Amphetamine Reptile label turns 25
One simple word. The history of the Twin Cities independent music scene is full of touchstones, sounds, and moments and images as vibrant as any in the country. Long before the alt-explosion of the 1990s promised—perhaps falsely—that any form of underground music could be the Next Big Thing, years before the internet made access as easy as a click of a button, Amphetamine Reptile produced as condensed an iconic reference point for underground rock as anything from New York, Chicago, or Seattle, splashed across the back of a sea of ubiquitous t-shirts: "NOISE."
Beginning in 1985, AmRep's distinctive visual and verbal aesthetic, and label owner Tom Hazelmyer's savant-like ear for bands (both local and national) that pushed the boundaries of what punk rock could be, quickly made the label synonymous with loud, aggressive, fresh-out-of-give-a-fucks music—even if none of the bands sounded anything alike. Between individual releases and the aptly named compilation series Dope, Guns, and Fucking in the Streets, AmRep's output over the years served to define the American music underground.
Now, after 25 years, several of the key AmRep bands are assembling from all corners of the country to make the walls of Grumpy's downtown bleed this Saturday. The lineup features a list of band that reads like a textbook of groundbreaking, aggressive music: the Melvins, Boss Hog, Today is the Day, God Bullies, Hammerhead, the Thrown Ups, Vaz, White Drugs, and Gay Witch Abortion.
"I was off and running on this one about nine months ago," says Hazelmyer. "It's been a breeze, as all the bands are very into it. I asked Boss Hog and they didn't hesitate, and the Melvins I can always count on. The one band I pursued was the the Thrown Ups—they were the second band on the label, and I never got to see 'em live as two of the members formed Mudhoney early on. The event itself wasn't a big enough hassle, so I threw a bunch of special releases and T-shirts into the mix as well."
Of course, that list of all-stars is just a small portion of the much-beloved bands that have been a part of AmRep at one point or another. "The list just happened, there was zero forethought," says Hazelmyer. Plenty of other AmRep bands immediately started mobilizing to get in on the action. As more bands came out of the woodwork, the single anniversary show quickly expanded to three full nights of music, with a free show Friday at Grumpy's downtown featuring Unsane and Lollipop, and a Sunday afternoon barbeque show at Grumpy's northeast with Janitor Joe, Calvin Krime, Freedom Fighters, and Jet Lag. "Unsane started verbally assaulting me because I hadn't asked, when only months ago I had talked to Chris and was told he had moved to Germany and started a new band," says Hazelmyer.
Still, friends and fans alike know there are some key bands missing. Notable exceptions include Helmet, Guzzard, and Hazelmyer's own band, Halo of Flies, but one in particular sticks out. "Cows are missing, and the entire fucking world has reminded me half a dozen times," says Hazelmyer.
Right-hand man in the AmRep and Grumpy's machine, Pat Dwyer is one feeling the absence. "(Cows) buttressed their insanely creative lives with a hyper-diligent work ethic. Witness all the tours, records, crazy rehearsal schedule, and side projects, and you feel the pulse-beat of a smiling corpse refusing to die. This spirit inspired me, still does, and challenged every other AmRep artist to step up and heed the bugle call."
Even with the missing acts, there's plenty of raw power bearing witness throughout AmRep's anniversary weekend, and band members don't seem interested in just serving up nostalgia. "We've put a ton of work to get the band back in form, practicing over the summer in New York City and Minneapolis," says Hammerhead's Paul Sanders, who also played in the Heroine Sheiks. "Now that we've got a few shows behind us, it really feels good. Paul Erickson and Jeff Morridian (also of Vaz) are playing at an even higher level than when I left the band, and that makes the shows a complete blast for me. When we decided to pull this together last spring, we set as a goal to write as much new material as we could. We now have a backlog of new songs. We could have pulled an entirely new set together for the AmRep show if we were living in the same city and had more time to work out the ideas."
"I used to be a bit more cynical about the massive wave of band reunions that seems to be the rage over the last few years," says Janitor Joe's Matt Entsminger, "but I can definitely see the potential in this one. It's interesting to me how the widespread availability of music now has given new life to old bands. One could argue that it's not the same removed from its original time and place, but I think the younger fans coming to these shows realize that, and are enjoying them nonetheless. It's still a chance to see what they missed."
The level of excitement for the show is high among local musicians and fans as well, many of whom first discovered underground music via AmRep. Jesse Kwakenat, bassist for STNNNG, Private Dancer, and the Heroine Sheiks, says, "I remember listening to Hammerhead, Freedom Fighters, and the Cows and being fucking floored that they were bands that lived in the Twin Cities. I mean, they were the best bands ever and they were from here. I also couldn't get my head around the fact that my favorite record label was in Minneapolis."
"I pretty much bought the first AmRep record as a fluke," says Nathan Grumdahl of the Dynamiters, Bombay Sweets, and formerly of Selby Tigers, "and within an incredibly short period of time I had as much of it as I could afford every time I went. I started trying to see more of the bands whenever I could. I remember going to Northern Lights to see in-stores simply because that was some of the only all-ages shows they played. I remember going with other friends a couple of times to see bands playing at the Uptown, and we would just stand in the parking lot and watch through the window."
So does this mean AmRep going to return to being a full-time label? "Absolutely not," says Hazelmyer. "I'm enjoying that it's back to being a part-time boutique project, and hope not to crush my love for it by working it 24/7 like last time it was my day job. Besides, look at the music biz in general—oof. I honestly think music is losing its importance to younger generations, just like poetry did a century ago, or theater did 70-80 years ago. It will always have a place of importance in the arts and society, but I don't think it's going to capture as huge a slice of the public's attention as it had from the '50s to '90s."
Amphetamine Reptile Records 25th Anniversary Blowout
Friday, August 27
Unsane and Lollipop
Saturday, August 28
Melvins, Boss Hog, Hammerhead, the Thrown Ups, Today is the Day, Gay Witch Abortion, God bullies, Vaz, White Drugs
Sunday, August 29
Janitor Joe, Calvin Krime,
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