Punk rock is dead? Not in Detroit. Trumbullplex helps keep genre alive

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By Eric Kiska
Motor City Muckraker music reviewer

Punk rock isn’t dead. At least, it isn’t in Detroit.

Although bands such as Death, MC5 and The Stooges rocked out a few decades ago, there is still a bevy of power chords and in-your-face punk rock hiding in small gatherings around the city. One of them is the Trumbullplex, a self-proclaimed “anarchist commune,” on Trumbull in Woodbridge.

A non-functional disco ball hung above the dimly lit stage as the local housing collective hosted four strangely unique but powerful punk-rock bands in Rat Columns, Radiant Marks, Shells, and Real Ghosts on Friday night. The venue is next to two Victorian houses where the residents live. Their mission is to “create a positive environment for revolutionary change in which economic and social relationships are based on mutual aid and the absence of hierarchy.”

Shells, the frizzy-haired solo female artist from Ypsilanti, stood barefoot in front of the stage with just a guitar and an amp as she painted a post-rock portrait for the crowd to hear. Her experimental instrumentals seemed stronger with no vocals. She proved that, sometimes, a guitar can sing as strong as a voice. Her poignantly provocative music created a dream-like atmosphere in the show-space that is no bigger than a small garage.

“Reclaim the community, environment before profit,” was one of the designs mounted on the wall with planet Earth placed in the middle of it.

The crowd did not reach over 25 people throughout the night. Most stood or sat without shaking a bone as the music took hold of them. Even the higher-energy punk bands left the audience only faintly bobbing their head. Not to say this wasn’t an appreciative crowd, but it was not the stereotypical vision of a punk show where big sweaty men mosh each other into oblivion.

“Once Radiant Marks came on, I was inclined to boogie,” said local music enthusiast Noah Willoughby. He seemed to be the only one dancing, though.

Radiant Marks, a four-piece garage band out of Ypsilanti and Detroit, fit the hole-in-the-wall environment. As the oldest band out of the four, they showed the most experience and on-stage presence. Their sound was also the most polished. It was a sniff of nostalgia for Detroiters to hear their distorted melodies expel out of their amplifiers, as they drew great influence from a multitude of old garage rock bands.

Due to rough acoustics and a cluttered room, vocals were lost in the environment of political posters lining the walls. This might have been because of faulty equipment. Although, when seeing a show of this variety, vocals are not the most important factor. The vital signs come from “sticking it to the man,” and sending a worthwhile message to those listening.

The Australian indie-pop group Rat Columns capped off the night. Rat Columns was the only band with an international following at this show. They proved that small places such as the Trumbullplex bring acts from all over the globe. Rat Columns served the most energy of the night with their fast-paced licks and high-octane percussion.

The Trumbullplex has bi-weekly music shows along with theatre, punk rock spanish classes, dance contests, sewing circles, workshops of all sorts, grill outs and cookouts and even small carnivals. They also sport a self-published “zine library,” with ranges of independent fiction and non-fiction writing. It’s a sight to see when places such as this live in small pockets of the city.

Make sure to check out the Trumbullplex if you want to see something creatively unique, or just want to enjoy some good punk music. Their next event will be on the 23rd when they host musical acts Recreant, Dakhma, and Social Werq.

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Eric Kiska

Eric Kiska graduated from Northern Michigan with a BS in English and writing and minor in art and design. He’s also a former video editor at Detroit Public TV.