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A Re-exploration of My Hometown's Music Scene
By Fay Funk
Moving to Portland, Oregon was like entering a whole new world for me. Except it shouldn’t have been new- I lived in Portland for the first 18 years of my life. When I moved to New York City for college in 2008 I had no intention of returning home. I was going to build a lucrative and exciting life there. Of course things don’t always work out the way we plan, and in 2012 I found myself back in Portland again with no job, no money, and no contact with any of my old friends. It was as if I had never lived there at all.
I was angry; I was bored. I had a bachelor’s degree from a top university and I couldn’t even get work at Safeway. I spent the summer months job hunting and doing solitary 8 AM workouts, trying not to think about the day when I would need to start paying back my student loans, a day looming nearer and nearer. Nothing felt real.
And that’s when I realized: I need to get out more. I need to see what my city has to offer. Portland is renowned for its music scene, and in the past, before I left for college I was a part of it. So I made a promise to myself: I would go out to a show at least once a week. I would actively take part in the world around me, not sit idly by.
My anger and disillusionment drew me to the punk scene in Portland, which brought me to Slabtown. My first punk show was in the fall, and had an outrageously good line up: Piss Test, Defect Defect, Chemicals, and Bi-Marks. The best punk Portland has to offer, and I didn’t even know it at the time. But I did know it’s what I needed. Something so raw and so potently furious; it was everything I felt but couldn’t even begin to express on my own. That’s what Slabtown gave me; a dimly lit cave full of hard living people and cheap beer. A place to just be angry in. A place where the sounds of air hockey and pinball were drowned out by a guitar that sounded like it was being ripped in half on top of vocal chord shredding shrieks. For me it wasn’t escapism; it reminded me some things were real.
My lack of familiarity with my hometown combined with a strong desire to explore led me down some strange paths. I went into shows cold, with no idea what to expect. I experienced a lot of new things. Sometimes the shows I went to were great, and some were not. Always though, I left with a new perspective.
That’s the best way to describe my experiences at East End, a bar in Southeast Portland along Grand Avenue; always offering a new perspective. I’ve seen punk bands there, of course. Youthbitch, a Ramones-esque pop-punk band with catchy songs about girls and laser beams, has been one of my favorites. I introduced myself to their bass player one winter night when he was working the door for a show more inspired by '60’s surf rock than punk. I was there to see a band called A Happy Death. I had seen them once before at a bar downtown called Kelly’s Olympian, and decided I needed a second helping. They are energetic vintage rock that’s better suited to dancing than moshing. And they have an organ, which is pretty cool. They put on one of the best live shows in Portland.
A few months later in spring I found myself saying hello the the Youthbitch bass player at the door to East End once again, but this time at a hip-hop show for a local rapper, Soopah Eype. That night was surreal, not just because it was my first local hip-hop show, but because half the audience went to my high school. I knew that would be the case; my boyfriend at the time introduced me to Soopah Eype’s music, and he had gone to my high school. School was never difficult for me; I didn’t hate anyone there, and had a few pleasant conversations. But I left that impromptu reunion recognizing that there was an uncrossable distance of time and experience between me and them. I was a stranger, and it made me sad, but what can you expect after five years away from a group of people you never knew that well to begin with?
That same distance, of course, existed between my boyfriend and me. We weren’t together long. In the days after our break up I was overwhelmed, and I needed something else to overwhelm me. I needed top quality, the best Portland had to offer. So I went to the Doug Fir Lounge. The Doug Fir is one of the best places to see live music in town. It often hosts the big (but not too big) acts, and the most professional local acts. The night I went I saw Rare Monk,De La Warr, and Bike Thief. De La Warr stood out the most to me. Beautiful keyboard parts, and soaring male on female vocal melodies. Beauty was what I needed that night, and beauty overwhelmed me.
This summer my current boyfriend and I attended PDX Pop Now!, Portland’s local music festival. Sitting in the sun, we saw a wide variety of music; grungy-punk from The Woolen Men, dance-pop from Minden, full-on rock from Hausu, and so much more. It felt like everything had come full circle; I had set out almost a year earlier to explore the diversity of the Portland music scene, and here it was, all in one place. I realized that for the first time since moving back, I felt like I was home. A year of exploration and I had found something: a sense of belonging. And there is still so much more to explore.