The Continuing History of Underground Music In Salt Lake City
In this episode, I’ll try to wrap up what’s been happening in the past five years in fair Zion. The most important changes in that time happened not so much in terms of music—after all, bands always come and go—but in the places where music was performed. Shows at the Indian Center became increasingly more difficult to book due to rising costs and the fear of vandalism. Also, the Indian Center was becoming known to the police who began sending vice officers to entrap youthful partiers. Additionally, the fairgrounds were prohibitively expensive to stage concerts at, although several shows occurred there (and still do). Some of the bands that played at the fairgrounds during those years included: The Damned, Circle Jerks, Husker Du, X, Bangles, Los Lobos and R.E.M. These shows, for the most part, were promoted by people outside “the scene” with the exception of those promoted by Brad Collins. The outside promoters and radio stations were the only people with the capital to pay for the fairgrounds.
A place called Le Club was open for a while on 4th South. The most memorable show there was The Minutemen. It was also the last show promoted by the Massacre Guys. Le Club soon closed, and, with the end of shows at the Frat House, there was once again a dearth of venues for local music.
One of the most remarkable things about Salt Lake City, besides the continuing presence of quality bands, is the willingness of people within the local music/culture scene to try and provide places for bands to play. The first case of this I can remember was a place called The Monastery. It was started by two guys from D.C. named Adam and Nick. It was located behind the Indian Center near 13th South & West Temple. Black Flag played there and a few others. There was also the first Painted Word on 400 South and 400 West. It was quite a unique place, open six nights a week featuring music, poetry, performing art, theatre and the best vegetarian soups I’ve ever tasted. The original Painted Word was hip but not trendy. It was truly bohemian, long before the advent of places like Bandaloops and The Bistro. It eventually closed due to legal hassles and debt, but in the couple of years it existed, it provided an open forum for non-traditional music and art in Salt Lake.
Speedway Cafe started as a place called “505” where private parties were held, featuring kegs of beer and bands like The Strangers, Avon Calling and Shot In The Dark. Former M-Guy Paul Maritsas took over and, with Zay Speed, turned it into the rock palace it now is. The Speedway is doing better than ever in terms of drawing big name entertainment to Salt Lake. Most recently including Camper Van Beethoven, Fishbone, Living Color and BulletBoys. It is up to all of us to keep the Speedway and other places like it open by supporting the bands that play there.
In 1987 the Painted Word reopened under new management under the abbreviated title The Word. Once again, it was operated by people within “the scene” who had a better understanding of what was necessary for local music to flourish than the uptown bar community. The Word remains a good place to hang out on weekends and is still a vital component of Salt Lake’s culture. One of the recent contributions to local music from The Word is the, as yet unreleased, City By A Dead Lake compilation which features six of Salt Lake’s finest bands: Awol, Howl, Dinosaur Bone, Subject To Change, Boxcar Kids and Da Neighbors. In a fine example of unified action, the bands all played several shows and donated all the proceeds to the record. I hope it works out because The Word and the bands all worked hard and deserve some attention.
Another place which must be mentioned is Cinema In Your Face, a former soft-porn theatre, which under the management of KRCL DJ and pizza entrepreneur Jon Bray and art theatre veteran Greg Tanner, became a bastion of alternative music, film and art. In its two or so years of existence, The Cinema has brought bands including Camper Van Beethoven, Flaming Lips, Mojo Nixon and Tupelo Chain Sex. Often with the help of Gnawing Suspicion’s Jim Oughton promoting. The theatre continues as a theatre and showcase for the best in local art with exhibitions from Karl Swanson, Eric Robinson and David Brothers. Occasionally, bands still perform at the Cinema, but with the growing presence of Speedway, The Word, Bar & Grill, and the emerging Whalers, the demand for the Cinema as a concert hall has diminished.
In many ways, this is the best time ever for local original bands in Salt Lake. There are more places to play; there is an openness about booking, and the attitude about local music among the status quo is slowly eroding. In addition, there is a proliferance of fanzines and media attention. Besides SLUG there is Gjoob, One Room World and the occasional article in Neo or Private Eye. Even The Salt Lake Tribune has grudgingly admitted column space to local and independent productions. We no longer have to deal with getting beat up or harassed by reactionaries for playing our music or dressing and speaking our minds as we did 10 years ago. But it all begins, as always, with people. Support the independent halls like Speedway and The Word and independent record stores like Raunch and Smokies. Support the local bands, and if you don’t like the bands you see and hear, start a band of your own and help make the next ten years as interesting as the last.