PART I: THE GENESIS OF THE ITHACA UNDERGROUND PUNK MOVEMENT AS TOLD BY -- Well you read it and believe it, muthas ...
EDITOR'S NOTE: We've been hanging onto this piece by Phillip A. Price for a month hoping for the right moment to let him spell out a phenomenon here and maybe do some reporting ourselves. No more time to waste. Phillip's essay charts an important development on the Ithaca music scene including the little known Black Punk movement here and around the country. He is studious and generous with his kudos and we feel this is a trustworthy narrator ... Read on, folks. It's a cool intro to a very happening scene – Chad Coles.
My name is Phillip Price, 27, originally from Binghamton, NY - "the Parlor City", "Carousel Capital of the World", "Home of the Square Deal" and for reference to many other notable quips about my humble hometown, simply search "Binghamton" on urbandictionary.com for the cream of the crop. Don't bother with Google. This is the Phillip A. Price of today ...
I moved to Ithaca in 2006 for school and lived there for several years. It was a surprise to find that anything resembling a bustling music scene was actually non-existent in Ithaca aside from the GrassRoots/I-Town jam, folk and bluegrass culture which I guess makes sense being that's what most college towns are known for.
Yet growing up only an hour away and with Syracuse also to the north, I was still kind of stunned that punk shows weren't really a thing in Ithaca at the time like they were at home in Binghamton.
Surely I had attended several in past times at C-Spot, the Haunt, Castaways, Lost Dog Cafe lounge, the old teen center (which became No Radio), one particularly legendary show at ABC Cafe, some on Cornell campus and even played a few myself, but I suppose the transient nature of a small city situated between two major universities is that the kids you knew from 4 or 5 years ago were long gone by the time I finally moved to town.
It turned out such was also true for a few other recent transplants. I started working at Volume Records (RIP!) on the commons and through that hub began rubbing elbows with good people like Bob Proehl, proprietor of all ages show space/record shop No Radio Records (RIP!) around the corner and one half of the infamous No Radio: "Versus" dance parties DJ team (i.e. prince vs. MJ, Talking Heads vs. David Bowie, The Cure vs. The Smiths, etc) the other being Luke "DJ Luke Fenchel" Fenchel, who was resourceful as a staff writer for Ithaca Times and also founded a short lived culture blog, Ithaca Post.
Through them I also met Natasha Pickowicz who was doing hip lo-fi noise shows under the "Popcorn Youth" moniker that were really quite enjoyable and off the cuff gigs certainly in punk spirit, being that punk is literally -- the free space -- where anything can happen, but certainly for the acquired taste of wanting to submerge one's self in live sonic nihilistic existential purging of consciousness ... I had a hard time getting any potential 1st dates to join me watch dudes twist synthesizer knobs at ad nauseum deafening volumes and look like they're just kinda checking their email on stage.
"Eclecticism of venues is a must; private homes, rock clubs, concert halls and record stores have all housed a Popcorn Youth lineup."
Natasha was the Arts & Entertainment editor for Ithaca Times which proved instrumental for all this fresh buzz that was stirring up and she also did a dope "after dark" radio set on WVBR late nights that was worth taping to find out about good new music.
Jayme Peck, from Plattsburgh by way of Long Island, had also just moved to town and was aware of the same older punk bands from Ithaca that I was, like I FARM and thier close cousins De La Hoya. Jayme founded what is now known as Ithaca Underground, initially a website serving as a networking platform for people who wanted to get involved in the do-it-yourself music community. He would also book shows at No Radio in addition to a kind of infamous temporary show space that was really just a damp leaky barn outside of town known as "The Abattoir" - it ruled.
The heavy shit went down here. Since Ithaca was still only warming up to hosting noisier live music of the rowdy variety, it was a struggle to sell shows featuring local bands that were without a doubt punk, but played metal, being considered the most extreme end of that spectrum. Quiet Time/Iwojima Medkit, Hiroshima Vacation, etc. and bands like this were opening and holding space for what might now seem like just another fun night at an Ithaca Underground show but even in 2006 - 2008, you'd have to put in a little more effort to find out where these bands were playing.
Thankfully, when Bubba Crumrine started to get in on the party with more unbridled enthusiasm, motivation, and resources than the rest of us combined, booking even more far out punk-metal-electronic-whatever acts and brought his own bands into the fold like Genital Holograms, BRIAN! and so on, everything was now kinda primed to move into forward motion with full on momentum into whatever we all wanted it to be, which again with punk as -the free space- literally, anything could happen.
Between the versus dance parties, the noise gigs, and the random DIY rock show at No Radio like The Dirty Projectors or Super Furry Animals, and Times New Viking or whatever was left of Cornell's Fanclub Collective, it was pretty evident that people were hungry for more to do around town than ~the wave~ with all the old hippies at the next blue eyed reggae jam or get down with the latest neu local soul rebel groups and act like everything was really "gonna be alright".
In Binghamton, we thrived on a scene of playing in bands and putting on shows out of mere urgency, to defy sheer boredom, to quite literally come together and rip shit up and be miserable together because there was (is) literally not a goddamn thing else to do.
