Punk Rock Comes to Spokane
Spokane's musical heritage is more than Bing
Was Spokane too much of a backwater for punk rock? Not if musicians like Jan Gregor or Brad Muller had anything to say about it. Spokane’s relative isolation in the early 80s made the “do it yourself” spirit of punk a necessity--local bar owners had so little interest in new music that Gregor’s band Sweet Madness would rent warehouses to put on their shows. But Sweet Madness and Muller’s band Strangulon, among others, found a dedicated following for punk, new wave and performance art, and helped to foster a lasting scene.
And backwater or not, the city was on the map for major touring bands. After D.O.A. and Black Flag both played Spokane dates in 1985, promoter Kevin Miller admitted “we can actually bring major punk acts to Spokane.” But there was also a unique Spokane scene, with local musicians and other artists collaborating to give voice to new and controversial ideas. In 1983, for example, promoter Leslie Swalley put on “Irrigate the Cultural Wastelands,” a night of music and performance art that the Spokesman-Review called a “three-ring circus.”
On this location in 1985, Moe’s Body Shop opened as an attempt to create a lasting, all-ages space for the local punk scene. Punk acts had struggled to find space for shows. “Irrigate the Cultural Wastelands,” for instance, took place at the West Central Community Center, rather than in a club. Moe’s Body Shop was well-attended while it lasted, but it closed within months over fire code violations. 123 Arts followed a similar path in 1988. The repeated shutdowns owed something to a strained relationship between the punk scene and the rest of the community; Parents were divided over the appropriateness of punk events for younger teens, and police often broke up events. Brent Biever, one of the owners of Moe’s, said he felt they were being “discriminated against just for being creative.”
While the 1980s punk craze had faded by the end of the century, punk isn’t dead yet in Spokane. The 2011 documentary Spokanarchy! chronicles the early scene, and also collects a soundtrack of recordings by the Spokane bands featured in the film. Today, our punk and metal scene continues to support local bands. But even more, Spokane’s alternative arts scene owes something to that first wave of punk rockers carving out a space for something new.