Lotsa Pop Losers 30 years later!

Poster by Peter Hayes

Lotsa Pop Losers was a two-day music festival that took place at the American Legion Hall in Bethesda, Maryland on October 26, 1991, and the late d.c. space on October 27, 1991. Organized by three young independent labels in D.C. (Simple Machines, Slumberland and Teen-Beat), the festival was clearly inspired by the International Pop Underground Convention while also reflecting an East Coast pop/punk/indie/etc. music scene that felt pretty damn awesome at the time. The lineup was:

Saturday: Jonny Cohen, Swirlies, Kickstand, Lois Maffeo, Kicking Giant, Flying Saucer, Tsunami, Velocity Girl, Edsel, High Back Chairs
Sunday: Lorelei, Versus, Tear Jerks, Eggs, Lilys, Linda Smith, Sexual Milkshake, Small Factory, Sleepyhead, Unrest

We checked in with the organizers (Jenny Toomey + Kristin Thomson from Simple Machines and Tsunami; Mark Robinson from Teen-Beat and Unrest) and some performers Erin Smith (who played with Unrest at the event) and Michael Galinsky (Sleepyhead) to see what they could remember about the fall festival three damn decades ago. —Compiled by Gail O’Hara

Photograph of Unrest by Michael Galinsky

Did you attend Lotsa Pop Losers? What made you want to go? 

Mark Robinson (Teen-Beat, Unrest): I did. The bands, the people, the fun.
Erin Smith (Bratmobile, Teenage Gang Debs): Of course! It was a no-brainer that I was going to go. The 3 labels involved were some of my favorites, and the scene then was relatively small and insular—it seemed like all of my friends were playing! Plus, I am from Bethesda—and it was just too cool that one entire day of the fest was going to be held there. I’m very into Bethesda punk history. It might blow people’s minds now, but there were punk shows and venues in Bethesda, and certainly plenty of punks from there. I was very proud to introduce out of town visitors like Kicking Giant to my hometown!
Michael Galinsky (Sleepyhead): Sleepyhead played and a lot of our friends were also playing. I can’t remember where we stayed, but I do remember that Otis Ball came with us. In NY we played with Kicking Giant, Versus, and Flying Saucer a lot so I think we were the NY contingent. We also played with Small Factory and I guess that made us the Northeast contingent. We had also played quite a few shows with the bands like the Swirlies and Eggs. 

Erin Smith by Michael Galinsky

Were there other festivals like this you’d been to before? How was this different?

Erin: I had been to IPU (International Pop Underground Convention), which had just happened in Olympia, WA, 2 months before, in late August, 1991, with I believe only Kicking Giant, Sleepyhead, and Lois playing both fests. This was kind of cool in that it was 20 bands condensed into 2 days—so one long day in Bethesda at the American Legion Hall, and one long day in DC at dc space. It gave us a lot of time to all hang out together in one place!
Mark: I think this was probably my first festival like this. Maybe my first music festival of any kind.
Michael: We had also played at IPU and Lollipops and booze in Cambridge. This was more akin to IPU on a somewhat smaller scale. This was a bit more intimate and it was different for us because by this point we knew a lot more people so it was more like a reunion than being overwhelmed by a ton of new people. Somehow we were given a really prime spot on the bill. This was maybe the only time we played with Unrest, a band that I had a really profound respect for, so that had some meaning. 
Kristin Thomson (Simple Machines Records / Tsunami): Yes! We’d just attended—and Tsunami had played—at the International Pop Underground in Olympia, WA in August 1991. 
Jenny Toomey (Simple Machines Records / Tsunami): I’m sure we were inspired by IPU. We’d been to festivals before, but nothing as organized, three dimensional or as delightfully weird, as IPU. I’d spent 6 weeks in Olympia the previous summer after my first band Geek had toured the US with Superchunk and Seaweed. Aaron Stauffer talked me into coming back west and Candice was traveling so I rented her apartment and was living in the heart of the scene. So I’d experienced the strange time travel of the place up close. There were ways that Olympia was a north star and felt like it was way out ahead of the rest of the world, super feminist, queer positive, everyone was an artist and there were so many folks building and experimenting together—so much possibility. It was absolutely utopic. But there was also this darker, retro backward flavor to the town as well, a bizarro element, like a sci-fi novel where you walk through a time door and everything is cherry pie on the surface and sneaky drugs and violence and grudges underneath. Beat Happening had that mix in spades, like a caramel apple with a razor blade center. I think IPU was so great because it had that depth. It wasn’t just twee “hey, let’s do something fun and pretty”; it had a combination of bands and events and happenings that stretched across all that territory. Things that were public and celebrated and joyful and things that were hidden and dark. It was also so various; it had a “choose your own adventure” element. Some of the things I remember most was the happenstance of the event and have equal weight to the shows. Like, being in line at the grocery store between a Melvin and Jad Fair. Having to pitch a tent in the Capitol Theater because the recycling room in the Martin Apartments where you thought you were going to sleep was already taken by (I think) David Lester, and the Capitol Theater was full of fleas.

