Jello Biafra Lashes Out at Amnesia Rockfest over Booking "Scam," Tells Dead Kennedys to "Get Right with Me"
Published Jun 16, 2014Jello Biafra is preparing to bring his Guantanamo School of Medicine band back on the road, returning to Ontario for shows at London's Call the Office tonight (June 16) and Toronto's Opera House on Tuesday, all in support of last year's White People and the Damage Done. They were also meant to venture into Montebello, QC, for the massive Amnesia Rockfest on June 20 and 21, but Biafra claims something really weird happened.
"We were supposed to play that too and the promoter, for some reason, thought it would be a real cool idea to book us and the fake Dead Kennedys on the same day and not tell either party that the other was on the bill," Biafra tells Exclaim! "It especially leaves a bad taste in my mouth because this promoter pushed our booking agent for us to confirm clear back in November and we did.
"And then, right at the last minute, the fake DKs walk on and he didn't tell them we were already on, he didn't tell us he was adding them and then we said, 'Yo, we were here a lot earlier and you even said they weren't on the bill at the time — what the fuck is up with this?' And then he kinda deferred to them. So, needless to say, we figured 'We're outta there.' For people wondering why we're not at Rockfest after the initial press release said that we and Dead Kennedys were both playing, well, that's the reason.
"I don't know what to think. It was either purposeful or it was incredibly clueless and incompetent — one of the two. And no other promoter, no matter how sleazy, anywhere in the world ever tried to pull this scam before. I'm amazed that this guy pulled the scam he did and thought he could get away with it."
When reached by Exclaim!, Amnesia Rockfest president Alex Martel responded to Biafra's comments as follows:
"First off, I immensely respect Jello Biafra and would never say or do anything against him in any way, but what he said is a bit upsetting. They were not booked to perform the same day, they were on different days, just like we're doing with Black Flag and Henry Rollins, as well as Misfits and Danzig with Doyle. Also, Dead Kennedys had no problem with Jello playing the other day. Ultimately, this just comes down to miscommunication. It's a shame that he pulled out because the fans would have loved that combination, and every year I do my best to build an insane lineup for the fans. But we entirely respect his decision and he's welcome to the fest anytime."
Of course, Biafra has a long history of conflict with his former Dead Kennedys bandmates, and while his position on a future reunion appears to have softened slightly, his list of demands to make that happen seems unrealistic.
"I really, really get tired of what we did together being pimped in really unspeakable, piss-poor ways," he says. "I don't back the current editions of the albums at all because the rights were swiped in a lawsuit and I don't feel that the people who are marketing them now deserve to have them, let alone the way they're dumbing everything down.
"I get threats fairly regularly from their lawyer or their manager, although usually the way they operate is just not to tell me what's going on. The first amendment right to free speech seems to apply to everyone but me. Y'know, 'I'm failing to help promote the catalogue' or some other corporate language."
Dead Kennedys formed in 1978 and initially featured Biafra, East Bay Ray, Klaus Flouride and Ted. They broke up in 1986 after a stressful, costly obscenity trial over album artwork for the 1985 album Frankenchrist. After legal action over accounting errors ascribed to Biafra's Alternative Tentacles Records label and a very public and prolonged back-and-forth about selling out, Biafra has been estranged from his former friends, who reissued the DKs catalogue and reformed the band with a slew of replacement singers.
"Of course, they've been trying to arm-twist and bully me into rejoining them so they can make more money," Biafra says. "Like, I somehow owe it to them or, as Klaus put it in Punknews, I'm 'punishing the fans' by not sucking their penises and going back into the retro version of Dead Kennedys on their terms. Y'know, where their manager and other people they've surrounded themselves with would wind up being my boss and I'm just a hired poodle. I have no interest in that."
He adds, "You want me back in the real Dead Kennedys then it's gotta be the real Dead Kennedys and they have to undo every last bit of damage they've done or no deal. I mean, the last offer I turned down was in the millions but I'm just not interested."
It's a bit of a shock to hear Biafra poke a sliver of light through the dark quagmire of hatred that has plagued the Dead Kennedys over the past 30 years. Then again, his reconciliation conditions aren't likely to be met.
"I'd contemplate it if they finally wised up, manned up, and did me right but I'm not expecting that any time soon," he begins before itemizing first steps towards making up. "Obviously the music has gotta return back to the label where it's loved and respected. There's gonna have to be a house cleaning of people surrounding the band. Some of the people they're mixed up with kind of give me the creeps and I'm not going to work with them. And obviously they're gonna have to admit they lied. They lied under oath at the trial, they lied in the media, they lied on the website, and everywhere else. They're gonna have to admit that that's exactly what it was and apologize."
When asked if the other Dead Kennedys are aware of his position, Biafra says the last contact he had with them was 15 years ago when Flouride left a message on his answering machine, asking Biafra to consider playing a reunion show at the Fillmore in San Francisco.
"I just sent them a fax back saying, 'You undo all the damage you've done, I'm there.' And I got some really angry reply," Biafra recalls.
"At some level they have to know that all of the scamming and the greed and the lawsuits and all the suing and trying to smash my life to pieces and take everything — at some level, they've gotta realize that this has cost them way the fuck more than they've ever gained. The only way they're ever going to be able to cleanse themselves of all the bad voodoo that follows them everywhere is to get right with me."
Listen to this entire conversation on the Kreative Kontrol with Vish Khanna podcast.
Find full Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine tour dates with Negative Approach below.
06/16 London, ON - Call the Office *
06/17 Toronto, ON - Opera House *
06/20 Syracuse, NY - Lost Horizon *
06/21 Albany, NY - Bogie's *
06/22 Boston, MA - Brighton Music Hall *
06/24 Poughkeepsie, NY - The Chance *
06/25 New Jersey, NY - Asbury Lanes *
06/27 New York City, NY - Highline Ballroom *
06/28 Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer *
06/29 Baltimore, MD - Ottobar *
06/30 Millvale, PA - Mr. Small's Theatre *
07/02 Cleveland, OH - Beachland Ballroom *
* with Negative Approach