Be Bold. Pile On. Stay Punk.
I had the distinct pleasure of partnering with my childhood friends pageninetynine and Majority Rule - two phenomenal punk bands from northern Virginia/the DC metro area that made a name for themselves in the late 90s/early 00s - on a recent reunion tour. The idea was that this particular tour would be about more than just a reunion cash-in; it would be about mobilizing communities and building energy to support grassroots, community-based organizations. The tour spanned seven cities on the East Coast. Here are some of the thoughts from the band members about the experience.
Katy Otto: Thanks so much for taking time to talk with me about this recent series of benefit shows. Can you tell folks a little about how this tour got organized, and what made you want to participate?
Cru (aka Chris Crude, pageninetynine): For me personally I'm cynical about reunion shows -- not that I think that people shouldn't do them. I think to each their own in regard to what motivates people to revisit their older projects. For better or for worse this is my career, and my focus had always been on how to evolve as an artist and musician, and so it always feels like revisiting older projects like pageninetynine/Malady/etc is more like moving backward artistically. That said, this band defined what trajectory I would take for the next 15 years, so it still remains one of the most vital and important projects I've ever been involved with.
The thing I was focused on most intensely was making sure this tour, if we did it, did not consist of only cisgender white men. I wanted more voices and bands from different backgrounds and experiences to be seen and heard. Once that was taken into account by both bands and you, Katy, it became very easy to get behind the purpose of this reunion.
It's sickening to see white supremacists so emboldened; it’s very, very important to me that we come together as a community and show our support for those that have to live with this daily, and continue to show how many of us stand for the right things, and won't go quietly.
Cory Stevenson (pageninetynine): For me it started basically with the same sentiment that our singer Blake Midgette shared with you originally, Katy, about wanting to do something to combat what was happening with the way America was shaping up. I still live in the D.C. metro area and work in that world and every single day I was seeing something that just made me vitriolic.
It may sound odd but I began to slightly resent myself because I began to feel like I wasn’t doing enough to change the world for the better.
I started talking with Mike and Chris Taylor about how I thought pageninetynine could be doing something and that is when the idea of the benefits/organizations really took shape. When I found out you, Katy, were really on board, Mike and I started a mantra of “Majority Rule has to do this too.” Ever since the Best Friends Day show, Mike and I would ruminate that it didn’t feel right because Pat (Broderick), Kevin (Lamiell) and Matt (Michel) of Majority Rule weren’t a part of it. So every time I would talk to Mike I would say the same exact phrase. “Have you talked to Matt???” Well, one day Matt came into Mike’s shop and talked and that was that. They were all in, so… Here we are. We couldn’t not do this. For all of the passion we had making this music in the communities we either were invited into or helped mold…
We finally felt like this was what we were trying to do with our art all those years ago: Affect people in a positive, beautiful way.
And in the current climate in America there are a lot of people and places that need that. Be it through monetary support, awareness, compassion and general education of the world outside their bubble… There is always more that we as human beings can do.
Mike Taylor (pageninetynine): Well, basically you told me you had spoken with Blake about the topic and pitched it to me as an entire anti-Trump show. Blake then hit me up almost instantly and asked about the possibility of a reunion and I honestly liked the idea right away. We had sorta been talking about something like this here and there over the years. I then asked Chris what he thought and asked everyone else that same day and everyone was down. So it sat there like that for a lil bit, but in the back of my head it was crucial to have Majority Rule participate and until they agreed it didn't seem like it was something that was gonna happen. I was at work when Matt told me that it looked like it was on for them and I teared up and smiled and knew that second that this was gonna be great. From there you, Matt and I chiseled out a goal and ideas for what we wanted to try and do. I believe it was either you or Matt that decided the smaller, locally centered organizations would be best and I couldn't have agreed more. Matt and I put together the shows and a few of us suggested organizations like D.C.’s Casa Ruby and you coordinated the beneficiaries. My desire to be a part of this is a no-brainer. I am disgusted with the world turning its backs on our own citizens and with the abuse of basic civil rights. I keep telling people I've despised Trump since the original Nintendo came out in the 80’s. He's human garbage.
