Pyrates & Geeks

Janelle Hessig: John Geek went to Pinole Valley High. He had a ponytail and wore a Pac-Man baseball hat.

John Geek: I was a little bit younger than most of the punks at Pinole. I was more of a weird hesher. I was into the proto-grunge stuff and the thrash stuff so I had long hair and a jean jacket with a Butthole Surfers patch. I didn’t really dress punk at all. I didn’t even dress East Bay punk, which is just a hoodie and short hair. I was more of a dirtbag.

When I was in high school, there were a lot of bands whose members came from Pinole, El Sobrante, and Rodeo – the West Contra Costa County refinery ring. I was obsessed with Primus. They all came from El Sobrante. Green Day came out of Rodeo and Pinole and El Sob. Jake from Filth was from around there, and Robert Eggplant and Joey Perales from Blatz. Those guys were all in high school at the same time as me.

If you wanted to get out of West Contra Costa County as a kid, you had to work hard to do it. Robert used to skateboard 12 miles to Berkeley. Once, I actually hiked over the hills, through Tilden Park, to get there.

Robert Eggplant: John was really motivated, not only in his band, the Fleshies, but also in helping other funky bands who needed a place to play.

John Geek: Eggplant was one of the only cool punk kids who would hang out with me. And James Washburn, who is Brainstew from the Green Day song. Mike from Green Day was also really nice. I was a big fan of Blatz and Filth and the heavier, more fucked-up sounding East Bay stuff because I thought their music would piss my parents off. My parents were enlightened intellectuals. My mom liked the Ramones.

I started going to Gilman in ’91. A lot of people already felt like it was over at that point. Like the Golden Era had ended when Operation Ivy broke up. That was like the Sex Pistols break-up for Gilman. I came just after that, and I thought Gilman was still a fucking blast. Blatz was winding down but they were still going. Green Day was starting to get huge, which was cool because they were our buddies from around town.

Robert Eggplant: Around that time, a lot of bands were being denied access to Gilman because there were more lucrative, clearly defined bands playing. So John thought, “Hell, these guys who do raves in Richmond throw events out in no-man’s land by the bridge. Why don’t we just bring a generator and have our bands play?” He called it Geekfest.

Janelle Hessig: Geekfest became this whole sub sect. It was just a ridiculous undertaking. They would book every single band in the area, every touring band they could get, and they would have these insane festivals.

John Geek: Geekfest started around ’96. We were all just getting out of high school but we didn’t know enough of the cool punks to get into the old punk houses in Oakland and Berkeley. So there was this nexus of weird, creative freakos who were living in Pinole and El Sobrante and Rodeo. Not just being drug addicts, but actually trying to do shit.

Corbett Redford: Every awkward kid in the area started to show up to the festival. Soon, even the guys in Green Day, who had just broken big would show up and hang out. Tré Cool played his accordion and sang songs between bands, encouraging people to buy the horrible food we were selling to cover the John’s cost for the generator. It all seemed to makes sense because, hell, we all grew up drinking the same water.

Robert Eggplant: John, and Corbett Redford from Bobby Joe Ebola & the Children MacNuggits were really the nucleus.

Corbett Redford: John and I have been friends since the end of the fourth grade.

Dan Abbott: The band name came from a conversation Corbett and I had in the Burger King parking lot in Pinole. We grew up around fast food. It was the closest thing to an industry Pinole had. 1995 was the year Ebola killed 300 people in the Congo, so that was in our heads. I guess we liked the juxtaposition between suburban America (including us) turning themselves into greasy breaded lumps, and the brutal (though natural) internal liquefaction that, at the time, seemed like the most extreme way to die. Plus we were stoned to tears.

Corbett Redford: Our band’s first show happened because I had a crush on a girl. John’s band at the time had cancelled playing her birthday party. I lied and said I had a band, and immediately called Dan, a noted Pinole talent and its most genuine outcast.

Robert Eggplant: They lived near Lucky Dog, at the Hermosa Street house. That was a lot of suburban kids’ first hangout space outside their parents’ house. There was some real creativity involved, not necessarily punk identified because, by ’97, punk was already 20 years old. People didn’t want to be stuck with the name “punk.”