Even though Ithaca is good living and most people genuinely enjoy all of it's tiny town quirks, a lot of us wanted to wake up the sleepy heads and start getting kinda rowdy. I started booking punk shows exclusively at No Radio (now, The Shop) -- being the only all ages venue -- doing it the only way I ever knew how: asking friend's bands to come play, print out handmade photocopied flyers, and look for people who might be interested to hand them out to. That's it.
National touring bands like Bridge & Tunnel, Attica! Attica!, Fire When Ready, Polar Bear Club, Mysterious Mysteries, Nakatomi Plaza, Kayo Dot, Ithaca's own Hank Roberts, Edie Sedgwick, Summer People, Joe Lally (Fugazi) just to name a few all came through packing out the small storefront space to the brim.
With encouraging support from newer local bands like The Berettas, Why the Wires, Elston Gunn, Fairway, the Trip Wilsons and several more that were pivotal in helping spread the word about things and drawing more people's attention to shows again.
Bob was totally supportive and resilient through all of this, entrusting people to respect this space, his business, while he was trying to write books and shit, taking on a whole bevy of other life happenings. Natasha, Luke, Jim Catalano, and others covered these shows in the local papers and online drawing attention from generally out-going folks who might not otherwise be on the radar of alternative or "underground" rock shows that were now consistently going on in ol' folky tiny town. Imagine my surprise when the quiet middle-aged timid librarian I always returned my books late to with a smile showed up to see Joe Lally because they read about them in all the papers that week and turns out, "Fugazi is my FAVORITE band!" Mine too.
Eventually No Radio closed for business, later reopening as The Shop who did shows for a while and then ceased to, instead to focus on being and all the aforementioned key players turned focus to other more pressing matters or naturally found themselves in the transient current of life that is a small college town, or graduated from school and got big kid jobs or became parents or moved to Brooklyn or...in the case of the most organized and dedicated of that loose fold, Bubba, is on the verge of world domination as president of the board of directors (HUH?!) not-for-profit behemoth organization that is...Ithaca Underground!
Left: Bob Proehl, found of No Radio and Luke Fenchel, both hinge pins to the early Ithaca Underground scene.
Still functioning, probably more efficient and reputable than ever. These things always feel kind of rag-tag when you're doing them from scratch. Almost like you're trying to get away with something criminal. What Bubba and crew have done with IU is like making the "family business" legitimate, gaining support from local businesses like Angry Mom Records, McNeil's Music, Ithaca Guitar Works, Greenstar and more whether through public moral support, financial donations, various other resources, or in Greenstar's case, actually providing a physical space for IU event's to happen. What?!
Opening many other new venues and spaces never thought imaginable in 2007, playing such a large role in new young bands forming and holding space for them to exist in, a platform, stages kind of actually designed specifically for them. If not actually musically inclined, IU has created volunteer opportunities for people who want to learn how to book shows, about how to produce live sound, how to network with bands and promoters in other cities, shit in other countries even; all the ins and outs. "To provide the people of Ithaca and the surrounding communities with an all ages, radically inclusive environment for their do-it-yourself ambitions, ensuring that new and challenging music and art is available to all."
If there's not an idea already on the table, now there's a seat for you to sit at and make your case for it.
When it really started to take off and Bubba would have up to 6 calendar months of stuff booked, it was kind of a relief. As much as I really loved coordinating stuff, being a point person, or just helping people out, I really wanted to get back to playing music myself.
Now, I could just go and see music and hang out and not have to be -on-, the go-to person, the guy who's gotta deal with the money, and set up and break down the PA, and make sure the bands are running on time, and looking out for underage drinking, and cleaning up after the gig. It's a lot, it takes a certain discipline, even more so a tenacity to do it well for the sake of the long haul. Of course everyone helped with all of this, that's what makes the punk world one of community. People helping each other out, just because.
Ithaca Underground has now become it's own world, so big that punk actually exists within it, as much as it is the heart of it. The free space is open to rock, hip hop, electronic, jazz, classical, pop, rap, dance, folk, avant-garde, noise, punk, hardcore, metal, alternative, visual art, film, photography, video, mixed media, literature and thensome. It's a space that Ithaca itself was not offering to us when we all arrived to settle in for a while to do our thing.
So we built it. In the doing of it, you're not really thinking about building anything though, you're just doing shit with your friends. You don't even think that anyone really cares. Maybe you don't even really care, you're just bored and wanna do something for the sake of doing something, anything. It's kind of the quintessential slacker attitude. "Whatever." Just do it. Eight we can now see that every single person's contribution (including all the unnamed individuals, and likely their parents) played and do play a role, no matter how insignificant, in creating this -world- that it is today. We can all agree that in this time, in one way or another, our efforts (even just showing up!) have made for better for one another, for community, for youth, for us big kids young at heart needing our younger counterparts to step up to the plate, and certainly for people who just haven't found their place yet, but maybe...just maybe might have a better chance of that now. Here's hoping.