Houston thrash punk legends D.R.I. have been at it for three decades.
You’ll remember (unless you’re trying hard to forget) what the ’80s were like. You were young, disaffected and angry. Reaganomics was killing you. You felt alone. Then a band threw you a life preserver in the raging sea of despair that was your life. They were called D.R.I., an acronym which stood for something you already considered yourself: Dirty Rotten Imbeciles.
A Houston-based punk act too furious to ignore, they were one of the only bands to make a name for themselves outside that giant bastion of Republican politics. They were thrash pioneers, twisting the genre and infusing it with metal/punk/hardcore and making it all their own. D.R.I. could whiz through 22 songs in 18 minutes. And they did, on their first 7-inch record, Dirty Rotten EP.
Enter Kevin Bakos. As the co-owner of one of Houston’s oldest and last remaining record stores, Sound Exchange, Bakos has been a driving force of support for Houston music since punk rock hit the streets in the late ’70s. Always a renaissance man, Bakos lent his design talents to many a T-shirt, show poster and album for Houston-based bands of that era, D.R.I. among them (Bakos is responsible for the art on their stalwart albums Violent Pacification and Dealing With It). We caught up with the man to talk Houston punk, D.R.I. and their maturing sound.
How did you come about doing the artwork for D.R.I.?
I was unemployed at the time, obsessed with punk rock, and became fascinated with screen printing. I started doing T-shirts for local bands, usually without asking first, and once the bands saw them they of course wanted more. This led to some art gigs working for various scene-related businesses and local bands, of which D.R.I. were a part.
Important bands came out of Houston during the ‘80s (Really Red, Verbal Abuse, Party Owls). What was Houston like at that time?
Downtown Houston at that time was a pit. Most of the clubs were either downtown or in The Montrose, an area that had all but been forgotten by the city. Shuttered homes and abandoned warehouses littered the map. There was no evening entertainment downtown at that time, so after 5 o’clock the whole thing was vacant. It made for a great playground/art/music environment, but that is the case for all nascent bohemias, I suppose. Culturally you could easily draw analogies between Houston in the early ’80s and NYC in the late ’70s. There were artists, punks, hippies, cosmic cowboys, beatniks, junkies and anything else you could name all co-existing, supporting and influencing each other. I was lucky to be there.
Why didn’t Houston’s punk scene get the recognition of cities like D.C., New York, L.A.?
Because there was no way you could label it neatly. It was musically all over the map, so you didn’t have the convenience of a simple identity such as “Boston Hardcore” or “DC Hardcore.” The scene in Houston supported all kinds of music, and I must point out that that was largely at the insistence of the founders of the scene including, but not limited to, Really Red.
Is there truth to the rumor you created the iconic “Skanking Man” logo for D.R.I.?
None whatsoever. That was [D.R.I. vocalist] Kurt’s [Brecht] brother, whose name I cannot recall. I think he was playing drums for D.R.I. at the time.
D.R.I.’s sound has changed over time, starting with their album Crossover. Were people bummed when it came out?
I suppose some were, but that was a knee-jerk reaction to the rockisms that were part of metal at that time. Looking at it now, I think there was a very positive cross- pollination occurring there. Besides, you can’t do three-chord punk as a career. It is too limiting. Can’t blame them at all, especially since it was a great record.
Is it astonishing to you that Kurt and [D.R.I. guitarist] Spike are still thrashing 30 years later?
It is. I ran out of steam for it years ago, so more power to ’em!!
D.R.I. perform Sat., Feb. 26, 7:30pm. $16.50-$18. With Paths 2 Glory, The Heels + Live Set Disaster.
Trocadero, 1003 Arch St. 215.922.6888. thetroc.com
PW's Music Issue 2014