Corbett Redford: However much we liked local punk bands like Op Ivy, Green Day, or Rancid, we wanted to do our own thing.

Dan Abbott: We were pretty proud of our rock opera, though we never recorded it. It was a sprawling epic about a sausage named Clarence who becomes a TV-dinner baron. We’re actually working with some folks about doing a short animated musical film based on Clarence and his friends.

James Washburn: It was so bizarre that we happened to live under the same roof. During the time John was creating Geekfest and giving bands a place, I was doing something similar for old cars with Backyard Believers. I don’t think me and John got the idea from each other. We both just totally loved what we were doing. That became the next phase of my life, after Gilman.

John Geek: We all started bands. We wanted to play with our friends but, at that point, everything got really drawn in. Maximum RocknRoll and Gilman got super defensive about only booking things that sounded “punk.” There were a million bands writing in, trying to get booked at Gilman because they’d read about it in Rolling Stone. So the wagon circles were drawn. Our bands couldn’t get in because they weren’t strictly punk. They were based on weird, Butthole Surfers kinda craziness. Even though it was all kinda punk in spirit, they didn’t necessarily see that. So we just said, “Fuck y’all, we’re gonna do our own show.” We were already putting out our own records on the S.P.A.M. label that Corbett and Dan Abbott and I started up (Robert and Dylan came along soon.)

Corbett Redford: The bookers at Gilman heard the Geek bands and thought, “silly folk punk? Thrash punk? No way!” But what does it say across the top of Steve Koepke’s? Funk-punk-thrash-ska.

Robert Eggplant: When they lost their place, we moved S.P.A.M. Records into the Punks With Presses building.

James Washburn: What they were doing was just fuckin’ awesome.

John Geek: There were a lot of charlatans dressing up like punks who wanted to play Gilman and become pop stars. That was like the beginning of bands like Blink 182 and AFI and all those bands who would do whatever it took to get huge. They were getting booked, they were getting reviewed in Maximum RocknRoll because they had the right look and the exact sound as everybody else. We thought that was lame.

Corbett Redford: I guess Screw 32 and AFI, with their gelled hair and Trix Rabbit T-shirts were the real punks. The Children MacNuggits first trips to L.A. were hosted by Dez from Black Flag and Jimmy from the Avengers. How’s that for punk? And Dr. Demento loved us.

John Geek: Maximum RocknRoll actually refused to allow S.P.A.M. to advertise, which is really funny. I had an long argument with Tim Yo about it. He said, “Not all the bands on this compilation are punk, so I can’t advertise it.” He was a good guy but he was dying and he felt like their scene was being killed because it was getting watered down. So we just did our own damn thing.

Dan Abbott: We wanted to make the music we wanted to hear. We started to create little autonomous zones where nobody would be excluded.

Corbett Redford: Years later, every band that S.P.A.M. seemed to touch became part of the local Gilman headlining roster.

Robert Eggplant: John Geek was volunteering for a while at Gilman. Gilman could have used his ideas.

John Geek: I got burned out on Gilman, personally. The bands started to get huge. We made Geekfest all-ages, and we made sure that it was in West Contra Costa County. That was the important thing. We did it in parks and different illegal spots. We followed these ravers that were doing free sunset raves out at Point Molate, which was an old naval fuel depot in Richmond. It was only policed by the naval police and they didn’t really give a fuck what you did as long as you were out before sunset. It was really cool.

Dan Abbott: Someone found an AK-47 in the mud at Point Molate.

John Geek: We’d start at 11 am and there’d be a rave in one half of the park and this weird, freaky batch of bands in the other. We didn’t let anybody know what the schedule was. We made headliners play at awkward times. Just being assholes.

Janelle Hessig: The idea was that anyone could play at all, and they all did. It was like the worst shit you’ve ever seen, but also some of the best shit you’ve ever seen. It was this whole underrepresented sect of people.

Dan Abbott: Two marriages resulted from the first three Geekfests. One of them is still together.

John Geek: My girlfriend Megan went to the early days of Geekfest. She says she remembers all of us being like scary mountain men ’cause we all had long hair and a weird, gross style. We didn’t have any bondage pants, ae just shopped at Thrift Town. And our music was weird.

