FROM THE UNDERGROUND: 'It was punk rock, sexy and uncensored gay sexuality,' recalls Billeh Nickerson of Kim Kinakin's 'zine Faggo.
(David Ellingsen photo (courtesy of Kim Kinakin))
One way to measure a person's effect or footprint on the world is to look at his or her friends and to see who he's inspired. Taking a look around Kim Kinakin's world, it's immediately apparent that this queer punk musician/artist has earned the admiration of many, including those whose respect is often hardest to earn.
From writer/performer Michael V Smith to Skank producer/teacher Billeh Nickerson to performance artiste Amber Dawn and more, some of this city's most challenging underground subversives have been inspired by Kinakin.
Now, as the 36-year-old Kinakin heads to Hollywood to further his graphic design career, the time seems right for what might be jokingly called his 'Vancouver obituary' and an opportunity to reflect on how one person--by remaining steadfast in their politics and passion--can make a difference to many.
Kinakin's contributions to Vancouver's queer scene has taken many forms, from publishing the fanzine Faggo, to his part in the all-queer musical group the Skinjobs, to co-creator of Vancouver's Queer Punk collective. Every one of Kim's projects has had two commonalties: each was proudly punk rock and each focused on creating community.
Kinakin says his passion for both elements was fueled by a singular truth. "I think psychologically it comes from me being a kid in a disruptive, violent, split-up family and not feeling that connection. When I discovered punk rock, it had energy, vitality and aggression, and it brought with it a collection of misfits that came to those shows. These people were my friends, my community and were the people that I talked to about the shit that was going on in my home."
Kinakin went from being a witness to being a participant in the scene, as a founding member of a much-revered hardcore band called Sparkmarker. The group had a near-religious following, with its passionate politics, meaningful lyrics and between-song dialogue.
After coming out partway through Sparkmarker's seven-year history, Kinakin's lyrics subsequently tackled difficult gay topics, such as "Tom Foolery" a queer suicide piece that touched on his reasons for being so 'out'-spoken in the band.
In it, Kinakin sings: "I'm telling everyone I'm playing for the other team/'cause you know it hurts to assume and it kills to hold it in."
Longtime friend Trish Kelly--co-producer of last year's Broken Pencil 'zine fair--has fond memories of Kinakin from that time. "He was a hardcore punk rock boy in a band and he was wearing a barrette. He was different from the other boys I met; he was my introduction to the political side of punk, and also made me re-think what it meant to be a boy. "
During Sparkmarker's final North American tour in 1997, Kinakin was desperate to find fellow queer punk rockers. "When I saw the gay world, I didn't see me. It didn't sound like me, it didn't look like me, it didn't talk like me."
He decided to produce Faggo (www.faggo.com), a punk-and-queer-focused fanzine that released three issues. The mag's content--written by Kinakin and other queer punks he met on his travels--ranged from band interviews to tales of being 'punk at the fag bar' to emotive writings touching on everything from isolation to empowerment.
Billeh Nickerson remembers being profoundly affected by Faggo at the time. "I remember thinking 'finally, someone is doing something like this--a non-traditional queer aesthetic. It was punk rock, sexy and uncensored gay sexuality, not in a glowstick kinda way, not in a logo-on-your-shirt way, there was something queer, street and grassroots all at the same time."
In 2000, Kinakin and a handful of other members of Vancouver's queer punk community --ranging from radical political activists to genre-defying artists - decided to found a group called the QP (aka queer punk) Collective. The organization's mandate sought to expand the then-narrow parameters of what it means to be queer.
"The QP Collective," Kinakin recalls, "was a group where no one on their own had much money or power to make a big statement, but collectively we had a bigger voice by being everywhere at the same time."
Members of the collective contributed to his next project, the Skinjobs, a three-piece queer trio that was a summation of all his previous experiences rolled into one. Part band, part queer stereotype buster, part performance art project, the Skinjobs' CD Burn Your Rainbow--with songs like "Peep Show Love" and "Recruiting"--was designed to promote inclusion beyond the pretty, polite queer archetype.
"One significance of the Skinjobs," explains Kelly, "is that Kim was often singing about loneliness, cruising and taboo things that gay men don't necessarily want to face. When Kim is on stage, what he says between songs is incredibly brave."
Local activist Amber Dawn says she was inspired by Kinakin's ability to transcend communities. "I have Kim as a mentor. The Skinjobs played Pride Sunday in the middle of Davie St one year, and played Gaylord in front of young genderqueers that same weekend. That is the kind of artist I want to be--an artist who can do both."
Michael V Smith echoes Dawn's respect for Kinakin's determination to bridge communities. "Kim is one of the rare few people that I can invite to any event. There are few fags in the city that will turn up everywhere; he's comfortable going anywhere. It is that quality about him that I'm going to miss the most: he thinks that all culture is for all people."
Fellow Skinjobs member Mimi Mahovlich says she continues to reap rewards from Kinakin's inspiration. "Years later, I'm still affected by it. As a teacher, I see the whole issue of agency around queerness, of promoting a real identity around being queer and celebratory."
Kinakin believes that some of the group's messages still apply today. "There has become a complacency and a total middle-class privilege by gay people who--as long as they can have their bars and purchase what they want without being discriminated against--don't care about any further activism, it is over for them. And it isn't! So many people don't fit the perfect suit and tie or the lipstick lesbian look, though it is acceptable to be on TV that way. The Skinjobs was a reaction to that.
"How about the rest of us that don't fit in there?" he asks. "We still have a voice, and we're not going to stop screaming and kicking!"
When asked about the current state of today's underground scene, Kinakin admits that, although he respects the inclusivity of events such as Bent and Odd Ball, he is frustrated by financial barriers placed on underground show promoters.
"The city is lacking affordable venues and all-ages venues. It is becoming a bigger and bigger struggle to find spaces to do things. I would like to see more shows, and I would like to see more politics in those shows."
Odd Ball co-producer Zena Sharman agrees. "Sometimes we need to put our money where our mouth is and not just make it about having a debauched, fabulous time. I think we need to take it out into the daylight and see what we can do. Kim is amazing at that; he's not a one-issue person, he's a social justice person, and I think that that is a wonderful thing."