Photos by Keith Smith
Dow Jones and the Industrials
Punk rock emerged from a cynical post-Nixon America. The peace and love hippie politics of the ‘60s rotted out, giving way to the nihilistic extremism of organizations like the Weather Underground and Symbionese Liberation Army. And early punk rock offered an honest reflection of this bleak social landscape. While critics assumed punk was nothing more than a brief and regrettable artistic spasm, the genre grew into something much deeper and larger: a global cultural movement uniting disaffected youth in unexpected locations around the world, from Indonesia to Indiana.
The attraction of punk rock isn’t simply musical, punk rock has become a platform for organizing against fascist, racist and sexist politics. The emergence of Pussy Riot in Moscow provides a relatively recent example. As America plunges deeper into the moral darkness of our current presidential politics, it’s worth looking back to punk rock’s roots as an artistic blueprint for fomenting dissent.
A new exhibition of early Indiana punk rock flyers and posters offers a timely opportunity to examine how Hoosier musicians advertised their artistic vision to local audiences. The exhibit opens Friday, March 3 in the Satch Art Space inside the Circle City Industrial Complex, located on 1125 Brookside Avenue. Opening night festivities will kick off at 6 p.m. and you can catch a live performance of classic Indiana punk covers from Cheetah Priest at 9 p.m.
I discussed the exhibition with Rick Wilkerson, who created some of the flyers
on display for his group Amoebas in Chaos.
Kyle: Rick, your record shop Irvington Vinyl is a sponsor of this exhibition. But you also had an active role in the Indiana punk rock and new wave movement. You were a member of the Bloomington based band Amoebas in Chaos. You recorded some highly regarded music with Amoebas in Chaos, even appearing on the legendary 1981 compilation Red Snerts alongside groups like the Zero Boys, The Gizmos and Dow Jones & The Industrials.
Before we talk about this exhibition, talk about your own experience in this scene.
Rick: I was really a small part of a big movement, but I was pleased to be there. We had a good time in the brief time we did participate. It was an interesting time. It was fairly insular. There weren't that many bands, and there weren't that many fans. It was all going on out of the public eye. Yet there was all this passion and creative energy.
Kyle: What sort of venues were you playing?
Rick: It was very hard to get gigs back then. In Bloomington we primarily played at what is now known as Second Story, it was the second floor of Bullwinkle's then. In Indianapolis we played at a place called Third Base, it was Downtown very close to St. Elmo's. We played there once and we played at Crazy Al's once. Our big opening act opportunity was to be the opener for The Cramps at Crazy Al's.
Kyle: You played with many of the bands featured in this exhibition of flyers and posters. Who were some of your favorite groups at that time?
Rick: There were so many good bands back then. The Dancing Cigarettes were one of my personal favorites. We actually shared practice space with them for a while and became good friends. I loved them. They really owned Bloomington in the early '80s. They were the top dog down there. Before them were The Gizmos and MX-80 Sound, who moved to San Francisco and ended up being on The Residents' label. The Zero Boys were fantastic and just getting started when I was involved. There were so many, Dow Jones and The Industrials, Last Four Digits, The Panics, and Latex Novelties. I could go on.
Kyle: I think one of the most important and enduring concepts put forward in punk rock is the D.I.Y. ethic. That do it yourself attitude has defined a lot of punk rock music, the idea that you don’t need a huge corporation behind you to make music, tour, release records and generally just make a statement about the world we live in.
And that D.I.Y. approach is very evident on a lot of punk posters and cover art from the late '70s and early '80s. There was a very cut and paste approach to design. A lot of the art making process took advantage of the accessibility of Xerox photocopy machines. Can you talk a little bit about the punk rock aesthetic and how it’s reflected in this exhibition?
Rick: It was the D.I.Y. aesthetic. Most of the people who did these flyers weren't great artists, although we actually had some pretty good artists in Indianapolis doing them. Essentially it was branding, you were communicating via these flyers that this was a punk or new wave thing. You were communicating that this was off center, and not your usual cover band kind of thing. A lot of the graphics reflected that. You looked for ways to surprise people. You looked for ways to communicate that this might be your thing.
Kyle: After graduating from the Indiana punk/new wave scene you went on to a career in advertising. I don't know if you studied advertising in college, but I wondered if you were influenced by any formal concepts of advertising while designing flyers for your band?
Rick: I did study advertising in college, but I don't think I got that deep with it. I wasn't thinking in terms of branding, but clearly there's a lot of branding going on. I think you'll see that in the exhibition. You'll see bands going down a certain path. You might have three different flyers for a show, because all three bands might make their own flyer. But each band that made a flyer might have some consistency over time. There might be a graphic strategy a band would often use that would lead to recognition, "Oh, that's Dow Jones and The Industrials."
Kyle: I want to ask you about your thoughts on the legacy of Indiana punk rock and new wave. While it’s not a widely acknowledged fact locally, there were some extremely influential early punk and new wave bands from the Hoosier state. I’m thinking of MX-80 Sound in Bloomington, and Skafish who emerged from the Region in Northern Indiana. Do you want to add any thoughts on the legacy or greater impact of the Indiana punk rock scene of the 70s and early 80s?
Rick: I think there's a lot of impact, but it's fairly quiet. It's not like it’s recognized that Indiana was one of the great punk scenes, and yet when the Zero Boys released Vicious Circle they became legendary. That record has been reissued more times than any Indiana record. It's had eight different pressings and it's still in print.
There are so many bands that have done really special things, Dow Jones and The Industrials for example. They were kind of an odd band, real garage punk, but they had a keyboard wizard Brad Garton with them. They had a completely different twist on punk than most bands back then.