D.O.A: 'The morals that should be there are harder to find'

Canadian rockers D.O.A. on punk and political turmoil

D.O.A. are punk royalty, and singer Joey 'Shithead' Keithley has been proudly wearing the crown for nearly 40 years. Formed in 1978 in Vancouver, their frenetically rip-roar, politically charged clatter often sees them mentioned in the same breath as Black Flag as fellow founders of the hardcore punk genre.

Keithley, who has overseen many D.O.A. line-up changes and is the one remaining founding member, lives by his band’s slogan 'Talk minus action equals zero', being politically active with the Green Party of British Columbia as well as bellowing about social justice in his songs. Now, he’s bringing those songs to China for the third time following tours in 2009 and 2014, this time teaming up with Beijing rockers The Diders for a split single release coming out on Genjing Records.

D.O.A. will launch the release, which features three short, sharp songs from The Diders and two from the Canadians, with a show at School Live Bar. However, due to uncertainty about The Diders’ future it’s unlikely that the Beijing band will join them. Drummer Wang Xu recently departed the band, and bassist and singer Zhou Jinbo says the former three-piece are on a break.

If The Diders do get their act together and return, it will be with a new line-up. 'Sometimes that can be a good thing,' laughs Keithley. 'I’ve gone through a few band members over a 40-year period – you just have to be on your toes.'

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The Diders.

You keep coming back to China – you must like it here?
Joey Keithley: Yeah, the Beijing rock scene reminds me of the Canadian and US scenes from the early '80s. Last time we played with the Beijing band Subs in Shanghai: a great, arty band. I ended up putting out a record of theirs in Canada on my label, Sudden Death Records.

How have you kept passionate over so many years and line-up changes?
The philosophy is a large part of what keeps D.O.A. going: being an activist and talking about what’s going on in the world. I don’t want to play music with people I don’t like, or who don’t share the goals of the band. When you see really good bands, that spirit comes through.

Do we need political bands in the age of social media?
I see D.O.A. as an update of a folk band. Folk bands would travel from town to town, telling tales of what happened in their city or village. We’re getting more technologically advanced but the morals that should be there are getting harder to find. If you can spread your message and help people through social media and live shows, that can work well together.

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The cover art of D.O.A. and The Diders' untitled split single, drawn by The Diders' guitarist Wang Zilu.

There is probably even more to be angry about now than there was when D.O.A. began...
Yeah, when D.O.A. started the world was facing warmongers, greed, sexism and racism. 40 years on, I’m still in D.O.A. and the world is still facing warmongers, greed, sexism and racism. Some things are getting better – take gay rights, for example, although obviously not throughout the world. But there are wars going on.

Is 'The Cops Shot a Kid', on the new release, about a specific incident?
It’s kind of about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri that started the whole Black Lives Matter thing: the shootings of African Americans. I also wrote a song called 'Police Brutality', which was about a guy getting tasered to death in Vancouver. He was a Polish immigrant who couldn’t speak English; he did something the cops misunderstood, they tasered him and he had a heart attack. Respect for human rights is important.

Has the leadership in Canada of Justin Trudeau calmed you down?
He’s better than the guy we had before: a conservative, Stephen Harper. But there are things Trudeau has approved, oil pipelines, which are a hazard to marine and human life. Politicians put out a smiley facebut they can be pretty similar, no matter which side they’re coming from.

Finally, you’ve run as a Green party of British Columbia political candidate – is singing about politics just not enough for you?
If you wait for someone else to do something, it won’t work. You have to take things into your own hands, reason with people, come up with good ideas... good ideas grow out of grassroots movements. I believe in progress and justice. And a sustainable environment.

'They're legendary'

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The Diders’ Zhou Jinbo on D.O.A. and the Beijing band’s future

'I first listened to D.O.A. around 2005 – they’re a legendary hardcore band and when they started I wasn’t even born. Their lyrics are much more free; their latest album is full of the 'F' word and cursing their president, which is not possible in China. They’re a long-standing band but are still writing new songs, which is a good example for us.

'It would have been really cool to play on the same stage as them, but I will definitely watch their gig. With The Diders, there have been communication issues and reasons we can’t explain as we are still trying to figure them out ourselves. It’s not just about the drummer leaving – we had three gigs with a new drummer but the vibe wasn’t there.

'I still play football with [The Diders’ guitarist] Wang Zilu, but we don’t talk about the band anymore. I’m working on a new band and we want to release an album this year. We’ll see. One thing I am certain of is my passion for punk music.'

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