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Dead Kennedys frontman goes after the modern music industry

In the 38 years that have passed since the Dead Kennedys began to carve a path into the history of punk rock, the world has experienced many changes. President Reagan came and went, the iPhone was invented, Google became a corporation, Justin Beiber was born. These are only a few examples mentioned by East Bay Ray, a founding member of the legendary Bay Area group that sparked the punk movement in Northern California, as he discusses what punk means today.

“I always describe punk rock as a spectrum, a continuum,” said Ray, who appears with the band Saturday at the Catalyst. “On one end you have Johnny Rotten, where he’s smart and sarcastic and aware, and on the other end you have Sid Vicious, a heroin-shooting ignorant person.” And, if Ray represents present-day punk rock, it is clear that he is closer to the Johnny Rotten side of the wide spectrum.

“The new bosses are worse than the old bosses,” Ray states sharply. “When we started we thought that we could change things for the better. But right now with the Koch brothers and the Tea Party, this is worse than the Reagan era when we started. We haven’t quite seen the effects yet, but it’s happening.”

As a self-described DIY band, and the only U.S. band that can boast of having a gold record distributed on an independent label, DK sits at the crux of technology, distribution, and rights issues that are bringing vehement change to today’s music industry. A change that is, according to Ray, not for the better.

Listing the monopolies as Google (with YouTube), Spotify, Apple, Pandora, and Amazon, Ray discusses the way their business models are systemically aborting creativity and diversity from the collective musical commons.

“Back in the day you had major record labels and independent record labels. DK was always independent but you could negotiate.” Today, things have taken a turn, “Google negotiates like the Russian mob. Actually, you don’t negotiate, they dictate the terms to you and of course it’s all to their advantage as a corporation. They use the fact that the fans are getting it for free, they use that against people.”

The resulting affect: “you end up with Justin Beiber and Kim Kardashian instead of Bob Dylan and the Beatles.” The homogenization is making it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for independent bands to exist at all, he said, numbing the pool of inspiration and experience. Ray says, “I’m proud that DK has influenced bands like Nirvana and Foo Fighters,” as an example of a band that had the increasingly rare opportunity to bring a new experience to the public sphere on an independent label.


Ray’s point goes beyond the music industry and into the larger social implications of the Internet age, “it’s better to report about Kanye West than it is about climate change. That’s a problem for democracy because in democracy your opinion doesn’t matter. In a democracy you need to be educated on the issues.”

Dead Kennedys

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where: The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz

Cost: $22 in advance; $26 at the door


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