The Smell Of Punk

By Eric Kamm Published August 20, 2009

There’s a thick intimate smell at a punk show made up of sweat, cigarette smoke, stale booze, and a hint of mold and stale urine. At a good show if the band gets the audience moving, they’ll sweat more, and the stench will thicken. This unique aroma accompanies all my memories of best punk shows I’ve seen, and I hadn’t gotten a whiff of it for quite a while. That is, until a few weeks back, when Polar Bear Club played Thee Parkside.

Kamm, recording Setoff's second album.

I recently returned from a disappointing 3-week-US-DIY- (Do It Yourself) tour with my band, Setoff, ready to give up my dreams of trying to play music for a living. Between promoters who promised us shows and didn’t come through, local bands who made our out-of-town band play last to an audience who had gone home, ridiculously long drives, snow storms, sleeping in parking lots and rest stops, and inner band conflict, I was ready to throw in the towel. As we got back home to San Francisco we agreed to take a three-week break, as I once again absorbed my unemployed reality, feeling totally apathetic toward my life and all the options I don’t currently have.

Flashback to last summer at the Warped Tour--a brighter, sunnier time. After I finished interviewing Josh Baird of Broadway Calls, he explained to me that I needed to hear this band I hadn’t heard of before, a group called Polar Bear Club. The tone of his voice told me he was serious, so I picked up the record a couple days later. For the next couple months this record was pretty much the only thing I listened to or talked about.

Now last Monday I was exhausted, and on the fence about leaving my room to go see this band, till I remembered how blown away I was the first time I heard “Hollow Place.” Believe me, or take Josh Baird’s word for it, this mid-tempo punk group knows how to blend emo and hardcore in the most intelligent, progressive manner. And thankfully, the young band threw down this particular evening, shortly after sharing two interesting pieces of information. First of all, they had just gotten out of the studio completing their second full-length album. In addition, it was their bassist's 21st birthday, which was pretty hard to believe coming from a band with such a mature sound. They played for around 45 minutes to an hour, and by the time they finished the room was filled with that musty sweetness that accompanies all great punk performances. I returned home feeling that sense of relief that only great music can dig out of your innards, and I honestly felt inspired to play music for the first time in months. Can’t wait to hear that new record they were talking about.

Eric Kamm is the drummer for the band Setoff and a former employee of DRUM!