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The Commonspace

Jun 2002 / communities :: email this story to a friend

The St. Louis Punk Community: Virtual or Real?
By Jerome Gaynor

The St. Louis Punk Page ( is a website covering the local punk rock music scene. It allows anyone with an email address to get their band on the site and post information about their band: members, records, songs, lyrics, photos, etc. Also, each band has a (often very busy) message board on their page that is open to the public.

Jerome Gaynor When I built it, I hoped that the site would be successful, but I never dreamed that its success would reach the level that it has. When I had the idea, two years ago, I just wanted to learn some programming so I could put food on the table. This month I'm likely to get 90,000 visits, and the numbers keep increasing! The audience seems to be composed of a wide range of ages, from all over the bi-state area, with a high proportion of high-school suburbanites.

As the site gained popularity, I struggled with my attitude toward it. Was I just creating another excuse for kids to stay inside? I have long felt that automobiles, television and technology in general are destructive to communities. It's common for people to go weeks without a moment outside during their "commute": they go from their homes into their garages, get in their cars, drive to work, drive home and go back inside to watch TV until bedtime. Interpersonal contact occurs infrequently, and under well-controlled circumstances: church, school, work, the mall. Was my website just another electronic divider?

I've decided that the STLPunk community is different because it is grounded in the physical realm, and it provides tools to counter other technological curses. It offers a chance for kids otherwise separated by the vast expanse of suburban sprawl to communicate with one another. Also, the virtual relationships started at STLPunk do not always remain virtual. Weeks of electronic communication are followed, I think, by weekends of "real" communication — at punk rock shows, where formerly invisible relationships are solidified with real handshakes.

The disputes, threats and slander that occur regularly on the site only reinforce its importance. These "negative" aspects are part of any community, and they're part of growing up. American Suburbia moves kids all over the country, drops them into enormous schools where they don't know anyone, prohibits all non-sanctioned contact, PRETENDS that conflict doesn't exist, and then wonders why kids go crazy. For bonds to form between kids, they need to be left alone. Suburbia creates the conditions for social problems and then is shocked when socially screwed-up kids are everywhere.

I also think that STLPunk has contributed to the music scene by helping to debunk two common complaints about the St. Louis music scene. First: "There is no scene in St. Louis," and second: "The scene here is too fragmented."

The first complaint was common in past years: "There is no scene in St. Louis." Within months of its official launching, there were hundreds of bands on the page. Now there are almost 2,000, with 20-40 new ones weekly. It has become very difficult to argue that there's no scene here!

The second complaint is perhaps more valid: "The scene here is too fragmented." There are a million bands, but no one goes to see them, or there's too little border crossing. The metal shows get the metal crowd, the hardcore bands get the hardcore crowd, etc.

(Like many St. Louisans, I am a descendant of German craftsmen. Could it be that the work ethic is behind this? Are the punks of St. Louis too busy hunched over their guitars in their own basements to be bothered to pay attention to anyone else's labors?)

punk! Or maybe the glass is half-full. Maybe the atomization of the scene is just what punks were after in the first place. After all, when EVERYONE plays guitar, it makes the existence of "rock stars" pretty hard to maintain! Are we just returning to a pre-historic mode of musical society, when a person would pick up a banjo and play for his or her own extended family?

If so, then we need a State Fair! On Saturday, June 29, I will attempt to create a mass physical community out of a mass virtual one. All the microcliques will converge upon the South Broadway Athletic Club for the 1st Annual STLPunk Heavyweight Championship of Rock & Roll. The bands, some of them elected by the ticket-buyers, will include: Ultraman, Very Metal, Nineteen, The Cripplers, The Electric, NeoGeo, Split 77, and the Red Light Runners. There will be a gigantic "Battle of the Bands" with the winning band receiving heavyweight wrestling champion belts. There will also be tables set up for local record distributors and record labels to sell their wares, and for local public/political groups to spread their gospels.

By July, I hope that the second complaint will have died like its predecessor. I wonder what will take its place?

Jerome Gaynor is a 5th-generation southsider who considers his suburban childhood a temporary cultural detention. A victim of constant hyperactivity and occasional bouts of delirious ambition, his myriad projects are detailed at Jeroman Empire.

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