A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

by | Apr 24, 2024

A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

by | Apr 24, 2024

AZPunk.com was a DIY social networking website built before the reign of the corporate social overlords. From 2001-2008, local bands and show-goers around the great Copper State made AZPunkโ€™s vibrant events calendar and message board their go-to spot for local music.
Midway upon the journey of our life (ok, late-mid), we found ourselves within a forest of long boxes in which we decided to embark on a comics and coffee business adventure. However, before this new era, my wife, Queen Kiki, and I (Micah Elliot) spent our early adulthood years traversing the always-vibrant nightlife of the local Arizona punk and goth scenes. Starting in the late 90s all throughout the first decade of the new millennia, we spent nearly every given night show-going, partying, performing, screaming and dancing our way through the multitude of underground music events bellowing out of any given sector of the Valley of the Sun.
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

Learnin’ the younglings, Mesa, AZ, c. 2004

In this adventure, there was an extremely tight community built around a little networking website created from the dirt-up with the unique opportunity to help form friendships for a thousand lifetimes. The following is a very brief story of the creation of AZPunk.com.

Article originally printed in Babyteeth Zine Issue No. 2, edited for additional context.

The concept of AZPunk.com probably started somewhere around the winter of 1999/ early 2000 when I was introduced to Chris Lawson via the guitar player for my band (at the time), West End Crooks. Chris was a local punk kid who was absolutely brilliant with this new technology called “web development”, and he built and operated an online punk rock jukebox called TotalPunkRadio.com. This website was the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life at the time โ€” a 24-hour online streaming jukebox of nearly every single punk rock song known to the human race. He built it from scratch โ€” something completely unheard of at that time. It was amazing.

A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

Me and Chris

I was fresh out of Graphic Design school, balls-deep in gigging with the West End Crooks around the Tempe & Phoenix bars, and digging into my new career as a web designer. I would spend my time at work building websites for clients while sneaking in time to work on my own band’s website and create flyers for the next show โ€” all while listening to Total Punk Radio around the clock, and hanging out with Chris at nightly shows. I lived on Mill in Tempe & Chris lived around Priest. Chris was a big fan of the Crooks, and we became great friends.

One day while working, Chris mentioned to me that he owned the domain azpunk.com. I believe in that very moment, all of the ideas for AZPunk came rushing into our creative brains. I was a web designer. He was a web developer. We lived and loved local music and knew that there were many others around us that did, too. There was no way we couldn’t make this happen.

I had been in touch with the guy who ran calgarypunk.com, a local punk community website in Alberta, Canada. We wanted to do what those guys did here, only we wanted to bring the tech of TPR (Total Punk Radio) with it. With the domain, hosting, and straight-up DIY dedication to the idea, in mid/late 2000, Chris and I hit the ground building day and night.
The thing you have to keep in mind is that this was 1999/2000. There was no Spotify, no Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, YouTube… nothing. We had Napster to illegally search for music, we had the Nile Theater’s message board to argue and find out where the best shows were, and beyond jumping from comic book to music shop to find out what shows were happening, that was about all we could do.
So our goal was to start with a message board platform, and build everything around that. We would create a networking area where people could talk about local bands, venues and music around the clock, anytime they wanted. We would ask bands to submit their tracks, and we would add it to the AZPunk radio jukebox built from Chris’ TPR technology. This was a totally new concept to the general public at this time, and in a place where people were jumping from city to city just to connect, AZPunk.com was an instant hit.
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

Me and Bry

While living in Tempe, I lived next door to Bryan Sandell, a guitar player at the time for the band Oktober, and later for the band Last Action Zeroes. He was digging into the management side of his band, as well as a little dabbling in web design and development. We all instantly hit it off, and Bryan quickly became part of our geeky punk crew. With the three of us at the helm working diligently for a Feb 1, 2002 launch date, a few hundred vinyl printed stickers later, AZPunk was officially a train off the rails.
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

Micah, Bryan and Chris

AZPunk Milestones

A book could be filled with the stories of AZPunk’s most memorable moments, but here’s a quick rundown on โ€” what I would consider โ€” the top 6 (in no particular order).
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

AZPunk.com 2001-2008

AZPunk’s main popularity started rising instantly from launch simply from the nature of what it was: an instant networking and promotional tool that put communication, music, concert calendars, contests, bands and fans all in one place. It was a literal digital bar when there was no such thing. With every sticker littered in every corner, music shop, comic book shop, venue or street pole, AZPunk’s user base grew on a weekly basis. None of that prepared us for the surge of users after we littered the 2002 Warped Tour with AZPunk stickers. Local music bands and fans flocked to the website to sign up to see what it was all about. The message board was on fire around the clock. For a time, it completely broke the website. Our little hosting platform wasn’t able to contain the surge of traffic, but after Chris worked his natural dev charms, a slight upgrade on hosting, a solid message board platform and we had quickly reached a new level of what we were doing.
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

