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Before Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” there was Age of Consent’s “Fight Back”

Music brought Age of Consent co-founders John Callahan and David Hughes together in Los Angeles in early 1981. They met one night at a presentation given by Hughes regarding contemporary music. Callahan, recently arrived from the East Coast—a disco and rap devotee—took issue with Hughes’s dismissive criticism of disco. Callahan stuck around after the talk to exchange ideas about the music scene and to learn more about Hughes’s gay punk and performance perspective. A friendship developed. Later that spring, when Hughes was producing an experimental “Sound and Vision” series at a downtown gallery, Callahan suggested a rap—a political gay rap. At the time, rap music was new enough to be considered experimental and so the two wrote “Fight Back,” an anti-gay-bashing rap, which was the show-stopper at one of the series’ performances.

The reaction at “Sound and Vision” inspired the duo to perform—for the first time under the moniker of Age of Consent—that summer at L.A.’s first open-mike “rap night” at the ON Klub in Silver Lake. As a Los Angeles Times reviewer put it, most of the raps “seemed motivated more by a desire to dabble in what is hip than by a deep commitment to the genre. That definitely wasn’t true of Age of Consent, a gay duo which opened the live segment with a beautifully executed blend of self-deprecatory humor, gay pride and militancy that fully displayed rapping’s potential.”

Another of Hughes’s collaborators, Andrea Carney, brought a feminist perspective to the group, which was evident in “Missionary Position” and a cover version of Bob Dylan’s “Too Much of Nothing.” Carney later left Age of Consent, at which point Thea Other, who was intrigued by the group’s combination of performance art and rap music, joined in late 1981. Thus began the band’s most prolific and productive period, performing throughout the Los Angeles area at UCLA, the Sunset Junction Street Fair, on KPFK-FM, and opening for the English Beat at the Palace, as well as performing at numerous clubs and political benefits.

Not content to be confined by prerecorded backing tracks, Age of Consent recruited a live band, which included established musicians Paul Eckman and Derrick Roberts (of the Relievers), Kyle C. Kyle (of Venus and the Razorblades, the Skulls, the Motels), Craig Fisher (who did session work with Janet Jackson), and Blackbird McKnight (of Parliament/Funkadelic, the Headhunters). The group performed with the band at Club Lingerie, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the Christopher Street West gay pride festival, and opened for Nona Hendryx, again at the Palace.

Although the trio disbanded in 1983, Callahan, with fellow activist Josy Catoggio, continued performing as Age of Consent at political benefits through 1985.

In a feature story in the Sunday Los Angeles Times, the reporter summed it up like this: “Although the group may confuse [record] labels, Age of Consent is one strong hope for the growth of the rap style in Los Angeles. Significantly, they do not simply parrot East Coast acts. In the world of rap, Age of Consent is fairly unique. Besides being white and dealing with gay topics, the group fuses aspects of theatre, performance art and cabaret in its show.”


The following is a work-in-progress based on leaflets and our best recollection. Please let us know if you have additions or corrections.






Header photo: Violet Hamilton