Program image courtesy Jenny + Kristin from Simple Machines

Kristin: There were so many parts of IPU that I loved. The Melvins playing an outdoor afternoon show. The Cake Walk. The Planet of the Apes movie day. And, honestly, one of the most emotionally raw Fugazi shows I ever witnessed. I also remember the jolt of joy I got when our event passes came in the mail, cut with pinking shears and hung on fat red crafting yarn. The entire ethos of IPU, and K Records, was very inspiring.
Jenny: We had a lot of experience organizing shows because of our involvement with Positive Force and from being in a band and booking tours. At those shows, in addition to bands, there were typically speakers, tabling, and sometimes there was also a die-in, or a punk percussion protest, or a march. But Lotsa Pop Losers was very different from a Positive Force show. It was way more whimsical and it was a joint effort, and it was a moment the newer labels were finding each other, and imagining the possibilities of what we could do together. When Kristin joined the Simple Machines crew, we just egged each other on into making every little thing extra with the label. So, before a tour, we’d do things like hand silk-screen and individually monogram thrifted golf jackets for every member of our band, and for the bands we were touring with. (Wish I still had that jacket). And Mark Robinson certainly had a bit of that “extra” in how he was running Teen-Beat, with the numbering of everything and hand making record covers and with the way he followed his passions with abandon. Mike of the three of us seemed to know a lot more about what was actually going on in the broader music sphere and out in the world, likely because of everything he saw as Vinyl Ink. So we were really able to bring our fetishes together for Lotsa Pop Losers.

Program image courtesy Jenny + Kristin from Simple Machines

Organizers, what do you remember about putting it together? 

Mark: Jenny and Kristin from Simple Machines came up with the idea and were the ring leaders. They then generously asked me and Mike Schulman if Teen-Beat and Slumberland would be involved, respectively. They made tons of cool merch. Trading cards for all the musicians/bands, Lots of Pop Losers t-shirts, posters etc.
Kristin: It’s funny to look back now and realize that there were only eight weeks between playing IPU in Olympia, and Lotsa Pop Losers in DC. You have to remember, this is pre-internet, so all of the organizing with Mark at Teen-Beat and Mike at Slumberland happened in person or on the phone. To add to this, both Jenny and I had full-time, non-rock jobs. So, to me looking back 30 years, the fact that it happened on an eight-week timeline is astounding, just on a logistical level. How did we confirm 20 bands in time to get Peter Hayes to design and for Jeff Nelson to screen a three-color poster that included all the bands’ names? Lots of post-work Big Gulps and late nights.
Jenny: I tend to forget the things that were difficult, particularly so many years out from the event, but in my memory it seemed to come together with very little effort. We were connected to and incredibly inspired by the Dischord scene, who also had a kind of boundless energy for running at things they were curious about. Knowing them made it easy to get the beautiful posters made by Jeff Nelson and Peter Hayes. We were beginning to feel proud of the other labels in the DC area—Teen-Beat and Slumberland. I know there was a lot of mutual admiration among our labels, so it was easy to call Mark and Mike, and just delegate responsibilities for inviting all of these new bands and pulling everything together.

event flier – image courtesy Jenny + Kristin from Simple Machines

Kristin: Lotsa Pop Losers was an opportunity to add some handmade, community-driven extras. We designed and silkscreened “Teen Slumber Machine” t-shirts. We put together sets of “DC Treasure” baseball cards, highlighting some of the cool people and places in the scene. And the show included an indie rock scorecard, so audience members could run up to the front of the stage to get their card stamped after each band. We’d had some practice with Positive Force shows putting together booklets, and Simple Machines probably had six or eight releases by now, but I’m sure being at IPU, being on tour, reading new zines, buying new 7-inches, and working with Teen-Beat and Slumberland, we were bursting with ideas about all the fun things we could pack into a show. (A sidebar on what was also happening Sept/Oct 1991: I just noticed while looking through some archival folders for this article that we also organized a Positive Force show at the American Legion Hall in Bethesda in the same eight-week period— September 30, 1991—with the Melvins. We got a noise complaint from the police, but instead of stopping, the Melvins continued to play on volume level 1 and stage whispered their lyrics. And, of all things, the famous Nirvana show at JC Dobbs in Philly was the next day— October 1, 1991. I didn’t go up to Philly for this, but Jenny did.) 
Jenny: And it’s hard to remember that back then we were touring without (and largely living without) the internet so on the road there was little to do but read, journal and imagine the next amazing things you’d work on when you landed.