AZPunk Radio 1100 AM KFNX

From June-November of 2002, AZPunk had a 2-hour Tuesday-night radio show on 1100 KFNX AM radio. We collectively scrounged up something around $125 to party in a local radio station’s parking lot every Tuesday night with our friends before we started our 2-hour radio show at 11pm. We’d play local music, take calls from people while they were hanging out on the website, roll over all the shows we’ve been to, the shows we were going to, and everything you could fit in a 2-hour show about local punk rock. We were podcasts back when they used to call them radio shows. Naturally, the cost of the radio show mixed with the cost of alcohol and tobacco pretty much led us to a point where we had to stop the radio show and focus whatever money we were able to scrounge up on keeping the website running.
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

Arizona Motherfucker

So what do you do when you’re literally building the future, and the concept of “website revenue stream” or “advertising platforms” hasn’t yet even been invented? You create and sell compilation albums! Our goal was to spread the word of local punk rock music, and we had to figure out some way to help pay for the cost of the website. It only made sense for us to send out the word to local bands that we were going to start making local compilation CDs, and we were looking for donated submissions. From 2002-2008 we produced 7 compilation albums featuring over 210 tracks of Arizona punk bands stretching from all over the State. With so many submissions every year, we wanted to do everything we could to pack as many songs on each album as possible, and make it super cheap to help get the songs in people’s ears, and butts to the shows. The compilation albums we produced are the lasting mark of our little corner of Arizona punk rock. Chris, Bryan and I are really proud of those little albums.
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

Invasion of 2003 Warped Tour

In its time, AZPunk set up and promoted a ton of shows at a bunch of the local venues of the times. AZPunk local nights at Jugheads, a 3-day local showcase at Minder Binders and so much more. We wanted to try and bring in all kinds of punk-style bands together for shows; harcore, pop-punk, even the growing indie-punk-style bands who kind of blurred the lines between punk and folk. We were fans of it all, and we wanted to showcase it all in comps and shows alike. The biggest of all the shows we did would have to be the 2003 invasion of the warped tour. Somehow (more Bryan and Chris magic), we managed to square away the upper portion of the Peoria Sports Complex where we hosted 8 bands on two stages. For that to go off without a hitch was quite an accomplishment for 3 dorks who have never pulled off anything remotely close to something like this before.
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

AZPunk’s Thrash of the Titans flyer illustrated by J. Gonzo

Another event that completely altered the course of local music history was the spontaneous creation of the Thrash of the Titans show in late 2007. It was a battle-of-the-bands concept, but with much higher stakes. The premise of the show broke down like this: we had 5 paper bags, each labeled vocals, drums, bass, guitar and band name. Everyone who wanted to participate got two pieces of paper โ€” one for their band instrument of choice, and one for whatever crazy band name they could come up with (I’m sure you could imagine how inappropriate they were โ€” it was perfect). They would put their name in one of the band position bags, and the other in the band name bag. We would then choose 1 paper out of each of the 5 bags, 6 times. This created a crazy unique compound of musicians and ideas from people who โ€” in some cases โ€” had never even met each other before. Now they had to organize, create, perform, compete in just a few months. It was a Titan’s challenge. These contestants were deemed responsible to organize and create a band that could perform a 30-minute set containing all original punk music โ€” plus one cover song โ€” to then perform against each other in front of a packed room and a handful of old grouchy punk judges at the Hollywood Alley a few months later. The winner of the contest was selected by the judges and the crowd, and given a spot on the next comp album. It was brutal. It was epic. It also produced the continuing saga that is BroLoaf โ€” a punk band of which the world would have otherwise never been โ€” and continue to be โ€” subjected to.
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

When Danny met Glenn

Probably one of the most memorable moments โ€” if not THE most memorable moment of AZPunk’s existence happened on the morning of July 6, 2004 when AZPunk originally released the now-infamous Danzig Knockout video to the world. Because this was before there was any such thing as a “video hosting service”, when we wanted to share a video, we had to produce and host varying sizes of videos for people to download, because people used to have REALLY SLOW internet speeds back then. Because we had to host these videos on our server that was quickly gaining downloads by the thousands โ€” once again like the surge from our first Warped Tour โ€” our server and bandwidth struggled to take an all new surge of users. And because we ended up needing a MUCH better hosting plan, it was because the video went WORLDWIDE. Once the video went viral and started circulating the globe, we started to see users coming in from all over the planet. German punks, British punks… everyone wanted to voice their opinion about the video on our message board. It was crazy, and it then โ€” even if only for a short time โ€” put AZPunk’s name on a global scale.

