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While the Valley's music scene is still adrift, the punk rock community here in the 'Nix is congealing -- not just onstage, but online, at AZPunk.com.
Consider the Dames, a local all-female punk trio that sounds like the demon spawn of the Donnas and Black Flag. After guitarist Heather Shope quit the band in April, the remaining two band members, drummer Ashley Adams and bassist Kyle Baker, turned to AZPunk.com and found new guitarist Drea Gonzalez.
A couple of Fridays ago, the Dames unleashed their new lineup to a packed house at the Big Fish Pub. The three girls got onstage after Bullet Train to Moscow and cranked out a fierce 16-song set of heavy, aggro punk rock. The atmosphere inside the club was kinetic, everyone there seemed to know one another, every band on the lineup rocked like fuck -- all a testament to the resurgence of the Valley's punk scene in the midst of a plague on music in general.
A little more than 12 hours later, the girls are groaning about their hangovers. Baker, with her blonde dreadlocks pulled back under a bandanna, is still wearing her green 21-and-over wristband from the night before. She hosted a reportedly wild after-party at her house after the show, replete with broken windows and fully clothed pool jumping. "I ate a piece of pizza off of the floor," she says sheepishly.
The celebration was well deserved. The Dames emerged from a two-month hiatus, during which they had to recruit and gel with Gonzalez, to a rousing reception from a community that increasingly revolves around the AZPunk.com website. When former guitarist Shope unexpectedly quit in April, shortly after the Dames' appearance at the New Times Music Showcase, they immediately turned to AZPunk.com to find a replacement.
Gonzalez, who also fronts the all-girl band My Doll, responded almost immediately to Adams' online solicitation. The girls hadn't met in person, but an encouraging recommendation from Hell on Heels' guitarist Paula Monarch sped them to Gonzalez' audition.
"It's always weird when you've been with the same people and somebody new comes in," Adams says. "You're like, 'Ohhh, how's this gonna go?' And I swear to god, the rest of my life I'll never forget, we walk into practice and Drea plugged in and stepped on her pedal, like 'waahhhrrr,' and she nailed all seven songs that she had. Nailed 'em."
Baker and Adams found the perfect fit for their vision of what the Dames could be -- harder and more aggressive than their previous incarnation, which tended toward a dirty garage sound, as heard on the band's Sin and Tonic EP."I don't think I've ever had as much fun playing music as the past few months since Drea's come onboard," Adams says. "Drea doesn't give herself enough credit. Even though those songs were written, the way that they are now are nothing like they were before. She owned 'em. They are her songs now. The way she plays 'em is unlike they were ever done before."
The process of recruiting Gonzalez and preparing for the June 25 debut played out on AZPunk.com's message board for several weeks, building anticipation for the show, which also had Smoky Mountain Skullbusters, Bullet Train to Moscow, and Pinky Tuscadero's White Knuckle Ass Fuck on the bill. The Web site is proving to be the most important tool available to punk rock bands and fans in the Valley, and the turnout for this show was solid evidence of that.
"AZPunk just facilitates people being able to network and get together in a way you just can't do hitting the streets with fliers," Adams says. "You build a familiarity with people where it starts to feel, even though you've never met these people, there's a sense of loyalty to that community."
She adds, "If [another AZPunk band] has a show, it's marked on my calendar just as if we had a show. If it happens that enough people do that, then you have a scene that's just thriving. I can't think of a show where someone from BYOW (Bring Your Own Weapon) hasn't been at our show. The Skullbusters -- they're like family."
Besides providing a space where bands and fans can promote shows, spread gossip, and entertain one another with subjects like "I shaved my head at Warped Tour. What did you do?" the creators of the site also have released two compilation CDs with 30+ local bands on each, and a third volume is in production (which the Dames hope to have a track on).
AZPunk.com, like any message board oriented site, is prone to shit-talking and histrionics by its members (subjects like "MARKBEEF is a fat cunt"), which can make it seem like a junior high school gossip rag, but if you ignore the dramatics, it's an invaluable tool. It's created a virtual community of bands, which, despite their diversity, are extremely loyal to one another.
While much space in this column has been devoted to bemoaning the state of local music in the Valley, the resurgence of the Dames is emblematic of the punk rock scene's collective strength. Punk rock has always been a refuge for people who truly love music, without boundaries or the straitjacket of popularity. But it's also inclined to be fractious, due to its plethora of sub-genres and underground nature. With the presence of AZPunk.com, which recently had its two-year anniversary, the punk scene has congealed into a real community of musicians and fans that extends beyond computer monitors.