were legitimately using copyrighted material under the fair use doctrine. Several users permanently lost their channels (i.e., termination), and others permanently lost special privileges like being able to upload videos longer than 15 minutes.

YouTube provides copyright holders with a Content ID program. YouTube account holders who use the software must submit title lists and audio files, as well as proof of copyright. The program can be used to:

  • Identify user-uploaded videos comprised entirely OR partially of their content, and
  • Choose, in advance, what they want to happen when those videos are found. Make money from them. Get stats on them. Or block them from YouTube altogether.>
  • Reduce Infringement. Educate your fans about your copyright preferences and prevent your content from being distributed on YouTube without your permission.
  • Fully Automated. Once you’re set up, Content ID will identify, claim, and apply policies to YouTube videos for you.

The DMCA takedown of “Democracy” by the Adolescents on Frontier Records, which also handles their publishing via Bug Music, indicated that a company called Love Cat Music had also claimed DMCA rights, along with SST. I wrote to Love Cat, which has only one punk band, Reagan Youth, in its catalog. Owner Randy Frisch replied:

i do not know why LoveCat Music is mentioned here.   Could be a mistake.

we have sent takedown notices with respect to other songs in our
catalog that we do in fact control.

But not this one

Is it possible that YouTube’s Content ID program is faulty and can’t tell punk songs apart? If so, major fail.

So I wrote to SST Record’s owner Greg Ginn and asked him about YouTube. At first he said

I don’t know much about YouTube.

Then I asked about fan videos being posted on YouTube. His response:

I then asked if he enforced copyright. He replied:

At times.


Greg did not write back, and blocked me on Facebook, making it impossible to contact him further. Ginn has been a brutal enforcer of SST’s copyrights, though oddly he showed disdain for U2′s when SST released Negativland’s single U2 (Full disclosure, I worked for a branch of SST Records in the mid-1980s. In 1991 I wrote an analysis of the U2/Negativland controversy for U2′s magazine Propaganda; when that piece was repurposed as a press release, I was paid. I know many former SST Records artists, as well as people affiliated with U2).

When a video is falsely DMCA’ed on YouTube, it is the responsibility of the real copyright owner to prove they are the rightful copyright holder. It can take up to 10 days for the DMCAed video to be restored.  Alerted to the Adolescents’ video takedown, Frontier Records’ owner and founder Lisa Fancher worked with YouTube, sending in the correct forms to restore the video.  Often bands do not know their videos have been taken down, or why, as in the case of Lower Class Brats:

How could they get our videos taken down off of YouTube and why would they do something like this? I am completely baffled…
I look forward to your reply, thanks….

Since it can take over a week to restore a video, DMCA-ing  a video is an effective means of harassment or of silencing speech, as seen during Anonymous’ Project Chanology when videos shot at protests and/or using Fair Use clips of Scientology videos, or the organization’s logos, were DMCA-ed.

If YouTube’s content identifying software is at fault for false DMCAs, then those using it should definitely alert YouTube about the glitches since it looks pretty creepy and bad to take down videos for which you do not own the copyrights. However, if  people are purposefully DMCAing  videos out of spite, and have a long record of false claims, perhaps YouTube should treat them with the same vigorous enforcement they show to copyright abusers.

YouTube’s PR department did not respond to my questions about the accuracy of its Content ID software, however they did say:

Unfortunately, in some cases, individuals abuse our notification process by submitting fraudulent claims.  When we become aware of this, we take action by reinstating the videos and/or accounts affected, and taking appropriate action against the individual responsible.

The PR person followed up to my questions about Content ID being possibly faulty with this:

You can read more about both of these things are our Copyright Center. Thanks!

Which is where I started in the first place.

