Hardcore ’80s punk scene revived in dowtown Phoenix art gallery, music venue

“We Got Power!,” a book by David Markey and Jordan Schwartz, was visualized in Modified Arts gallery on Saturday. Attendee D.J. Fefr looks at the gallery, which featured old photographs of the Southern Californian punk scene from the early ’80s. (Carolyn Corcoran/DD)

By Becky Brisley and Audra Carlisle

The ’80s hardcore scene of Los Angeles and Phoenix has come back to life for two weeks at art gallery Modified Arts and music venue the Trunk Space.

The galleries’ punk exhibits are based on the book “We Got Power! – Hardcore Punk Scenes from 1980s Southern California,” by zine authors David Markey and Jordan Schwartz.

Perihelion Arts, a local art gallery, is hosting downtown’s efforts to display the history of punk music and culture.

Modified Arts, near Roosevelt and Fourth streets, is featuring some of the book’s photography. The exhibit at the Trunk Space, titled “We Got Power, Too!,” features photography of the local punk subculture in Phoenix in the ’80s and ’90s. Both events opened Sept. 20, launching the galleries’ efforts to relive the punk scene.

At the galleries

Black and white photos, as well as a few colored prints, line the walls of Modified Arts. They epitomize the Southern California punk scene of the early ’80s through the eyes of the writers of “We Got Power!”. These photos document fans and band members alike, profiling notable groups such as MDC, D.R.I., Suicidal Tendencies and the Descendents.

“Photographs are great because they’re little recordings of time,” Markey said. “They can trigger so many memories.”

Local appreciators roamed the gallery with nostalgia and a thirst for knowledge of the scene.

“What I’m kind of seeing is a sense of desperation and a lot of anger,” attendee D.J. Fefr said. “I think a lot of the activity was out of shock value. The photographers did a really good job in documenting the period in time.”

Mona Nigohossian, who grew up surrounded by the Phoenix punk scene, was also at Modified Arts and attended the Trunk Space event on Friday night.

“I think the photographs depict a really good cross section of that music scene in that time,” Nigohossian said. “(The photos) really show the innocence of an underground movement that just became something we never knew it would be — so recognized and so big.”

(Ashley Gistinger/DD)
While the photos at Modified Arts focused on the the punk music culture in Southern California, the Trunk Space showcased photographs documenting the punk music scene in Phoenix. the Trunk Space will be hosting We Got Power! Night of Rock on Oct. 4, featuring local punk bands. (Ashley Gistinger/DD)

Nigohossian said she believes the punk scene in Phoenix was just as vibrant as that of Southern California’s.

“What’s lacking here is that our history hasn’t been told,” she said. “I think (the bands) were more creative here because we didn’t have a reference point. It was just us in this desert. I think it was more raw.”

That Phoenix punk culture is being exemplified at the “We Got Power, Too!” show at the Trunk Space, located on Grand Avenue. The walls are plastered with flyers from the time and portraits from shows of punk’s faces in Phoenix.

Photos of the bands depicted in the hand-Xeroxed flyers provide a doorway back into the time. The names of lauded and widely-known hardcore greats leap out from the fading paper on the wall — Black Flag, Meat Puppets, Social Distortion and the Dead Kennedys. Bands known within the scene get their time in sun too, such as Agent Orange, The Breakers, Knights of Columbus and local great Sun City Girls.

Amy Young, co-owner of Perihelion Arts and fellow curator, attended the Sept. 20 Trunk Space show. She said she was happy to do the showcase, especially because the bands featured were personal favorites of her own.

About “We Got Power!”

Markey and Schwartz spent their teenage days in 1981 reading fanzines published by their friends, lurking in their local ‘post-punk’ record shops and skateboarding.

Soon the duo began their own fanzine called “We Got Power!,” dedicated to covering punk south of Los Angeles with a dry sense of humor and an eye firmly planted on the new music of the day. According to Markey, the first issue had about 1,000 copies, and by the last issue had swelled to 2,500.

“It’s quite a wild ride to have documented these images and so many years later actually be able to do something with them,” Markey said.

The beginning of the ’80s heralded a new era of punk tunes, very different from the punk scene of years prior. According to an essay written by Markey from the book, “it was time for a new generation to emerge. The new music was much more aggressive, faster and the songs were shorter. The bands were younger, less urban or arty and less learned musically … We were suburban skate kids.”

Throughout the decade, Markey and Schwartz were dedicated to covering and immersing themselves in the world of punk in Los Angeles.

“The more (people) tried to stop it, the more it just ended up building a legend,” Markey said. “The music might have went away, but the legend never went away. As a reference point, and as history, it only grew stronger throughout time.”

On Oct. 4, the next First Friday, both Markey and Schwartz will be in attendance at Modified Arts from 6-10 p.m. The Trunk Space will be hosting the We Got Power! Night of Rock at 9 p.m., which will be featuring Phoenix punk bands Father Figures, Scorpion vs. Tarantula, JJCnV and French Girls.

Contact the reporter at Rebecca.Brisley@asu.edu and Audra.Carlisle@asu.edu