Punk rock ‘til the day they die
By Benjamin Dale
In a world mired in the desire for perfection in every way – the perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect manufactured life that promises happiness and fulfillment forever – some are more enlightened.
They see the beauty of imperfection. They eschew the hideous lie that creates whores out of musicians and pimps out of producers. They are the punks, the misfits and the down-and-outs. They work day jobs at bars, sandwich shops and tattoo parlors to support their music habit. Their do-it-yourself ethos is a smack in the face towards all the “machine” holds holy. They exist in nearly every city in America, but their underground nature makes their scene elusive for anyone but the most dedicated punk rock purists to seek out.
There’s a real desolation here in Dayton – a squalor that bleeds into the psyches of the city’s inhabitants – but it makes for some damn fine music. Many artists continue to record in the lo-fi aesthetic, priding themselves on making music that is decidedly anti-mainstream.
“It’s a violent place to live,” said Josh Goldman of the band Rad Company. “You don’t make any money and you live in a crime-ridden city. This area generates a lot of frustration and a lot of anger and a lot of hopelessness.”
Frustration plus anger plus hopelessness equals punk fuckin’ rock.
The Dayton punk scene is replete with great bands lurking just beneath the surface of the so-called mainstream – Rad Company, Astro Fang, Dirty Socialites, Shut Up, Adventure, R.C.I. and many others. They play shows in basements, garages and warehouses, providing a visceral, alternative music experience to those brave enough to venture past the bar scene.
Some people are intimidated.
“We’re gonna spit beer on you and everybody’s wet, and everybody’s having a good time,” said Goldman. “If we throw a beer can at you, that means we like you.”
For many, punk is more than a scene or a style of music; it’s a lifestyle — a community. The network extends nationwide, even worldwide, and a band might find welcoming couches in California or Texas belonging to another band that once slept on their own couches in Dayton.
The underground is about giving people the music they want to hear. Technically, the shows are free, but there is an unspoken code of honor that exists among punk musicians – if we give you music, you give us help. Donations are encouraged and a $5 tithe is the customary expectation.
But really, it comes down to “whatever people can spare after they buy a case of beer,” said Randy Buhr, CEO of Team Human Records, a local punk label.
If you can’t scrounge up a few dollars for a touring band, then maybe you don’t belong at a punk show. This is a tough crowd and they pride themselves on it.
“It’s intimate, you’re in my house,” said Goldman. “I open my house to you. I expect beer to be spilled and cigarette burns on the floor, but we continue to do it because it doesn’t support bar culture, where 50 percent of the people at your show are there just to get drunk. Plus, our shows are all ages.”
Bands are held to the same standard of humility as the fans. “If you have a problem playing for 10 people, then you’re playing the wrong music,” said Goldman.
As difficult as it is for the cage-reared, corn-fed masses to grasp, money is not the goal. The goal is to leave “a stamp in time,” according to Goldman.
Punk musicians do it themselves in every way. By opening their homes to bands, recording on each other’s equipment and trading records for out-of-town bands to sell, they remove themselves from the mainstream production process, and that’s the idea. They don’t make profits, they make just enough to make the next record.
Go back to your soothing suburban comfort and your corporate cheeseburgers and clothing. The punks don’t need you as much as you need them. They live lives of possibility — the possibility of happiness without money, of fame without fortune and of success defined on their own terms.
With the demise of Elbo’s and the Dayton Dirt Collective, the DIY scene is mostly restricted to house shows these days, but that doesn’t stop the punks.
Punk shows need to happen, and they have to happen in people’s homes, garages and basements because if not there, then where else?
Reach DCP freelance writer
and editorial intern Benjamin Dale at BenDale@DaytonCityPaper.com.