West Memphis 3 Freed! Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Joe Berlinger Are There

The West Memphis 3– Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr.– were released from prison yesterday in Arkansas after serving 18 years in prison for the stabbing murders of three elementary-aged boys. Supporters Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, and actor Johnny Depp traveled to Jonesboro, AR along with filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Crude) who has shot two documentaries about the trial and is completing a third for the Toronto Film Fest, and a group of activists who had worked raising funds and awarenes for the convicted trio’s defense. Other supporters include members of the band X, Henry Rollins, Ozzy Osbourne, and writer/director John Roecker who emailed La Figa saying:

I was in tears all day yesterday-It reminded me of the the last election, was so happy that Obama got elected and sad that Prop 8 didn’t go though. A bittersweet victory. But I am just staying focused that those men are out and can live their lives the way it was meant to be. Free.

X’s Exene Cervenka who–with Chuck D, Ice-T, Iggy Pop, Lemmy from Motorhead, Ryan Adams and others–appeared on Rise Above, 24 Songs to Benefit the West Memphis 3, which featured vocalists from all genres covering Black Flag songs and backed by the Rollins Band, tweeted:

Finally some great news wm3 released!!!!So many people worked so hard to help them, thank you all.

while Henry Rollins (Black Flag, Rollins’ Band) emailed the LA Times:

I am happy for the guys but so much has been lost. Three boys were killed. In my opinion, the wrong people were incarcerated and the person or persons who did it are still out there, alive or dead, still not brought to justice.

At the time of WM3′s trial in 1993, the height of the Satanic Panic, the prosecution in the primarily fundamentalist Christian area argued that the trio–who listened to bands like Metallica and wore black–had hogtied, raped, mutilated and killed the children as part of a Satanic ritual. Misskelley–who is mentally disabled–had confessed to police, but the defense contended that he was coerced into making a false confession and, as a minor, had not been properly Mirandized. Misskelly eventually recanted the confession, and other witnesses admitted they lied to police. Damien Echols, who read books on the occult and was medicated for bipolar disorder was named the ringleader by the prosecution and sentenced to death, while the two other defendants received life in prison.

Supporters believe the trio was prosecuted on weak evidence because they looked different–an aspect of the case that resonates with many in the artistic community–and that there was juror misconduct.

On Friday the trio pleaded guilty under the little-used Alford plea, which allows them to also claim they are innocent. An Aford plea, sometimes agreed upon when both the defense and the prosecution have reasons to avoid a jury trial. Since the Arkansas Supreme Court recently determined that DNA evidence found at the scene conclusively excluded the prisoners, the three attorneys for WM3 had asked for a new hearing to consider new evidence, a request that was granted by the court.

DNA evidence testing was not available at the time of their first trials, but since then DNA testing of the evidence revealed that a hair found in the ligature knots belonged to one of the victim’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, while a hair found on a tree stump

was consistent with the DNA of a friend of Hobbs, according to the documents.

Hobbs has denied seeing the three victims–Christopher Byers, Steve Branch and Hobbs’ stepson Michael Moore–on the day of their disappearance. A speech by Dixie Chick Natalie Maines on the steps of the Arkansas State Supreme Courthouse in which she mentioned Hobbs resulted in a civil suit.

According to the LA Times:

Echols’ attorneys said they had found three eyewitnesses who said Hobbs was “the last adult seen with the victims” on the night they disappeared.

Hobbs declares he’s innocent.

John Mark Byers, whose stepson Christopher Byers was murdered and mutilated, told CNN that he believes the WM3 to be innocent:

They’re innocent. They did not kill my son.

But Steven Branch’s father, also named Steven Branch, spoke angrily to CNN affiliate WMC-TV before the hearing.:

I don’t know what kind of deal they worked up. Now you can get some movie stars and a little bit of money behind you, and you can walk free for killing somebody.

Johnny Depp told CBS News in a 2010 interview of the WM3:

People need to stand up and say, yeah, it’s time to find the killers. Let’s find justice.

The prosecutor said:

I have no reason to believe there was anyone else involved in the homicide of these three children but the three defendants who plead guilty today.