Robert Eggplant: (510) BAD-SMUT was the way people would touch base with S.P.A.M. Records or find out where Geekfest was. John gave up the number about seven years ago. I still do announcements for all-ages shows, lectures, or projects people should check out.

Janelle Hessig: One of my bands played Geekfest. It was supposed to be an overnight camping excursion but the only place they could book it was Lake Ladoga.

Robert Eggplant: The first year anniversary of Geekfest, we did a three-day weekend show at the lake.

Janelle Hessig: There were no trees and there were all these drunk people stuck in the middle of nowhere. It was really a massive undertaking.

John Geek: You’d have to drive through the Central Valley about two hours north, and then you’d exit at Maxwell, which was this little shitfuck town in the middle of nowhere. You’d go left towards the coastal mountain range and you’d hit a lot of crappy dirt roads, following the handdrawn maps that we’d send around. People would eventually end up at this lake, which was staked out by some of our half-punk, half-redneck buddies from West Contra Costa County. It was basically just an irrigation lake for Central Valley agriculture. It kinda smelled bad and it was really desolate, not many trees. And there were a lot of rednecks riding Jet Skis, whooping it up and shooting guns.

Basically it was a lawless campground owned by the Bureau of Land Management. We raised a few eyebrows because suddenly there was a caravan of freaks, weirdos, and homos showing up. However, the town of Stonyford did have a decent proportion of weird, old hippies who went back to the land in the ‘60s, so they backed us up with the BLM. We did those smaller Geekfests at Point Molate, with 10 or so bands, all summer, punctuated in the middle by an entire weekend full of 40 or 50 bands. All free, all ages.

Janelle Hessig: There was a lot of dehydration involved in Geekfest.

John Geek: We’d feed everybody for free, too. Lentils and rice and whatever vegetables we could get. We’d get supplies from Food Not Bombs, buy some ourselves. We also borrowed the stove from Food Not Bombs.

Robert Eggplant: Steve Brady from Food Not Bombs used to live at the 1640 House in West Oakland and then at Hellarity for a while. Since I was involved in Hellarity, I had this idealism that we could set up and pour our energy together.

John Geek: A lot of us also were working around Food Not Bombs and other activist stuff around the East Bay. S.P.A.M. and Geekfest were run by a big collective of people. We would work on our different connections and figure out how to do it. We tried to be as consensus-based as possible. Kind of modeled after Gilman and Long Haul Infoshop and Go Shop and places like that.

Robert Eggplant: The beautiful thing about it was, we entertained a lot of the ideas. Whether it was standardized things like doing the record label or un-standardized things like doing a festival without a permit or having foam weapon fights.

Dan Abbott: The foam swords were first spotted at a Sunday Geekfest we did at 924 Gilman. It was the first time I’d ever met Dylan McNeill (later known as Dylan McPuke once he joined me and John Geek in the Bob Weirdos, our vomit-nudity-and-fire punk band). He was an old friend of John and Corbett’s from elementary school. He’d been living in Santa Cruz, and was involved in Amtgard, a live-action role-playing game that was like D&D without the dice. He showed up with a Volvo crammed full of foam swords. A bunch of us immediately took to it and began making our own foam-padded weapons, though ours fell far short of Amtgard’s safety requirements. We started the Berkeley Amtgard chapter. It still exists today, though they dropped our original name “The Shire of Burning Gnome”, and they, unlike us, do not send mocking, vaguely threatening ultimata to the central Amtgard organization.

In any case, we would bring our weapons to Geekfest. When the bands were bad, it gave us something to do. And when the bands were great, we would charge into the mosh pit with swords aloft!

Corbett Redford: I wanted to be a cool rocker guy so I was stalwartly anti-D&D. I would mock the role playing. Funny, all those guys have been in long-term relationships with smokin’ ladies, even strippers, except for me. Maybe I should have thrown some dice.

Robert Eggplant: John had a really unique policy — he usually gave anybody 20 minutes at Geekfest. He was like, “If you’re really bad or really sexist, we just won’t book you again.” A lot of really sexist bands played because they couldn’t play anywhere else.

Janelle Hessig: The lake was nice. You could sit on the lake in a little inner tube and watch the bands. There was a cop on a Jet Ski who tried to befriend me.

