People think of Bainbridge Island as a peaceful, affluent, middle-class bedroom community and day trip destination, seven miles on the ferry from downtown Seattle. The island has a population of about 23,000, 5.5 percent unemployment, and the median housing price is below $500,000.
Less well known is the island's role as an incubator for young and talented loud rock musicians. The suburban cocktail of teenage angst, plastic prosperity, and free time that makes angry young musicians pop up like mushrooms after a spring rain is hardly unique to Bainbridge, but the island has those ingredients in excess.
What's special about Bainbridge hardcore is the scene's longevity. For more than 30 years, a metamorphosing network of house shows helmed by high-school teenagers has produced well-loved bands and musicians, many of whom never make a dent in the mainland musical consciousness—though some, like the radically unalike Murder City Devils and Holy Ghost Revival, have. The island lists Chad Channing (formerly of Nirvana), Andrew Wood (Malfunkshun, Mother Love Bone), and Ben Shepherd (Soundgarden) among its famous alumni. Governor Jay Inslee is also a Bainbridge native, but nobody can confirm ever seeing him at a house show.
There is no unifying sound of Bainbridge hardcore. Some bands, like Jesus Fucking Christ, draw influence from extreme heavy metal, while others, like WEEED, sound (unsurprisingly) more like stoner rock. "The punk style has always varied here," says Larry Jackson, drummer in the Rickets, the linchpin band of Bainbridge's scene in the late-1980s and early '90s "[I remember] lots of punk and hardcore and pop, some metal and some straight-ahead rock. I can't think of very many bands with politically oriented lyrics." Bainbridge bands have been more likely to share a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor than manifesto ideologies or musical tropes.
Shows on the island tend to be intimate affairs—bands play in garages and basements to small, wild audiences. A lot of the musicians began playing together while still attending Bainbridge High School.
Jonathan Evison, now a noted author whose novels include The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, West of Here, and most recently This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, sang in March of Crimes with Shepherd and (briefly) Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam. Before the advent of hardcore on Bainbridge, Evison traveled to Seattle to see live music.
"In the early '80s there wasn't a scene," Evison says, and then corrects himself. "I suppose the 2:10 a.m. boat was our scene. In those days, the 2:10 ran to Bainbridge and then onto Bremerton in the same run. So after shows, there'd be maybe a dozen kids on the boat, and we'd talk and smoke cigarettes and dream of next week's escape." Eventually they dreamed up March of Crimes, though the band was short-lived and broke up in the mid-'80s. That brief existence was enough to touch off the recurrent wildfires of Bainbridge punk that followed.
Jackson vividly remembers his first exposure to punks on Bainbridge. "I first saw punk rockers with Mohawks around my neighborhood when I was really young—probably age 10, so that would be 1984," he recalls. "I would ask my dad why they dressed that way, and he would reply, 'Because they're on drugs.' I knew that answer was a cop-out." Jackson saw his first show in 1987. The band, Sunday Project, was a distorted, sludgy outfit featuring guitarist Rob Day, who would later play in Stonecrow, Black Goat, and now Supercult, as well as Tony Reed, who currently plays in Mos Generator. The show was held at Island Center Hall in the center of Bainbridge, one of the few venues teenagers could rent to put on their own shows. (The hall no longer books punk shows.)
Jackson formed the Rickets on September 16, 1990, the morning after seeing Aspirin Feast at the OK Hotel, an all-ages cafe/club under the Alaskan Way Viaduct, just a few blocks from the ferry.
Jackson seems to have an encyclopedic memory of the various bands and shifting lineups of Bainbridge punk throughout the 1990s. He'd need it just to keep track of his own discography, which includes the Rickets, his solo project, Jesus Fucking Christ, and his new project, Clocks!, who just returned from their first European tour.
Specific events spring from Jackson's memory in remarkable detail: "The Rickets did our first shows on my parents' porch on Rose Avenue in Eagledale. We also did some of our shows in an old shack that was used in the 1950s to house migrant workers for picking strawberries. My dad and I dragged the shack onto our property and converted it into a practice space for the Rickets. We did one or two shows in that. We named it the Pukehole. Years later, my wife and I renovated the Pukehole again and lived in it. Larry and the Gonowheres played on the newly added porch of the Pukehole in 1998."
The Pukehole still stands.
Originally, the Rickets played only garages, barns, and other out-of-the-way spaces, but they did begin to play larger and more legitimate venues like Island Center Hall. "The Rickets rented the hall with our parents and ran the door, sound, and security all by our 16-year-old selves," Jackson recalls. "Eventually, renting the hall became a pain in the ass. Other bands would rent the hall, and it would get trashed via vandalism or someone would get hurt. So then they started demanding we pay police officers for security. The police would take the money and walk around the show and then come up to us and say, 'You don't need us here. We're leaving.' So it just sucked having to pay and then run the security ourselves anyways."
One show stands out in his mind as ground zero for Bainbridge's 1990s hardcore boom: the 1990 talent show at the Bainbridge High School gymnasium. "Our singer at the time, Mark Ohl, wore a ripped-up American flag and strutted around goose-stepping," he remembers. "The crowd surged forward from the grandstands and started a slam-dance pit in front of us. Our vice principal pulled the plug."
