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Bad Brains’ ‘Banned In Babylon’ At Subliminal Projects, Saturday July 23rd 2016

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The sun was blood red, the sky was filled with ashes and smoke, a wind of destruction was blowing over the whole city of lost angeles on Saturday afternoon. LA was burning, one fire was still ravaging the Santa Clarita mountains and another one was releasing black smoke over downtown Los Angeles, and this apocalyptic atmosphere was the perfect setting for a hardcore punk show.

Subliminal Projects and Obey Clothing were presenting ‘Banned In Babylon: The Art and Culture of Bad Brains’, featuring works by multiple artists, including Bad Brains’ Darryl Jenifer. Daryl is also a painter and the exhibition was showing his work on paper and his large paintings on canvas, among photographs by Lucian Perkins, John Mousheghian, and Jeannie “Aunt Jean” Pawlowski, a series of mixed-media paintings and prints by Shepard Fairey, and an assortment of memorabilia including rare vintage flyers, posters, and records. A pop-up shop was also selling an Obey clothing x Bad Brains collaboration, featuring new artwork referring to the famous hardcore band’s history.

But for the launch of the exhibition, we were treated with a live performance in the small courtyard behind Shepard Fairey’s studio, and Trash Talk performed before hardcore supergroup featuring Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains, Chuck Treece of McRad, Peter Stahl of Scream and Moby. Despite the fact I had seen the hardcore punk band before, they definitively surpassed the level of violence I had witnessed before, installing chaos as soon as they took the stage. ‘I want to see bodies flying’, yelled frontman Lee Spielman when he set his foot on the stage. It was immediately mayhem and bodies did effectively fly above my head, even though I had moved to one side of the stage at soon as the show had started. Spielman gave a super aggressive performance, surpassing all the previous ones I had seen before, celebrating violence and encouraging a riot at each one of his moves. Spielman is a master of ceremony, the crowd was at his feet and responded at each of his directions, while he was repeating ‘Fuck the security’ and encouraging people who hadn’t had the chance to get in, to cross over the wiring separating the studio from the neighbor’s house. Many of them did at the security’s greatest disarray. At one point, he asked everyone to sit down, and smoke weed with him at the sound of sludgy metal riffs, and it was the only few seconds of relative calm before he surged to the stage again following by a crowd tsunami. If you are close to the stage, a Trash Talk show definitively shakes you to the depth of your bone marrow, while triggering a full body adrenaline rush. My legs were shaking the whole time, and I smelt danger and fear during the entire set of their ultra-short obliterating and destructive numbers, while watching the security absolutely powerless. The most amazing person in all this, was this very quiet and tall guy next to me, holding a sketch book and making beautiful ink drawings of the crowd and the band in the middle of this chaos. he was pushing the many stage divers and moshing people who were hitting him, and kept drawing amazing things throughout the whole thing. I was simply taking pictures and most of them turned very blurry. I noticed his Black Flag ankle tattoo and told him it was amazing he was able to do this in the middle of this chaos… ‘A lot of practice,’ he said, ‘A lot of practice’.

‘Playing guitar with the Bad Brains is like playing with the Beatles,’ said Moby in the middle of one of the most epic concerts I have seen this year… The punk hardcore super group was made of Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains, Chuck Treece of McRad, Peter Stahl of Scream and Moby, and they were soon joined by Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, who drummed for one song before playing guitar during the rest of the show. Moby, like Grohl, is a big fan of hardcore and Bad Brains in particular, and he told us he didn’t know at the time that ‘music could be played that fast’ and fondly talked about the scar on his head he got during early shows.

The powerful band whipped the crowd with Bad Brains’ greatest hits from ‘Banned in D.C.’ to ‘Pay to Cum’, ‘Big Takeover’ and even a few covers (Wire, Hendrix). It was wild and epic, and it was a miracle nobody got hurt with all these bodies floating in every direction. But we had survived Trash Talk so we could get through this. There was not one second they slowed down the pace, and there was no place for a few Bad Brains reggae interludes, it was simply a series of raging assaults and crowd pleasers. Peter Stahl did a great job, as it wasn’t an easy task to be taking HR’s place, and if the eclectic band didn’t want to be an exact replica of the Bad Brains, the legendary band’s liberating spirit and PMA were there. Yes, bodies were still flying in every direction, but it wasn’t not Trash Talk’s insanely aggressive malaise, it was power and freedom, a palpable lightning bolt striking the whole place, empowering the crowd which was on fire at the image of the fires burning in the Santa Clarita mountains and downtown LA. From where I was, I couldn’t see the frenzy going on in the back, and the giant mosh pit running the entire courtyard, as the place was certainly shaking in every corner.

Darryl Jenifer’s quote from the book ‘White Riot: Punk Rock And The Politics Of Race’, appears on Obey’s website: ‘The youth today should continue to destroy all that is Babylon and thrive for a new way’, and looking at the scene, the message had passed through the music, I saw people climb at the top of large amps and jump in the crowd, I saw Shepard Fairey having the time of his life on the opposite side of the stage,… a Bad Brains show at his place was a dream come true as he told us after the show. For all these kids, it was a liberation of energy, pure freedom, and living their feral self to the fullest, in a world announcing the apocalypse.

Sailin’ On
Don’t Need It
Right Brigade
House of Suffering
Banned in D.C.
How Long Can A Punk get
The Big Takeover
Pay to Cum
12 XU

More pictures here.

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