Erin Smith and Pam Berry at Lotsa Pop Losers, American Legion Hall, Bethesda. Photo by Tae Won Yu

Performers, what did it feel like to be there? What were the fans like? 

Erin: Much like with IPU, with so many bands, the venues being small, and the acts themselves being pretty obscure—the fans really were the other musicians. There was not a clear demarcation between the bands and the fans. A lot of mutual admiration society going on, with bands watching each other from the pit. Bratmobile were slated to play, but weren’t able to given that we were all in college and living on 2 different coasts. I did play 2nd guitar with Unrest at the dc space show, which was incredible— they were one of my favorite bands!  I played probably 3 or 4 songs with them—I did this twice live—the Lotsa Pop Losers show, and later in Chapel Hill.  
Mark: I seem to remember that there were almost as many performers in the audience as there were “fans.”
Michael: This felt a lot like a community event than a fan event. The audience was likely 50 percent people in bands who were playing. That made it more intimate. It made it both low pressure and high pressure at the same time. We always wanted to bring everything we had to every show, and since we were largely playing for peers, the stakes were higher in that regard, but there was also a sense that people understood us so we had less to prove.
Kristin:
I remember it being a really joyful, eager, friendly crowd. 
Jenny: …and it felt like a lot of the audience were in the other bands. It was a community event. There wasn’t that divide of performer/artist vs consumer/audience.
Kristin: …which was also cool! It was a time when most of these bands were just starting to tour, so we were all pretty excited to watch each other perform.

Event T-shirt (back); image courtesy Jenny + Kristin from Simple Machines

It seemed like an exciting time for the East Coast pop scene. What did the community feel like then?  

Jenny: It felt alive with possibility. It wasn’t like we didn’t love the Dischord scene—I was obsessed with the Dischord bands and wouldn’t miss a show—but the next generation of labels were also coming into their own and putting out great records and I loved them too. It felt really exciting. We were still living in the Positive Force house at that time, and there were people who didn’t think it was punk enough and who were very suspicious of the Sub Pop commercialism, which was beginning to influence so much of the independent music scene. Some of our housemates would spend hours arbitrarily deciding which of the pop groups were sufficiently punk, adding logic loopholes exempting the groups they liked. It felt like they were fighting the world’s smallest war and the unnecessary heavy atmosphere was one sign that it was getting time for us to move out into the first Simple Machines house.
Erin: In 1991, with Gen X just starting to be able to take a little tiny piece of the control of the media from Baby Boomers, it felt like everyone I knew in the local punk community was starting to get nationally recognized at the same time. Things like Sassy Magazine (for which I was the Washington Bureau Chief) started to take notice of the DC bands and give them some national press. SPIN and the Washington Post started to write about it more and more, too. This is just about the time Nirvana broke and things got really crazy.
Mark: Small. But there was definitely a connection between the DC and NY/New England bands—like we were doing something new and somehow connected to each other. My band had already been around for 8 or 9 years at this point, so it was interesting and great that we were included in this movement, scene, or whatever it was.
Michael: Having a bunch of bands that we regularly played with and saw at other shows created a pretty powerful sense of community. Everyone in bands that we played with was involved in other creative activities and that created pathways for all kinds of creative connections. I feel like that community made it possible for me to find a foundation to be creative.

LPL card set. Image courtesy Jenny + Kristin from Simple Machines

What performances do you remember? New artists discovered? 

Mark: Pretty sure this was the first time I saw Versus play. Not only was their set amazing, but they would quickly become my favorite band. One interesting thing about this festival that there were a lot of New York and New England bands… My band had played CBGB and other places like that in New York countless times, but in 1991 we had started playing different venues like the Spiral which was a kind of hub for bands in this new scene. 
Michael: Kicking Giant roaring through their set. Unrest being unreal. Lilys.
Jenny: I remember Jonny Cohen had a great set, and it might have been one of the first times we saw Small Factory who were a fan favorite for the VG crew. And, of course, Unrest and Versus, who to this day remain my favorite, favorite bands. 

LPL card set 2. Image courtesy Jenny + Kristin from Simple Machines

What was the vibe in general? 

