The Beatnigs

No Burritos in the White House

Jeff Ott: The guy who’s now called Michael Franti used to be in a band called the Beatnigs. They would play there sometimes.

Kevin Carnes: It was the best and the worst name we could have, all at the same time. For years, I got grief like, “I just found out about you guys. I never went to see you because of that name. I couldn’t deal with that name.” People didn’t have any idea that most of the people in the band were black, and all of the people in the band were minorities.

Kareim McKnight: “They don’t eat burritos in the White House.” I’m black, and it was amazing to see someone like Michael Franti onstage and pounding it out. I was pretty green politically, and all that stuff was brand new.

Jeff Ott: Beatnigs would accidentally light shit on fire, by having all these grinding wheels and sticking metal in them, all this crazy shit.

Kevin Carnes: We were using these diamond-plated circular saws, shooting sparks off of metal. We never set anything on fire by accident. We set plenty of things on fire, but not by accident.

Kareim McKnight: There was a lot of machinery. The Asian dude would manipulate different parts of the machinery. He would press metal and sparks would fly and the crowd would go crazy.

Kevin Carnes: One time we played at Gilman Street, we actually set up on the floor. The intention was to have people play along with us, put the music in the hands of the people, right? We set up all of this stuff, and as people came in, they literally had to walk right up to this sculpture, and it was like pieces of metal hanging from it, that later on you might end up playing a little bit, at least touching it, because some guy shot sparks off of it with a circular saw, and another guy played it with mallets, and another guy burned a little piece of message that was attached to it.

Noah Landis: The song “Television” was originally a Beatnigs song, and was carried over into Disposable Heroes. They played Gilman Street and it was really incredible. Incorporating all sorts of things that you would associate with industrial music into their songs.

Kevin Carnes: One of the primary influences for the Beatnigs, for me, I went to the I-Beam to see Test Dept. Guys playing kind of an African-European noise. They were like Kraftwerk on steroids and crack, and lots of weed. Bourbon. And I was just like, okay!

Kareim McKnight: It was such a crazy illuminating experience. Anything and everything was possible. The Beatnigs was a band that concentrated that feeling of total rebellion.

Kevin Carnes: We weren’t trying to play music in a conventional way. Anything that made sound was a musical instrument. People would drive by while we were rehearsing and be like, “Hey, I’ve got an accordion. You want it?” Maybe you just played one note on the accordion. I mean, we weren’t a band. We’re just a group of people.

Kareim McKnight: I missed the Beatnigs and always wondered why nobody discovered that. It seemed like it was buried. Later on, Michael Franti did a cover of “California Über Alles.”

Kevin Carnes: I never ever once felt black when I was in Gilman Street. There were very few places that I had that feeling. Very, very few places. And very few of them have been in this country. That was one place where I never really felt the issue of that.

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