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KILLED ON JUAREZ (photo by Rob Coons)

MRR Radio #1592• 1/14/18

On this week's Maximum Rocknroll Radio, Rob highlights bands from Indonesia and plays a Rip Off Records set. Time to ...

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Fight No More: The Music and Death of
J.J. Jacobson of Offenders

By David Ensminger As the crushing cold front overtook much of North America, including an unusual swath of the South, and ...

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“New Blood” is our weekly feature spotlighting new bands from around the world! See below for info on how to submit. Now, ...

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MRR Radio #1591 • 1/7/18

MRR Remote Radio present Jenna and Melissa trying on their favourite Toronto punk outfits in this 1-hour-long Ontarian special. "We ...

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Maximum Rocknroll #417 • Feb 2018

It's that time you've all been waiting for: Maximum Rocknroll's Year-End Top Ten Issue! MRR #417, our February 2018 issue, ...

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Fight No More: The Music and Death of
J.J. Jacobson of Offenders

January 11th, 2018 by

By David Ensminger

As the crushing cold front overtook much of North America, including an unusual swath of the South, and just hours after I completed an interview with Pat Doyle of Offenders, he notified everybody via social media that Offenders singer J.J. Jacobson, who joined the band in 1981, died in the streets of Austin, causes unknown so far. Jacobson and Doyle steered the band through the fiery albums Endless Struggle and We Must Rebel and a handful of tours across America when they would gig with bands like Condemned to Death and Crucifucks.

JJ Jacobson of the Offenders (photo by Geoff Cordner)

Now, like Marky Ramone being the sole survivor of the Ramones, Doyle is the last remaining Offender. Not long ago, he and Jacobson teamed up for a reunion of sorts by tapping local talent like Craig Merritt (World Burns to Death) and Jeff Martin (Buzzcrusher), which highlighted the reissue of their albums by Southern Lord in 2014. The gigs also paid homage to their lost bandmates Mikey Donaldson (who played with MDC and Sister Double Happiness as well), who died in 2007, and Tony Johnson (Tony Offender), who died from cancer in 2012.

Offenders tunes remain a vivid reminder of the alchemy between punk, metal, and hardcore in the 1980s and evoke a countercultural sense of defiance, resolve, and aggression that can be easily paired with the new world: tunes like “Get Mad,” “Youth Riot,” and “Fight Back” are just a few that laid the groundwork for their ethos and appeared to act as precursors to some current social movements. “I met J.J. at a meeting with the Offenders for the cover of Endless Struggle,” recalls Carlos Lowry, whose art became a permanent fixture on albums by the Dicks and MDC. “He was very young and liked the cover quite a bit. He was the only one at the meeting that noticed the hidden faces in the rock formations. Over the years, I heard all the stories about hard-living and legal problems, but he was always sweet to me, like that young kid I first met, but with a countenance that seemed much older than his years. As a performer, he was great, and to me he seemed to represent the world of hardcore that was coming, less the older rockers turned punks that most of my friends were exciting and quite a bit less compromising.”

Offenders were crucial and salient to Austin’s veteran punk and hardcore community, who is still reeling from the recent loss of Chris Wing, singer for Jerryskids and Sharon Tate’s Baby. As Gary Floyd told me by phone, Wing was a brick that helped hold up the wall of memory for that juncture in Texas music. Jacobson, in turn, was a younger peer who joined Offenders, a former Killeen, Texas-based band, three years into their lifespan, just as they saddled up with the Dicks and the Stains/MDC and shook up Austin with a roster of more militant tunes that tended to shunt new wave aside. “He came up to me once and threw his arm around me and hugged me out of nowhere…we were punk rock singers and brothers. He was a sweet kid back in the day,” Dave Dictor of MDC recalls, and now “we are all dying off one by one.”

Like many punks, Jacobson, who did a stint in prison, had his demons. To some degree, many punks have used music to cope and translate a sense of trauma. They often relocate their pain—from torn up communities and families, from bruises and physical assault—into the psychic territory of their songs. In doing so, they change from being hopeless, ill fated, and powerless, to embodying a survivor’s rebel yell. In some ways, music allows them to de-fang the pang, for moments at least. What was once fragmented, confusing, battering, and even dooming, can be grappled. What was once unspoken and made invisible careens to the surfaces of the songs, shared in a space of mind with audiences from trailer parks and manicured houses to run-down apartments and no-name tent cities. Even more so, Offenders took the pain and filtered it through an inventive musical vocabulary. They molded the templates.