Kev: As far as wanting to participate goes, I think that some kind of urge to get a band back together inevitably comes, and that we are now of the age when we should expect to feel it. That urge is probably more intense at the moment because it coincides with the Trump administration. Whatever natural inclination we would have had to do this was made so much stronger because of all this hate and ugliness, and all that seems appropriate to me. We do need to realize and remember, however, when doing stuff like this, that these are individual occurrences of charity, however generous the contributions. They are fantastic, beautiful things, and we should feel honored and excited to do them, but they are single allotments of cash to organizations that are supporting people who are underfunded, repressed or ignored by the status quo. They are immediate, crucial efforts to temporarily sustain something vital and struggling, while we continue to adjust our lifestyles and politics to be supportive of these needs generally. Unless we’re doing that, we will increasingly find ourselves needing philanthropy to plug all the holes our policies leave. We shouldn’t let our satisfaction with having done this allow us to feel like we have any more separation from the abuses we’re confronting if we’re not going to address the systemic failures that create them.
Katy: What are some of the primary responses you had to the trip?
Cru: Too much to say specifically, but overall, people seemed to connect with feelings of community, passion, resistance. Overwhelmingly, the response was one of gratitude -- not just from people we met, but amongst ourselves. There is a very real and tangible concern for the state of the world, which is heartening. The reciprocal nature of my interactions on this trip is making me re-evaluate my involvement in this community, and has given me a strong desire to work harder to make DIY/punk a community of thoughtful, strong-willed, hardworking, inclusive people.
Cory: Chris said it best. The one word I would use is gratitude. Either in talking to old friends we had met along the way or talking to the younger generation of kids who weren’t around when we were doing this… Everyone was grateful for this entire experience. Most everyone I talked to said “thank you for doing this.” And every time I said the same thing. “No, thank you. None of this works if you aren’t here being a part of this.” And I mean that with all my heart. If people don’t come out and support us doing this, it just ends up being a bunch of old dudes making a racket in an empty room for no real purpose. And like Chris said…this whole trip has been a personal course correction on how I will use what time I have left to do what I can for the community I have always called home.
Mike: Overwhelmed, inspired, blown away, in disbelief, empowered, focused. This was a very harmonious movement between bands, organizations, crowds, promoters and venues. People were very happy and appreciative and so were we. I'm still humming and reeling from what happened. I've never felt anything like that. Ever.
Katy: What felt different now versus 10-15 years ago when you all were playing together? What hadn’t changed?
Cru: We had more energy than ever despite our bodies all being in various states of decline. Like I said earlier, the sense of love and gratitude between us was powerful, and it carried us through these brutally long sets. (We used to play for about 20 minutes, tops). There was a certain amount of anger I was channeling as well (the lyrics are outdated in terms of relevance to my life now), of all of the rage I felt watching fascists walk through the streets and murder people in my home state, cops spraying indigenous peoples with water in freezing temperatures, cops killing people of color with no repercussions. It makes me sick. I was just channeling that as I was playing, which I think contributed to our energy as well.
Also, I felt like a bunch of us really needed each other at this point of our lives, and this trip helped answer that call. So that was kinda different, not that we didn't love each other back then, but I guess after all these years seeing people you grew up with kinda of coming into their own but still relating to each other the same way we used to made me realize how important it is to have people in your life that unconditionally let you be yourself, but never hesitate to check in or call out, ‘cause we are just that close. Like a family.
Cory: Well… Being a band that channeled everything we had every night playing this music is much, much harder the following morning. Haha. We still play like it’s the last time we will ever play, but time and nature remind us that we are not 20 anymore. And the conversations we have amongst ourselves just about the show we just played are pretty hilarious, in the sense that it sounds like a bunch of middle-aged guys complaining about sore backs and various ailments. We love one another just as much as we did back then, but now there is a little extra admiration for each other because we grew up and evolved into the people we are now. As for playing the actual music, it felt even more intense and more focused. I attribute that to the underlying reason for even being out on the road again. Every night we had the opportunity to do something positive for a group of people who need help and support. It felt like all of us just channeled something extra just for the causes that brought us there.
