Photos from Opus and Koto by Timothy Donovan Photography
Photos from Front Street by John Andrews
It’s a little before 9:30 p.m. on a humid August night. Inside Koto on Washington Street in Salem the few remaining diners are finishing their sushi while watching the first band of the evening set up on a small plywood stage against the rear wall. The darkened interior is quickly filling up with individuals sporting heavily studded leather jackets, tattoos and perfectly coiffed mohawks. Up on stage, Tony Yunta, vocalist and drummer for the hardcore punk band “Profit Margin” has finished setting up his drum kit and with a drumstick count, launches into the first set of the evening. A wave of sound crashes across the sushi restaurant-cum-underground rock club as another punk show begins. In the Salem area, Koto, Opus and the Front Street Coffeehouse form a triumvirate over the local punk scene by offering readily accessible venues for aspiring as well as veteran punk and metal bands to perform at. Going back to the beginnings of the Boston-area punk and hardcore scene in the early 1980’s, finding venues outside of the city was difficult at best. Mainstream clubs and bars were squeamish about booking punk and hardcore acts due to the associated mayhem and destructive nature of the fans who would often end up leaving a fair amount of their own blood, broken glass and the occasional smashed toilet in the wake of a show. In recent years, however, this behavior is generally not tolerated by those involved despite the rowdy nature of the fans. The growing punk scene in Salem seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon despite the presence of a number of “veteran” punk rockers. “We’ve been here playing punk since we were teenagers, ten years ago, none of these venues were here, there was no scene” says Luis Castillo, guitarist with local band, DestrOi. Punk as a music genre has been around since the mid-1970’s so many of the original players are well into their 60’s and early 70’s now, the ones who survived the destructive early days, that is. Punk rock is no longer a young persons’ scene and this is evidenced by not only the number of older fans at shows now but also a fair number of older musicians as well who are still kicking out the jams when most of their contemporaries are home in bed.
The Northshore area has always had a healthy music scene, but it seems that in Salem and the immediate surrounding towns, there is a higher-than-normal concentration of punk bands as well as those who embrace the punk lifestyle. This can be partially attributed to the influx of “new” residents to the area, particularly from Boston as high rents continue to drive creative and artistic people from the city and out into the suburbs. Ian King, guitarist for the F.U.s and local Salem resident puts it this way, “It’s moving to the suburbs for people who’d rather die than move to the suburbs”. This feeling is further supported by a number of individuals in the scene as well. “Salem is appealing for a lot of reasons including the fact that many members of prolific Boston bands now live on the North Shore. It makes it easier for them and their fans who can no longer afford to live in the city or choose not to go out on a Friday night to see them play” says local resident Megan Lafaso Hercher, whose husband is the bass player for the Salem-based, DestrOi. Another consideration is that the smaller clubs in the area are more reasonable as far as booking a show. “The clubs (in Salem) don’t charge a fortune to put on a show” says Christine Donohue, whose boyfriend, Tony, plays for Profit Margin and are regulars at Koto. Fees for club usage in the Boston area can run as high as $800, which translates into higher ticket prices at the door. In Salem, the average price of a ticket falls in the $8 to $10 range which is very affordable compared to Boston and Cambridge. Part of the success of the local scene is no doubt tied to the clubs themselves. Koto and Opus and literally across the street from each other and Front Street Coffeehouse is about a block away. “Everything is concentrated into one small location and there is no need to drive anywhere” says Harley Sutherland, who handles the punk bookings at Opus. “There have always been an abundance of punk rockers or metal kids here; they were just waiting for the right time or venue.”
In recent years, Salem has become a trend-setting bastion for tolerance and diversity within the community with its embracing of various groups and subcultures including a large Pagan and Wiccan population as well as a growing LGBT presence in town, so with this in mind, it seems reasonable that such a growing punk scene can also thrive without fear of persecution or prejudice. “We have places we can go where it feels like home. We made our scene here and we are all accepting of all things new” says Gail Corcoran Lynch, a veteran of the punk scene and wife of F.U.’s and Mongorellis bassist Ed Lynch. Her husband Ed follows up with “As this small scene continues to develop, everyone is getting to know one another, or at least who one another is”. It is this feeling of community and acceptance that so many in the Salem area enjoy to such a great extent. “Salem is very attractive to those that thrive outside the status quo. Whether you’re foreign, gay, tattooed, creative, introverted or just plain weird, Salem has space for everyone and is incredibly tolerant of the gamut of humanity” says local resident Deirdre Lind. “I’ve lived in this area my whole life, I can’t imagine living anywhere else” says Al Quint, publisher of Suburban Voice and DJ for Sonic Overload. It would seem that the local punk scene is now firmly embedded in the Salem area and will no doubt remain that way for many years to come as it members continue to grow and find a welcoming home within the local community.