Sounds from the Desert: The Phoenix Punk Revival

By Clare Fuller

Illustrations by Louis Roe (follow him on Twitter here)

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that impressive music scenes can exist in places outside of shows in hip Williamsburg apartments or the basements of too-cool-for-you Los Angeles college kids. For a state known more for its casual racism and weird spiky horticulture than for, you know, actual culture, Arizona is hiding quite the sonic gem in the form of Tempe-based independent label Rubber Brother Records and their arsenal of immensely talented punk bands.

Rubber Brother, which celebrated its first birthday last weekend with a four-day music festival, is home to rising local bands. They play to an increasingly large audience of dedicated listeners who hail from both the desert and the greater non-deserty world, and they promote their artists with everything from weekly DIY concerts to meticulously decorated cassette tapes. This summer, the label is hosting a slew of self-run weekend shows with help from Parliament Tempe that feature local art and sets by any number of their 43 represented bands.

Playboy Manbaby at Parliament Tempe, 5/23/14

By Louis Roe; Playboy Manbaby at Parliament Tempe, 5/23/14

The best part? These DIY shows (and the bands playing them) don’t suck. These aren’t some haphazardly planned, last-minute basement sets thrown together by despondent college kids; these shows have clearly been created by loving hands–ones with a keen eye for expert lighting, tight sound engineering, and personal design. Rubber Brother’s bands reflect that same attention to detail, ruling the room with energetic stage presences and heaps of technical talent.

Take Playboy Manbaby, for example. This motley crew of punk rockers and funk enthusiasts has gained a cult following among the Tempe music scene thanks to their unique blend of melodic expertise and full-on spazzy, borderline violent performances. During live shows, front man and lead singer Robbie Pfeffer delivers a surprisingly powerful vocal performance considering the amount of screaming, jumping, and casual crowd-surfing involved in putting on a classic Playboy Manbaby show. While their newest release, Bummeritaville, works well as a recorded piece, you really have to see them live–to revel in their frank weirdness and complete, wonderful disregard for personal safety–to fully understand the record’s raw appeal.

The Thin Bloods at Parliament Tempe, 5/23/14

By Louis Roe; The Thin Bloods at Parliament Tempe, 5/23/14

The Thin Bloods, another Rubber Brother favorite, take a more subtle approach to their showmanship without sacrificing an ounce of technical talent. The three-piece alt-rock group refrains from stage-diving-induced bloody noses and instead hones their energy into rapid guitar solos, smokey somber interludes, and an endless lyrical dissection of heartbreak. Singer Colson Miller showcases an impressive vocal range and incredible guitar dexterity, all while jumping and spinning and working the room. Their latest record, Twin Tumors Vol. 1, showcases both their musical potential and Rubber Brother’s impeccable taste in bands.

There’s something truly satisfying about a giant cluster of young, weird sound enthusiasts coming together in a DIY art space to rage out with some talented bands. Living in Phoenix in the summer is a trial you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, but dipping out of the triple-digit heat for a night of quality music suddenly makes life seem just a little cooler.

Sounds to Listen to:

Doom Couch” & “Minivan” by Playboy Manbaby

Marty” & “All Pinned Up” by The Thin Bloods

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