we salute you: the bristling activism behind kevin carnes’ relentless beat

July 10, 2015

Check out Houston Press‘ interview with legendary drummer Kevin Carnes, known by most for his activism as well as his amazing drum skills. Carnes rose to prominence as the drummer of San Francisco punk band The Beatnigs (and before that, played for Houston group the Usuals), a band famed for its fusion of the Hard-core punk, industrial and hip hop sounds. See some excerpts below (plus throwback to The Beatnigs biggest hit, ‘Television’).

By Alexander Aplerku, AFROPUNK Contributor



You’ve called the Beatnigs Afro-Punk, Black Militant, etc. Do you think that was ever challenging for white audiences, even punk ones, maybe unfamiliar with the likes of Amiri Baraka, Last Poets, or anything black avant-garde?

It was difficult for many black people as well. The name alone was tough to swallow, add the way we dressed, wore our hair, and behaved in public. […] The name, the music, the words, the performance — it was all meant to challenge whoever was standing in front of us. Being that we were playing at a lot of punk clubs and art bars, most of the people there were white

Although political in nature, which came to the fore on tunes like “Rootigus Sporaticus” which lashed put against nuclear testing and interventionism, songs like “Burrito” offered some humor even while still making a pithy point about class and race. Was that important?

Global politics can’t exist without personal politics, and I’ve never thought “Burritos” was funny, though it is very clever. Everything we talked about onstage we lived, and however many years later class and race are still two of the biggest social problems in this country. It was very important to us to talk about what was right under foot and what we were experiencing on the daily right here in the Bay, which many folk like to say is so “free” and “liberal,” but the reality for some? Not so much.

Other songs like “Television” deconstruct the role of the government, mass media, and public apathy with certain aplomb. If you were to update the song, would the lyrical content change much, or has mass media just gone from five big stations to endless stations, but the result is the same?

I can’t speak for Michael who wrote the lyrics, but yes. I personally feel like the (mis) “information age” is both wondrous and wretched, and I’m really glad that I’m not a young person trying to get my footing in so much (m)ass media trash.