The Jazz June (photo by Mike O’Shea)
(This article may or may not have appeared in Antioch College’s The Antiochian alumni magazine.)
In late 2013, as a result of a recommendation from the school’s architectural firm MacLachlan, Cornelius and Filoni who have been guiding the institution’s growth and expansion, Antioch College announced the demolition of two buildings on campus. Among them was The Student Union.
“We expect that many alumni and friends will have a number of fond memories of these buildings. However, as mindful as we are of our rich heritage, the new and better ways in which we are articulating the college experience at Antioch require us to make bold, informed decisions about our campus to make it both viable and sustainable in the 21st century,” President Mark Roosevelt told The Yellow Springs News of the announcement
In recent years, The Student Union built in 1957, has contended with extensive mold and large roof leaks, resulting in extensive damage. Citing high cost and infrequent use of the building, the college’s architects recommended the demolition.
While news of the demolition stirs up feelings of nostalgia on several levels, students and bands involved in the punk, hardcore and independent music scene during the ‘90s fondly recall the building as a core congregation spot where fans weathered and enjoyed the changing musical climates of the era.
Signs of the times
While ‘80s punk had a formidable villain in Ronald Regan, George Bush senior’s defeat and the saxophone playing, night time talk show visiting Bill Clinton’s resulting victory issued in an era of perceived political comfort not felt in the previous decade. Without a prominent boogeyman, social justice became a major concern for many punk bands, and some of the best political punk albums of all time followed.
Nation Of Ulysses’ and Born Against’s 1991 albums,13-Point Program To Destroy America and Nine Patriotic Hymns For Children, Refused’s The Shape Of Punk To Come, fanned the flames of disgruntled youth. Behead The Prophet (No Lord Shall Live)’s I Am That Great And Fiery Force and Los Crudos’ Canciones Para Liberar Nuestras Fronteras featured gay frontmen, and led to greater awareness of gay rights issues.
Antioch had its fair share of musicians navigating some of these same waters, armed with their own political and artsy missions. Former student Michael Pendelton, who went to high school in the heart of downtown Washington, DC, during the early days of its celebrated hardcore music heyday, was tragically unaware of the counterculture music movement happening around him.
He arrived at Antioch in the Fall of ’89, a legacy student of sorts. His great-uncle and aunt both attended Antioch and worked there as well (Al Stewart was a professor and Ruth Stewart worked in the Antioch Abroad office). Pendleton became involved in college government for a year as the events coordinator, booking bands and other entertainment at performance spaces around campus.
“There were student bands, but most of them didn’t last more than a single term. The two that I can recall are Tom Roadkill and The Flatrabbits and Al Guskin’s Rectum. AGR was more of an experience than a band, in an art project kind of way, but it was also an inside joke and so couldn’t live outside of campus.”
Michael O’Shea, another former student fondly remembered several bands that were active during his days at the school. “Jeremy Hoar played in a band called Porn on the Cob that was an Antioch/Dayton band, as was my band 24 Possible, but I was the only Antiochian in my band. Also, The Quartet, my brother Patrick’s band, was made up of all Antioch students. They began playing after I graduated in 1999.”
“During that time period there were so many incredible shows on the Antioch campus,” O’Shea added. “The year before I entered, I was in high school in Centerville a suburb of Dayton, and Brainiac and The Breeders played in the field called ‘the golf course’, which was next to the theater building.”
According to O’Shea, Cibo Mato, Bluetip, JeJune, Portrait, A Minor Forest, June of ’44, Dub Narcotic, The Jazz June, and Mule also visited Antioch.
“A Minor Forrest played a cover of ‘4 Horsemen’ that was epic. It was also cool to see June of ’44, one of my favorite all time bands, playing for free at my college! I was beyond stoked until some idiot pulled the fire alarm.”
Additionally, essential riot grrrl records released in the early ‘90s provided female musicians with a strong and scathing voice. Slant 6, an all-female powerhouse signed to Fugazi’s label, Dischord Records toured, and made frequent stops in Dayton as did Kathleen Hannah’s Bikini Kill. Further, the savage, queer, all-female troupe Tribe 8 brought their vocally, openly feminist and homo-centric music to Antioch’s student union.
