It is before the shutdown and at 10pm, Dusty’s Bar in Northeast Minneapolis is packed. Stephanie Jo Murck, of the band Sass, is at the microphone, wearing a cow-patterned dress, light green eyeshadow, and white tennis shoes. “Thanks for coming early,” she says with a deadpan.
Murck, a skilled guitar player and singer-songwriter, is part of a thriving punk and do-it-yourself (DIY) scene in the Twin Cities, increasingly a place where women and folks of marginalized genders can hold space.
Murck started performing around 2015. “My first band was all-female,” she says. “We were tokenized on bills.” She wanted to be seen as a musician, not qualified as a “female” musician.
Things are changing, but Murck still sees problems with the ways that women and trans folks are promoted. “When people are grouping nonbinary musicians and women in the same category, or using the phrase women-identifying for trans women, I know it is part of people trying to be inclusive, but I think it is a lot of posturing,” she says, “instead of listening to people and trying to be genuine and open.”
“Punk can be many things,” says musician, producer, and curator Xochi de la Luna. “It can be a noise rock scene, it can be metal, or it can be experimental stuff. Punk is just ingrained in DIY culture.”
According to de la Luna, the scene has undergone a lot of change, even in the last year. “There are a lot of gatekeepers that no longer have as much influence. The younger folk, they are way more open minded,” says de la Luna, who self-identifies as an Agender (without gender) trans Salvadoran immigrant. “A lot of people in the booking landscape are now nonbinary, Black, Brown, or queer. It makes it feel way more inviting.”
Taylor Seaberg, of Seaberg and the Black Velvet Punks [see related story], has seen that new openness even as they float between hip hop and punk realms. “I have this weird genre fluidness,” they say.
Seaberg sees plenty of toxic masculinity in communities they are a part of, but thinks it is starting to change. “I have been playing guitar for 10 or 11 years,” they say. “When people see that I can play, it erases a bit of the [social] stigma. I can actually play — it doesn’t matter if I’m a queer, non-cis person.”
It comes down to surrounding yourself with the right people, Seaberg says. “I’m really intentional about who I choose to collaborate with.”
The nature of the punk and DIY aesthetic, which pivots away from consumerism and mass produced media, lends itself to creating safe spaces for women and other marginalized groups, according to Braden Fischer, a musician who was a part of a DIY punk house in Midway St. Paul. “The DIY ethos is based around community,” Fischer says. “I have seen the community come together in cool ways about acknowledging unsafe people and requiring them to account for their actions.”
Nicole Rode has seen that as well. Her band, which now goes by The Stonedest, originally was called Rapedoor. Rode grew up in Circle Pines, where she lived until she was 30. She realized she needed a change. “I went out and bought a drum set,” she says. “I don’t know where [the desire] came from or why.”
Rode eventually made her way to Minneapolis and was in a two-piece band called River Bottom Sucker Fish. With encouragement from a friend, she approached Ron Q. Rudlong, who booked at Big V’s. “I went down there and walked in. Ron says I scared the crap out of him,” Rode remembers. “Then he said, do you want to play drums with me tonight? There’s an empty space.” The two jammed well together, and soon they had a band.
Rode is drummer for the group and sings (or screams), usually dressed in elaborate costumes and makeup she assembles the day of the show. Rapedoor grew in popularity, but especially after the #metoo movement, Rode began to get heavy criticism for the band name.
The band made a switch. “It has been a learning process,” she says. “You can figure out how to better represent your art and make a public apology, strive to be a better person.”
Through everything, Rode says, “Music makes me feel normal. I have always been a weird person, and my brain is funky. Finding music really made me feel part of the world.”