B y S a r a h G a r r e c h t
THE END OF an era; all good things must come to an end; you don't know what you've got until it's gone; another one bites the dust. Countless clichés describe the imminent closure of the Downtown Performance Center, but the bottom line is that after August 1, Tucson will be without a mainstay in its music scene.
After battling for the DPC's existence for the past four years, director Steven Eye has decided it's time to pack it in and let someone else pick up the torch.
Eye says the catalyst for this decision was a meeting with the West University Neighborhood Association, which essentially blamed all area graffiti and disturbances on the DPC and its young patrons. While Eye understands his neighbors' concerns, he also decided it was time to return his focus to his sculpture and teaching elementary school.
So where does this leave Tucson? In a town with a restrictive "dance hall" policy that segregates people by age, all-age venues are scarce. The DPC was a haven for hardcore and punk bands, and provided many musicians simply with a place to perform to an unrestricted audience--a valuable service in a town that caters to the lucrative over-21 crowd.
While the DPC rarely drew large crowds and struggled to make ends meet, its mere existence was the DPC's greatest asset.
"The largest impact is just the opportunities people had in this town," Eye says. "But we've always felt for years, working with all these up-and-coming bands, that it presented a great opportunity for the people of Tucson to be enriched in the culture of this world. By losing the DPC it's taking away a lot of people's opportunities. I feel real sad about that, but we've done so many shows, and given people so many opportunities.
"It's like life--if you don't live it to the fullest, it's going to pass you by. A lot of people in this town missed a lot of great things that happened at the DPC," Eye says. "Hopefully it will be a message to people that you can't just look the other way and take things for granted.
"Whenever any kind of loss happens in your life, you always get that message: I should have gotten to know that person better, I should have gone to that place more, experienced certain things before they're over because nothing lasts forever."
The DPC was always touted as a creative place for people to come to exchange ideas via art, show art or make art. To a degree that happened, with changing art displays and the colorful, thought-provoking murals adorning the outside and an open booking policy; but for some it never evolved beyond a punk club catering to people making musical art no one else wanted.
"(The DPC crowd) started at Dodajk (Eye's studio), with more serious artists showing their work to more serious audience members, and then it got progressively watered down from the serious to the not-so-serious, and the people who just wanted to come and have a good time," Eye says. "There's really nothing wrong with that, but the intent was a more serious art-oriented idea. We started getting more and more people who just wanted to hang out and see what other people have done rather than be more involved themselves.
"I hate to say it, but there's a really small percentage of people who think freely in this town and are aware of bands that are not sold to them on MTV or commercial radio," he continues.
Brandon Kodama, the singer for Spill Blanket, says his band played the DPC an average of once a month for the past three years, a luxury that will be missed when the doors slam shut on the venue.
"The DPC has held up the Tucson music scene for a while now. Look at the bands that have been there. Who else except Steve would put on those shows?" he says. "Last month we did this noise piece, and about 20 people participated in it. Where else are you going to do something like that? The DPC was the source of a lot of creativity in Tucson."
Lack of opportunity in Tucson may push local bands to play in Phoenix, and some people see Tucson disappearing from the hardcore/punk tour route altogether.
"Everybody has been really upset," says Stormy Shepherd, who books bands at the DPC for Leave Home Booking in Los Angeles. She books for the larger punk bands, like the Offspring, the Vandals, Rancid and SNFU, and says all of the 17 bands she handles have played the DPC and look forward to returning.
"Bands never make near as much money in Tucson at the DPC as they would in other cities, but they all look forward to it on tour," Shepherd says. "They look forward to the atmosphere, the art and the creativity. The bands would ask to go there because they support what Steve is doing."
Shepherd also points out Eye is the only club booking agent in town she wants to work with, which means these bands may not return at all.
While DPC was never a money-making proposition, other businesses depended on it.
"It will have an economic impact on our store, because we carry independent bands on independent labels" says Bill Sassenberger, owner of the Toxic Ranch music store and the Westworld record label. "Without the DPC, there is no place for these bands to play, and no way for people to know about them. Because they're not played on the radio, there's no way to hear about bands until you see them."
It's undetermined whether someone else will pick up the slack left by the DPC's demise, although Eye offers his expertise to anyone who tries. The building will probably remain open as a rehearsal and studio space, but that plan is still tentative.
"The DPC has been a great source of joy and a great source of pain. It's life," Eye says. "I'm very grateful for all the opportunities I've had to help people, and I'm proud of what happened there and what we've been able to accomplish. It's been good."
Photos by Héctor Acuña
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