In the wake of that performance, bands formed in abundance, trading members and exploring disparate styles, some more metal, some more psychedelic. The earliest post-Rickets bands include PUD and the Cleavers, while Oakland's Clorox Girls was founded by Bainbridge expat Justin Maurer. Shows would draw 80 to 200 people, usually other high-school students from Bainbridge. According to Jackson, the 1990s Bainbridge bands looked up to the greater Seattle rock scene but kept distant. "We admired the grunge scene and liked a lot of the bands," says Jackson. "But we distanced ourselves and made our own scene, knowing that we had not mastered the level and talent that the grunge bands had."
Keep in mind that Jackson and his peers were a decade younger than most of the mainland rock bands. "A lot of the kids really looked up to and admired the East Bay punk scene—specifically Oakland. Bands like Attitude Adjustment and Econochrist had toured up here... The East Bay punk scene had the same attitude, outlook, and style that Bainbridge kids had in mind as far as finding and creating their own venues. In our eyes, Oakland and the Bay Area were like what we were trying to create on Bainbridge but 10 times larger and much more established."
To create a symbol for the new scene, Jackson created a graffiti tag, the BIHC (Bainbridge Island Hardcore) cross, which can still be seen at Strawberry Hill Skate Park.
Time took the steam out of the island's punk moment. Teenagers became adults, moved to the mainland, went to college, got jobs. Jackson wound up moving to Berkeley in 1995 and taking the Rickets name with him, but not before a West Coast tour with a band called the Murder City Devils, the project that Nate Manny and Gabe Kerbrat from Bainbridge band the Cleavers along with Spencer Moody, Dann Galluci, and Derek Fudesco from mainlanders Area 51, and drummer Coady Willis would eventually pilot to some international success. While the Devils are still intermittently active, virtually every other '90s-era BIHC band is defunct.
Jackson returned to Bainbridge a year later and, alongside his musical pursuits, has become an elder statesman of sorts and de facto historian of Bainbridge punk.
If Jackson has a successor, it's Ryan Mathews, who has been helping to keep the BIHC tradition alive for the last few years, playing in the Bainbridge band Apparitions and, like Jackson, helping to establish a support network by setting up shows on the island featuring young local bands. Continuing the trend, he moved off-island after high school. Mathews is currently the guitarist in Seattle's Vacant Life. He's also 20 years old.
Riker Haddon, former singer in the island's Dumpster Baby, says that in the late 2000s, Mathews "was the only person who made Bainbridge a cohesive scene."
Mathews would headline small shows with Apparitions, and play with sometimes terribly young bands such as the now-defunct Clank, whose members averaged 14 years of age. "They were kids at 14," Mathews says, "playing tight, together, doing their own thing. Their guitarist, Porter—he's now in Vacant Life—spends his time building instruments. I once played a string instrument he made out of a stop sign with a pickup wired to it. I've never seen anyone self-actualize at that age. He's fearless as far as his outlook. He just goes for it—and if he fucks up, he keeps going."
According to Mathews, students at Bainbridge High School still talk about the Rickets, still know the BIHC tag, and still book their shows independently the way bands in the 1990s did, but the same old challenges still apply. Garages and barns are less viable spaces to play in because Bainbridge residents are quick to call the police and break up concerts.
"There's never been a super solid house venue, just because there are curfews and most venues are shut down eventually," says Haddon. The idea of isolation that encourages kids to spend time learning to play music is more solvent that the actual privacy offered by Bainbridge's trees. "There's woods everywhere, but your neighbor is behind a small strip of land. It's mostly an illusion."
The ease of networking on the internet makes it easier for teens to play off the island in Bellevue, Port Townsend, and especially Bremerton. This has a decentralizing effect that Mathews feels has made the scene less cohesive than it once was. "There has not been a continuous lineage," he argues. "There will always be individuals doing the same things entirely separate from one another."
Riker Haddon agrees: "There are other Bainbridge bands that I probably don't know about because they don't tell Bainbridge people about it."
Still, given the longevity of Bainbridge's youth hardcore, it's unlikely that the scene will die off in the near future so long as suburbs, and the creepiness and boredom inherent to them, continue to thrive—which seems a certain outcome of the influx of lucrative tech jobs in Seattle. Once all those condo dwellers start having families, they're going to want houses, yards, a little peace and quiet—the very things, in short, that regional teenage punk rock lives to disrupt.
Mathews sees a clear reason for the persistence of Bainbridge punk. "You have a very homogenous environment that is unsettling in a lot of ways. There's a sense of Pleasantville to it. It's like an even more refined idea of suburbia. I used to work dishwashing at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, and it was hell listening to the customers. There's a lot of inflated self-importance and people using money as an ignorance shield."
The way Larry Jackson sees it, the existence of a fourth generation of Bainbridge Island hardcore will require the same concerted community effort that made the island's older DIY bands thrive.
"In order to keep the BIHC tradition alive, younger kids will need to coordinate more with their community and parents, specifically in finding smaller and more underground venues like barns, garages, and houses to do shows in," says Jackson who, in the meantime, will still play on Bainbridge (when Clocks! isn't away playing festivals in Europe). He'll happily share a basement stage with teenage Bainbridge High School bands like the garage psych Wicked Hippie (formerly Health Plan) and the heavy Dead Yeti. The young prodigies of Clank have a promising new project called Newlyweds—their debut show is waiting to be announced.