Sailin’ On In The Streets of Tokyo And Misty Mountain Tops of Niigata
Afro-Punk’s James Spooner and company refuse to lose in the land of Asahi

JVC Victor Entertainment, Inc. offices (Tokyo)
Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

By: Michael Lara

“There is no mystery for what I try to be. A reason for the things I do.” Powerful prime time Fishbone circa ’86, full-flavored, multi-layered and perfectly so for a universal liberation no matter your socio-economic class or generation. While classmates Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction found their path, a path paved more than a decade earlier, the roots of each owes heavily to the likes of Bad Brains, Dead Kennedy’s and countless others. Slated to show their legendary live chops again at Fuji Rock (, visa snags ironically gave new meaning to the aforementioned Fishbone lyrics to their “When Problems Arise.” Denied entry, one of the kingpins for this communal 4-day, 4-night man-made city in the mountains flow was shut down. Despite the 11th hour trap door, ‘Afro-Punk’ director James Spooner, producer Matthew Morgan and comrades-in-arms Jesse and Eddie marched steadily into Tokyo to give a screening prior to their Japan launch at midnight at the fest days later in tandem with Julian Temple’s doc ‘Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten.’

We are recording. This is a free flow.

James: You have to forgive me: About a half hour ago, I decided I was going to be in pain (chuckling).


You’re getting ready for Fuji Rock obviously then.

James: Yeah.


Public Image - album cover

So, Public Image, 1978, a classic album, what do think is the public image for afro-punk in regards to your project?

James: I’m not quite sure what you’re asking.


Well, what do you think is the overall theme in ‘Afro-Punk'?

James: Well, um, I guess my main concern in making this film, was on one hand expose punk rock for everything that it is, for better for worse. A lot of times, people in the punk scene like to think it’s somehow something different from the mainstream society, you know. And it is different: It’s more vegans or something. Or more people with tattoos.


Yeah, that one guy in the film. He’s a vegan and an anarchist.

James: Yeah, beyond those politics, I always felt it represented the society. So like, for instance, Salt Lake City punk rock is very militant, drug-free, you know. They are known for being crazy, but look at who their parents are. Where when you look at New York City, it’s going to be more multi-cultural, whatever. My experience is that people like to pretend this is their culture is so politically correct that there cannot be any racism or anything like that.


James Spooner photo

Did you ever see the Social D doc ‘Another State Of Mind (1982)'?

James: Yeah. Well, that movie is a perfect example: It’s part of a punk rocker to get fucked with and it’s part of being a black person too. Yeah, but not exactly (all laughing). Marlon. He was really cool and so there were pictures of him in the film, but it was actually one of the only star struck moments when I was on the phone with him ‘cuz to me when I was 12 or 13, I saw that movie, over and over.


Yeah, there was this show called ‘Night Flight’ that showed it at late night in the SF Bay Area. Yeah, they were in that house in Canada.

Matthew: Yeah exactly, have some chili (grinning).


That totally reminded me of Matt Davis’ house in your film. How did you find him?

Matthew: Well, when I first started trying to find people to just be in the film and do interviews and stuff, like the first 10, 15 people, I sent this long questionnaire to like, I just wanted to talk about it.


To get a litmus test, a flavor?

Matthew: Yeah, and I didn’t really know how many questions to ask. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just testing things out. And I found out about his band, The Vida Blue, and I sent him an email with all these questions and he wrote back with 6 or 7 pages and I could tell he was psyched to talk about it. So in reading his responses, I was thinking, “This dude is going to be in the film.” And that was like in the first month of me just thinking about it. So he was in from jump. And he told me how his life was like and it totally represents the punk-rock lifestyle.


Even better since it’s in Iowa City, I mean, how many people are thinking punk and Iowa City?

Matthew: Yeah, and that was exactly the punk rock I knew and loved. Even though I grew up in New York, I always went to the suburbs for shows ‘cuz l like that brand of hardcore better.

For all of you, what was your earliest intense show? For me it was Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies in ’86. It was at the Jewish Community Center on Lake Merritt (Oakland, California). The venue choice was totally bizarre and some blonde girl climbed the Marshall stacks and dove, but was only partially caught. Then bam, compound fracture, bone sticking out, lights on and show over. (All grimacing)

Jesse: Wasn’t punk, but it was Jungle Brothers and De La Soul at Nassau Veterans (NYC).

James: Man, I got a gazillion shows that stick out in mind, but I remember one that sticks out in my mind in particular. It was in Bethlehem, PA, which is an Amish town and this was a show at a community center or something on a Sunday and the cops busted it before it started and they said they were enforcing the Amish law of no dancing on Sunday.


So, it was like that Kenny Loggins’s flick ‘Footloose,’ but for real.


James: Yeah (big smile), so they were canceling the show and then this kid says, “I live like 2 streets over, which is the other town. And we can do it in our barn or whatever.” So all the bands loaded up and went over there and all the kids went over there. I remember the bands: It was Frail and Chokehold. I just remember it being so loud and so intense and everybody being, packed up, no stage. It felt like a locomotive. Everyone was being like…(chugging train sounds). I looked back and everyone waving together. The only other experience similar to that was the ‘Afro-Punk’ show that we did with this band from France called Defey. Aesthetically, they look like they could be in Fela Kuti’s group, but they play like straight death metal.


I think also probably having to change the venue made it better. “Yeah, we can go to my place.”

James: Yeah, and that to me, that is the epitome of what punk should be. “Well, fuck them, let’s just do it over.” And not even being a question. What about the money? What about…?


Yeah. It will all fall in line. What about for you guys?

