Pioneers of Hardcore Punk, the Dead Kennedys were noted for their biting, often satirical sociopolitical diatribes against U.S. foreign policy, Ronald Reagan-era domestic policy, a culture they lambasted as conformist and superficial and anything else that roused the ire of lead singer Jello Biafra.
A puckish, satirical provocateur with a quavering, caustic howl that cut like an icepick over the band’s furious riffing, Biafra (born Eric Boucher) formed the band in San Francisco in 1978, along with guitarist East Bay Ray. The band’s first single, “California Uber Alles,” was released in 1979 – that same year, Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco, on a platform that included banning cars and hiring the unemployed to panhandle in wealthy neighborhoods. That first single was followed in 1980 by the single “Holiday in Cambodia” and the band’s first record, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.
The Dead Kennedys were one of the first American hardcore bands to find chart success in the United Kingdom, despite the band's material being banned from the British airwaves. They were also pioneering do-it-yourself recording artists; Biafra and East Bay Ray formed their own record label, Alternative Tentacles, for releasing the band's records as well as material by other artists.
In 1986, Biafra and others connected to the label were charged with distributing pornography to minors – a charge prompted by the band’s including with copies of its record Frankenchrist a poster of a painting by the artist H.R. Giger featuring genitalia. The case went to trial, but ended in a hung jury.
After releasing five studio albums, the band called it quits later that year. The Dead Kennedys reformed without Biafra in 2001, and again in 2010 for a series of live shows; Biafra and the other members have fought in court over royalty payments and other conflicts. Biafra has continued to perform both as a musician and a spoken word artist.