Three Halloweens ago, Minor Threat, Black Flag and the Misfits played a free, all-ages show in the basement of an undisclosed abandoned building somewhere in Salt Lake City. Show-goers were led to the secret venue and left to traverse a zombie-filled maze of hallways before they found the roar of the undead punk rock legends on a dank basement stage. Pumpkins were smashed, piñatas were beaten to smithereens and a couple hundred SLC punks reveled in the glory of the deceased punk bands, resurrected from their unholy graves. Of course, it wasn’t actually Minor Threat, Black Flag and the Misfits. It was Utah’s own xCOMMUNICATEDx, Pass-A-Fist and Youth Descent, impersonating and playing cover sets of some of their favorite punk bands in a Salt Lake tradition: Punk Rock Halloween. “It’s the idea of dressing up and being someone else for Halloween, but, instead, bands are doing it,” says Robin Banks, the local artist and SLUG Mag contributor who helps organize the event.
Though Punk Rock Halloween has been a Salt Lake tradition for six years now, the first couple of installments weren’t nearly as elaborate as the aforementioned abandoned-building show. “It first started when we were doing Bombs and Beating Hearts, and I remember reading about doing guerilla shows. That was a big point of the band—to make unexpected things happen in everyday places. So the first two of them we took over TRAX trains on Halloween and did the shows inside of them,” Banks says. “The first year wasn’t a cover set. The second year, when James [Miska] played, he did a Prince cover set. It sort of went on from there,” says Banks.
Bands impersonating bands on Halloween isn’t just a Salt Lake thing, though. Banks says, “People do it all over. No one’s connected—I think it’s just a punk thing to do it. I know that last year in Denver, they did a CBGB-themed Punk Rock Halloween. All these bands were Blondie, the Ramones, that whole scene.” Even though Banks and the other punks started doing Halloween shows before they knew it was a “thing,” hearing about the Punk Rock Halloween shows in other places got their pumpkin heads thinking.
The third year, Banks and company decided to go all-out with their Punk Rock Halloween party. While doing some urban spelunking, they stumbled upon the building they would use to house the upcoming event. We all climbed up there like three months before and found out we could sneak into the building and we said, ‘Holy shit! We should do the Halloween show in here.’ So, over the next three months, we turned the first three floors into a haunted house,” says Banks. When Halloween came, hundreds of punks, with no idea of where they would end up, were led into the depths of the dead structure to find their way out. “And then, in the basement … Black Flag, the Misfits and Minor Threat. People had to walk through three floors of haunted house to get to the basement,” says Banks.
Banks raves about how epic this show was, but also remembers some great impersonations and performances in subsequent years. Storming Stages and Stereos as Suicide Machines, Dr. Drug as Operation Ivy, The Hung-Ups as Screeching Weasel and Prince Polo as David Bowie—with each band member dressed as a different Bowie era—are some that Banks remembers from the last couple Punk Rock Halloweens. Last year’s show in the alley behind the downtown Este Pizza, though, really impressed Banks. “Last year was the best that I’ve seen. Problem Daughter were the Germs. Regan [Ashton] was slicing himself up with a razorblade––it was so awesome,” says Banks. A quick YouTube search verifies this show’s awesomeness.
Besides intense performances from local bands, Banks has many people to thank for making the past shows so successful. “I should definitely give a shout-out to Ken Vallejos, for doing all the sound, and Tyler Reese, who did all the sound last year … I would have been fucked without them,” Banks says. “David Ohlson, too… Every time I drop the ball, he helps me.”
This year, Banks hopes to make Punk Rock Halloween an even better event. Like last year, the party is happening in the alley behind Este—right in front of Copper Palate’s front door. The artists at Copper Palate will be presenting their yearly hand-printed calendar show to coincide with Banks’ punk party, making it a night not to be missed. The music lineup will include Handicapitalist as Gun Club, Super 78 as Television Personalities, Jawwzz as Weezer, Problem Daughter as Dead Kennedys and Banks’ band Shit Shamers as Cyndi Lauper. To anyone who thinks Cyndi Lauper is a weird addition to Punk Rock Halloween, Banks insists that they’re wrong. “Cyndi Lauper is punk as fuck. There’s this video of her doing a show and a bird flies overhead and it shits—the shit lands right in her mouth. But she doesn’t even skip a beat, she just keeps singing like nothing happened. What’s more punk than that?” Banks says.
Like every year prior, this year’s event will be all-ages and free of charge. Since Halloween falls on a Wednesday, Punk Rock Halloween is happening on the previous Friday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m. Follow the trail of dead down the alley behind Este on 200 S. Also, don’t forget to dress up—Banks promises a costume contest, not to mention treats, crazy shit and, of course, blood.