Jenny: It felt like a new scene. It also felt established … not a beginning, but an actuality. Like “here we all are, of course we are here.” 
Kristin: There was also a really great ratio of women performing. DC had a number of women who were either in bands or played important roles in the punk scene. And even though this wasn’t a deliberate plan, it’s affirming to look back and see just how many of the bands playing at Lotsa Pop Losers had women in them. 
Mark: The vibe was just one of having fun. 
Michael: pleasant low-key calm, with some intense musical moments.

Kicking Giant at Lotsa Pop Losers. Photo courtesy of Tae Won Yu

Was it covered by mainstream media then and if so, did they get it? 

Jenny: My memory isn’t good here. I think a person from SPIN or Option came down, but we thought it was kind of weird to have mainstream interest. I have a memory that Mark (Jenkins) from the City Paper may have written something. 
Kristin: Lotsa Pop Losers might have been even a few months too early for the mainstream music press to be interested in this East Coast indie scene. I feel like the Providence Indie Rock Explosion, which happened about six months later, attracted more music press attention. I believe that was one of Belly’s first shows, and by then you could really feel the momentum building around some indie rock bands.
Michael: I recall seeing some stuff in zines but not really the media.

LPL treasure cards; images courtesy Jenny + Kristin from Simple Machines

Anything else you remember? 

Erin: I was not a fan of the name Lotsa Pop Losers—a play on both Lollapalooza and Sub Pop’s use of “Loser” at the time—because the fest was full of some of the most underground and amazing bands I knew, not to mention the coolest people! No way were any of these people “losers”!
Michael: I remember doing “surrender” with Otis. 
Mark: Each label got to choose approximately one-third of the bands that would perform. I also wanted to screen a film, Hippie Porn by Jon Moritsugu, so we did that on the first day at the VFW hall. There was a TV and VHS player set up in the corner and perhaps 2 or 3 people gathered around and watched it before the first band played. I remember it being kind of cold since it was the end of October, but I was still wearing shorts. It always took me a while to change my wardrobe to match the seasons. I also remember not being completely in love with the name of the festival; that it was kind of named after Lollapalooza—and that we were “losers”—ha ha.
Jenny: Looking back 30 years, I think it was just one of those moments when things came together. They happen from time to time where a lot of complementary energy just shows up in the same space. For us that was exactly when a few different labels and bands became intertwined in such a strong way. Out of it came records, tours, friendships. When I finally joined Facebook about five years after it started, someone advised me to only friend people who I would let sleep on my couch. As a couch surfing and couch sharing musician, that was a pretty long list, but when I look at my friends list today, all the LPL alumni are there. It’s awesome to see so many of them are still creating, collaborating and sharing music with the world, and if any of them are ever up in Catskill (Kristin: or near Philadelphia!) you can let them know we’ve actually got a guest room now.

Read this 2013 oral history in Washington City Paper for more quotes about the event!

LPL treasure cards; images courtesy Jenny + Kristin from Simple Machines

Kickstand and friends; photo courtesy of Tae Won Yu
LPL treasure cards; images courtesy Jenny + Kristin from Simple Machines

IPUC at 30! The International Pop Underground Convention Remembered by Those Who Were There on its 30th Anniversary

We asked a few folks to look back and try to remember what it felt like attending, organizing, and performing at the very influential International Pop Underground Convention, which took place August 20–25, 1991 in Olympia, Washington, was organized by Calvin and Candice from K Records, and featured a crazy good lineup including Beat Happening, Bratmobile, the Pastels, Jad Fair, Kicking Giant, Some Velvet Sidewalk, Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses, Sleepyhead, Scrawl, Nikki McClure, Rose Melberg and loads more. This type of festival became a blueprint and surely influenced our foray into party throwing a few years later. Some folks remember it as a magical utopian moment in time, others were stressed and disillusioned. Whatever those who attended felt, it was a pivotal moment for independent labels, great pop and punk music, and a spirit and community still with us today.

Convention pass courtesy of Rose Melberg

Did you attend the convention? What made you want to go? 
Nikki McClure: Yes. It felt like it would be the center of the world that week. I had a job in the mountains during the week (field ornithology) and threatened to quit when my boss wouldn’t let me take the week off as promised. He let me go and keep my job. I was willing to risk complete poverty for the Convention. My boyfriend at the time went to Europe with Nirvana to the Reading Festival. That moment felt like a cultural divide. Everything shifted in August 1991.
Erin Smith (Bratmobile): YES!  I was a major K kid from ’87 on, so it was a no-brainer I was going. That was the entire center of my universe—virtually EVERY band I loved at the time was playing IPU.  I was OBSESSED with Beat Happening! Bratmobile were asked by Calvin Johnson to play as well—a total dream come true!  Bratmobile were actually the only band to play 2 shows at IPU—both on Girl Night—8/20, and an early morning show with Kicking Giant and Jad Fair on 8/23.
Michael Galinsky: Sleepyhead got invited to play, largely due to Tae’s suggestion. I don’t think we even had a single out yet, maybe we did… it’s murky, but we had just done our first 10-day, 5-show tour that July. So, we were a little more prepared to play. I might have gone even if we weren’t playing, but I was also pretty broke so it would have been a big reach for me. Thankfully the awesome folks in Treehouse offered us a place to stay, which made it more possible. Allison from Bratmobile lent us her car to go pick up Rachael, our drummer, about two hours before we had to play. All went smoothly until we left the airport and realized we needed gas. She had given us the key to the car but not the gas key, which we discovered when we pulled over to get gas. Thankfully we made it into town and had to jump on stage shortly after we got there.