“I didn’t identify as punk, but I was very into music, and some strands of punk music in particular helped me build my political awareness and identity,” Tania Tasse-Guillen, a former student, recalled. “As I became more aware of the world and inequality and social issues that I cared about, I heard punk and hardcore musicians singing about the same issues, and I really identified with their lyrics, and their anger. Seven Seconds and Fugazi were two bands whose lyrics I identified with pretty strongly.”
During this era, punk idealism was also dealt a few crushing blows. One of them occurred in July, 1993 when Antioch alumnus Mia Zapata, lead singer of the punk band The Gits, was raped and murdered while walking home to her Seattle apartment. The Gits, whose early roots stretched back to Zapata’s Antioch days were widely recognized and respected in the Northwest and lauded by heavyweights like Pearl Jam and Nirvana.
According to TheChickenFishSpeaks.com, “The first time Matt Dresdner heard Mia Zapata sing, he knew she was destined to front the punk rock group he dreamt of forming. In the fall of 1986, at Ohio’s Antioch College, Dresdner, Andrew Kessler, Steve Moriarty, and Zapata became The Gits. In 1989, they relocated to Seattle, WA, in search of a new life and a larger audience. The Gits quickly gained popularity in the Seattle music scene of the early 1990s, distinguishing themselves with their soulful street punk at a time when ‘grunge’ was putting Seattle on the map.
“Characterized by powerful, driving music and Zapata’s poetic lyrics, major record labels took notice. But just as The Gits were poised to explode onto the national music scene, an unfathomable tragedy struck. On July 7, 1993, Mia Zapata was raped and murdered in Seattle while walking home one night. Without warning, this promising band faced a horrific end and the fabric that built this tight knit music community began to unravel.” of the legendary Mia Zapata and the love that so many hold in their hearts for a band that continues to touch lives.”
Zapata’s brutal death rallied many to anti-violence and did serve to catalyze pro-woman causes. Eventually Joan Jett, who recorded an album with the remaining Gits in 1995 under the name Evil Stig released The Gits’ final album, Enter: The Conquering Chicken. After a decade without closure, Zapata’s killer, Jesus Mezquia, was captured in 2003.
“Before renovation, Spalt was vacant. I think originally that’s where the practice spaces and punk shows went down before moving to the Student Union,” O’Shea remembered. “And I can’t remember the specifics, but I think The Gits played shows in the basement of Spalt if I’m not mistaken. Mia’s ghost looms large on that campus.”
In the ‘90s, reaping the benefits of an education in punk and hardcore meant involvement. Involvement in show booking and promoting, involvement in creating the music that would define the generation.
With the internet still in its infancy, handmade, amateur zines were the primary mode of communication between fans of punk and hardcore. Without blogs, online message boards and music websites at their disposals, fans documented the undertakings in their respective scenes in letters and commentary submitted via letter to their preferred zine. One such zinester was one-year Antioch student Stephanie Kuehnert.
Shelfari.com notes, “During a dark and angsty period in high school, Stephanie was exposed to riot grrrl via punk rock and radical politics long fostered by activist parents and an early interest in animal rights. She wrote several feminist zines including Kill Supermodels, Goddess Defiled, Hospital Gown, and Do Not Go Quietly Unto Yr Grave. Hospital Gown was featured in the book ZINE SCENE by Francesca Lia Block and Hillary Carlip complete with a picture of bleached-blonde seventeen year-old. By her first year of college at the extremely liberal Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Stephanie was jaded and goth. After one wild year in Ohio, she dropped out of college to ‘be a writer.’”
Today she fosters love of classic literature and her allegiance to punk rock as author of the novels I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Ballads of Suburbia.
Not only did the lyricism and inner workings of the punk undergound defy rules and establish game changing phenomenon, but the sounds were changing too. Bodyhammer were a noisy, screamy, sometimes chaotic hardcore band in the late ‘90s who did two east coast tours in the late ‘90s, sharing the stage with Locust, Creation is Crucifiction, Catharsis, Converge, Isis, Majority Rule, Mastodon, Murder City Devils and many more. The band, which began in 1997 as a three piece featured Antioch student Corey Lyons on guitar, and were a staple of the student union show circuit.
