Still playing politics 

California's Youth Brigade a musical force for change in the world

Who: Youth Brigade

When: Monday, May 8

Where: Garfinkel’s

Tickets: $8

Growing up in the mid to late 1970s, the Stern brothers of Youth Brigade were too young to participate in the rock and roll of the ’60s protest era. By the time they were old enough to pick up a guitar, only the partying, sex and drugs of rock and roll was left over, leaving the world-minded musicians in a wake of love-song-ridden listening.

However, in the late ’70s, the Canadian-born Californians gravitated to a new underground scene emerging in California: a new wave of socially-politically driven music called punk.

"I remember thinking finally here is a music that says something to me," said Shawn Stern of Youth Brigade from his L.A. home.

"If the world was free of social, economic and environmental problems, then I could understand bands sitting around and writing love songs, but the fact of the matter is that this country and world is in trouble. As artists you should be talking about these things. Inspire kids to get active and change things."

In the late ’80s, the Stern brothers wrote about then U.S. President George Bush Senior, now they write about Junior. Not much has changed in Washington. But after 25 years of performing the punk band finally brings their politically-driven music to Garfinkel’s Monday, May 8.

Shawn is never without inspiration. Our interview falls on May Day, when millions of U.S. immigrants walked off their jobs to protest legislation that would crack down on 12 million illegal workers in the U.S.

"They are showing the right wing they can’t keep doing what they are doing," Shawn said. "We can’t keep raping and pillaging cultures in our own country and expect it to survive."

Along with political topics, Youth Brigade also tackles social, environmental and economic issues. Fighting for what they believe in is not only at the crux of their music, but how they operate as well.

Shawn recounts how many club owners didn’t agree with the messaging behind punk music, and finding a record label to produce the music was even harder. As a result, the Better Youth Organization (BYO) record label was born in 1982 to promote alternative music, art and other creative endeavours in a completely independent manner.

"When we started playing music and talking about things with problems that we saw in the world, promoters were interested in doing the punk rock scene back then," he said. "We started having to do our own shows. Put out our own records. We had to do everything ourselves."

BYO has represented more than 60 bands over the years and enabled the release of more than 110 albums, including Youth Brigade’s own: Out of Print, To Sell the Truth, Happy Hour, Come Again, Sink with Kalifornija , and Sound and Fury .

The band celebrates 25 years of bringing their raw-edged energy around the world next year. And while 25 years have passed, the band stays true to its musical roots: a mix of British oi-tinged, chanting punk inspired by Sham 69 and Angelic Upstarts, with California melodic surf-influenced sounds of Bad Religion and Social Distortion.

Youth Brigade will be joined by Wednesday Night Heroes for the double-playbill show.

Tickets are $8 at the door.


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