On Thursday 16 July 2020, Ken Chinn (also known as Mr Chi Pig), best known as the frontman of Canadian Punk band, SNFU passed away. He was aged 57. No official cause of death has been announced.
Born Kendall Stephen Chinn in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on 19 October 1962, he was the son of a German mother and Chinese father and the second youngest of 12 children. His childhood was traumatic, much of it related to an unstable family life and which would later be diagnosed as schizophrenia. According to Chinn’s early-teen friend, Cameron Noyes, who lived with Chinn at the infamous down-town Edmonton house, Nosedive, they were also the last family in Edmonton to have no running water.
In 1981, along with brothers Marc and Brent Belke, he formed a band called LIVE SEX SHOWS. This was a short-lived band, but the trio would soon form the band that has become synonymous with Chinn, SOCIETY’S NO FUCKING USE - better known as the acronym SNFU.
Chinn was renowned for high-octane, enigmatic, rather mischievous and frequently airborne performances which often included masks, puppets, outfits and other props and this helped lead the band to release its first records on YOUTH BRIGADE’s BYO label before a splitting in 1989 due to exhaustion and in-fighting.
Chinn moved to Vancouver, Canada and fronted another short-lived band in THE WONGS which released a solitary EP in 1990 and then split the following year. An even more short-lived band in LITTLE JOE soon followed. Vancouver also provided Chinn’s gateway to a long battle with a number of hard drugs and his coming out as homosexual.
Late 1991 saw SNFU reform and sign to Epitaph Records in 1993 - producing what was the band’s highest-profile period. However, the label didn’t renew the band’s contract in 1997 and by 2001, there was another hiatus.
As before, Chinn formed another short-lived project in SLAVECO before SNFU returned to action in 2003 before another split in 2005. This time, Chinn had a down-turn with periods of depression, poverty, addiction and homelessness leading to a complete mental breakdown at the time his mum passed away. Somehow, he also managed to work on an as-yet unreleased solo album.
2007 saw SNFU reform again and generally stay active from that point on.
In March 2010, Chinn was the subject of a biographical film in Open Your Mouth And Say... Mr Chi Pig (review here). The following year Chinn suffered extreme pneumonia along with bouts of cachexia, a wasting syndrome related to chronic alcoholism and malnutrition. The band also became the subject of a book - Chris Walter’s ...What No One Else Wanted To Say - which is pretty much the defining, in-depth analysis of the band and Chinn as a person.
2013 saw Chinn perform some solo shows as DNFU (Distortion’s No Fucking Use).
Most recently, Chinn inspired the Edmonton event, Mile Zero Dance Society’s Second-hand Dances for the Crude, Crude City in January - an exploration of what it means be to Punk or alternative in today’s world. In the work, choreographer/dancer Gerry Morita channelled the frustration, violence and catharsis of the early Punk scene.
Outside of the band, he often held court at Vancouver’s Pub 340 or perhaps The Cambie Pub, liked steak tartare, loved to travel, and had read chef Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential repeatedly.
It was reported in November 2019 that Chinn had been medically diagnosed as having only one month to live.
In the wake of Chinn’s passing, childhood friend Noyes is part of a small Edmontonian group (which includes local venue the Starlite Room) that is working on a pitch to the city to have a mural painted and a statue erected in honour of Chinn, and also to organize an online memorial for him.
I got to see SNFU twice - both crackers - one with a younger Chi, the other with an older version of the same man. First time was down in Brighton at, I think, the Richmond back around 93/94. It was December, cold and I missed the band’s gig at the George Robey (with SNUFF...). I’d long had at least the first two of those three classic debut albums - it was a time the band was already on Epitaph if I recall. Chi was stunning - energised is one word but not sufficient.
The second was way more memorable - in the band’s home town of Vancouver, Canada during a visit in 2016. I saw a flyer in a local record shop, got directions (and it was a ten minute walk from where I was staying!) so off I went. I recall it was an awesome venue with typical Canadian hospitality. The band blazed, but Chi looked old, damaged but still enthralling. On the merchandise stand was that biography mentioned above. Given I was on holiday, I bought it and the seller suggested that, if I hang around after the gig, Chi might sign it - “no promises... Depends on his mood.” I’m not really an autograph seeker but, SNFU in their hometown and only a ten minute walk home? OK... I waited.
Chi finally appeared and the seller on the merchandise stand (who had retained my book during the gig), pointed me out and gave Chi a pen. A big signature was scrawled (and on the flipside of the page, so was Chris Walter’s). Chi suddenly grabbed my head, kissed (a bit too noisily) my ear, drawled “thanks man,” and off he went. It was quite a moment (Good? Bad? You decide!) - both touching, engaging and surprising - just wish I had got a photo somehow!!
Mr Chi Pig - a legend in every circle of Punk Rock and one that set the bar high while succumbing to just about every low imaginable.