Milwaukee isn’t Los Angeles or New York, but, hey, it ain’t Little Rock, either.
If you were part of the music scene here in the late 1970s and early 1980s, you know how hard it was to find like-minded fans of punk and post-punk music. And you know how difficult it was to find venues for gigs and shops that sold the latest music.
“Towncraft: Notes from a Local Scene,” a new film by director Richard Matson, chronicles the punk scene in Little Rock in the 1980s and ‘90s, before punk rock officially became a licensed brand.
Although Milwaukee is more than three times bigger than Little Rock, scenesters here will recognize a bit of Brew City in this no frills, DIY film about a tight-knit scene that has dished up musicians currently in Ted Leo’s Pharmacists, Green Day, Lucero and Dan Zanes’ band, to name a few.
Matson, who was part of the scene as a member of Shake Ray Turbine, has spent years doing interviews and collecting footage and photos for “Towncraft,” which was actually shot over the course of six months and named in honor of a seminal Little Rock compilation disc -- financed by band bake sales! -- and fanzine.
“We interviewed 115 people for the movie and collected photos, flyers, albums and old footage as we went,” said Matson in a director’s statement. “We now have 2,500 pictures from the 20-year period covered in the film sitting on three terabytes of drive space in our office.”
We learn that as in most similar scenes, this one was driven by a few passionate folks who were in bands, typically, but also booked gigs, opened record shops and ran fanzines.
“I wanted to find out what it is that drives kids to create a community in their hometown that’s so far removed from normal high school life,” Matson said. “What does being involved in that scene mean? And, as those kids move through adulthood, how does their relationship with their community and with music and the arts change?”
Clearly, a sense of belonging and a sense of belonging to a group that’s perceived as cool, hip or avant garde -- along with a passion for emotive music -- is the answer.
What’s especially interesting is to see how the scene scattered over time. Who left, who stayed but changed musical paths, etc.
Also interesting was the way in which Little Rock's scene felt entirely insular. Despite being relatively close to Memphis, some of those interviewed in the film pointed out that there was little or no communication between the punk scenes in those cities.
Matson has also created a book, Web site and CD that are companions to “Towncraft,” thereby documenting nearly every aspect, every band in the Little Rock scene of the period.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.