“I saw a lot of hardcore bands in the early- and mid-’80s, at least 50, probably significantly more than that,” tells Jeff Smith of the Hickoids and Smart Dads, who messaged me after sharing his thoughts with Doyle. Smith is a longtime fan of the “blistering….pioneering” unit. He also roadied a few times for the band, later played in a band with original singer Mick Buck, and even shared a drug dealer with Jacobson a decade and a half back. “A lot of [the bands then] were flat out shitty, most were entirely unmemorable and musically derivative. Some were a little slicker but full of nauseating political poseur-isms. The Offenders were none of that. The music was top-notch, original and powerful. And J.J. was as real as it gets. His struggle was real. He was genuinely as hard as the music. I don’t think he cared what the words were to the anthems he sang because that came from his heart. He was born into a world of chaos and he didn’t need to fantasize about hard times or downward mobility, he lived it.” He continued, in earnest, “Some singers are real and good. Some singers are good because they’re real. That was J.J. Rest in chaos.”

JJ Jacobson of the Offenders (photo by Geoff Cordner)

Those sentiments are shared by Doyle, who dealt with J.J. firsthand in Offenders. In the interview I pursued with him, he opened up about the singer: “J.J. was sixteen when he joined the band, and at least partially illiterate. The kid was a perpetual runaway/dropout and had already been in juvie numerous times by then. He had some epic abusive shit going on at home and responded just as you’d expect. So, the lyrics came from a real place. His girlfriend and I helped him channel those feelings into workable lyrics. I think his first song was “Fight Back.” After that, stuff like “We Must Rebel” and “Like Father Like Son” and “Wanted by Authority” just rolled off his notepad like there was nothing to it, like they’d been waiting in the wings for years. In retrospect, I think his lyrics still make an impact today because of their authenticity. Most punks came from the white suburbs and just pretended to be oppressed, but J.J. had street cred in spades, and it resonated with the kids. He didn’t just scream about Reagan and the specter of nuclear war, his words came from the real experiences he carried around with him.”

His death may not have surprised many people locally—those who saw him alone on the south side, those who knew his struggles—but in the land of the free, you don’t have to agree with the way people live, but you can mourn Jacobson’s sizable talent, his passion-lined voice, and his gumption and rage, that got trammeled in lost time, personal trials, and the mess heap of addiction. “We all realized that J.J. walked his own path, resisting those who loved to help him,” Tracey Torres of Black Salve noted to me on Facebook, yet “[he] was, and will always be, a legend to the Austin scene.”

His voice will always be there: powerful, troubled, frantic, angry as hell, hopeful, super emotive, and real as a bomb blast.

RIP, Fred “Freak” Smith, Black Punk Pioneer

September 11th, 2017 by

A few weeks ago, a “semi-transient African American man” was found dead, killed from a knife wound behind the softball field of Las Palmas Park, located in San Fernando, CA. This was Fred “Freak” Smith, beloved guitarist who shaped the trajectory of mid-1980s punk in seminal bands like Beefeater, one of Washington, D.C.’s most inventive outfits. Having recently tried out for the band Romones, he had been living at Blake House, a group home, for a short stint, but wound up traversing the restless streets, seeking solace where he could.

The legacy of Beefeater is summed up most forcefully in their brilliant, genre-blurring LP House Burning Down, released on Dischord after the band’s demise in 1986. Combining hard funk, tribal stomp, raw jazz, shades of reggae, metallic leanings, and hardcore prowess, it’s an unmatched landmark, even now. Yet, the band was unstable (drummers came and went) and their fiery brand of politics set the teeth of both right-wing and left-wing punks on edge.

Smith, who changed his name to Freak, was the nimble musical backbone of the band. After joining Strange Boutique, he also helped pave the path of elegant post-hardcore music in D.C. as well. In the last half decade, he shredded in American Corpse Flower. And wherever he went, he was described as vivacious, spirited, generous, and skilled to the core.

As Bobby Sullivan, singer of Soulside and Rain Like the Sound of Trains, texted me earlier today: “Fred Smith was/is a larger-than-life character who literally lit up my youth. As a young person immersed in the D.C. punk scene, I had an extra in: my older brother lived at Dischord House. That meant I saw many of these bands form, from first talking about it in the living room, to practicing in the basement, and then taking it to the stage. Onam (Tomas Squip), the singer of Beefeater (Fred’s band at the time) also lived at Dischord House, and I spent many mornings with him when I would sleep over. My brother was a late sleeper, so I’d end up in the kitchen getting breakfast together and chatting about all the things I wanted to bounce off my older brothers and sisters – all the fine folks on the Dischord roster in the eighties.