The AZPunk Comps

Building the comps from scratch was a pretty cool and great learning experience for us. Chris, Bryan and I all had our own talents, musical tastes and identities that created a rich environment for a diverse punk rock sound for our comps. We tried to pack them full of a little bit of everything that was going on in the various little punk scenes around the valley and State. We definitely weren’t able to capture everything that was happening, but we did our best with the submissions we were able to gather.
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

Queen Kiki smoking up the cover of volume 5

The goal was to release 1 comp every year, at a super low cost to help get them into people’s ears and spread the Gospel of Arizona punk rock. With the connections we had been making with individuals, local recording studios and bands alike, we were able to pull our DIY talents together and pump out some pretty cool little albums.
The first 1-6 comps were CDs packaged in cardboard slip covers. Everything was DIY. We created the artwork, built the files, gathered and organized the songs and pulled each one together by ourselves. For the 7th comp, we wanted to try our hand in the vinyl world. We teamed up with two great friends Nate Anderson from May Cause Dizziness Records, and DJ Johnny Volume to help gather the song submissions and produce the vinyl. We always intended to do more, but 2002-2008 was the time we were able to capture.
Before we close out this little trip down debauchery lane, we would like to mention the local stuff that we really dig right now in AZ. Again, I’m so far from the “loop” these days, but there are things happening that are definitely worth the mention.

A few of our good friends from back in the olโ€™ Valley are doing some awesome things you should be aware of. Danny โ€œNSKโ€ Marianino of It Blows My Mind fame is releasing his 10th anniversary edition of Donโ€™t Ever Punch a Rockstar memoir loaded with all kinds of new stuff. Jay Fotos is always hot with new stuff popping out of his talented brainworms, Brad Dwyer continues to kill it with Ape Men of the Apocalypse and J. Gonzo continues to create beauty in everything he touches.

A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

Don’t Ever Punch a Rockstar

Some of my favorite local AZ bands right now would have to be Sorrower, Eye Rake, Swainn, The Father Figures, The Dark Hearts, Battered Suitcases, BroLoaf and Conflict Resolution. Oh, and you can check out my old band, West End Crooks. Rob Locker and AZPX Skateboards are still tearing up empty pools and skateparks alike, only this time with more focus on not busting a hip or five.
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

AZPX Airlines

For your 21+ pals, Brian Paulson‘s annual Punk Rock Halloween Bash at the Yucca Tap Room is one of the coolest annual local-punk-related events that happens out here. For nearly the last 10 years or so, Brian’s organized a Halloween cover show and outdoor carnival that has grown to become a huge annual thing. Bands basically cosplay as their favorite traditional punk bands, and the whole thing turns into a punk cover costumed carnival extravaganza โ€” as displayed in this rare captured footage of my Rocky Horror Punk Rock cover band in the wild. He also just opened a horror/80s memorabilia shop in Chandler called Brain Damage Boutique. Definitely keep an eye on Brian’s dealings. He’s a really talented dude.
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

Brain Damaged Boutique

One of the reasons I so love this Meto-Phoenix underground punk/grind/metal whatever scene you wanna call it these days โ€” a music community โ€” can be summed up by the #ButlerFest event. Ryan Butler is a living legend in this little extended community, and he got really sick. Sick to a dangerous point. His great friend, and also local legend, Matt Martinez, gathered friends and resources to create an online streaming event showcase โ€” right in the heart of a global pandemic โ€” to help raise money to save Butler. To say that it was one of the most successful and amazing event showcases I’ve ever seen โ€” not to mention idea โ€” would be an understatement. It was so much more than just that. It was a life saving event, and it couldn’t have happened without the relationships that have been forged in the molten steel of this little local music community that STILL continues to thrive beyond our old years. It seems to repeat itself with every generation. If you’re ever looking for an interesting story to write about for the zine, I highly encourage you to reach out to Matt & Ryan about Butler Fest. It’s truly a local punk story that should be documented.
A Brief Oral History of AZPunk.com

#ButlerFest

The AZPunk Merch

With the launch of Blackwater Market Comics & Coffee, weโ€™ve finally created an ecommerce platform where we can offer all of the classic AZPunk merchandise and even some extra goodies created just for BWM Comics. The apparel and stickers are abundant, but the comps are limited, and when theyโ€™re gone, theyโ€™re dust. Pick up a t-shirt or a mug, and dig into the compilation albums that feature over 200 combined tracks of historic local Arizona punk rock music to pummel your earballs.
Blackwater Market Comics & Coffee

4 Comments

  1. Micah Elliot

    The best of times. ยกViva TPChris!

    Reply
    • jeremx

      Brilliant write-up! Really well done. I owe so much to azpunk.com for the lifelong friendships I forged while bonding with AZ locals over who the best local bands were and what shows we should all meet up at! I’ve still got all my original merch but I see some orders for the new stuff soon.
      \m/ >< \m/

      Reply
      • Micah Elliot

        And thank you, jeremx, for your love, support, and for having the best fucking parties across the AZ planes. ๐Ÿป

        Reply
  2. nogimmick

    VIVA SID
    VIVA AZPUNK

    Reply

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