But he added that the state could file charges against others if new evidence emerges implicating someone else in the case.

Rise Above, directed by Modi and Kevin Kerslake; Kerslake is our guest on tomorrow’s FDL Movie Night.

Los Angeles Underground Artists’ Tribute to Seminal LA Sounds Benefits Haiti Relief Efforts

Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist Josh Klinghoffer covering Thelonious Monster’s “Anymore” is just one of the many gems on Beat LA: A Benefit for Haiti–a compilation from Narnack Records and Greatminds Records featuring some of today’s Los Angeles artists like Rats, Crystal Antlers, Microphonies, covering bands that shaped and defined Los Angeles’ punk and post-punk sound: X, Black Randy and the Metrosquad,  the Go-Gos, the Minutemen and many more–which benefits Doctors Without Borders and their life-saving endeavors assisting victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Covers of alternavtive radio favorites like fIREHOSE, Wall of Voodoo, Dream Syndicate, the Plimsouls and Cheech and Chong crash up against underground acts’ versions of  grittier bands like the Germs, the Urinals, 45 Grave, Nervous Gender, and Christian Death, with liner notes by LA maestro Gexa X who says:

LA had a FANTASTIC underground scene for a few years, say 1977 to 1982. It never got properly documented but it was huge and it was fun. These songs were part of the soundtrack of my life back then. But there is more to it. This is a healing project too…This album is one of many goodwill gestures people have come up with to help out. The political problems of the Western Hemisphere may be too much to tackle as individuals. But human problems sometimes wake the world up to the need to pull together and do something.

The album is available on iTunes, with links to listen and stream at the Narnack site. And we’ve included some of the originals for your nostalgic pleasure.


Bad Day: Kevin Costner’s Secret Movie Hits the Web

UPDATE: Modi Frank and a special guest will be with us on Movie Night, Firedoglake.com’s  live, interactive typed chat Monday Aug 9 5pm-6:30pm PDT/8pm-9:30pm EDT. Please join in.

Before he danced with wolves, Academy Award winning actor/director Kevin Costner made a never-before-seen movie that’s being released today after nearly 25 years in a vault:  Bad Day, directed by the award-winning rock video director Modi Frank and photographed by punk rock queen, singer, poet and visual artist Exene Cervenka, co-founder of the seminal band X. The duo are releasing the cowboy-themed short  as a digital downloaded for a “you decide” amount. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Gulf charities providing aid to both people and the environment. Exene and Modi said:

We are both so proud of Kevin and grateful for all he’s doing to help in the Gulf.

Costner has spent $25 million dollars over the last decade to develop centrifuge clean-up machinery which can mitigate the damage from oil spills. BP bought 32 of the machines marketed by Ocean Therapy Solutions. The centrifuges, which can clean 6 million gallons of oily water a day, separating the oil from water by spinning, will be ready to be deployed by the first week of August, according to John Houghtaling, Costner’s chief partner in the project . The salt water can be returned to the ocean and the oil can be used by industry.

Bad Day–the legendary but unseen until now 20 minute silent film, co-written by Exene and Modi, with a soundtrack by Dave Alvin and DJ Bonebrake–also stars John Doe, Chris (Chris D) Desjardins from the Flesheaters and the Divine Horsemen, and Julie Christensen of Stone Cupid who has also collaborated with Leonard Cohen, artist-photographer Peter Haskell, and Los Angeles poet Doug Knott.

Bad Day is also a collaboration of formats–punk rock and two-reel Western silents, black and white film stock meeting the Internet at a time when digital is the format du jour. The advent of downloading videos provided the perfect format to release Bad Day, allowing this moment of artistic collaboration to reach its target audience. Says Exene:

It was a blast to write, envision and then film.  We have talented friends, all up for a project, and we froze a moment in history. It was one of the best times Modi and I have ever had…We’ve talked about releasing Bad Day over the years, but now with the internet we have control over distribution with digital downloads. We want the world to see it and enjoy.