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The Church's Matt Saint-Germain: It was impossible to book weird music in the Twin Cities

Here's a night at the Church.
Here's a night at the Church.

By Kyle Imes

Thinking back on Minneapolis DIY venue the Church now, my memory is a little hazy. What I do remember is a huge, open room with what you could hardly call a stage in the middle of it, and a tiny exposed kitchen off to one corner. All of the windows were covered by huge sheets of fabric, presumably to keep anyone outside from seeing what was happening inside, and at any given time, the place might be swarming with hordes of sweaty, eager people looking for a weird time. You usually got it.

The Church hosted countless amounts of these kinds of shows over its 16-plus years of existence, and served as a platform for many artists and musicians, local and otherwise, to showcase their work. Long since defunct, the venue remains an important part of the underground music scene in Minneapolis.

Matt Saint-Germain booked many a show at the Church in the early aughts, and went out of his way to spotlight acts that many other venues wouldn't have touched, including a young Animal Collective. Matt was nice enough to sit down with Gimme Noise and reminisce about it.

See Also: STNNNG's Nate Nelson revisits his basement show past

Gimme Noise: How did you come to be involved with booking shows for the Church? During what time were you booking shows there?

Matt Saint-Germain: In terms of the incarnation of the Church that everyone talks about [2001 until its demise], I started doing gigs there, and exclusively did the booking for like a year and half, after which Markus Lunkenheimer [of Skoal Kodiak] also booked. When I stopped in 2003, he pretty much exclusively took over. Back in those days, it was flat-out impossible to book weird music outside of a very few art galleries. A few bars had little pockets of time where an adventurous booker -- Mary Immersion at the Terminal being the most significant in my experience -- would have a run for a year or two. But outside of this, it was impossible to book weird music in town. Rock and punk having a hold certainly isn't a bad thing, but at the time, it did feel exclusionary.

I had been booking a few gigs at Sursumcorda, but unfortunately the space didn't stick, and we were again without a space. So, the Church just sorta happened at the right time. I had a bunch of shows which I needed to put somewhere. The Church was essentially an open venue and Susan Lynne seemed interested in trying, and 25 Suaves was kinda the perfect opening band for sliding in weirder acts if the gig went well. And did it ever. A solid 30-40 some people on the stage, dancing at one point, surrounding 25 Suaves while everyone danced crazy.

How did you decide which bands to book? Were you trying to showcase a specific kind of band or music, or did you just book whatever interested you?

I guess I just had been into weirder stuff for some time. Minneapolis had a bunch of really good weird labels in the late '90s. I got outta high school in '95 and started going to shows in '97. Fusetron, Giardia, Carburetor [now De Stijl], Sunship, EF Tapes, etc. All weird, all quite good, all here. It was definitely formative. A lot of it coming out of Oar Folkjokeopus [now Treehouse]. Back then, you had to write letters to the labels to find out about anything, so I had been conversing with a ton of folks already through my own label, Freedom From, by the time I'd started booking shows. That's, in fact, why I got into booking in the first place. I was already friends with many of the bands that I started booking, even though they were fairly unknown here. They'd either contact me for a gig, or I'd harass them to come play here. And I paid folks quite handsomely to try and convince them to come back. I basically booked anyone with a tangential connection to weird music that I enjoyed. There were no openings at any venues in town for them. How would you describe the scene there at the time? Were there any unifying characteristics of people or bands that would attend these shows?

Not much. It was quite a swath of humanity at those things. I mean, you'd get a lot of punks. I'd specifically book stuff just to fuck with them, like Black Stool, which was a joke band my friend Andy and I came up with. We'd play acoustic death metal, but do it in a super annoying way, dressed to the nines in a cardigan, khakis, nice shoes, slicked hair, music stand, candles, and a ton of pre-set technical troubles, replete with super wimpy whining, just to make sure that the punks fully hated this guy in every conceivable way. And then he'd tear into this insane death metal, sung through a shitty lapel mic, playing an acoustic guitar, and the room would stop and the punks were all blown away. After a while, you could tell they were trying to figure out if it was a joke on them, and whether or not they should like it. Really, I guess it was about engaging audiences in nontraditional ways, while not losing the fun aspects of pure rock n' roll aesthetic.

Were noise complaints ever an issue at these shows? How would you deal with them if they occured?

Ha. Yes. These did happen, but it wasn't so much noise as it was someone starting a fight, usually associated with the person who ran the place, in which I would have to intervene. One night, this dude who was a delivery driver had been shot and grazed in the head earlier in the night during a robbery. He came to the show, and as he was leaving, this drunk friend of "the manager's" just up and punched the guy dead in the face, and I had to tackle, carry, and toss him out of the building with another dude. Shit got real rowdy at gigs, especially if I wasn't the one running it, as I got my nose broken at this party a resident threw. This dude had thrown a girl down a flight of steps and ran on stage and punched the drummer in the face. Some real pieces of shit came out, but it was always generally dealt with swiftly. It was probably more dangerous walking to and from the gig as there were plenty of reports of serious, violent robberies that occurred in the area.

 

I've also read that hosting shows in that space was only ever "semi-legal." What did that mean, and were there ever serious issues with the cops because of it?

Semi-legal in that charging money for a gig without a license, I believe, isn't lawful. Susan was weird about the promotion the gigs got, because each show kept getting bigger and bigger. When we got an A-List for Animal Collective and the last Wolf Eyes gig, I think that's when she started getting freaked out. The people living there weren't necessarily supposed to be living there, regarding code, so that also likely had something to do with it. I think I remember the cops coming like once during a gig, but they didn't shut the show down. Most of the problems came from idiots hanging out outside of the venue.

Were you in any bands during your time booking for the Church?

At the time, I was pretty much ending this duo I had called New Port, which was just a cheap Harry Pussy ripoff without drums. Real loud angular destroyed guitar duets, no effects, piercing volume and feedback. Whole lotta fun, ear-shearing treble. By the time the Church was going, I'd started a "punk" band called Ashcroft with three other fine chaps: Jason Wade [of Faggot and everything gross sexy], Croix Clayton (Thank You), and Josh Journey (Knife World). I'd had this idea, since Bush had just been elected, to create a pro-Republican/Administration hardcore band. It seemed novel and was heavily theatrical. We never practiced, got really good gigs, and sucked as hard as possible, all trying to emulate the current administration's practices.

I said some pretty horrible shit about women, minorities, gays, etc., and all the lyrics were rearranged from former Attorney General John Ashcroft's speech transcripts. It was fairly violent and total nonsense. Everyone just loathed it, so it turned out perfect. I would get quite intensely ripped on wine, and just fly all over the place. At one particular 7th St. Entry gig, I flew off the stage backwards, landed on my neck and head, with my knees driving my lower lip through my teeth. Without realizing what I'd done, I immediately got up, ran into the audience, and screamed some nonsense, and the next thing I saw was about 4 women with blood sprayed all over their faces. Fun times.

When you heard that the hospital next door was buying the property and tearing down the building, were you upset about it? Did you fight at all to keep the Church going?

No. I didn't even go to the final celebratory gig because I really didn't give a shit. It was just a building. It was fun because of what Markus and I were able to get in there. It was special because going to the Church meant while you might not have a clue who the band was, you'd likely had never seen something like it before. I mean, all I have to say is: Costes. In even writing that line, I remember the intense amount of shit heaped on the whole deal by the chord-rock crews in town, which generally amounted to the naked emperor flapping his little junk all around. But you take it all with a grain of salt when you enjoy listening to 40 minutes of refrigerator hum.


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