Corbett Redford: Two redneck jet-skiers floated in the water watching the bands one year. Marcus and I couldn’t stop repeating the names printed on the back of their Jet Skis loudly. “Hey, Ass-Man!” “How ya doin,’ Bam-Bam!”

Dan Abbott: Hardly anyone there was there just to be a spectator.

John Geek: People loved it. There were the few exceptions. People who were like, “How far did we drive to do this?” This band Glamazon came up and freaked out. They were like a joke glam band but they weren’t a joke. We booked ’em because we thought they were funnier than they actually ended up being. They didn’t even play. They got totally bummed and pissed. They actually asked where the dressing room was. I was like, “Well, there’s this cove of trees over there where everybody’s been taking a shit. If you wanna go over there and put on your makeup.”

Robert Eggplant: In the second year, Marcus and his friends collaborated with Geekfest. We did a few shows that were called Pyrates vs. Geeks.

Marcus da Anarchist: First, it was called Pyrates & Geeks, then it turned into Pyrates vs. Geeks, more as a fun thing.

John Geek: The second-year anniversary was a week long.

Dan Abbott: When we started doing the Geekfest campouts, the stakes got higher, but the levels of fun got downright transcendent. In 1999, we did a week-long festival to celebrate 3 years of Geekfest. This was our second collaboration with the Pyrate Punx, who (since they made the flyers) called it Libertatia, a reference to the supposed anarchist pirate colony on Madagascar in the 1700s. We were slightly peeved that they excluded all mention of the Geeks, since we did half the booking and nearly all the other infrastructural work (breakfast and dinner for all 300 attendees, garbage, dealing with cops). But we had a blast nonetheless.

Marcus da Anarchist: Libertatia is a mythological pirate colony on Madagascar. They would sail out and find slave ships and free the slaves, get some booty, and bring them all back to the colony. It was an Autonomous Zone. There was a little bit of democracy involved with it, but it was mostly an autonomous zone. That’s basically how we apply it to the nowadays Libertatia. A bunch of renegades of society just going out the middle of nowhere, far from the reach of the Johnny Longarm. We just try to get out there and do our own thing instead of dealing with cops and permits and all the bullshit.

Corbett Redford: Marcus always reminded me of a geeky Sonny Barger. Very serious about his silliness. Like the Geeks. Kind of. He came from a family full of show organizers and community oriented people.

Dan Abbott: One of the big events we’d planned was a scavenger hunt which led to a buried treasure, which consisted of CDs, band T-shirts, some psychedelic mushrooms and pot, and various other things people had donated. Quite a haul for a young adventuring party, anyway. People were really excited, and the whole festival was abuzz with groups of people running around on acid trying to solve a bunch of weird esoteric riddles.

But one group, the members of the band Scratchhabit, stole the treasure map from Marcus (Cap’n Black Dog). All hell broke loose. The mood turned kind of ugly. It was the middle of a week of debauchery, and there were 300 seriously inebriated folks who had been robbed of the treasure. More importantly, they had been robbed of their fun. It could have easily turned very bloody. So we did the only thing we could; we had a trial.

John Geek: There was a fake rivalry between the Pyrate Punx and the Geeks. But it was a total joke. We’d all be making out, hanging out, and drinking beer together and rocking out to the same bands. It was like-minded people being dirtballs and liking the idea of free, all-ages music, in as many illegal venues as possible. That was the major commonality. We were all punks. We liked a lot of the heavier pirate stuff that wouldn’t usually drift towards getting booked by us. And they liked a lot of the geekier stuff. But after a few years, some kids started to take that rivalry seriously. It was like, “Are you kidding me?” Marcus was one of my best friends. In a way, it was like the earlier East Bay-West Bay rivalry, popularized by Eggplant’s Absolutely Zippo zine. It was a joke to everyone perpetrating it, but younger kids, like myself, who took Zippo pretty seriously as sort of a combination of MAD magazine and Slingshot, thought they were serious.

Jerme Spew: I just thought those [Pyrate] guys were assholes. Not like evil or malicious assholes, just kind of unaware of the bullshit they were doing. I remember Geekfest went away for a three or four-day camping trip. The Pyrate Punx went along and made their own Autonomous Zone within the Geekfest. That was the dominion of the Pyrate Punx. And they went out and stole the Geekfest’s beer and food and shit like that. That’s how they were Pyrate Punx — they pillaged the Geekfest.