We Were Here
With social justice, progressive sounds, and DIY spirit at its back, the winds of ‘90s punk were bound to blow through Yellow Springs, take root and grow at Antioch. And the environment at Antioch brought a receptive audience.
“In addition to small size and liberal arts focus, I wanted an environment that would foster my newfound sense of political activism and social awareness, and give me the freedom to explore my individuality,” Tasse-Guillen recalled. “Antioch used to have recruitment posters that said ‘Have you ever been called… ?’ and then there were about 20 adjectives listed: creative, unique, unconventional, etc. I really liked that poster, because I had never quite ‘fit in’ anywhere before.”
Former student Sean Casey recalled that show spaces on campus served as a rally point for like minded individuals with growing awareness and interests and identities, “A common interest in music was definitely a contributing factor in making friends. When I was at Antioch there were a number of shows (happening at The Student Union). I saw shows in the main building, the lobby of the Student Union, The Stoop, and impromptu ones in practice spaces.”
“I was present while the performance spaces went through some pretty radical shifts. When I arrived there were music practice spaces available in the Student Union building. Student bands could do shows out their space, or maybe play in a halls common area, but this usually only happened once per term,” Pendelton remembered.
And at times, his desire to provide entertainment meant risking a degree of safety. “The bands and shows that I can recall as being particularly impressive were Tribe 8, where I had to debate asking the lead singer to remove her giant knife before going on stage, which she declined, and the Crash Worship show, which included firecrackers going off, and the actual act of setting-things on fire.”
“We also had dances at the stoop of the Union, and eventually a space was opened in the Union, above the fancy eating area. This last space was where I booked most of the bands while I was the Events Coordinator. The acoustics were terrible, but it was our space and we had our own PA system, so it worked out OK.”
“I remember having entire two week tours when we probably played the Dayton area five of six times,” recalled Andrew Low of The Jazz June. During their seven-year tenure, the Kutztown, PA, five-piece emo outfit emerged during a period when the rules of the game were quickly changing. Grunge and alt-rock had come and gone, leaving their considerable mark on the MTV generation, and soon the A&R reps would be banging down the doors of ‘90s era emo bands still operating in the underground, dominating the DIY circuit in both the U.S. and Europe, hoping to make them the “next big thing”.
Although the Jazz June flew mostly below the radar and made left a relatively small mark on the genre when compared to some of their peers, few other of these bands left a larger impact Dayton, Ohio all-ages scene. In fact, the graffiti picture from the art for their Breakdance Suburbia LP came straight from the walls of the student union.
“My oldest friend, Mike O’Shea, went to Antioch and was in bands called Bondage Box and 24 Possible. So we always came through town and played multiple shows in Dayton with them and the other awesome Dayton bands. Low recalled “The Antioch shows were always sick. We played several times in the student union building on campus, which was the maddest place on earth. They let the students do whatever they wanted so they spray painted the walls and had big shows and parties in there all the time. It was more like a squat than a college building.
“I remember the first time they played with us in the Union,” O’Shea said. “We had just loaded in all the gear and the Jazz June guys are looking around at the space and one of them asked me ‘What was this place before you guys totally destroyed it?’.
“Those Antioch shows were absolutely legendary. I have played many punk rock squats in Germany and other places in Europe and nothing compares to the insanity of Antioch. It was as if the entire school was some sort of utopian training ground for young artists.”
24 Possible’s Nithin Kalvakota, who continues to perform in independent artist Marnie Stern’s band, both performed at and attended shows. Kalvakota admitted that he was always a terrible student who hated school and academics until he began attending shows at the student union. The idea that an academic institution could operate in ways that were against the grain fell in line with his personal academic ideal. Most of all, he recalls the spirit of those events.
“The space was always dirty and hot and the walls were covered with more graffiti than I’d ever seen in my life,” Kalvakota said. “But, the place had a lot of spirit. What I most loved, though, was that it was not a bar or a business. It was super raw and run by whatever current music-loving student who decided to volunteer give enough of a shit to bring rad music their classmates.”
Noteable music related Antioch alumni:
John Duchac of X
Matt Dresdner, Andrew Kessler, Steve Moriarty, Mia Zapata of The Gits
Stephanie Kuehnert, author of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, Ballads of Suburbia