Sweet Madness: “SpokAnarchy!” focuses on Spokane, WA’s thriving ’70s & ’80s punk scene

By on September 11, 2018

SpokAnarchy! — which was originally going to be titled Fucked Forever — is a feature-length documentary focused exclusively on Spokane, Washington’s thriving ’70s & ’80s punk scene.

Watch the film — which chronicles the Reagan-era highs and lows of the city’s best-known bands, not to mention the one-offs and unknowns, including Sweet Madness, Terror Couple, Necromancers and Vampire Lezbos, to name just a few — now on Night Flight Plus.

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Nearly every major U.S. city seems to have had its own thriving scene from the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s, and a lot of these scenes have been documented before, although scenesters who experienced it in real=time don’t always think the documentaries capture accurately what really happened (Penelope Spheeris‘s The Decline of Western Civilization, for instance).

From what we can tell, though, this 80-minute film presents a fairly-accurate representation of Spokane, Washington’s punk scene.

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Spokane — a mostly-conservative city in the rural Eastern part of the state, a four-hour’s drive east of Seattle — is surrounded by wilderness to the north, all the way to the Canadian border, and boxed-in to the south by the Palouse plains, to the west by the Cascades, and to the east by the Rockies.

As a counterpoint to Spokane’s political viewpoints, his somewhat isolated city produced one of the more exciting and thriving punk rock scenes, fueled in part by teenage anger, ennui and boredom, as well as intense originality and creativity.

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More often than not, bands played together in some of Spokane’s first suitably-viable venues (The Armory, Moe’s Auto Body, and 123 Arts), some of which were located in abandoned buildings.

In the beginning, these shows were so infrequent that a lot of the bands played just once before breaking up.

These Spokane bands were closer in spirit to being compatriots instead of rivals, often sharing the stage although they were musically wildly different from each other.

Many of the original members of the scene’s best-loved bands are featured, highlighting a beloved local punk scene that didn’t get the kind of saturated press coverage typically given to the punk scenes in larger American cities like New York City and Los Angeles.

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Blunt Rapture, one of the many enigmatic characters in SpokAnarchy!

Read more about SpokAnarchy! below.

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Erik Phillips, organizer of “The Rapture,” fronted an ’80s Spokane band called Red Summer (courtesy of Erik Phillips, The Spokesman Review)

The origins of SpokAnarchy! can be traced back to a Facebook group originally called “The Spokane Scene in the ’80s.”

Everyone enjoyed catching up with each other and that eventually led to a “punk rock reunion” in 2009, called “The Rapture,” which reunited friends, some of whom hadn’t seen each other in thirty years.

The two-day event featured live bands from back-in-the-day playing at the Spokane club Irv’s, as well as the “Punk Art Retrospective – Then to Now” art show at Object Space.

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The success of a short video journal created to capture this event, which they’d planned to put up on YouTube, led to its expansion into a full-length feature.

This historically-rich documentary film — which unfolds chronologically, oral history-style — was directed by a cadre of the Spokane scene survivors: Erica Shisler, David Halsell, Jon Swanstrom, Theresa Halsell, Heather Swanstrom and Cory Wees.

Read more about SpokAnarchy!‘s directors here.

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In addition to showing us lots and lots of Polaroid-style snapshots and still photos, this 2011 documentary thankfully provides us with lots of archival video footage of the bands, supplemented with VHS footage of local news broadcasts and old answering machine messages.

Of course, there’s also lots of personal interviews with the members of the bands, most of whom were profiled in the city’s many punk zines.

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The story really begins in 1978 with Sweet Madness, who were a new wave rock band influenced by the Cars, Devo, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, the Buzzcocks, the Jam and other ’70s-era bands.

Their struggle to find club gigs — due to the fact that they played originals, not covers — led to them finding exploring the use of alternative venues, not to mention the fact they threw lots of rowdy house parties (especially those at local artist Charlie Schmidt’s studio).

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At one point, Sweet Madness lead singer/guitarist Jan Gregor says:

“People started calling us punks. We wouldn’t have thought we were punks. No one would listen to us and think we were punks. But Spokane thought we were punks…and we caught shit for being punks.”

You can buy Light in the Attic’s Sweet Madness, Made in Spokane 1978-1981, Volumes 1 & 2, here.

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Spokane’s punk scene flamed out by the end of the ’80s, and so we’re really fortunate to have SpokAnarchy! to help us fill in the blanks about it all these decades later.

Along the way we find out really interesting bits of trivia too, including the fact that Charlie Schmidt is the lunatic behind that crazy “Keyboard Cat” Youtube clip, and we learn that Tim Cridland went on to join the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow as the freaky sideshow performer “Zamora the Torture King.”

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A full list of the bands featured in the nostalgia-tinged SpokAnarchy! includes: Sweet Madness, the Teenagers, the Wrappers, Strangulon, P-P Ku, the Pop Tarts, Terror Couple, the Necromancers, Doubtful Nonagenarians, Vampire Lezbos, An 425lb. Yorkshire Sow, Cattle Prod, M’na M’na, Social Bondage, S & M, the Moo Cow Orchestra, Big Yuck Mouth, Bastard Fuck, TFL (“Totally Fucking Lit!”), Ze Krau, Silver Treason, Sandy Duncan’s Eye, Motorcycle Boy, and Stompbox.

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Watch SpokAnarchy! — and other punk music documentaries — on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.