Dan Abbott: The members of Scratchhabit, who had promptly taken their stolen mushrooms, were terrified and bewildered when the entire festival surrounded them at the edge of Lake Lodoga, wielding torches and clubs. Somewhere there’s a recording of the trial, since we turned the PA on and everyone used the microphones. The prosecution was led by a very drunk Marcus, with accompanying grumbles from the entire crowd. The accused were appointed a lawyer, an even drunker Amtgard fighter (“Spamdrekk the Savage”) dressed as a barbarian in only a fur loincloth. He argued that they should not be killed. That was about the extent of his rambling, slurred argument.

In the end, it was decided that they would be thrown in the lake. They pleaded for their lives, but they were grabbed by the angry mob and taken to about waist level in the lake. There they were dunked, and that was that. They weren’t harmed, but the crowd seemed satisfied.

Corbett Redford: The jury consisted of two Marty Krofft-esque puppets yelling, “Off with their heads!” As I remember the angry mob that dunked the thieves was mostly large, awesome dykes.

Marcus da Anarchist: The Geeks were against king ‘n country and we were against king ‘n country (or federal government). They were pushed down and fought back and that’s what we were doing. Fuck permits. Music is free. They rebelled and we rebelled. With guitars instead of cannons and boom sticks.

Robert Eggplant: I first became aware of Marcus in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. He did flyers. He was very consistent with his art and became almost a packaged name.

Marcus de Anarchist: I grew up in San Francisco, down the street from the Farm. I used to go hang out with the goats n’ shit. When those places started closing up I found myself going to the East Bay more often.

Marcus da Anarchist: Pyrate Punx started in 1997. Prior, we were working at Gilman and doing other things, like punk picnics, around the Bay Area. We did our first show on September 13, 1997 at Ocean Beach [at Land’s End]. There’s a big concrete slab right on the beach, at the end of Golden Gate Park, with graffiti all over it. It’s beautiful. I think it was an old drainage port for a sewer system. It has big gates on the ocean side. There must have been about ten, 13 bands. All the bands played except for one or two before the cops came and busted it because we didn’t have permits. It was a great start. We all went back to my house and had the rest of the bands play.

Robert Eggplant: They excelled as promoters.

Marcus da Anarchist: In San Francisco, there’s this park called Warmwater Cove Park off of Third Street, almost in Hunter’s Point. It’s also known as Toxic Beach. We used to do shows out there all the time. It’s out in the boonies of San Francisco and it’s one of the most polluted places on the bay. It’s really funny watching punk rockers swimming out there and yelling at them, “Get the fuck out of that water!” I remember one year Tony Shutthefuckup and his girlfriend went down there and painted their bodies with mud. They got very, very ill from that mud. Everybody was yelling at the them the whole time, “Wash that shit off! It’s Toxic Beach!”

Robert Eggplant: I think by the third year [Libertatia] became a little bit messier and pretentious.

Marcus da Anarchist: The geeks did their thing and we did ours. We were a little more choosy about picking bands. They would pretty much just book anybody. They stopped doing it after awhile. We’ve kept it going for ten years now.

John Geek: I think we did about 40 Geekfest shows. We were doing them more or less every month or every couple of months from 1996 until 2001.

Marcus da Anarchist: Libertatia is totally its own entity now. A lot of people take their only vacation there. They quit their jobs and make their way up there to part of the community.

John Geek: Somewhere in the middle of all this, Gilman started to become really accepting of the Geekfest because a lot of the Geekfest people started to volunteer at Gilman. That’s one of the beautiful things about Gilman, it is open for people to become involved if they want to put the time in.

Marcus da Anarchist: I started volunteering at Gilman at a young age so I was actually a part of an earlier Gilman family. Bands like Filth, Blatz, Econochrist, Grimple.

John Geek: A lot of the Geekfest bands and the S.P.A.M. bands started to get involved at Gilman and they took it over. We started to do a lot of the Geekfests at Gilman when we couldn’t find an appropriate outdoor venue. It was really awesome that it was at Gilman, but I think it eroded the thing that made Geekfest special. At that point, it was almost necessary to help promote the bands on the record label. So, even though the label was also non-profit, it started to function almost like a weird business. We didn’t really know how to do that and we weren’t really comfortable with it. In the end, after I quit, it spiraled. S.P.A.M. got bigger with Corbett as head coordinator, and started to put out more prominent bands and then it kind of fell apart. Geekfest also fell apart. It became too unwieldy. It wasn’t really built to function like that.

