David Ferguson’s life story reads like an encyclopedia of the underground. Since arriving in SF in 1967, he has worked as booker, promoter, or manager for the Cockettes, the Black Panther Party, the Avengers, the Go-Go’s, and the Butthole Surfers, employed Courtney Love, and fostered an untold number of creative endeavors through his current organization, the Institute for Unpopular Culture (IFUC for short). The nonprofit’s latest project is, as he himself puts it, “a real exercise in postmodernism.”
“For this fund-raiser,” he recalls, “I came up with this idea that a string quartet playing the greatest hits of punk rock might be startling.” So Ferguson, who also runs the label classicpunk.com, posted an ad on Craigslist. Punk rock and classical must have more in common than you’d think, judging from the amount of former band geeks who responded — about 175. “There’s just a whole bunch of these people all over the place who seem to be trying to resolve those influences.”
So the auditions and arranging began. The result is the Punk Rock Orchestra, whose small ensembles have performed a handful of shows since late last year, but whose full forty-piece splendor won’t be revealed till this weekend. “We’ve got opera singers, tenors, sopranos,” Ferguson laughs. Timpani? Check. Bassoon? Check. “There’s a bass fiddle, viola, violin, cellos, piccolo, flute … and the piccolo and flute players are from the Oakland Symphony. These are all music-readers, no improv.” And what will these trained players be reading off their music stands? The Clash, Dead Kennedys, Fear, the Sex Pistols, and a few bands more on the New Wave tip. “Punk rock is punk rock,” he explains. “It’s very guitar-driven, and there are no guitars in this. It reminds me of Marshall McLuhan’s ‘The medium is the message.’ When you change the medium, the message is the same.”
The Punk Rock Orchestra plays 924 Gilman in Berkeley on Saturday night, with Misfits tribute band Plan 9, pants-impaired psycho-rockers Lo-Fi Neisans, San Diego’s Find Him and Kill Him, and Doppelganger. The all-ages show starts at 8 p.m. and costs $5. Call 510-525-9926 for more info.