Fred was somewhat of an aberration in that crew. Unabashedly cussing, drinking, being himself with no fear of judgment, he was something to behold. He was also a very skilled musician bringing a different flavor to that scene, which was sorely needed. My most poignant memory of him was when my band Soulside played with Beefeater at D.C. Space, I’m guessing in 1985. Scott, our guitar player, asked if he could borrow Fred Marshall half-stack and Fred replied, ‘Yeah mother fucker! And do what ever you have to do. Smash it if you need to!!!’ We all knew he was serious because that’s exactly the type of guy he was.”

BEEFEATER (photo by Al Flipside, 1985)

Other D.C. rockers like Jason Farrell of Swiz/Bluetip/Red Hare recall his outsized personality too. He emailed me this recollection:

“In 1984, I was a 14-year-old little skater kid just starting to go to shows, meeting other skaters/hardcore kids, taking every opportunity to stage dive, reveling in this crazy scene we stumbled into. I didn’t yet know much about the smaller D.C. bands that were percolating at the time (Rites of Spring, Beefeater) because all my friends and I were focused on whatever Government Issue and Marginal Man were doing.

“I’d seen Void a few times prior, but they didn’t really click with me until this one Wilson Center show… they were killing it. But apparently, it wasn’t enough to satisfy this big black dude who kept screaming and heckling them from the pit… ‘I better hear some motherfuckin’ ‘My Rules!!!’ Goddammit!!! If I don’t hear ‘My Rules’ in the next ten seconds I’m gonna kill every motherfucker…’ etc. It was kind of funny at first, but then it got kind of weird and a little scary.

“After a few songs like this, the air was tense …The singer seemed nervous. People didn’t know how to react… my little friends and I thought some shit was about to go down, and whatever it was would be beyond our capacity. But then they played ‘My Rules,’ the place exploded, and this crazy dude was overjoyed.

“In the time since, I have convinced myself that this crazy man was Fred ‘Freak’ Smith.”

Our counterculture needs to reckon with the future. More and more legacy punks deserve attention and advocacy. I have personally seen medical issues sideswipe those I have been lucky enough to play alongside—like members of Mydolls, Anarchitex, Big Boys, the Dicks, the Nerves, and the Hates. Others, including Dave Dictor of MDC, have partnered with me on projects. But all have dealt with dire health issues. As punks age, they often feel economic duress quite intensely. While some cities like Austin and Denton (both in Texas) have set up some infrastructure and programs for musicians, much more needs to be done.

In addition, punks who are female, queer, people of color, and/or disabled (some prefer the term differently abled) are even more at risk, due to ongoing discrimination. Thus, those fighting for justice, equality, and fairness should not merely protest Trump’s agenda, they need to react proactively to the issues affecting a growing segment of punk veterans struggling to pay bills, maintain homes and health, and stay free and productive.

Buying old records is not enough. Antifa is not enough. But each of us can change that.

—David Ensminger

This interview was originally published in Maximumrocknroll magazine #324, May (out of print).

David: Tell me about your musical heritage.

Freak: In very early 1983, I had just quit my government job at the Department of HUD. My dad was one of the first black Deputy U.S. Marshals. My dad was a doo-wop singer in the 1950s with Marvin Gaye and Van McCoy. The band was called the Starlighters and had a hit song called “The Birdland.” After they fizzled out, my dad got into law enforcement—the second generation of the Smith clan to do so. My mom was overseas working for the State Department (a gig she earned struggling in the ranks for at least fifteen or so years) while working for a 1960s program called “Voice Of America.” They divorced in 1971. As my dad kept stressing me to go into law enforcement as a lifelong career, the music side of me was tearing me apart. So, I finally decided for the latter.

And you started to immerse yourself in punk music?

All this punk rock shit was happening in D.C. as well as New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, and L.A. I was so intrigued. It was kind of like the Hippie movement of the early 1960s but more radical and more in your face—”We are sick of this shit world, and we are now here to fucking change it whether you fucking like it or not” attitude. In this circle of mostly pale, tattered clothing, safety-pinned boys, aside from the few black fans in the audience, there was us! Gary Miller, aka Dr. Know of the Bad Brains, John Bubba Dupree from Void, Stuart Casson of Red C and the Meatmen, and the late great David Byers of the Psychotics, Chucky Sluggo, HR, and myself. Now I am just noting the guitar players, but would never, ever, exclude or forget Shawn Brown from Dag Nasty, their first original singer, and the late Nikki Young of Red C.