Memories from Lois Maffeo


Tobi Vail: Yes. I honestly don’t remember if I wanted to go or not. I mostly grew up in Olympia and I was a part of the K scene as a teenager but after I was assaulted by a stranger at 18 (in my first apartment in Eugene) what I perceived to be traditional gender roles and cute 1950s aesthetic of K no longer spoke to me (if it ever really did). I was in a band with Calvin (’85–89) as a teen and I looked up to him but that experience ended on a bad note. The year before IPU I was part of a feminist awakening of young women in the NW music scene, which eventually led to us starting riot grrrl. We were angry and pushing back against male domination and patriarchy and at that point I feel like most men in the Olympia music scene were threatened by us—exceptions were the teenagers in Unwound and the guys in Nirvana, who were super supportive. We had a little trouble communicating with K when they were distributing our self-released demo tape and ended up pulling it from their mail order to distribute on our own and I don’t think they understood why we wanted to control everything but that was really important to us at the time. So it was nice that the festival was organized by a woman (Candice) who became a co-owner of K. In retrospect I do appreciate that K sold our tape through their mail order and I appreciate their support but I wish that we had been able to communicate with them a little better about sales.
Ira Robbins: I was there and wrote about it in Rolling Stone, which earned me a death threat from Ian Svenonius.

Bratmobile photographed by Michael Galinsky

Had there been other festivals like this you’d been to before? What felt different about it? 
Nikki M: It really felt like a Convention and not just some shows. A Convention needed banners! So I made some from dyed sheets with sticks found on the old growth forests I was working in. I made them on the floor of the ranger cabin that I lived at during the week, rolled them up and headed to Oly then unfurled them from the windows of The Martin apartments. There was more happening than music. It was a collection of people forming an international underground community and network. It was important work.
Candice Pedersen (IPUC organizer/formerly K Records): I’d never been to a music festival or conference before. The IPU was designed so that the bands and the audience would come to us! But seriously, the IPU convention was a chance to be at a conference that was designed by the kids for the kids. 
Erin Bratmobile: Festivals for “our” brand of indie were not so commonplace at this point.  Of all things, I’d won tickets to the first Lollapalooza, so attended that in DC the SAME week as IPU, turned 19 that day, then flew to Olympia.
Tobi Bikini Kill: No.
Michael Sleepyhead: We went to a couple of others after this. Lotsa Pop Losers (which wasn’t as big but had a similar inclusive vibe) and Lollipops and Booze, which was more of a schedule of shows with a pass over the course of a week than a festival like this. So, no, this was a truly unique and powerful event.

Scrawl photographed by Rose Melberg

Organizers, what do you remember about putting it together? 
Candice Pedersen: Everything and nothing. I remember being adamant that the design should include blackberries as they are Olympia in August in a nutshell. I remember hand making the badges. I remember when it was proposed (not by us!) that there should be a “girl night” and worrying that if it was the first night no one would be there. Which was exactly what didn’t happen. It was the most electric night of the entire festival. I remember the Sub Pop BBQ—it was great to have them as part of the convention even if there wasn’t any food. 
Nikki M: I made banners. I helped Candice make invites. Calvin had issued a call to action which is still vital and raw. She wanted formal invites mailed to people. I made a blackberry vine image, which now seems fitting for those hot, sweet, thorn-scratched days.

