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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

February 9, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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'SpokAnarchy': punk rock individuality in 1980s Spokane

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The crowning achievement of the documentary "SpokAnarchy!" is that it's entertaining for the full hour and 20 minutes, despite being about music you've never heard of from a scene you never knew existed.

Besides being a definitive look at 1980s punk rock from Spokane, Wash., the movie (by filmmaker David W. Halsell and a team of co-directors) articulates the universal story of growing up in a conservative town where you'd get beat up for looking weird or having artsy aspirations. It's also about the positive things that can happen when you go for your dream. To hear unknown bands like Sweet Madness and PP-Ku tell it, if you wore straightened jeans and striped shirts, you dealt with beer bottles thrown from cars.

Spokane still has that social flavor, though much milder, just like lots of cities in America. But musically it's almost unchanged. The punks rebelled then against the same AC/DC cover bands rampant there today, and funk and disco, which the punks also deemed cookie-cutter. Listening to these old resistance-rock songs now doesn't have the quite the bite it once did, but the film draws you into the underdog energy of Terror Couple's anthem "This is Spokane, [expletive] L.A.," or the childlike experimenting of PP-Ku. It's also impressive how integrated the music was with shamanistic performance art and skateboarder culture, forming an outsider-art ecosystem.

It's fascinating to learn it happened, and it would be great to see a similar thing happen again. Crucially, "SpokAnarchy's" directors were there at the time, and so the film takes the city out of the mouths of cosmopolitan Seattleites — known to disparage Spokane as a wasteland — and transfers the narrative to the people who know it best. They paint Spokane as a blank canvas that creative minds can see as an opportunity, and where a lot of cool stuff has happened that hardly anyone knows about.

"SpokAnarchy" plays at the The Grand Illusion Cinema Feb 10-16; The Grand Illusion also hosts a Q&A with writer/publicist Chris Estey and filmmakers David W. Halsell and Jon Swanstrom Feb 11 at 8:30 pm.

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