Eddie and James

Eddie: The show that sticks out in my mind the most was when I was living in Philadelphia at a place called Trocadero. I saw Pantera, Morbid Angel play there and, uh, the mosh pit was all neo-Nazi’s guys just going ape-shit right. And Phil Anselmo stopped the music and told the band to stop playing and I respect him because he said, “If you don’t stop that racist shit now, we’re going to stop playing. And you guys can tear this place apart. I don’t give a damn.” And all the neo-Nazi guys… You know, Phil Anselmo is a god to them and a skinhead, too. New Orleans is not racist. Then said, “If you don’t stop, I’ll get in the pit and beat all your asses.” I’m at the bar upstairs and looking down from the balcony and the whole Neo-Nazi crowd left. These Latino guys then came down and dominated the floor and they continued to play a kick-ass show, especially ”Walk” came on. We destroyed all the seats in the bar.

James: (chuckling, eyes rolling)

Eddie: The restrooms doors were kicked in. I mean, I’ve never been to concert that violent before or struck me like that. Other than that, shows in the Northeast are tame because you got 7-foot tall security, but Trocadero is minimum security, like no security. So, if Pantera had stopped playing, it would’ve been LA riots ’92 again in there.


And for you?

Matthew: I’m trying to think…

James: You’ve had plenty of time...

Matthew: Maybe Marley at The Rainbow as a little kid or the 3 nights I saw Michael Jackson tour at Wembley Stadium sold out, with 90,000 people each night. I was 15 or 16. All the great shows now, I work out, and it’s not the same. You miss bits and stuff because your mind is somewhere else.


James Spooner photo

The one character in your film, the female drummer…

James: (instantly with a proud smile) Mad Dog. Yeah, she’s amazing.


She’s saying, “I don’t have time for you know, for people who punch in and punch out. I mean, don’t you have a passion?”

Jesse: Yeah, that part always hits me hard.


How’d you find her?

James: Again online, she’s homeless, but she has a website (eyebrows up with a broad smile as all laugh). So, basically, when I started the film and looking for people, I was just going out and asking as many people as possible to name me as many bands you can that have black members.


Allen Dias of PIL there in the UK is and…

James: Yeah, but I kept it in the States, I couldn’t imagine flying anywhere else.


So were you “riding the dog,” going Greyhound?

Jesse: It’s like $69 anywhere.

James: (chuckling) My experience was so funny and such a cool experience. She told me to meet her at this house where she was staying, this apartment building in Hollywood. And I drove up to this nice building and I thought, “Ah shoot-Mad Dog is on the come up.”
(All laughing)

James: I walk up and she comes out and goes, ”Spooner right?” And she pulls out a broken cigarette from behind her head and says, “An interview with Mad Dog has got to be worth a pack of these!” So, yeah and went to the store and I bought her a pack of cigarettes and then we went back to the apartment. And as we walked down the carpeted hallway, I noticed a brown ring just outside her door. When I walked in, I immediately hit just a wall of funk. I looked to the right and there’s a naked man brushing his teeth in the bathroom. She’s all, “Shut the door! We got company.” Pizza boxes in the couch, cushions and all. So I just said, “You know, the light in here is kind of bad so maybe we can do this outside.” That’s why the sound is a bit screwy because we were by the air conditioner, whatever. She just had amazing delivery for everything.


What about the corporate guy? I myself tried to go corporate. The value scales are just oceans apart. That guy said, “I had a job on Wall Street. I thought I wanted to be a banker…

James: Yeah, “benefits, benefits, benefits.”


For you, what was it for you, the alarm clock to wake up as you’re saying to yourself, “This is not me.”

James: Well, I’ve just have always been this way.

Matthew: Yeah, I was just going to say the same.

James: I got into thinking this way really young. I went to a hardcore show instead of my finals and didn’t graduate high school until I could take the test the next year. For me, it was like, I’ve always, to the dismay of my parents, whatever thought I’m not going to college until I know what I want to go for and by the time I knew what I wanted to go for, I was already doing it. But once my dad saw me in Suede magazine, his wife was at the dentist office and saw a picture of me, and was, “Oh my God!” Then it was like college whatever. That’s success.

James Spooner

Matthew: I was out of school at 14 and I’ve had my own business since I was 17, making it 21 years. So it’s been nothing new.


What was the catalyst for you all to come together? I think many have great ideas, but most don’t follow through on them.

James: It’s been a long process. One day I woke up, actually I was just trying to go to sleep and thinking about stuff, going through personal questions about my identity and lifestyle choices and um, looking at my life. I had been alive like 22, 23 years and I went to visit my father in St. Lucia and I don’t know anything about that culture. Ask me anything about punk rock and I can answer you night and day, but what is that doing for me? I was really just actually mad at punk rock. I’ve invested so much of my life into it and what have you giving me back? Ultimately, what is gave me back was D.I.Y. mentality which is what made me feel that I could even make the movie. Two years went by making it and a good year and a half to two went by screening it when we had a screening at the Urban World Festival and we wanted to have an after party with this band Stiffed, who Matthew managed at the time. So, I had to talk with him to get it going and he was just super-supportive. Told me to tell him more about ‘Afro-Punk’ and saw the potential. He started talking to me about what he felt if could be and these are all things that I wanted it to be, but I was just a 1-man team. So then we started working together. Another couple years went by, doing shows. During that time, I was silk-screening shirts and had them in his shop in Brooklyn so he knew what was going down. Then at a certain point, he contacted me and said, “I think I can get something going in Japan.” I passed it off to Matthew and he got into contact with them (JVC Victor Entertainment). And here we are, 2 years later (broad smile and eyes alive). It was 2003 when it came out, but 2001 that I sat there and said, “I’m going to make a movie.”

Afro-Punk at (USA)
Afro-Punk at (JPN)



All opinions expressed by Michael Lara are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.


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