Convention pass courtesy of Stephen Pastel

Performers, what did it feel like to be there? What were the fans like? 
Stephen Pastel: From our perspective just being invited was really exciting. It was the first time we’d played in the US and it was the first time we’d played a community type event on that scale. Everything about it seemed thought through, joined up—the groups, the audiences, the spaces, the city. We were so impressed by all the work that Calvin, Candice and their friends had put into it—it was so ahead of its time. I remember the Beat Happening show being incredible, seeing them at their best in a beautiful theatre space with an absolutely packed out audience just going wild for them.  It felt like we were at the epicentre of something new and the world had suddenly changed for the better.   
Rose Melberg: I remember going to my first punk show at 13. all guys of course. it was like Social Distortion and Battalion of Saints and I was standing in the back of the venue in Sacramento. I was tiny. I was up in the top and my first thought was: the safe place is on stage. I was terrified of what was happening in the pit but I wanted to be a part of that and I saw it in my mind. I was having all these ideas of what it would look like and feel like to sing in a punk band, just scream and be above everyone. it was my first punk show and that was the feeling I got. I wanted to be on the stage. partly out of fear and partly out of power but mostly because I wanted to be part of it so bad. I was 19 when got up onstage at IPU. I was terrified. I had a physical reaction to it. my hands shook violently. I wanted to get on that stage so bad but my body wouldn’t even let me. I had to kind of detach because I knew I wanted it so bad—even though my body was telling me “don’t do this”—I couldn’t even hold my guitar pick. I was so desperate to be included. I didn’t want to feel left out. I didn’t want to be in the audience. I wanted to be liked and acknowledged and heard (from chickfactor 18, interview with the Softies).
Nikki M: This was also my first time performing. I sang a few songs at Girl Night, the songs I sang in the woods to ward away bears. It was powerful to hear those songs fill the theater. Those 5 minutes were life altering.The theater was packed. It was the first night and every one was so eager and open to possibility. We were creating our own world.
Michael Sleepyhead: It was wonderful to be there, but no one had even heard of us so it was kind of like going to a film festival with your first film, where you don’t know a lot of folks. Although, this was a little different as we knew a couple of the bands from their visits to NY and we had Tae to make some introductions. It was fun to play for sure, but also kind of hard to do an outdoor show when we had never done anything remotely like that. We were young and excited and it just meant a ton to us to be invited into the community. 

Bikini Kill photographed by Rose Melberg

Tobi Bikini Kill: Bikini Kill got to play the festival but we were added late and had to play an afternoon show on a small stage. I feel like someone from DC got us on the bill at the last minute but I really can’t be sure. I remember feeling kind of bummed that we didn’t get to play with Nation of Ulysses who we had been on tour with and spent the summer with in DC but I was happy that we got to play. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to practice that summer as Kathi, our bass player, had gone to Europe by herself. It was a hard show for us. We weren’t ready and had a lot of equipment trouble but I think some of it was pretty good.
Erin Bratmobile: Girl Night especially was completely intense.  The stuff of legend now!  The launching point for so much.  Heavens 2 Betsy played their first ever show at IPU—Rose Melberg as Tiger Trap, too.  So I got to witness both Corin Tucker and Rose Melberg’s first times on stage.  I remember Corin coming up to me after the show and complimenting me on the Bratmobile set.  It was all so new to me, too—I had no idea how to respond!  

Beat Happening photographed by Rose Melberg

Fans, what do you remember loving about it? 
Nikki M: Probably many Performers were Fans 90% of the time. I remember dancing and responding to the immediacy of sound and to the intimacy of hanging out with those who just made you dance so crazy afterwards. It was a Convention, We were all attendees, not so much fan or performer.
Michael Sleepyhead: As a fan I was blown away by seeing a lot of bands I had only heard about, like Bikini Kill, Jad with the Pastels was amazing. Seeing Beat Happening play to a packed house that was all in was astounding. Nation of Ulysses was on fire. the Bratmobile Kicking Giant show was inspiring. It was also nice that the whole thing felt very community focused.
Erin Bratmobile: Olympia is magic.  Being able to just WALK and see every band I loved over the course of a week was wild. All of my heroes were playing!  When Stephen Pastel asked to borrow my Sears Silvertone amp—well, he was a hero of mine to say the least.  Just a couple years before I was buying my first Pastels album, and now, not only was I playing the same festival of them, Stephen liked my amp?! There was not a whole lot of divide between the bands and the fans. The bands were fans, too!
Tobi Bikini Kill: I lived across the street. It was overwhelming. People kept coming over to my teeny tiny apartment. It was nice to have friends in town but there was no escape. I don’t remember the fans, it seemed like everyone here was in a band and it was just like people in the audience getting up on stage and vice versa. That was pretty cool.
Rich Siegmeister: I was friends with Sleepyhead but they made their own arrangements and I traveled there by myself. I needed a hotel. K records was offering to help and it sounds crazy now but they randomly placed people together. I ended up in a room with a nice guy. We didn’t hang out much together but when it came time to sleep, he came out in silvery silk pajamas. We were each in our single beds but crazy. Also I was hanging outside talking to some nice people from New Zealand. I was telling them how I loved the Clean and the Chills and this all girl group Look Blue Go Purple. They got a look on their faces and then one of them yelled out “Lizzie you got a fan.” A member of the band was there and couldn’t believed I was listening to them.

