We're a Happy Family 

If the Ramones proved that you don't have to play an instrument to start a band, then the spazzy computer geeks behind Oakland's Tigerbeat6 prove you don't even need an instrument.

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In order to outdo his previous tours, Cex initiated a "rock star" grading system for Paws Across America to ensure that each night was crazier than the one before it, the categories being food, sex, drugs, alcohol, money, audience, conflict/camaraderie, and general debauchery.

While he's happy to talk about run-ins with psilocybin, what Cex and everyone else want to keep quiet about is another incident that happened a few days later. According to their publicist David Lewis, after one of their shows in the Deep South, some of the tour musicians decided to get drunk and go exploring. They found themselves on a fishing boat and one of the members of Stars as Eyes happened upon a gun. Whether or not it was for the sake of their grading system is unclear, but at some point the gun went off and shot the bands' tour manager in the leg, which, not surprisingly, caused everyone to freak out.

Although the tour continued on schedule, none of the artists were willing to comment on the incident, nor give any indication of what grade it got. Actual chaos, as opposed to digital, is apparently something the Tigerbeat6 crew is still getting used to.

They may be a bunch of troublemakers who make noise with whatever means are available, but not everyone agrees that the Tigerbeat6 crew fits into the Bay Area's punk traditions.

"I don't think that Kid606 relates to the East Bay punk rock scene," says John the Baker, "band liaison" for Alternative Tentacles. "I run Burnt Ramen Studios and we're dedicated to the local scene, and nobody from Tigerbeat6 ever contacted me to put together a show to enhance the scene. Punk rock lives on the street, man, not just in a computer. You still gotta be out there. You gotta love people, not just an e-mail address."

It's true that T6 artists don't play Burnt Ramen and Gilman because, hey, laptops and hip-hoppers wouldn't fit in. But even Baker agrees that just because you don't look, sound, or behave like a traditional punk band doesn't mean you can't beat on the brat with a baseball bat. "Spirit is what it's all about," he admits. "You can manipulate any instrument or no instrument and still be punk rock. You can have a laptop and be punk rock; you can have a keyboard and be punk rock. It's not as much fun for me personally, but if you smash the system with the tools of the system, I'm down."

Ipecac co-owner Greg Werckman sees a lot of similarities to punk, and he knows of what he speaks, having spent seven years working at Alternative Tentacles himself in the late '80s and early '90s. "They take on a lot of the topics that the punks used to take on," he says. "Maybe it's no coincidence that punk has gotten to be more like pop music, not challenging in any way and pretty safe. ... A lot of the people using the new technology seem to really be stretching the boundaries; maybe the new technology music is the punk for today."

At the same time, Tigerbeat6 doesn't fit into the antiquated paradigm of any grassroots punk movement. Although its operation is DIY and its musicians have complete artistic freedom, contrary to old-school punk labels, the focus of T6 is less on the local scene and more on the global. Its catalog has little to do with fostering any genre. "I think a lot of these kids want to break free from the fact that traditionally you've had to be a punk to listen to punk music," says Cex. "Or you're a metalhead so you listen to metal music. That's fucking stifling. The world is becoming so multifaceted and you're just bombarded with so many things. ... I think a lot of kids see it as fucking liberating to have one umbrella that covers so many new things and to be able to say, 'I'm all of these things. I can appreciate a rock band, I can appreciate a guy with a laptop.'"

Depedro goes one step further. "It's much less about the technology and much more who we are, which is the punk ideal," he says. "Electronic music is mainly based on technology and sound, and we're much more interested in ideals and emotional content."

But what happened to yesterday's champions of punk rock, Bay Area labels like Alternative Tentacles and Lookout Records? Depedro, ever humble, has a theory. "We have the labels that used to be amazing and trailblazing and groundbreaking and then they found a cash cow and they're milking the cash cow until its nipples fall off. Lookout should be putting out the Numbers. Alternative Tentacles should have put out everything on Tigerbeat6."

Regardless, figuring out new ways to scare the shit out of people without sounding histrionic, without regurgitating a formula, without retracing your steps, is the punk ideal. "Punk rock is supposed to make you squirm," says Alternative Tentacles' Baker. "It's not supposed to make you feel good. It's supposed to scare the shit out of you."


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