Aside from the obvious— they were the first all-black punk band— two additional things must be said of the early Bad Brains: they were the most ferocious musical tornado ever unleashed; a frantic, thrashing monster of a group that had absolutely no competitors for the crown of being the most hardcore of all of the hardcore bands in Washington, D.C.
They were also the best, most skilled musicians of any of their compatriots. Sure, they played buzz-saw punk rock music that sounded like a Black Sabbath album spinning at 45rpm, but they actually came from a jazz fusion background (think Return to Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra!) before the energy of the D.C. hardcore scene turned their attention to punk.
Lead vocalist H.R. was, simply put, one of the greatest frontmen of the punk era, up there with Johnny Rotten or Jello Biafra as a presence so incendiary, so crazed and so utterly unhinged that you wondered if he was possessed. Backed by Dr. Know (guitar), Darryl Jenifer (bass) and H.R.‘s younger brother, Earl Hudson, on drums, the Bad Brains would explode onto the stage like a nail bomb had gone off. If that prospect seemed worrisome, well, stand back!
It wasn’t long before the group found they weren’t able to play shows in their hometown, hence their famous number, “Banned in D.C.” which has been appropriated for the title of the new film about the group, Bad Brains: A Band In D.C. co-directed by Mandy Stein and Ben Logan. The film actually started as an offshoot of another project about CBGBs, but as Stein told us “What director wouldn’t want to tell this story?”
The 30+ years of the Bad Brains’ existence has been fraught with interpersonal conflict— one epic argument was caught on video by the directors— but it’s that tension that makes the band so great that also, perhaps, prevented them from being as big as they might have otherwise been. Band in DC features some fierce archival footage, more recent live performances and interviews with Henry Rollins, The Beastie Boys, Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye, British black punk DJ and filmmaker Don Letts and The Cars’ Ric Ocasek, who produced the band in the studio.
In the clip below, co-director Mandy Stein and Bad Brains singer H.R. discuss the film and the energy of the early Washington, D.C. punk scene.
Posted by Richard Metzger |
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