"We put Vaseline on the men's urinal so you can't do coke off of it," Tyler King tells me from behind the bar at the Stray Cat in Tempe, on the Wednesday after Christmas. "Cruel, but funny."
King is, of course, cracking on the reputation of certain punk DJ nights in town. I think his sabotage is hilarious, but then again, I'm not looking to get high. To be blunt, the holidays sucked for me, and I'm here at DJ Johnny Volume's "BANNED in Tempe" punk rock DJ night to pound some stiff drinks and hear some good music.
"BANNED in Tempe" is a blessing right now, a welcome respite from the ubiquitous dance-rock and Britpop nights going on around town, where what you're wearing, what's going up your nose, and who you're fucking are the variables you're worried about. Plus, I don't really give a fuck about bouncing around to the Arctic Monkeys or Panic! At the Disco. "BANNED" is unassuming and welcoming, and King pours some strong fucking Lynchburg Lemonades.
Not much is happening when I arrive around 9 at night. Johnny Volume's out of town for the holidays, so Nate Dogg, Cro-Mag, and DJ Alvin are setting up the tables and a Stanton S.250 CD player on the stage, while the MusicChoice television channel plays Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Human League songs both improvements over the Godsmack song on the jukebox that King thankfully killed.
About an hour later, the sound system blares out The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," which may be the CSI: Miami theme song to youngsters these days, but fits with the night's punk rock aesthetic as the Minutemen's D. Boon famously said, "Punk is whatever we made it to be." That's evident as Alvin drops local alt-country legend Flathead's first 7-inch single, "Alcohaulin'."
I pick through Alvin's pile of 7-inch records and scope the night's options: Warzone, The Mummies, Operation Ivy, Agnostic Front, an Oi! tribute to AC/DC . . .
This is the sort of music I need to complement my liquor.
The Stray Cat doesn't seem like the sort of place that folks such as King, Johnny Volume, DJs Nate Dogg and Cro-Mag (both veterans of The Rogue and Ky's Place), and guest DJs like Chris Lawson (one of the founders of AZPunk.com) ought to make their home on Wednesdays. The building is split into four areas one with a stage, one with the bar and tables, one with pool tables, and a smoking lounge that somehow skirts Tempe's smoking ban. There are televisions all over the joint. This night, they're showing Florida State kicking UCLA's ass in the Emerald Bowl.
King is sporting a black windbreaker that screams "FUCK THE SCENE" in huge letters across the back. That pretty much sums up the philosophy of "BANNED in Tempe."
The name of the night is a rip-off of the Bad Brains song "Banned in D.C.," and it's that era of punk rock that's really represented down here. As King points out, most members of the crowd are in their late 20s or early 30s. It's far from a hipster scene, and it's nice to be away from barely legal drinkers and amongst my fellow jaded adults.
"All of Tempe right now sort of sucks," King tells me over a smoke out front. "With the amount of bars going on in this town, there's nothing actually going on, they're just bars. It seems every time that they cater to a clientele, they cater to that clientele just to make it a hipster bar, then they push out the original patrons. Without naming any bars, there's a bunch of bars that really applied themselves to punk rock crowds to get a clientele, then as soon as they have popular clientele, and the hipsters start to come there, they immediately start to push out the punk as their format. That was the idea we're banned everywhere."
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"Banned" is really a hyperbole, but in the few weeks it's been happening, the punk rock DJ night has managed to attract solid crowds of low-key young punk adults who are likely going to work with a hangover on Thursday morning.
"This is the cool way," King continues. "We've got DJ Johnny Volume, the house DJ. It's a cool way for him on a weekly basis to fuck around with his record collection. We always have a guest DJ. A couple weeks ago, we had Allie Cat that used to do Hot Pink! and Shake! come out and do her thing; it's basically a big mash-up of what punk really is punk, hardcore, reggae. It's something cool for people to do and not feel like they have to be part of the 'punk night.' We're not worried about you dressing up in $140 Ben Sherman shirts. It's a cool bar to just go and chill out."
That it is. While I'm talking to folks like Pat Gruchala from Bring Your Own Weapon, and Luke Bugs from North Side Kings, the DJs are playing the new Impossible Ones CD (which Nate Dogg is releasing on his May Cause Dizziness Records), Waylon Jennings' "Good Ol' Boys," some James Brown, N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton, and yes, even the Stray Cats.
By the end of the night, I've pretty much forgotten about my troubles and I'm well-drenched in Jack Daniel's and punk rock, already thinking about my return trip next week.