Mike: This seemed to have more purpose and motivation. I know it certainly came from the benefit aspect. Katy, this was the best pageninetynine tour to have ever happened. It felt like a call to duty. I know it's cheesy but it's the only way I can explain us getting up there and doing it better than we used to. I know we were better than we used to play. I don't know how, but I felt like we were. It was more exhausting than 15 years ago but more rewarding. Some things never change. We're always late, it's hard to get all eight of us moving at once, I still have to borrow cables from Matt Michel...Majority Rule are our big brothers. That's exactly what it felt like years ago. In a lot of ways we assumed our same roles. Majority Rule is perfect. They didn't age, they're still beautiful and play perfect like someone had just pressed pause and let them back at it.
Katy: What kind of feedback do you have for other bands who might be interested in planning something like this?
Cru: Do something that isn't just about yourself, even if it's a one-off. It will help, even if just a little. We have enough bands already trying to be famous; don't use DIY as a stepping stone to brand yourself, or inflate your ego.
Do something for others: It makes you feel good, and it helps build a community that will reciprocate and love you back way more than some capitalistic group of “fans.”
If you give back to your community, you will have friends for life, and that's way more important than some DIY popularity contest. I saw people I haven't seen in 15 years coming back into my life, offering places to stay, food, love. It's the only way we are going to beat back this rising tide of hate and complacency. Disgusting behavior and ideals are getting normalized, and there is a lot more work to be done. KEEP FIGHTING BACK!
Cory: Make it about your communities. And I don’t just mean your musical community. I mean the ones you are constantly surrounded by. Don’t just play a show with your favorite bands in your same genre. Make a real, concerted effort to get a bunch of different people in a room and give those people a reason to have a conversation. If you are in a band, be it Beyoncé or Born Against, you have some degree of power of bringing people together. Everything in life that is external to your thoughts and dreams begins with a dialogue. So facilitate different people coming together and talk to them. And it really is working. Punk rock, emo, indie rock, hardcore and all their various permutations have generally been inclusive subcultures that accepted all different kinds. But I saw more inclusion on this tour between people than I can ever recall seeing. If you can use your music to add to the movement of people who have to, no, NEED to resist all the bullshit that is happening to our world and create or grow something positive…don’t hesitate.
Mike: Calling on all punk bands. DO IT! We will help, we will play. Let's all do this. Screaming Females, Downtown Boys, Converge, Thou, Fugazi, Mass Movement of the Moth, Pig Destroyer, Baroness, Darkest Hour, Priests, Des Ark...on and on and on. Let's make this happen!!! It should also be noted that City of Caterpillar, Strike Anywhere and more (are) doing a huge benefit in November at the 9:30 Club and donating proceeds to National Network of Abortion Funds and J20 activists’ legal defense!! Amazing! I'll be there.
Kev: For me, I think the most important takeaway was that when you decide that you are going to do something like this, the cumulative effect of it all isn’t really apparent at the start, and it can end up being greater than what you plan for. What I mean by that is that when people see a charitable effort in motion, they begin to pile on. In this instance, it meant that people (sound engineers, show promoters, artists, etc.) were willing to donate their time and money (by volunteering, not getting paid, or by donating to the organization), making the money raised and the collaboration of it all greater and more widespread than expected. What started as an effort by pageninetynine, Majority Rule and Katy Otto became something much more concerted. People everywhere threw in, our effort became theirs, and, appropriately, the line between band and fan began to blur. We probably should have been playing on the floor.
There are amazing, enormous things possible outside of the box. On paper, this idea was absurd. In reality, it just wasn’t that much of a risk (granted, less of a risk to Majority Rule, being a three-piece and having fewer expenses).
As progressives and radicals, we have to be willing to operate with boldness. We should take these risks, as the conditions of our lives allow.
If you’re in a position to do that, and you think you can do your art justice, do it (I don’t recommend it if it means ruining the memory of your band, for yourself or for the public).
Be bold. Pile on. Stay punk.
By Katy Otto, distributed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license.
Image by Mark Valentino, distributed under the CC-BY-SA-ND creative commons license.
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