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Upper Class Brats! interviews on coming of age in punk culture

by Neekta Khorsand in conversation with Nicky Tiso and Bryan May


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Editor’s Note: This interview was initiated by Neekta as background research for her essay that explores “what it is about American Punk culture and music that seems to innately represent aspects of the foundation of American identity.” (Written while an MA candidate in American Literature at The University of East Anglia). All three are childhood friends who grew up punk, in one way or another, in suburban Southern California and then beyond. These conversations unfolded informally over several email threads. They could be much longer. We hope it generates more. at SubRosa community space in Santa Cruz, CA, for the photography exhibit “The Making of Amerikans,” Nov. 5th, 2010, curated by Bryan May. Thanks to Neekta and Bryan for upping the ([anti]academic) punx, and to Kate Robinson for letting us represent Manifest, and to Crass.

Bryan: in sixth grade, seeing a gaggle of late teen punks in Orange County. I just remember them giving off this aura of outcasts united, and I wondered how they can jump on trampolines (and stuff) in those clothes.

lined and I think Lower Class Brats played, mohawks everywhere) and I saw this thing as more than combined fashion choices and music that makes you wanna do stuff, but as some sort of secret

later, perhaps at some level around sixteen, and at another when I moved to Oakland around nineteen. The former was through anarchist punk franchise organizations like Food Not Bombs, seeing Long Beach and Che CafĂŠ in La Jolla, making friends with volunteers, and feeling kind of at home there. The latter was through niche scene that sits within punk culture. This was the most explictics, and some other stuff. : I fell into punk around middle school by way of skateboarddepression. Being depressed pointed me toward the drop out culture of punk, gave a home to that desperation. Also Bryan.

ange County punk scene, I think because he gave such a positive energy to it and never took it too seriously which can be a real buzzkill. 4

“Libertatia Pirate Punx,” Bryan May, 2009


these parasites have reminded me that I can never get away from my punk roots. Marty taught us the secrets of the * zine trade: how to scam copies and he gave us tons of anarchist literature, which freaked my torch onto us because he was outgrowing this shit. He had some were so insular it felt like preaching to the choir, so I was a little disenchanted about it, but in retrospect that was the beginning of our growing interest in outreach and independent publishing. my own zines of poetry, which I scam printed for near free at and got one reviewed in Maximum Rock and Roll. I think they dissed it as too sappy. This interest in building community thru literature, and of publishing as a potential gift economy, is endemic to punk and *

Bryan: “If you went to a show and asked 500 people what was punk means so many things to so many people, across the planet, that certain ideological foundations, and lifestyle choices, that we can use to speak about a particular punk identity, united beyond national borders and state lines. Otherwise, punk can be bent in any direction and validated by just a handful of people. Thus we 6

have conservative punks (whose message boards Nicky and I used to troll), the racist “rock against communism” of the eighties, fundamentalist vegan straight edge kids, and bros at punk shows. When I say punk, I mean something very particular. Well, I guess I just mean “anarchist punk trying to build a better a punk show at the anarchist community center I worked at in Philly the other day and some macho dude knocked a lady the toothless one groped, but the “mainstream” force of masculinity stole the show.

organizing with a lot of older anarchists that never got into Who knows. I love Crass. I just drank more coffee. As I become older and more cyniing a life better lived. Or just a messy one.


This is a tenuous question because punk is by nature antitrolling those conservative punk message boards with Bryan and pissing those Reagan punks off! I suppose our own views about how to be anarcho punks formed in the process, in reaction to so much disagreement even within the subculture. as you grow it can evolve into political action, community development, pirate radio, organized protest, etc. I think being punk is just about fundamentally viewing yourself as living in some kind of into society, while still being cynical about it. Now knee-deep in academia, I believe professors can be punk. However, like Stevo at the end of SLC Punk, “being punk” is manifest as moments of critical thinking or behaving or dressing in an otherwise regimented context, thus signaling our desire for, as Bryan says, “a better world within a worse one.” *

Bryan: I think a lot of punk culture is really awful. In some cities, punk feels like a shitty microcosm of our fucked up society. (That was one angsty-ass sentence.) Lots of punks wear pretty grandiose ideals on their sleeves (as tattoos, or over their hearts, as patches), but they fail to walk the walk. But my involvement in punk has certainly shaped my perspectives and beliefs. And when to think about really big ideas as a little person, and perhaps


foundational politics that punk embraces, leaderlessness, organizing by consensus, and living frugally can actually manifest in real world adult life.

“Oakland,� Bryan May 2009

In college I became more Marxist than Anarchist (lol) and that tension grew until I had this kinda tragic break with the campus anarchists. They felt my convoluted questions about the jingoistic nature of their message, and suggestions for how we could better frame ourselves for sympathetic public reception, were in effect questioning the validity of their mission as a whole. It was like, theory vs. practice. After this falling out

“Hail Seizures show under the 4th Ave. Bridge,� Olympia, WA (long exposure night shot), Nicky Tiso

kind of feel the ups and downs of that crazy lifestyle. I imagine Nicky will have some good cynicism to add to this. I think the



Making zines on computers is lame! I think keeping things simple, and not buying lots of stuff, is great, mostly for the logic of frugality explained above. And I just love making zines the old fashioned way. gaining control over the means of production and working conditions, even if in small ways. I make my own poems, haha. And it builds community. For example, in my MFA program the students are great at organizing their own readings, events, journals, outside the program (or just ending up at a bar together), and this enables us to share and support each

* -

Bryan: conduct, and its relationship to radical politics. Globally, kinda operates as a common language. 12

Win� by Mischief Brew explains this phenomenon better than I ever could. In a foreign place like the squats we visited in Berlin and Barcelona, we looked for that common language to help us make friends. If you see beer, patches, a mangy dog, dreadlocks, vats of stewing vegetables, lots of bikes, and a compost pile, you have a reasonable idea of what to expect. So on the general level the punk way of life is pretty global. differences are in the details. Squats and forms of communal living seem to be more rampant in Europe than here. I mean you have places like Berlin where the architecture of the Eastern Bloc includes massive concrete apartment complexcastles originally designed to house thousands of workers and their families, now being reclaimed by artists. The scale of the Berlin squats mesmerized me. It was unlike anything


Bryan: Minor, I suppose. I live in a punk house with twelve people that are or used to be into punk. I put on shows sometimes, at this house and other places too. I make zines. Some men and I just started a “dudes collective�, hoping to hash out issues of privilege about subcultural exclusion, and I hate everything suddenly. most recent direct involvement was with Occupy Portland last fall/ and documented the encampment. That miraculous event, the event of Occupation, continues to reverberate throughout my artwork, 13

“Rosie Math.” Olympia, WA, 2009. Nicky Tiso.


grips with, to adequately express such a longed for optimistic uprising. It was such a huge release of activist energy that like planets formed in the cooling gas of exploded stars is what we need to make our spirit out of. *

Bryan: or “make total destroy,� depending who you ask.

Philly Punx Picnic. Bryan May, 2012.


“I don’t give a fuck.”



Manifest Press 2013

Upper Class Brats!  
Upper Class Brats!  

interviews on coming of age in punk culture, with photographs