Riot Woman with James Spooner
James Spooner is a visual artist, a parent of two, and a vegan tattoo artist who runs Monocle Tattoo in Los Angeles. James embodies the DIY spirit and has built his life around his punk rock values. He’s the creator 2003’s Afropunk documentary and is currently work on a graphic novel which is chronicles his experience growing up as a teenaged black punk in the California desert, entitled The High Desert. In addition to his website and Instagram account @spoonersnofun, you can now also find his comics featured in Razorcake magazine.
Afropunk speaks to questions around how Blackness is defined and expressed and it remains a relevant as ever. Like Mimi Nguyen’s zine Evolution of a Race Riot, Afropunk has profoundly impacted and helped shape and expand the conversation about race and punk identity and has remained a touch point for many throughout the years.
Hanif Abdurraqib captures the enduring need for the critique of racism within and beyond the punk scene Afropunk raised and the importance of the community James’ work helped build. In an essay entitled “I Wasn’t Brought Here, I Was Born: Surviving Punk Long Enough to Find Afropunk,” he writes, “Too often, the choice in punk rock and D.I.Y. spaces for non-white men [and I would add many other marginalized identities] is a choice between being tokenized, or being invisible.” As James says about Afropunk in our interview, “I set out to do the punkest thing I could do at the time, which was critique punk rock.”
Creating and touring with the Afropunk film, as well as organizing the subsequent festival of the same name (in which James is no longer involved) is just one example of James’ embodiment of the DIY spirit of punk and his commitment to keep creating and building community around his politics and interests. He has stayed true to his values throughout his many projects and as a parent. As he says, “A really big, important part of the punk scene I try to impart on people now is that punk audacity to just do things without permission.”
In our conversation we talk a lot about being teenagers coming into punk, especially because that is the focus of his book-in-progress The High Desert. We discussed how he discovered punk as an answer to the “perfect storm of adolescence” and the frustration of being one of two black punks in the high desert of California and the “racial exceptionalism” he experienced there. We also talked about how his experience changed when he moved to NYC as a teenager and met other black punks and punks of color.
We discuss the importance of embracing the “do it yourself” spirit of punk and moving from being a consumer to a creator of culture. James’ determination to create a world for himself when he doesn’t fit in is the kind of spirit I love about punk and it comes through in his creative projects and as well as to his approach to parenting. Talking with James is to get excited about punk, and punk values, again and to see how those values can continue to inform your work, even as you move beyond and through punk.
This episode also includes my thoughts on the Bikini Kill reunion show I recently attended in New York City. I reflect on how for me the most important elements punk contributed to my life are community, relationships with friends, and the importance of DIY and social justice-oriented values.