Through friends & some various acquaintances, more notably a guy named Ray Tony aka “Toast” and Eric Laqdemayo, aka Eric L from Red C, I heard about Madam’s Organ and the Atlantis Club. Soon I was auditioning at old Dischord house for a band that, from the start, proclaimed, “We are not here to make any money, are you in?” My brother Big Myke said, “Fuck this” and split. I hung around. Beefeater had an amazing, but at any given time, a very tumultuous run, with two vegan, militant vegetarians and throughout the two and a half years of our existence, three meat eating, substance abusing alcohol driven drummers, and myself!

What was it like to be a black punk in D.C.?

Let us all keep in mind that D.C. is what, 80 percent black, and this punk rock scene was fueled by angst-ridden white kids, a lot of whom I found out had fucking trust funds waiting for them when they became of legal adult age. Shit, I didn’t even know what a fucking trust fund was back then. It was very strange to be these “token” Negros playing in front of predominantly all white audiences, but we did it. As Shawn Brown and myself will attest, there were fucking issues man. A lot of fucking issues that we had to address when we did shows. When I first heard someone refer to me as the “negro Lemmy,” I was floored. I immediately lowered my mic stand down from the height that I set it. When I heard Shawn Brown being referred to as “the negro version of Ian MacKaye.” I was floored again. When I told him, he was taken aback but still plugged on. In retrospect, even in this new scene, I was always wondering, would racism ever end?!

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In Memory of Travis Fristoe

September 4th, 2015 by


Travis Fristoe was a friend to punks everywhere, whether you hung out with him in Gainesville, or were friends with him through his thoughtful, kind, perceptive, funny, poetic writing via his long running and incredible fanzine, America?, or his music, or were his pen pal. I met him when I was a teenager in college in England, he was studying abroad and happened to be in the town I went to college in, Brighton,  on the South Coast. It was sometime in the mid ’90s, and we both made zines and liked Rites of Spring and he made the windy, damp British winter seem less bleak and more of a place in which the idealistic/imaginative possibilities of punk could exist. I ended up crashing on the floor of the Palatka house in Gainesville that summer as a result, the endless chains of punk connectivities. Below are some pieces about Travis and friendship and punk that are in the current issue of MRR. You can support Travis’ family with this GoFundMe, and you can and should pick up the little book he made with Aaron Cometbus about Radon from No Idea… Here’s an interview he did with Lance Hahn. It looks like No Idea also still has some copies of his great zine, America?, but maybe other zine distros do too. You should seek it out, and also grab the Reactionary 3 records — you can listen to their tape here courtesy of Remote Outposts/Greg Harvester. 

Reactionary 3 in Philly, photo Joshua Peach

Reactionary 3 in Philly, photo Joshua Peach

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Report: Four Dead After Tragedy at DOOM Show in Chile

May 4th, 2015 by

Eyewitness account from Santiago, Chile
April 26, 2015

Please donate to help cover the funeral and medical bills resulting from this tragedy at this link or at tinyurl.com/helppunks

olla común

olla común

The Doom show on April 16 will mark a before-and-after point for the punk scene in Santiago. No one expected a customary rush on the door to result in four dead and over a dozen injured. Lots of people are grieving. There is a lot of blame-seeking. People are worried about the future of the scene. Although there have been many (often conflicting) accounts published in Spanish, only trickles of information have come out in English. As a gringo who doesn’t speak Spanish natively, I have tried my best to piece together an overview from other published accounts, conversations with trusted friends, and my own first-hand experience. The most important thing to take away is that there are STILL people in the hospital who need financial support. Please go to the following website to support the families of those who died and the people left with incredibly high medical bills: tinyurl.com/helppunks

Everyone knew the Doom show was going to be big. In the days leading up to the show, I had a lot of friends talking excitedly about it, while in the same breath complaining about the door price: 15,000 pesos (about $25 USD). Some very basic background about punk in Santiago: punk is BIG, most punks are poor, and they don’t like to pay a lot for shows. It’s pretty normal to see a crowd of punks haggling for a group price at the door. Lots of people I know were talking casually about showing up early and seeing if they could get in for free by means of avalancha. La avalancha – the avalanche – is a tactic utilized here to get into big shows without paying. People gather near the doors of a show, and at an opportune moment they rush the door, forcing their way past the bouncers and/or cops. All stadium-size punk festivals, of which there are a few every year, have avalanchas.

