Bad Brains’ Rasta-punk philosophy is still as hardcore as ever
By Alex Distefano
Formed in 1977, The Bad Brains were a group of young black kids who played a transcendent, zoned-out, hyped-up mash-up of thrashy hardcore punk and reggae. The first of its kind to appear on the musical landscape, the Washington, D.C.-based band (featuring guitarist Dr. Know, singer H.R., bassist Darryl Jenifer and drummer Earl Hudson) produced more tumultuous raw energy, controversy and bewilderment than any of the previous punk bands seen or heard at the time. The band gained notoriety early on; for their intense and unpredictable live shows and for promoting messages of peace, rejecting social norms and breaking racial barriers.
These are just a few reasons why Bad Brains are regarded as one of the most influential bands in punk and rock history.
With eight studio albums under their belt, the Bad Brains’ career was a volatile one, including numerous lineup changes, break-ups and reunions— even style changes—over the years. But in 2010, the original lineup is back. CULTURE spoke with founding bass player Darryl Jenifer (his solo dub-based blues album, In Search of Black Judas, is out Oct. 26) about slam dancing, the band’s future and smoking ganja.
In the late ’70s, before punk was mainstream, what were some of the earliest punk bands you were into?
Well, the first exposure I had to punk was with bands like The Damned, The Sex Pistols, and The Ramones. I really had a thing for old records, and British punk bands, especially The Clash. At the time, I was the only kid in my neighborhood that knew about or listened to those bands at all.
How and why did Bad Brains merge the sound of hardcore punk with reggae? You are Rastafarian, right?
Yes. The concept of Rastafarianism is a way of life for us. It’s undeniable, like being black. It is undisputable truth, and the way we live our lives. Our music and mission with the Bad Brains has always been about peace, love, Jah and keeping that positive mental attitude within yourself. We know certain things are out of our control, but we always give thanks and praise with our heads up. Negativity is very easy to attack, so we’re optimistic; constantly waiting on the Great Spirit. As for reggae, we love all kinds of music, from rock to blues, punk and eventually metal. This was just a natural part of who we are and where we come from. We have always had a love for reggae music and all music in general.
Bad Brains were notorious for high-energy, chaotic and sometimes violent shows. Tell us about the band’s role in creating slam dancing in what is now known as the mosh pit.
When we first started playing shows, there was no moshing or circle pits. The whole thing came from the pogo dance; bands like The Clash and the Sex Pistols. Mostly the pogo dance was bouncing around and wiggling your heads, in sort of convulsions, feeling the music. We saw The Clash early in D.C. and we wanted to emulate that experience. So with The Bad Brains, we made it different when we started putting different sounds, beats and reggae in our set. We would play slower parts of certain songs, and some crazy cats in the crowd would skank around and loosely flail their arms as they ran in a circle, initially in a way to make fun of us. In those early East Coast shows, it was guys like Henry Rollins from Black Flag and Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat who starting the slam dancing.
The band was also known for a love of cannabis. What are some of your favorite strains?
I love ganja. I use marijuana every day. I’m old school and from D.C. so I have seen it all—from the commercial scientific weed to ’80s sensi type smoke. I love the strains like Bubba Kush, Sour Diesel and Northern Lights, which have a nice effervescence. But with all the crazy hybrids and extreme strains out today, I feel like sometimes it might be getting too scientific, with all these scientists f#*king with nature too much, some strains are—to me—too modified. Personally, I like organic shit and love mellow, organic weed to meditate with.
Keep up with Bad Brains at www.badbrains.com, www.myspace.com/badbrains777.