If you're passionate about punk and haven't visited Extreme Noise, it's time to reevaluate your life choices. The volunteer-run record store, tucked under a red awning on a busy stretch of Lake Street, is home to a jaw-dropping collection of punk, metal, and hardcore music, as well as patches, T-shirts, zines, and books. Long story short, it's punk rock heaven.
Throughout 2014, Extreme Noise is celebrating 20 years of business by holding a series of three weekend-long anniversary shows. The first, held at the Triple Rock in April, featured bands from the '90s, many of whom reunited for the weekend. For this weekend's shows, Extreme Noise focused on hosting their best-selling bands that don't often play in the Twin Cities, flying in acts from as far away as Japan.
Earlier this week, Gimme Noise sat down with Bryan Alft, one of around eight volunteers who played a fundamental role in setting up the anniversary shows, and talked about what to expect this weekend.
Gimme Noise: Can you tell me a little bit about how Extreme Noise has changed alongside the changing Twin Cities punk scene?
Bryan Alft: In the '90s, before Nirvana and punk broke, it was pretty idealistic and anti-corporate and very DIY. I think a lot of it was very purist. We carry a lot of stuff now that we wouldn't have carried then, but things got really blurred in the last couple of years with distribution and labels, so we've broadened what we carry. We carry a lot more metal, which not everybody likes, but it does bring in a lot more people [and] some new volunteers and it makes us money. We try to be selective. We try not to carry anything sketchy, like white-power black metal or anything.
I think people from the first store would be surprised with our stock now. We just try to cater to what the community wants. That's why we don't do mail order. And that's kind of why we're doing the anniversary shows, you know, as a thank you. A few years ago when CDs dropped out and stopped selling and vinyl kind of slowed, we didn't think we'd make 20 years. We thought we'd have to go out in a big bang and spend our savings and then 20 years came and we were doing fine again and still wanted to do the show, so we just decided to do kind of a thank you.
Can you tell me a little bit about the format?
This is the second weekend. The one in April at the Triple Rock [was] all bands from the '90s from a comp called No Slow All Go that was kind of defining of that era that Extreme Noise came from. It had a lot of classic bands on it. We just asked all the bands to play and got 11 of them to reform. Some hadn't played in 15 years. We flew in a bunch of people and had two shows over two nights. The third one is in October at the VFW. We don't have anyone booked for that one yet. We started working on it right away, and it was just too far in advance, so that'll be our next project.
This one, the idea was to make it more of a carnival thing outside in a tent. We're gonna have a dunk tank and high striker. It would have been free, but we figured we'd have a threshold so it didn't get too crazy. I think the idea for this weekend and October is just to get bands that people will be really excited to see, so we've tried to get bands that we sell a lot of that never play here. We really tried not to do reunions. There's just so many reunion shows and festivals. Crudos is kind of the exception.
Who are some of the other bands you're looking forward to?
Organism from Japan is playing two shows in the U.S. We're flying them over and they've never played here. Radioactivity is basically most of the members of the Marked Men and this is their new band. Lebenden Toten has never played here. They never really tour. Just stuff like that. People are definitely traveling here for Organism.
You'll also have after shows at the Hexagon?
Yeah, we wanted to do some different genres. The Hexagon shows are a little more pop-punk and garage-y. We just wanted to make it as diverse as possible.
On Friday night, we'll have an art show in the back. Joe B. from Condominium is kind of curating it. It's mostly record art from the '90s from local labels. And then our zine release will be here. It's kind of an oral history. We interviewed 55 people -- longtime customers and current and former volunteers. Three of us put it together. We just went to the printer yesterday.How many people who were here in the beginning are still around?
I think there's three or four people who were founders and then I think there are probably a handful of us that were at the original store. There were three locations. The first one was Pillsbury and Lake and the second one was at Nicolett and 26th. It was three years at the first one, three years at the second, and we've been here for fourteen.
The original store was really exciting. We formed a show collective and opened up an illegal show space on the West Bank that lasted for about nine months. It was volunteer run. We all had shifts doing security or sound or whatever. It's now a mosque right below the towers on the West Bank. We had a lot of bands who got big... Jimmy Eat World was like a second act. No one even watched them.[page]
Was that directly affiliated with Extreme Noise?
Not directly, but that's where we all met and got affiliated -- a lot of the same people. We did a big fest in '96 at the Great Hall at the U and that was sponsored by the store. We had some pretty big bands play that. Los Crudos played that and they're one of our big headliners this weekend.
What's kept you going all these years?
It's kind of my social outlet really -- I mean, it's the community I'm a part of. It's changing all the time, but there's still a core group of people I work with. We have regular customers, too. I mean, there are people here who have been around every week for 17 years, for good or bad.
Are the people who volunteer usually folks who are invested in the punk scene and want to somehow contribute?
A lot of the core people who have been around a long time have labels or zines. I used to have a zine and helped run a label and used to book shows... We get a lot of people who move to town and are excited that this exists and want to help. Some last three weeks and some last six months.
Is there an average stay?
It's gotta be pretty low if you really averaged it out because the ones that stay more than a year usually stay for a long time. There are a lot of people who have been here maybe not the whole time, but seven to 10 years, I would bet, and they kind of fill the core of each shift. You get college kids and the semester changes and they can't stay with their shifts. We get a lot of people asking all the time -- we have kind of a wait list -- but most people can only do weekends. If you move here and you want to meet people in the punk scene, this is a pretty good place to do it. And I think people who are collectors or who are just really into DIY punk or even the metal we carry, this is a pretty good place to learn about it.
Where does the money go if you're volunteer run?
We save a lot of it. Well, we used to. And that's what we use to do stuff like this weekend. We do sponsor stuff. We're a pretty big sponsor of Sound Unseen and we'll do ads in zines if they ask us. We've bought sound equipment for other music collectives that have sprung up over the years. We did a series of free shows at the Triple Rock for a couple years and paid the bands out of pocket. I don't know, just expenses and some events. We put a lot into this thing.
Is it a nonprofit?
No, we're just incorporated. Because there's no actual ownership, it's a little weird. We never felt like we were organized enough to apply for nonprofit and keep up the standards. We've always tried to say there's no owners.
Do you have meetings?
Once a month. There's usually about five people. Always has been.
But things generally run smoothly here?
Yeah. The second store was a little bit big and expensive, but then we moved here and we actually rented both spaces. We divided the space into two and we actually sublet that side and that helps supplement our costs. In the '90s, punk got popular, and we sold a lot of stuff. Once you have some money, a lot of the stresses go away, so it was easier to run things. I'd say it runs itself in a lot of ways. It's still a lot of work, but it's not terrible.
Extreme Noise Anniversary Weekend 2. Saturday, June 21, and Sunday, June 22. Info.
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