Benefit show from the 26th

Benefit show, April 26th

On the night of the show, I got to the club about an hour after door time. Nevertheless, there was a crowd of seventy, eighty, a hundred punks out on the sidewalk. Some had tickets and were just drinking with friends before the bands played. Some were waiting for the right opportunity to rush the door. Others were just waiting to see what would happen, eyeing the eight or so skinhead bouncers with uncertainty. At one moment, a group of about four cops passed through the crowd to talk with the bouncers. They didn’t get to talk for long though, because a steadily growing barrage of insults, bottles, and other projectiles started to rain down upon them. The cops took off and things calmed down, although every now and then someone would throw something towards the bouncers.

In the crowd, a punk tried to fight a metalhead who had just arrived. It looked like they had some prior beef. People pulled them apart, but when the metalhead went to turn in his ticket, the punk attacked him again. This was right in front of the bouncers, who were all taken off guard. At this moment the crowd rushed the doors and pushed the bouncers back. This was la avalancha.


The club is subterranean, and the entrance has a wide staircase that leads down to a landing. The bouncers retreated to the landing, and started to beat back the crowd with bats, pipes, and tasers. I couldn’t see the violence very well, but I could tell something was happening down below. The crowd at the front recoiled back, smothering and suffocating some of the people in the avalancha. I don’t know how long this went on for. It felt like a long time, maybe thirty minutes? But it could have been shorter and just felt long. Eventually, the desperation of the folks at the front got communicated to the rest of the crowd, who moved back and opened up a path for bodies to be carried up to the sidewalk.

When the crowd opened up, what I saw was horrible. There were over a dozen bodies, unconscious and injured, all over the landing. Lots of blood and lots of water. Friends I trust have told me that the bouncers were hosing people down with water and shocking them with tasers after they were soaked. People were trying to resuscitate the folks without pulses. One by one, most of the injured were carried up the stairs to the sidewalk. Some punks got into the middle of traffic and forced a city bus to stop. A number of the injured were loaded onto the bus and taken to the hospital, while some refused to move and just wanted to remain on the sidewalk.

At this point I decided to finally enter the club and look for the friend I had come with. Inside, lots of different stories were already circulating about what had happened on the street above: “Somebody died, man.”

“The cops came and they’re rioting up there.”

“It was weird, when I got here there was a bunch of shit on the stairs and I just walked in without having to pay. What happened?”

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Kim Fey/Kim Fern 6/7/73 – 4/20/14

May 3rd, 2014 by

It is with deep, deep grief and sadness, and some rage at the world that I write to tell Maximum Rocknroll of the passing of Kim Fey, known to most in this community as Kim Fern. She passed away early on the morning of April 20, 2014, surrounded by her husband, family, and her best friend.

Kim FernProvidence, Rhode Island

Kim Fern, Providence, RI, June 1998 (photo by Jon Soucy)

Kim had melanoma, which appeared about six years ago, went in remission, and came back about six months ago.

Kim was a well loved, respected, and complicated person with courage to speak up, and to stand up to judgement without letting it get her off track. She published Fern zine for at least 15 years, sang in ELEVENTH HOUR CONFESSION and other bands, traveled and toured extensively, and then moved to and settled in Portland, OR. She was a pioneer in the small ways we all can be, one of the first to go to school, get a career as a teacher, and have the courage to leave it behind because it was unsatisfying. She started a non-profit bike shop, North Portland Bike Works, in 2002 with friends who would become family, and was always there to advise other punks on the weird intricacies of the business world, and being a good boss and business owner. She was one of the first people in our community to buy a house and learn the struggles that come with that, as well as the struggles that came with our changing place in Portland from community members to community leaders.

Kim always remained present, strong, with an open heart and an incredible amount of spirit. She took seriously the duty to live life to its fullest. She appreciated what she had seen and done, and let those experiences open more possibilities. Upon getting her diagnosis, her zest for life grew stronger. Throughout the past six years she lived her life for every single moment. She never gave up the fight, and once again gave us an example of how to live, and how to die. She will be always remembered with love and respect, and much missed.