One of the posters for Da Slyme’s first show
It was 29 years ago that Newfoundland’s first punk rock band, Da Slyme, first spraypainted their name on record sleeves like Mr. Dressup, Carlton Showband and The Bell Jubilee Sound and slipped a copy of their double LP inside. And it’s been 31 years since their first show.
Punk hit Newfoundland hard and it hit early. Da Slyme were certainly the first, but they weren’t the last.
This year the Rock Can Roll Festival is digging through the past with a closing night conference entitled “Preserving our Punk Rock Heritage.”
David Keating caught up with Liz Solo and Mike Kean to ask them about it.
“They’re talking on TV about our heritage and where we come from,” says Mike Kean. “They don’t know what my fucking heritage is.”
The first story of Newfoundland punk goes way back.
Rock Can Roll festival organizer Liz Solo points to the stories of the “primordial” group Da Slyme in the late 70s as the beginning of the entire movement. Their legendary first show happened on February 3, 1978 in the movie room—a student lounge on the second floor of MUN’s Thompson Student Centre.
“They had their costumes and their personas, but nobody knew what to do. I think it ended up with them breaking beer bottles and the singer cutting himself really badly and I think he had to leave early to go to the hospital.”
“Then the audience didn’t quite know what to do either, so people started throwing things,” she says.
Over 30 years since Da Slyme first hit the stage in St. John’s, punk has been a continuous thread in the local music scene. In conjunction with Rock Can Roll’s Fifth Annual Music Festival, the Independent Artist Co-Op is organizing the closing night conference entitled “Preserving Our Punk Rock Heritage.”
Featuring presentations with members of groups like Dog Meat BBQ, Da Slyme, and Potmaster, the conference is part of a larger ongoing effort to catalogue the history of punk in the province, especially for younger bands who don’t know.
“We want to make people understand that there’s a whole history here that’s decades old—and we want to document that,” says Solo. “Many bands come and go and didn’t record, but that’s changing… We want to create awareness and content to help people understand where the roots of all this are.”
Highlights of the collection that will debut at the conference include hundreds of show posters from every decade of music, as well as early album art. Bios of bands and all of the images will be available to online in a gallery that traces the origins of groups through the members that have spanned the decades.
For Solo and Kean, the story of local punk history is the story of all the grassroots movements in music that have occurred in the half a century of history in the city.
“Ages ago it was all the same scene. It wasn’t so factionalized,” say Solo. “The reggae band played with the punk band. There were shows with just hardcore punk, but a lot of the shows were much more shared… There were fewer venues, and fewer bands. We were all discovering this stuff together and figuring it out together.”
Despite the strides punk has made in audience popularity, number of bands and performance venues, the struggle to make a living in the arts hasn’t changed over the years.
“Musicians are probably the most exploited of all artists here because they are continuously being asked to do everything for free. Nobody wants to pay them. It’s a problem. We have all these amazing working artists struggling with issues of survival,” says Solo.
Along the way, it’s not only the artists that have struggled to survive. Both Kean and Solo mourn the loss of another music festival, the Peace-A-Chord.
Held annually in Bannerman Park, the free community festival with a focus that hovered between social justice and local music faced opposition from others in the community.
“It’s becoming all about greed and property now, “ says Pickard. “The houses around the park, the value skyrocketed so now these people, they say ‘we don’t like this’ and a 25-year festival is cast out.”
Meanwhile, The Folk Festival— louder in decibel level, but not in style—was permitted to continue in the same Bannerman Park location.
As property values and the prosperity of the Have era continue to change the nature of the city, both Kean and Solo see a greater need to hold onto the values and punk heritage that have marked the A1C area code as fertile artistic territory.
“Remember that we have a past… and you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. So let’s not lose that ‘we’re all in this together’ thing—which I think we do still have.”
The Rock Can Roll Music and Media Festival runs from Friday, September 25th to Sunday, September 27th. Check the listings calendar for details.