Before I got into the music business or marketing, I managed an ice cream shop in Melbourne, FL, the town where I grew up. I worked there for six years, and somewhere in the middle of those, I reached a point where I’d heard so many screaming and crying children that, almost overnight, I was able to subconsciously tune out their screams and cries. It was like a light switch inside my head was permanently stuck in the off position. It wasn’t anything I made a concerted effort to do; it just happened.
There’s a parallel to be drawn there with the prevalence of corporate-owned, ad-heavy live music venues. If you live in the real world, the one where most people are less concerned with smashing the state and more concerned with paying their bills and just being happy, it should be easy to reconcile the existence of these places with your own ideals and recognize them as a means to an end. No one likes going to a punk show at a club littered with Miller Lite banners, but at this point those banners should be easy to ignore and, if acknowledged, done so with perspective. Those banners, in theory, help the venue’s owners keep the lights on, pay their employees a fair wage, and book quality bands and tours. Marketing, advertising and sponsorships are so heavily ingrained into how we consume media and culture now that a lot of people (myself included) often fail to notice even the most overt advertising. We’ve seen and disregarded so much of it over the past decade or so that our brains are rewired to discard and ignore even the most invasive marketing, much like those screaming, crying children just moments away from sugar-fueled bliss.
What’s also interesting about seeing a punk show at a corporate club though, as opposed to a house or basement, is the stark difference in crowd dynamic. Because these venues have the inherent ability to advertise, they can attract a different type of person. Not better or worse, just different. These people, punk fans through and through, are not entrenched in the DIY scene like a lot of us are. The term “safe space” isn’t in their vocabulary and they’re used to paying $8 for a beer that would cost $3.50 at nearly any other bar. A lot of them also don’t know how to act when a band is playing and have little to no regard for the enjoyment or safety of those around them. They throw elbows in the pit, hardcore dance during melodic, mid-tempo punk songs, and generally run into people who aren’t there because they want to be run into. That sucks sometimes, but if you don’t like it you can always stand in the back, I guess.
It just goes to show you that punk really is the people’s genre, warts and all, through egregious advertising, misplaced audience hostility, watery overpriced beer, ticket service charges, and barricades with burly security guards stationed behind them. Through all of that, through divergent backgrounds and wildly different dispositions, the music still prevails. The definition of punk is fluid and perpetually intensely personal. There’s an arcane kind of beauty in that.