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"Kids want to be anarchists," Saunders says. "They want to be rebellious. They say, 'It's punk to drink beer outside.' I know all the tricks."
Regardless, tenuous parallel scenes started forming.
The first surprising thing about do-it-yourself shows is how polite punks can be. At a Next Space show on May 20, about 100 fans listened attentively to an utterly unknown singer from out of town give a rambling prologue about the next screamed song with indecipherable lyrics. They remained largely silent when the music started, except to say "excuse me" for stepping on a stray foot or jostling someone while pogoing. They gathered as close to the musicians as possible, surrounding them in the stageless setup but never disturbing the performance. Audiences in classical concert halls have been known to exercise less decorum.
Gigs at the medical complex seem to inspire the silliest antics, perhaps because they're the most removed from the normal concert environment and from adult eyes. Before a June 4 show at the space, concertgoers and musicians alike relaxed by playing Wiffle ball and vigorously performing inaudible mental soundtracks on air instruments. A few even started lifting their friends into the air, pretending to strum them like guitars. Despite the absence of grown-ups, the goofy scene was more Lord of the Dance than Lord of the Flies.
"I've been in the workforce for eight years, so I have lots of 'normal' friends," Galloway says. "One misperception that a lot of them have is that there's slam-dancing going on, people being really violent and moshing like crazy."
When Soophie Nun Squad, an Arkansas-based act with Kansas City Art Institute connections, plays any of these venues, moshing is discouraged -- but dancing is mandatory. Group members point at the holdouts, trying to nudge them into motion with funky grooves and eager facial expressions. For the most part, it works. The Squad -- a turbo-disco, performance-art troupe -- wears full-body costumes and fuses fun, funk and punk.
The Soophie headlining show May 20 at the Next Space was the 200th gig of the band's career. To celebrate, the musicians counted to 200 while virtually everyone in the venue gamely counted along. Fans then sat still for a puppet show before springing back into action when the music resumed. Band members donned dragon costumes and other furry outfits, looking like a collection of minor-league mascots. Nothing separated fan from band. Spectators bumped into Squad members as they played, and the musicians welcomed and returned the contact.
Missing was the smirking self-importance that mars the indie-rock scene. This crowd -- and band -- seemed much more concerned with having a good time than with looking cool. It was creatively charged, innocent, drug- and violence-free. For all its permissiveness, El Torreon can't match the locked-in-the-candy-store-overnight giddiness of a free-form frolic in a no-adults-allowed clubhouse.
"I've been to some of those metalcore shows at El Torreon, and there's something distinctly different about them," Galloway says. "I can't see any of those bands being interested in playing the Next Space or a house show. They're operating on a higher level, with a label to promote them and a guarantee at the door. They're apolitical, and they're emulating the industry. That's exactly why I'm not interested. Punk isn't about fashion or a musical style. It's about being independent from mainstream culture, and when it loses that independence, it ceases to be anything of value."