Sleepyhead photographed by Michael Galinsky

It was a very exciting new fresh time for music and culture: What did the community feel like then and is some of it still intact for you? 
Candice P: The community felt intimate and yet also disparate. Everyone was together but still had their own thing going, which I appreciate. I wouldn’t say the community from then is still intact for me. But, many of the friendships I had then and made then are still the most important friendships I have today. And many faded as they do.
Erin Bratmobile: It’s hard to understand in retrospect, and it might not even be fully understood unless you were there, but IPU was like the big bang and really everything came from that in a lot of ways. It’s all still totally intact. Friendships formed over that week for so many have been life long. It was life changing, and that’s not hyperbole.
Michael Sleepyhead: That community is still foundational for me. Tae drew the cover for our first single and he designed my photo book two years ago. I went on to make films but my foundational community is still the music one. It is wildly more open and supportive than the film world. 
Nikki M: The community was always present then and possibilities were always blooming. Now that spirit is there, but things aren’t nearly as spontaneous or untamed. It feels like it might just be me, but I think we all are thinking that…maybe? We all have embers we carry from that time and still use in our lives.
Tobi Bikini Kill: For me it was a little bit of a sad time. Nirvana wanted to play and they were not allowed because they had signed to a major label. The ’80s were ending and the ’90s were starting. L7 were great. I was confused that they got to play but Nirvana didn’t. I remember wishing that they didn’t sign but understanding why they did. I didn’t think we needed corporations to buy and sell our music and I think that was kind of the main idea of IPU.

Photograph by Michael Galinsky

What performances do you remember? New artists discovered? 
Candice P: I love all my children equally. 
Erin Bratmobile: I STILL hear IPU stage banter replaying in my head.  Thee Headcoats: “Oh, fuck your mother.” L7: “Keep your elbows off the knockers!!” The Bikini Kill set was absolutely revolutionary. The Mummies were incredible! I remember heading straight to the pit—all of Bikini Kill and all of Bratmobile together—to watch the Nation of Ulysses.  After their blistering performance, I remember James Canty coming back out onstage to humbly announce the release of their first record.  I was SO PROUD!  
Tobi Bikini Kill: Bratmobile played two sets I think and they were very good. Heavens To Betsy at girl night were incredible. Mecca Normal were great, as always. I remember being excited The Pastels were going to play but I would have been more excited to have seen them a few years earlier when they were still one of my favorite groups. Nation of Ulysses was my favorite group at the time but I remember Thee Headcoats as being the best group at IPU by far. They had played Olympia the year before and both shows were nuts. I think the band I discovered at the fest is The Mummies—they were so good and fun and funny. Fugazi was great too.
Nikki M: Fugazi. Heavens to Betsy. Rose. Jad Fair. Beat Happening. I Scream Truck. Nation of Ulysses. The Pastels. Cake walk. A picnic with no food.

Slim Kill Rock Stars, Rose Melberg and Al Some Velvet Sidewalk (photo courtesy of Rose)

What was the vibe in general? 
Candice P: For me the vibe was hectic. The Pastels were staying in my apartment, I had to co-host the event, and I was trying to spend time with friends. The time flew by. I was supposed join the Pastels on their west coast tour after the convention but I was too exhausted/sick to go. Chris Jordan so kindly took my place at the last minute. 
Nikki M: Festive. Spontaneous. After this past year, it seems fantastical that we once so freely mingled and danced and ate cake. It was powerful. All dreams became possible.
Tobi Bikini Kill: A little stressful. Like too much going on at once. It was also very odd to have people not from here acting like it was quaint or cute or utopian or something and not really understanding where they were. By 1991, Olympia was no longer a milltown but the brewery was still here. It was still pretty working class, the center of southwest Washington, which was populated by loggers and timber workers. It was a kind of rough place to live if you were nonconformist. The Evergreen State College is a public school and very progressive but it’s very small. Olympia never really was a liberal college town because the population of students has always been just a few thousand and my impression is that most people who end up going there are kids from the NW who couldn’t afford or get into a more expensive school. Local kids who went to punk shows and hippies from Evergreen got targeted and bullied and physically assaulted by guys in pickup trucks downtown. The IPU people didn’t really seem to notice any of that. Also it rains more than 150 days a year in Olympia and it was very sunny that week. It all seemed like a dream.

