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Destler Dodge

In April 2012, Reporter published an article profiling The Meatgrinder, a basement venue pivotal to the Rochester punk scene. Since the article's publication, The Meatgrinder has closed its doors, and many bands—including the house owner Adam Kramer's own Endangered Youth—have broken up. The punk scene, known for its resiliency and DIY aesthetics, has struggled following The Meatgrinder's demise. Today, it is an unfortunate reality that the dwindling house shows which are so essential to the genre are being replaced by the bar scene in Rochester, sucking away much of the elements of DIY pride in the community. While new bands emerge from the shadows, it is feared by many in the scene that the glory days of Rochester punk are behind us.

Lights dimmed on a Saturday night over a 50-by-100-foot black dance floor inside of Rochester's California Brew Haus. A dizzying array of bodies in flannel shirts and back-patched denim jackets mingled around the front of the stage as Fairport band Slut Week quietly tuned their instruments. The crowd moved to the front of the stage as a distorted guitar melody began to echo through the venue, quickly accompanied by a thumping bass, an energetic drumbeat and the scratchy yet sing-songy vocals that are a staple of the pop-punk genre. Neon colors began to flicker across the stage, while blinding strobe lights flashed across the floor. The bodies gradually began to move before finally throwing themselves into fits of shoving and slamming, all captivated by wide smiles on scraggly bearded faces. All the while, Collin Bourne of the eponymous punk band Collin and the Bournes ran rapidly from person to person, greeting all with a signature hug and some with a beer-scented kiss on the cheek.

This is a scene representative of Rochester punk. Though it is lively and full of passion, many within the culture believe that it is slowly but surely sliding into decay whichthat is almost entirely due to apathy and arrogance toward building an accepting scene.

Bourne walked onto the patio after his set and met a splay of concert-goers puffing on cigarettes and taking swigs from Mason jars filled with Genesee.

"That was great, man," a young man with a thin beard said to Bourne. "Just good, clean, punk-rock fun."

Bourne moved to a picnic table and set down his drink.

"You know what I think the problem is?" Bourne said. "The scene has gotten cliquey. The hardcore kids don't want to play with the pop-punk kids, and the noise kids don't want to play with the hardcore kids. It's hard to get anything done when people refuse to drop the labels and just play music together."

Bourne was soon met by Tim Ernst of the Buffalo band Accidentals, who joined the conversation.

"Yeah, it's not like that in Buffalo," Ernst said. "I remember a few months back, [Buffalo band] On the Cinder needed a place to play, so they make a phone call to one of the guys who lived at [house venue] The Flower House. He said, 'Yeah, sure, come by, we'll get you set up!' and that was it. That's something that happens all the time in Buffalo, yet just doesn't seem to be happening in Rochester."

"Yeah, Buffalo seems to be really where the basement shows are at," Bourne said. "They've got something for everyone, and everyone wants the scene to be the best it can be, so everyone works together to make it that."

"Except for the noise kids," Ernst laughed. "They don't like anyone."

"Well, yeah, but fuck them," Bourne chuckled, then took a sip from his beer.

Bourne went on to reminisce about the now-defunct Meatgrinder and what its presence meant for the Rochester scene.

"You know, I remember when The Meatgrinder first opened," Bourne started. "I biked past the place like five times just looking for it, finally running into the place where these big, hairy guys with beards were standing out front. They asked me if I was here for the show, gave me a beer and were the nicest people in the world. I got my first band started there. I had some of the best experiences of my life in that basement. There were no cliques. Bands of all different genres, all different scenes, all working together to make it a place for everyone to come and play. What Adam Kramer and the Endangered Youth guys did was experimental, both with their music and The Meatgrinder, but it was what the scene needed."

Rob Keefe, vocalist for Slut Week, approached the table and lit up a cigarette.

"Rob, what do you think of all this?" Bourne asked him.

"I don't know if I can really say much, since so many people in the Rochester scene don't seem to like us," Keefe said between drags. "But I will say that those basement shows and house shows, that's where the real Rochester punk scene is happening."

"Exactly!" Bourne exclaimed. "But if we want the scene to change, we can't just expect it to. Like everyone in Buffalo, someone needs to stand up and make the change we want to see. We all want another Meatgrinder, but no one seems to be doing anything about it. And if not caring and judging what other people do is what people want to do instead of making that change, then it's just never going to happen." 

Earlier, during Collin and The Bournes' set, the band removed their shirts, stalling only as drummer Jon Bishop refused. Bourne began a chant of "Take it off! Take it off!" before finally moving into their closing song, a cover of Misfits' "Skulls." Everyone in the crowd tossed themselves across the venue with furious movements. Some gripped others' shoulders, swaying. Others swung viciously at one another, making it a priority to pick up those in the crowd who fell. All, with wide grins and head nods, sang along with Bourne. At this moment, the purity of punk rock could clearly be seen. Something so draped in misinterpretations and paintings of vandalism is actually nothing but kindred spirits, all united through a love of music.

It can be seen here, captivated by off-key sing-alongs to punk classics and a writhing mosh pit—a vast amount of potential energy held in the hearts of angsty youths and swelling beer guts, all waiting for someone to cause the spark that will help them ignite yet again.