Although best known as the leader of hardcore pioneers, the Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra is also a successful indie record label executive, spoken-word artist, and political activist. Born Eric Boucher in Boulder, Colorado, he matriculated to the San Francisco punk scene in the late 1970s. There, he formed the Dead Kennedys in 1978 along with guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Floride, and drummer J.H. Pelligro. From the beginning, the band parlayed a rapid-fire punk sound in criticizing the Moral Majority, U.S. imperialism and fascism, Americaís plastic suburban lifestyle.
Although never mainstream act, a twelve-inch single, "Too Drunk To Fuck"/"The Prey" (Cherry Red 12; 1981), reach the Top Five in Great Britain despite a radio ban. Following one album on the I.R.S. label, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (SP 70014; 1981), the band formed its own record company, Alternative Tentacles, concerned with providing a mouthpiece for unsigned hardcore acts. The label was thrust into the public spotlight when the release of the Dead Kennedysí Frankenchrist (Alternative Tentacles VIRUS 45; 1985) led to charges of distributing pornography to minors as interpreted by newly revised U.S. obscenity statutes; the controversy centered on inclusion of a poster reproducing H.R. Gigerís surrealist painting, Landscape XX, which depicted genetalia and various sex acts. Although a hung jury led to dismissal of the case, the protracted struggle undermined band relations, resulting in a break-up after the release of Bedtime for Democracy (Alternative Tentacles VIRUS 50; 1986). The Dead Kennedys would reappear in the headlines in 1993 when reissues of their first album were inadvertently included with CDs being shipped to Christian radio stations nationwide.
Biafra has continued to speak out on political issues, most notably free speech, through solo spoken-word recordings, collaborations with other artists (e.g., D.O.A., NOMEANSNO), and college lecture tours. The bulk of his energies, however, have gone into administering Alternative Tentacles, which continues to release albums by socially-conscious underground artists.
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