Back in the day the local punk scene used to be a very different beast. Saskatoon has always had some amazing bands, DIY venues and audiences going apeshit. But in the mid ‘90s, when punk was supposedly “broken” to the mainstream, Saskatoon’s scene was an amazing thing to experience. And as a 15-year-old kid who didn’t know shit about anything, it was also more than a little frightening.
There was a distinct element of grit and danger at local shows. All ages gigs were typically a haven for punk, hardcore, crust and grind bands – poppy or political bands were usually just told to fuck off.
Impromptu venues – some of the more notable ones include Rampage, The Times, The Shelter and The Pit – were among some of the best places to see local supporting acts, up-and-coming groups like The Smalls and bigger bands like D.O.A. Invariably, drunken debauchery fuelled audiences (although in that regard maybe things haven’t changed too much) and clashes with the cops usually resulted in another dead venue.
Tellingly, many local shows became the stuff of legend. Venue owners, fearing for the safety of their equipment or even themselves, often attempted to shut down the bands themselves. And property damage was almost to be expected – anyone else remember the ceiling collapsing at The Shelter or the riot police arriving mid-show at Sid’s Garage?
Even several local punkhouses, such as Old Calcutta and The House on 6th, fell victim to arson.
However, now that punk rock has been safely cemented in nostalgia land, it’s nice to be able to reflect back on the carnage and mayhem. And with punk memoirs popping up like crazy – check out American Hardcore by Steven Blush, I, Shithead by Joey Shithead or basically anything by the ridiculously-prolific Chris Walter – it’s kind of cool that a city like Saskatoon has it’s own historical documentation.
Check out the Facebook group Saskatoon Punks From Back in the 90’s. Featuring photos from shows pulled from the wayback machine as well as decrepit scans of gig posters, the page is a great reminder of a time when local punk rock wasn’t just a cute boys and girls club.
Even so, it’s nice to remember how skinny we all used to be. Sigh.