Politics of punk
“If you think that punk rock doesn’t mix with politics, you’re wrong.” – NOFX
The Alley in Sparks. The crowd’s high on the fast, striking tunes of Cobra Skulls. In the audience, a shirtless guy with a Mohawk shouts along with a song about globalization: “You don’t have to populate, we’re overpopulated. You don’t have to populate. Refuse the right.”
It’s Labor Day. I paid $16 to catch Cobra Skulls, Broadway Calls, Calling Cadence and old-school Bouncing Souls, a New Jersey band that’s been around for 20 years. Punk rock shows function like religious revivals or political rallies. With spilled beer. And crowd surfing.
I appreciate any music with lyrics that challenge the status quo and manage to preserve hope. Bouncing Souls’ Greg Attonito once told an interviewer: “Everyone on Earth right now is in the frying pan … I feel like as a group we have done our job by bringing some solace and sanity to this crazy humanity.”
The show’s so packed we’re jumping on each other’s feet. “Gimme a reason to care,” Attonito sings. “I’ll sing along forever.” We know the words. We sing. Repetition cultivates familiarity with ideas and concepts. Unlike clever ad jingles, though, punk music cattle-prods our comfort zones. Bouncing Souls’ song “Gasoline”: “My senses are burned to the core. So fuck me hard, I’ll still want more. Sedation, now, is what I need. So I don’t have to live with me.”
Cobra Skulls recently signed a deal with renowned indie punk label Fat Wreck Chords. In May, the band played across Europe. It tours with NOFX and Bouncing Souls in early 2011. Did I mention that the band’s roots are in Reno? Yup. First show in 2004 at the Zephyr on South Virginia. Songwriter/singer Devin Peralta, 28, started the band with two UNR students who’ve since been replaced by Adam Beck (guitar/vocals) and Chad Cleveland (drums).
The band’s 2009 CD American Rubicon includes songs like “There’s a Skeleton in My Military Industrial Closet”—“We haven’t changed a thing since 1944. The business men in offices make a killing with the war.” Song “Bad Apples” condemns violence in the straight edge movement and “Muniphobia” mocks our nation’s “Just stay in your car and I’ll stay in mine” attitude.
Between songs, Peralta jokes about the just-concluded rib festival. “Anybody got any ribs? I’ve been talking them up to our drummer. Nobody? No ribs? That’s OK. He’s a vegetarian.”
Peralta’s a former student of mine, though I did’nt recognize him until after the show. A UNR alumnus with degrees in journalism and Spanish, he says he latched on to punk for its “inherently socio-political” content. He comes by it naturally.
“My mom was a hippie, an activist and a member of the city council [in San Luis Obispo],” Peralta explains. “I grew up in a political environment. I like punk music. It goes hand-in-hand.”
His band’s music has been praised by Peralta’s political punk heroes—members of Operation Ivy and Anti-Flag.
Bands like Rage Against the Machine and filmmakers like Michael Moore have a powerful impact on how people think about issues, Peralta says.
“Politicians don’t change much,” he says. “They’re representing public opinion.”
Cobra Skulls plays Sept. 30 at the Holland Project show space, 121 Vesta, in Reno. Tickets are $5. The band’s not about making money, which is a good thing, because they aren’t making much. For now, Peralta says, Cobra Skulls’ main goal is to have fun, meet new people, travel and make enough to pay the phone bills and insurance. Maybe some day, they’ll be able to afford rent. Meanwhile, political punk has its rewards.
“When people come up after a show and say, ‘Thank you for your music,’ that means a lot.”