Understanding Why Spokane’s Underground Music Failed

Spokane underground music made quite a mark, not for the eventual success of a Spokane new wave band becoming part of mainstream music. Its significance was that it emerged from a rural Washington town regarded as culturally deprived. A place where a punk band performing unheard of music, can be boot-kicked out of a bar.

The thriving new wave rock music witnessed growth in the 1970s up to 1980s, when Spokane’s economy made progress by becoming a manufacturing town involved with the production of aluminum.

Underground music in a repressive cultural environment failed to survive, especially if the economy was also failing. The waning punk movement met its demise in 1981, a time when the founder and, members of do-it-yourself rock bands had come of age, becoming ex-punks venturing into other areas of interests or better sources of livelihood.

Still, the existence and exit of Spokane underground music in and from a culturally repressive confines, was documented in a short indie documentary film entitled “SpokAnarchy!.”

”SpokAnarchy!”: Documentary of How and Why Underground Music Failed to Advance as Mainstream Music

“SpokAnarchy!” was a documentary film created and directed in 2011, by a group of the town’s underground music scene survivors.

Appreciation of the docu film must come with an understanding that culturally, Spokane is a conservative rural place, isolated by uninhabited boundaries surrounding the town. On its north is Canadian wilderness, while on the south is the Palouse plains. On the west lies the Cascades and on the east, the Rockies.

Even today, the town of Spokane is reputed for having little patience for anything that deviates from social norms. Although the situation has improved, the era that saw the beginnings of the punk rock music that remained underground up to its demise, was described to have been a thousand times less permitting.

“SpokAnarchy!” highlights the beginning of the underground music scene in Spokane, with the founding of “Sweet Madness,” the first band to break away from popular contemporary music. However, being the first to take the path not traveled in Spokane, “Sweet Madness” experienced outright rejection when the band was kicked out of a bar for playing an original new wave music.

Instead of giving up, the band pioneered the do-it-yourself approach to holding one-night shows; renting out halls, securing liquor license, and advertising by distributing flyers across the town.

“Sweet Madness” succeeded in building a fan base, comprising mostly artists, misfits, punks and outcasts. They also inspired other members of their generation to form their own rock bands, some composed by bored kids with a lot of youthful energy rather than genuine talent. This caused the local press to be unforgiving with their descriptions, calling “Sweet Madness” a bunch of demented Boy Scouts, with music similar to something coming out of the Twilight Zone.

As interests over the new wave music started waning by the 1980s, “Sweet Madness” finally disbanded in 1981; but not without leaving souvenirs: “Sweet Madness, Made in Spokane 1978-1981,” Volumes 1 and 2, released by Light in the Attic Records. The vinyl records though did not go beyond Spokane’s boundaries; failing to make it to the mainstream music arena

Today, Spokane can be forgiven for its cultural repression, as it is now a city with multiple industries, many of which have become leaders in their respective field. The metropolis even has an extensive skywalk system, ranked among the largest in the U.S. Here cars are in great demand as most day-to-day errands can be accomplished either by car or bike, with the city having a Walk Score of 47.6 and a Bike Score of 48.6. Wonder no more why many in search of great deals for used-cars flock to spokane auto auction sites.

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