A People’s History of Punk: Meet the local archivists working to preserve the past one flyer at a time
The show flyer occupies a weird space in DIY culture. At its most basic, it’s information: who’s playing, where the show is, and when things are going to kick off. And while you don’t need anything more than that, many flyers are of course highly decorated. They can be beautifully made – either by hand or on a computer, one is not inherently better than the other – or they can be downright ugly. But the thing is that no matter what they look like, flyers hold a special place in the culture. Not only are they an announcement and invitation but, when the music has long ended, they’re oftentimes the only documentation that will exist proving that the concert ever occurred.
Also, and this is important to point out, these are scraps of paper and almost all of them are going to end up in the trash.
If you polled a hundred punks – or really anyone involved in underground music – from different backgrounds, of different ages, from any corner of the world, you’d find that almost all of them have saved at least a few flyers from old shows. Maybe it was a gig with some big-name bands or bands that were legendary only to the few people who made it out that night. Maybe it’s that time they got to see their favorite. Maybe it’s something from a show that happened decades ago, well before they were even born.
These flyers are stored in shoe boxes, albums, framed behind glass, or just shoved haphazardly in a drawer somewhere, ripped and torn. Beyond the sense of history there’s a personal connection to the music and the scene that spawned it.
Anna Young from the West Philly two-piece band Hermit High Priestess has a collection of flyers going back to when she was a teenager in Kansas City, Missouri. Some of them are of shows she played, some she just attended, some she didn’t go to but thought it was important to hold on to the flyer. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, not all of her memories associated with these pieces of paper are that positive.
“It’s strange I wanted to keep this stuff,” she admitted. “But I just couldn’t [throw it away].” The flyers are also the only real artifacts of the band she was in for many of those years, Toxic Shok, save for a handful of photos. Despite only being her personal archive – one she’s brought with her through multiple moves around the country over the past dozen years – it is very much a snapshot of the KCMO scene during the time she was involved.
Philly punk mainstay OB has maintained the @eastbound2fkd Instagram account for the past six years. What started as a way to go through all the flyers he’s held on to since he started going to shows as a teenager in the late 80s has morphed into an online archive of Philly and New Jersey punk history from the perspective of someone who has very much been in the thick of things for decades
While he very much has a collection now, he didn’t start off with that goal in mind. “Trying not to sound like an old man, but I started ‘collecting’ partly out of necessity,” he told The Key. “If I was at a show (or a record store) and picked up a flyer for a future gig I wanted to attend, I would keep the flyer in my room to remind me of the date, time, and location of the show.”
After the show had happened he’d tack the flyers from more memorable ones to his wall. The others would go into a box. At some point he started to put every single flyer he got into that box.
Fast forward to July of 2014 and the realization that he had a “box of flyers in the attic doing nothing” and so, as he put it, “… it seemed like a good idea to post some pictures of them on Thursdays, as part of the #tbt hashtag that was popular at the time.” Though first he had to make sure they were all in chronological order, of course.
Chris Delaware has a similar backstory. Posting on the account @delaware90shc – like the person managing the account, it is very Delaware-centric though it also includes content from Philly, South Jersey, and elsewhere – he has been involved in the punk and hardcore scenes for most of his life and currently plays in a Newark-based band called RingRust.
“I started collecting flyers when I first started going to punk/hardcore shows in 1995,” he said. “At that time, I loved flyers. The artwork, the information, the band logos. Even shows that I knew I couldn’t attend, I still grabbed and held onto them.” He described himself as a “collector and hoarder of all things” including records, cassettes, VHS tapes of old shows, and other punk ephemera: “[I] really just have a habit of not throwing anything away.”
While he had already been posting video clips of old shows to his personal account, he started the @delaware90shc page in August of 2019 after realizing there was a greater interest in this sort of thing outside of the people he already knew. He also cited @eastbound2fkd as inspiration: “I started searching around and found OB’s page and thought, ‘Hey, this is a cool idea. I have a lot of these flyers too, but also a lot of others from the Newark/Wilmington Delaware scene that I was a part of.’”
Although there is an aspect of nostalgia to the project, Chris Delaware is also focused on the importance of historical documentation. As he explained, “… it’s all about the memories but [it’s] also a great way of documenting and archiving our DIY punk scene for sure. I’ve always loved hearing stories of shows from those older than me that I didn’t attend and also seeing old videos.”
That rings true for Young too but she also stressed the necessity for groups to be able to create their own historical narratives. “In general the history of people is changed and molded to fit whoever is writing it, whether that’s through the lens of white supremacy or through the lens of straightwashing,” she told The Key. “The people’s history is important. This stuff, these flyers, these shows, I don’t think that they’re that important to be honest with you. But it’s nice to be able to tell someone that they happened. And some of this art is amazing and some of it’s terrible but altogether it does make something big.”
