Two Saturdays ago, I found myself standing under a high, unrelenting afternoon sun in a glorified parking lot in Williamsburg, some lab-invented concoction called a Mountain Dew Kickstart Limeade in my hand, waiting for Florida punks Against Me! and Our Post-Sellout World to start. I mention Mountain Dew because its Green Label put on the free show at Northside Fest in Brooklyn, offering complimentary energy drinks, soft drinks and water to fans. Meanwhile, boozehounds had to pay for alcohol because this is America.
A Mountain Dew-sponsored show is the last place I expected to see Against Me!, whose anarchistic platforms seem at odds with a multi-national corporation like PepsiCo. Alas, the band rocked my face off and it’s hard to find fault with Mountain Dew providing frontwoman Laura Jane Grace an opportunity to speak and sing about transgender issues. Grace notably wore a “Gender is Over” T-shirt on-stage the same week as Caitlyn Jenner announced her identity to the world.
When Against Me! played its song “Those Anarcho Punks are Mysterious” – with its line “When people are either consumers or revolutionaries …” – the juxtaposition between the two ideals, and the idea they can co-exist, sent my brain into overdrive. What exactly were we doing out in this parking lot, if not being trained to consume? And if Against Me! is selling out (to a soft drink manufacturer, no less) then is there any such thing as selling out anymore? Is it possible to take principled stands across the board or must you pick one agenda item (i.e., transgender rights) and stick to it?
The music industry’s fucked status makes these questions harder to answer. A band like Against Me!, without a charting single or a top-selling album, must tour and tour and tour some more to sustain the band and their livelihood. If PepsiCo., in the form of Mountain Dew, offers them thousands of dollars to play a show why wouldn’t they do it? This goes beyond an everyone else is doing it argument because of their ethos, I realize. Does the fact they’re taking money from a corporate hand conflict with their message? Or is it more important, in the first place, to get their message out?
I don’t pretend to possess concrete answers to these questions. Nor would I pretend like I didn’t enjoy the hell out of Against Me!’s show at Northside Fest. The Mountain Dew Kickstart Limeade, on the other hand, that was an experience I don’t intend to replicate.