UPDATE, October 7, 1:30 p.m.: We reached Asylum Records owner Scott Robenalt, and have added his perspective at the bottom of the story.
Slowly but surely, Tempe's dying music scene seems to be drifting east. In the latest development, Asylum Records, once a Tempe fixture, has relocated to Mesa in the old Royale Theater building. Like most record stores, Asylum offers a wealth of CDs, vinyl and cassette tapes, if you're into those. Asylum plans to host regular record signings and will even host a few shows this month, such as Raven and Night Demon on October 15.
Although not primarily a venue, Asylum Records will be in good company as two other Tempe businesses -- Big Fish Pub and Club Red -- both moved east to Mesa recently. After spending close to 20 years as a part of the Tempe's live music landscape, Big Fish Pub (now Big Fish Theatre) closed its doors in June only to reopen inside of Mesa's Arizona Event Center. Club Red also seems to be thriving in their new Mesa location. Boasting they book more bands than any other Arizona venue, Club Red has a healthy handful of all ages shows. Most of their gigs are hip-hop or rap, with some of their extensive showcases being one of the few, strong examples of urban music in the valley.
In terms of big name artists, Mesa Amphitheatre seems to be competing with Marquee Theatre for bigger, more aggressive acts. Generally hosting calmer acts like Avett Brothers or Bob Dylan, the outdoor venue is looking to fight sagging sales by inviting Skrillex and Insane Clown Posse. Even Mesa Arts Center is focusing more on concerts, with a calendar full of tribute acts and ukulele orchestras. And of course, the Nile Theater has been the epicenter of a thriving hardcore scene for some years now.
As the light rail expands, Mesa's downtown district continues to become culturally in tune (pun neither intended or unintended). According to the Downtown Mesa Association, "Downtown Mesa is comprised of over 400 businesses, 90 percent of which are independently owned, small businesses." So while Asylum adds to a growing number of musically interesting hotspots, it seems this is just the beginning.
How odd considering how boring Mesa can be. You don't need some clickbait article to tell you that -- just drive through on any given day and note how everything repeats itself in bursts of beige big box stores and flat, half-empty strip malls. But if you were to accidentally steer down Main Street, you might see something actually worth stopping for.
UPDATE: We reached out to Asylum's owner, Scott Robenalt, about his decision to move and he just got back to us. He says his store in Tempe was in a failing strip mall with absolutely no walk through traffic and the store was hidden behind other businesses.
"I originally wanted to open in the location I am in now, but the rent was just too high at the time and the work on the light rail was in full swing," Robenalt told us. "We didn't even look into any other locations in Tempe, and we knew there were no record stores in Mesa. Not any real records stores anyway."
Robenalt, who says he is working with the Mesa Arts Center, Lucky Man Productions, Mosh Pit Army, to name a few, wants Asylum to help promote shows in the Valley. He says a lack of promotion has a lot to do with why the venues have been suffering as of late.
"It is sad when a band comes to town and no one promotes it, hardly anyone shows up, it makes those bands not want to come back, then we lose shows, and clubs close," Robenalt says. "Promoting is EVERYTHING! Being in downtown Mesa, all the businesses work together to help each other ... When I lived in Chicago in the '80s, there were posters and flyers on every other lamp post and in every window of every record store in town. The shows were packed; it was great. Bands came back on every tour they did. Now, we're lucky to even have one of these bands want to play Arizona."
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