Both Chris Delaware and OB spoke to the limitations of Instagram as a platform for this sort of thing. While the app does allow for a wide audience, a phone screen is obviously a less-than-ideal way to view flyers, pictures from old shows, videos, or anything that is highly detailed.
“I’d say the only negative is that a flyer is best viewed in its natural habitat: stapled to a telephone pole or pinned to the wall in a record store or club,” OB said. “Instagram does not allow for that experience.”
Still, unlike websites dedicated to flyers – see the end of this article for a list of sites and other similar Instagram accounts – the app lets you happen across posts without having to remember to visit a specific page, which is certainly a positive because it ropes in both hardcore fans and also those who might have a more passing interest.
Taking a look at some of the posts, it’s easy to understand why they resonate with so many people. Not only are there bands represented that fans love and have a long history with – either from seeing them live or wanting to see them live – but the members of those groups are just as ever-present in the comments reminiscing about the show on the flyer pictured.
For Chris Delaware that’s one of the most crucial reasons he puts in the work. He brought up a house show in Bear, DE he helped put together as a teenager in 1998 for Dillinger Escape Plan, Boy Sets Fire, All Else Failed, and Burn The Priest (now known as Lamb Of God), bands that today fill huge venues all by themselves. When he posted the flyer and videos from the show he was able to hear from members of the bands two decades later and find out what it was like, as he put it, “from their point of view of playing a garage show for a bunch of kids.”
This speaks to the importance of the audience in music but also to the lack of a divide – at times literally and certainly always metaphorically – between audience and band in the DIY scene. Just focusing on the music alone doesn’t accurately give you the full picture of what happened in the past. Still images are oftentimes only of the bands, cutting out everyone else there and sometimes even identifiable aspects of the venues, and video footage is rare. But flyers and especially projects like these that give them cultural context very much help create a robust history by drawing connections between bands, spaces, promoters, and so on.
For Young, every single flyer she pulled out came with a story about that show or one of the bands or her experiences at the venue. “There’s some good memories in here and some really bad ones,” she said. “They definitely all make me feel complicated.” That’s certainly why she’s held on to this collection despite the fact that a good chunk of those stories are not particularly positive.
Although it might not be a full history of early aughts Kansas City, Missouri punk, it is her personal history and that’s a valid and necessary perspective when trying to get a better understanding of anything, especially when it comes to the arts. This is important whether you’re talking about punk in the Midwest or opera in Italy. Also, none of these scenes exist in a vacuum and so seeing what bands toured, where they toured, and who they played with is certainly significant.
While OB admitted to not curating the content he posts except to make sure that he’s posting shows that happened that day – “I just post any flyer I have that matches the date,” he said – he told The Key that by not only focusing on well-known bands or important shows it does give a greater sense of the scene. “I don’t consider myself a historian or archivist though, that sounds pretty academic,” he said. “I am just a punk rock enthusiast.”
* Other Instagram accounts and websites to check out *
Copy Scams – An incredible resource of stuff mostly from the Bay Area, LA, and Pacific Northwest. Goes back to the 70s but also includes occasional new flyers, which is awesome. Also, check out that one of The Avengers and Philly’s own synthpunk pioneers The Reds from a Portland show in 1978! Incredible stuff.
Freedom Has No Bounds – One of the few music blogs dedicated to Philly punk and hardcore,Freedom Has No Bounds – named after the Ruin song of the same name – is a great resource of out-of-print recordings, bootlegs, and tons of other stuff. The definitive Philly punk archive.
Art Punk Kill – A mix of art, photographs, flyers, and other punk ephemera all curated by Martin Sorrondeguy from the bands Los Crudos and Limp Wrist. Martin has been involved in punk for decades and this is a fantastic and super interesting archive.
Mace Canister Recordings – We’ve covered Chuck Meehan numerous times in The Key and for good reason. The musician and Philly punk megafan started with making live recordings of new bands and uploading those to Bandcamp and has moved on to tracking down old demo tapes and other lost recordings. Check out that killer album he just uploaded by the M-80s, a short-lived band he was in with Chuck Treece from McRad in the mid-80s!
Noise Addiction II – Another very good music blog. Like Freedom Has No Bounds, Noise Addiction II is mostly live recordings and bootlegs though despite being based in Philly the content is not particularly centered on the city. Still, it’s worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of 80s punk and hardcore as some of the live sets posted are truly mind-blowing.
punk_af_archive – I’m including this one because it shows that there is a certain universality to these types of archives, even if you don’t know or even care about the band or the scene. This is the account for all things related to the East Lansing pop punk band Abe Froman, who were around in the late 90s to the early aughts. While you might not have heard of them – check out the tracks on Bandcamp, they’re great! – they played with some bands that got pretty popular in subsequent years, including Against Me! and Alkaline Trio. Looking through their Instagram you’ll find old flyers, actual snail mail correspondence, record reviews, and all the other bits and pieces that make up being a band. It is both fun and, in a word, charming.