Dan Abbott: We were having fun even when it was just a dozen weirdos and a generator on a toxic little Navy fuel dump.

Robert Eggplant: It is a great loss, having John focus on school instead of bands. Because he did a lot for whatever community we were building here.

Marcus da Anarchist: The Pyrate Punx are still going strong. We’re very DIY but we also apply this thing called DIT Society: Do It Together. We like to be known as people who can take care of things on our own but we also like to do things together. That’s what being a Pyrate is. You’ve got a crew. If you’ve got a crew, be a crew. Do it together. If I wanted to be selfish I could have had Pirate Punks Productions and made money off of it, but I’m not about that and neither are any of my associates.

Robert Eggplant: There’s a huge Pyrate thing nationally and internationally. I’m not sure if I understand the whole scope of it.

Marcus Da Anarchist: In this country there are probably about 19 chapters, but abroad we’ve got 21 altogether right now. We have the saving-face factor. If you don’t put on shows every three or four months, then what the hell are you doing it for? You’re just kidding yourself and you’re kidding us. A bunch of the Pyrate Punx are musicians. I’m not a musician, I’m just a shitworker. We have fun with it, but we take it pretty seriously. We have a council of captains and we get together and wrinkle a lot of shit out. And, as we say, every Pyrate Punk, including myself, no matter who it is — male, female, or transgender — we’re all completely equal.

John Mink: In 2006, this kid Micah pulled off a 10-year anniversary of Geekfest at a bunch of illegal house venues and parks in the East Bay, including an afternoon on the shores of Lake Merritt pirating the Shakespere Festival stage. There was a ton of bands, and a commemorative zine that I put together. Every show was uncomfortably packed, and it didn’t get busted. More people showed up than there ever were at the old Geekfests, that’s for sure. A lot of the original S.P.A.M. Records have been re-issued by the new San Francisco label Thrillhouse Records, which is also a record store and secret basement party venue.

Dan Abbott: Libertatia, by the way, is having its 10th anniversary this year. My all-monster jug band, the Hobo Gobbelins, will be headlining one of the days. Full circle.

Corbett Redford: Hell, I felt a bit co-opted when last year I wound up on the cover of MRR next to an anarchy symbol.


Robert Eggplant: Dylan McPuke was really into video games and D&D. He had gone to school with Corbett and John since second or third grade. We met some people from Santa Cruz who were into weapons fighting, kind of like Society of Creative Anachronism, but with foam instead of wood. So there were foam weapon fights.

Dan Abbott: I assume you are referring to “Frogs, Mud, Birth and Crucifixion” about the Burroughs reference. Yes, we were deliberately sending up Burroughs, though that’s not how it started. I took a very long Greyhound trip when I was 18 (the band started about a month after I got back) and that poem was written after a late-night, um, “philosophy session” in the bus bathroom. We never performed this, but recording it seemed like a good idea in the studio.

Corbett Redford: Random factiods and blatherings: We played a show for The Playmate of the Millenium. We, as a band, had dinner with the former Congresswoman of Hawaii at which point before we wandered into a room where it was only us and Henry Kissinger. Beth Lisick capped on us in one of her “awesome” books, tho she’d never seen us and tho we DID know what the Ebola virus was. We once played Billie Joe Armstrong’s Christmas party. Allen Ginsberg told us he thought Burroughs would be “into our band”. We were in the old Details magazine for “Worst Band Names”.

So the funny thing is years later after we went and started Geekfest so as to be able to play SOMEWHERE, our band, any band on S.P.A.M. it seemed became the Gilman headliners. Hell,

Plus we got less funny and more scary as we went on as a band. Seven years before 9/11 wrote songs that included lines like,
“While you sittin’ there eatin’ Raisin Bran; I’m making plans with the Taliban. Fuck the man in D.C.” and “On Sept. 11 in the year of the serpent; The rain fell in sheets of wet anger.” Weirder…

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