MadHouse of punk

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madhouse the peak

Burnaby’s Music MadHouse Records is a hothouse for punk history

By Tara Nykyforiak
Photo courtesy of Tara Nykyforiak

Underground and beside a rock-n-roll pub, Music Mad- House Records is truly a one of- a-kind record store with an attachment to Vancouver’s music history.

Located underneath an apartment complex at 9304 Salish Court in Burnaby, the store is unrivalled by any in the area. The original and autographed concert posters and records on its walls mark it as a musical time capsule of classic rock, punk, and metal.

Music MadHouse owner Rob Snopek experienced Vancouver’s punk scene firsthand in the late 70s and early 80s, and has established his store around the values he holds dear. Rob singlehandedly obtains the records he stocks in his store, individually labeling each with its album title, band name, press date, and genre.

Rob’s stock includes all genres of music from disco to jazz to funk, but his primary success comes from classic rock favourites such as Led Zeppelin and the Doors, punk of all varieties (UK, L.A., and Vancouver’s own), and heavy metal. My personal favourite find at Rob’s store is a picture disc of Pink Floyd’s first album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

I had the chance to interview Rob, always approachable and excited to share his knowledge of Vancouver’s musical past, about our city’s punk history.

What first attracted you to punk music?

Snopek: The raw music and its anti-government attitude, because it allows people to express strong emotions in their music.

How do you feel punk impacted Vancouver in the 70s and 80s?

S: It changed the attitudes people had regarding social activity. Disco was big at the time, and punk was the opposite of that. People didn’t have to pay a lot to dress up and go out, because looks weren’t the focus. You could just listen to music and drink beer and not spend a lot of money to do so. There weren’t all of these commercial and material conventions to follow, which I feel was a big draw to a lot of young people.

What sort of difficulties and challenges did these punk groups face? Did they face opposition from venues?

S: Yes, it was very difficult. They would have to play a lot of house parties in people’s basements. But there was a bar called The Smiling Buddha on Hastings Street that welcomed the punk scene. It would always be packed when bands would play, so it was a big draw for them.

Because of punk’s political expressiveness, do you think it made people feel empowered to speak out against things happening that they didn’t like?

S: The message I feel it most strongly conveyed was anti-commercialism. At that time, Vancouver was not the city it is today, and Expo hadn’t happened yet. But it was starting to really commercialize, with big business invading — McDonald’s here, McDonald’s there. Punk inspired people to move away from that and to adopt anti-material means. Concert posters would be 100 per cent hand-drawn, so there would only ever be one copy made.

There was no big money spent on music projects. For example, there was a band called No Exit that only made one record. They used a Christian recording studio that mainly worked with gospel music. They took Clash album covers and pasted their own album covers overtop of them, scratching out The Clash band name and wrote theirs over it. The quality was extremely poor because of the recording technology they used — they initially recorded it onto cassette and then transferred the music from cassette to vinyl. So overall, I think it empowered people with anticommercial attitudes.

D.O.A. is easily Vancouver’s most well-known punk export. Tell me about the band.

S: People mostly know about their member Joey “Shithead,” as he’s politically involved in Vancouver even to this day. The band’s first song, “Disco Sucks”, was out in 1978, and spoke out about that genre’s fancy and expensive clothes and material aspect. Their first album’s cover was completely hand-drawn, very punk and anti-commercial.

They played a lot of house parties and at venues around Vancouver and got to be really well known locally until they got a bit bigger, and some could say more commercial, until they eventually worked up to touring as the opening act for big commercial bands in the 80s like Bachman Turner Overdrive.

Many people I speak to don’t really know any local punk acts outside of D.O.A. Would you like to share a lesser-known band from that time?

S: Yes, I’d love to talk about The Dishrags! They were three 17-year-old girls, 1979, and punk all the way. I’m talking dirty T-shirts, torn jeans and unwashed hair. They were dubbed “The Runaways of Vancouver.” Now, they played at The Smiling Buddha and that was real rough times. There’d be beer bottles being thrown around the place and people jumping all around, so they put themselves in a rough position playing at a place like that, especially being young women in the 70s. They never made an album, only three 45s.

That sounds really empowering for other young women to have had a band like that to look up to, very independent and not afraid to have their voices heard.

S: Yeah, they didn’t take shit from anybody, these three girls really contributed to help further the expressive power women, could have.

How do you think the music scene as a whole has changed since that era up to now?

S: I think the greatest stuff in music began at the birth of rock’n’roll in the mid-50s up through to the late 70s. But then in the 80s you had people like Madonna who were very commercial and all about the money — what dress do you wear, who did your hair, whose makeup are you wearing. And it’s gotten more commercial and more image-based every year because that’s where the money is. Now, the bands who truly sit down and make music about how they feel and who they are, buying the $40 guitar and learning to really play it well, do not make it. The ones who do make it are the ones with an image, but the expression is completely lost. Real talent is no longer being able have a voice.

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