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Coming Saturday: Bad Brains' Big Takeover of Sunset Junction

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When the inevitable Hardcore Hall Of Fame hosts its opening ceremonies at the Huntington Beach Quality Inn’s main ballroom in spring of 2014 (even as debate over the eventual location of the actual Hall is still being debated in the letters pages of Maximum Rock And Roll), Bad Brains will be among its first inductees. From the time of their first recordings in 1979, the influence these DC Rastafarians held over a swath of pimply white teenagers was equivalent to any band of their era: Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Minor Threat, DOA, anybody. Their sheer other-ness, the fact that they didn’t look or sound anything like the other bands, their ability to bust into a reggae jam at any moment, served notice that this scene could be expanded in any direction its participants wanted to take it.

But beyond that, they brought to American punk both a musical competence and explosive stage presence that went far beyond what the others were yet capable of. With a couple of isolated examples, people hadn’t learned to play that hard, that fast, that well, with that much rocket-fuel energy. Watching late-seventies footage, you can see them right at the beginning of the wave; within two years there would be lots of bands that sounded like this, or tried to, but for a while they stood very much alone, the most intense band in the USA.

The group's activity since the end of the eighties has been sporadic, but following the release of the superb Build A Nation in 2007, they’ve been touring fairly constantly and were recently found in LA studios working on new material. They’re playing a So Cal series of shows this weekend, culminating at Sunset Junction Street Fair on Saturday night.

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Vocalist HR spoke to us by phone from his home in Washington, DC last week about the Brains’ longevity, and their desire to keep moving creatively.

“We’re very honored and privileged. There’s a lot more people and audience that like our kind of music. This music is a lot more established. And also the bands are a lot more experienced (compared to the old days). We are fans of some new bands… it goes back and forth. We like to share instruments and ideas and collaborations together. We enjoy working with groups like Korn and 311. We were approached to do some work with a (hip-hop) group called Your Bill (ed: probably not the correct name, but that’s the best I can make out from the recording) and perhaps there will be a recording of our endeavours.”

Asked about their move from sweaty punk dives to the summer festival circuit, where they’ve become a mainstay, HR had this say. “Our style has reached a maturity. We were (playing festivals) in Rome, and Belfast, and the Sherwood Festival in Belgrade, and we heard the other groups there. There were some sorts of original sounds to come out of it, but you can tell there was a Brains influence. I think that from early on, it was excellent, and we got an excellent response from the show.

“Because of that response, it makes us work harder. We are going to try to get the same response but even better. Because people say they really truly enjoy our music and they have so much fun. And I want to give them that fun. God bless and we will see you as soon as possible!”

Bad Brains appear at the Sunset Junction Street Fair on Saturday, August 21.