Tae Kicking Giant photographed by Michael Galinsky

Why do you think there was this link between D.C. and Olympia? Was it down to individuals or was it just a shared ethos? 
Nikki M: Both! Individuals sharing an ethos but with differences between the East and West. Both explored and created cultural freedom. For the Cake Walk, Cynthia Connolly (DC and Dischord) made a vegan chocolate cake topped with freshly picked blackberries, if I remember correctly. That cake seemed the perfect pairing of the 2 sides of the country.
Candice: It’s a shared ethos. 
Erin Bratmobile: I think it began as certain individuals and grew to be a shared ethos.  Calvin Johnson lived in Bethesda, MD, in the late ’70s/early ’80s, so was involved in the DC punk scene before going back to Olympia and Evergreen. Then the cross-pollination of the scenes continued. DC had great record stores like Yesterday & Today that stocked K titles, and Calvin visited family in the DC area all through the ’80s into the early ’90s, always bringing along records and making more connections. I connected with being a K and indie kid before I then grew to intensely love Dischord and the DC underground. Nation of Ulysses and Fugazi were my gateway drug in that regard, if that makes sense!
Tobi Bikini Kill: Olympia is the capital of Washington so there are a lot of natural connections—one of them being that Calvin went to high school in both places.
Michael Sleepyhead: I think it was both the shared ideals and the musical influences created a strong cross current that made sense—I felt like going on tour was like being in the pony express. Bands carried information and ideas from one town to the next and in some ways DC and Oly were kind of the terminuses at the end of the routes.

Rose Melberg, the very first time she ever got onstage or sang into a microphone. (Photo courtesy Rose)

Was it covered by mainstream media then and if so, did they get it? 
Nikki M: Who cared? We were mostly happy to outnumber the logging trucks.
Tobi Bikini Kill: Yes and no.
Candice: I think there was national media outside of indie fanzines. I remember Ira Robbins wrote something. But, if people “got it” or not didn’t concern me. “It” was something for different for everyone. And, I didn’t care if media got what it was to me.  

The Pastels photographed by Rose Melberg

Is there anything else you remember? 
Candice: I don’t remember meeting Scotty but he remembers meeting me (I asked him how old he was!). But, I’m glad we were both there because one year later we started dating and 29 years later we’re still together. 
Nikki M: Driving with Calvin to the Sup Pop picnic but there was no food left. People signing the back of the Kill Rock Stars albums like they were yearbooks with the silkscreen ink still a bit tacky. Melvins at the park. Blueprint posters taped to my door fading over time. Was this the festival that the theater cat peed on the shirts?
Erin Bratmobile: The first Kill Rock stars comp came out on vinyl the week of IPU, all hand silkscreened covers, with no time even to put the art on the back yet. So all of the copies given to the bands that were on the comp had hand done covers and blank backs. Several of us, myself included, got autographs of the other bands on the blank backs, high school yearbook style. 
Tobi Bikini Kill: The first Kill Rock Stars compilation came out at IPU. The front was silkscreened and the back was blank so everyone used the back like a yearbook and signed each other’s records. That was pretty cool. 
Michael Sleepyhead: I don’t have a good tactile memory. Thankfully I have pictures, though not nearly enough from that event. What I do recall was that the whole summer felt the beginning of something for me. It takes a lot of hope to start a band and then commit to it in the way that we felt we needed to. The summer before we had moved to Providence to live together. It wasn’t an easy transition but we muddled through and became more of a band. We started to play out in NY a lot which connected us with NY bands like flying saucer, ruby falls, antietam, and many others. II spent months booking that first tour which we went on a few weeks before IPU. On that trip we met some incredibly creative people and that just changed my life. Then we went out to Olympia and that sense of being part of a community became some much more profound.

See more photos of IPUC by Michael Galinsky here.

Rachel Kicking Giant (photographed by Rose Melberg)
The Pastels with Jad Fair (photographed by Rose Melberg)
Bratmobile with Michelle Noel (photographed by Rose Melberg)
Some Velvet Sidewalk (photographed by Rose Melberg)

Sleepyhead (photographed by Rose Melberg)
Kicking Giant (Photographed by Michael Galinsky)

the decline of mall civilization by michael galinsky

Photograph by Michael Galinsky

Our friend Michael Galinsky (also of the band Sleepyhead) is a fearless and prolific photographer (and filmmaker) who has been out there everywhere snapping away for the past 30 years. His body of work features street photography from Iraq, stunning portraits of tiny baby Chan Marshall and teenage Mary Timony and so so so much more. His latest book, the Decline of Mall Civilization, is currently being kickstarted and it shows what North Carolina malls looked like 30 years ago. Order your copy now or just pitch in a few bucks!