‘Make art. Shoot a video. Play in a band.’ Gen X rockers reunite in Iowa City to encourage the next generation

Old Thrashers Reunion 2022 UAY Benefit

Trumpet Blossom Cafe -- Saturday, July 23 at 7 p.m.

David Murray (Instand D/eTh) — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

“At the Old Threshers Reunion this summer, you’re going to come across some old pumps, tractors and hay balers, and there’ll be too-cute nanny goats and freckled girls in pigtails,” said musician David Murray, summing up the annual festival in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa that celebrates the state’s agricultural heritage. “If you go to the Old Thrashers Reunion, you’ll see a lot of old grumps, hackers and nay-sayers with good intentions.”

And plenty of loud, weird sounds vomited up from the mouth of the Iowa music underground — like Murray’s band Instant D/eTh, which will be performing alongside Scorched Earth Policy, the Shining Realm and Maaaze at the upcoming benefit for United Action for Youth (UAY). The event has benefitted the art and music programs at UAY since its inception; this will be the first Old Thrashers Reunion since the pandemic.

The first Old Thrashers Reunion came about in 2008 after Kylie Buddin, a longtime coordinator at UAY and local music scene veteran, was talking to his high school punk rock friend Julie VanDyke. As they discussed how weird it was to enter middle age, she asked him what he would do to celebrate his 40th birthday if there were no limitations.

Kylie Buddin at UAY — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

“Without hesitation, I said, ‘See Stiff Legged Sheep, Soviet Dissonance, and the Pestients one more time at 10 South Gilbert.’ 10 South was the home to the punk scene and was the site of so many amazing shows — the Effigies, Die Kreuzen, Hüsker Dü, 7 Seconds and Naked Raygun, just to name a few. Julie said if I could get the bands, she would take care of the rest. Everything came together, and that first show was glorious. Even the conflicts that arose reminded me of why I loved our scene so much.”

Buddin’s experience was also shared by Hart Epstein, the organizer of this year’s Old Thrashers Reunion, whose band Scorched Earth Policy will be reuniting for the event after a 30-year hiatus.

“It’s an extended family thing. When I started going to shows, I was on the younger side of things; now I’m one of the oldsters,” Epstein said. “You drift apart as the years roll on, but you pick up right where you left off at a moment’s notice. The ICHC [Iowa City Hardcore] extended family was and is pretty tightly knit, I would say. Most everyone that is still with us talks regularly.”

Hart Epstein (Scorched Earth Policy) — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Scorched Earth Policy — which drew on disparate influences that included “King Crimson, Chrome, Slayer, de-tuned AM radio and John Zorn,” as Epstein put it — drifted apart around 1993, but its members remained close friends.

During the ’80s, the underground burst with punk rock angst, virtuosity and an artistry that didn’t follow any prescribed template — rockabilly groups, industrial bands, loud-fast hardcore, goth rock and noise were part of the mix.

“If you were outside of the norm, you were welcome,” Buddin said. “Everyone got shows and everyone was represented.”

Murray recalled that beneath all the provocations, preening and balderdash was a do-it-yourself spirit that reminded them that they didn’t need agents, bouncers, parents or interlopers to have a good time.

David Murray (Instant D/eTh) — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

“Us kids found a way to explore our expressive selves and meet new, exciting people,” he said. “Find a vacant hall and bring a sound system. Work up some stage props, visuals or flyers. Charge only a pittance at the door so everyone could come.”

UAY, founded in Iowa City in 1970 to provide support and opportunities for young people’s creativity, played a pivotal role in that emerging punk rock scene.

Epstein’s bandmate Billy Mackenzie found a home at UAY, where he picked up his first bass guitar around 1983. And Instant D/eTh’s Murray benefitted from UAY after he began playing music as a student at City High in 1980, when he and his brother formed a band with others they met through that organization.

“It is a great pleasure to perform under the banner of United Action for Youth,” Murray said. “That organization was instrumental in getting me out of the gutter and onto the stage. The opportunity they afford a young person with an artistic sense, but no strong direction, is invaluable. I found other kids doing stuff I thought I could do. Make art. Shoot a video. Play in a band.”

Epstein also spent every possible moment at UAY as an adolescent — learning to play drums and guitar, figuring out how to use the studio’s recording gear or just hanging out. Now he has a 17-year-old son who is the exact same way.

“He found his way there much as I did,” Epstein said, “and found the same sense of belonging and community that I did 35, 40 years ago. And the O.G. Old Thrasher, Kylie, is helping to make it such a great place.”

Kylie Buddin at UAY — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

“I’d say that continuum and multi-generational connection is pretty hard to miss,” he continued. “What’s old is new again, with regard to the challenges and stresses that kids face. I think this current generation of kids has so many more tools at their disposal, are so much more enlightened and in-tune, are able to face a good deal of this shit with much more alacrity and confidence than, perhaps, us Gen-Xers ever could. I find hope in these kids.”

Trumpet Blossom owner Katy Meyer feels honored to have hosted the Old Thrashers Reunion over the years, especially because it’s a fundraiser for UAY, which she feels is an absolutely vital organization. Meyer wouldn’t be able to maintain her venue without the ongoing support of the community, which is why she is happy to offer her space for this benefit show.

And the difference between an Old Threshers Reunion and an Old Thrashers Reunion, in Meyer’s view? “One involves harvesting grain and one involves imbibing it.”

As always, Kembrew McLeod reserves the right to rock. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 308.

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