Out of the Basement: From Cheap Trick to DIY Punk in Rockford, Illinois, 1973-2005
By David A. Ensminger
Every borough and backwater across the US has its own story about how punk rock came to town and conquered the hearts and minds of the idle youth. Those who were bitten by the DIY bug started bands, made zines, hosted radio shows, DJed and turned dives into venues where new bands could play. The names of many, if not most, of these local pioneers will be lost to history, but not if Microcosm Publishing has anything to do with it. Their Scene History series records these often overlooked movements in zine form. Out of the Basement is Rockford’s story.
Located in north central, Illinois, Rockford is a city of just under 150,000 people. It enjoyed the distinction of being second only to Chicago as the state’s largest metropolitan area. That was until Aurora took over the spot relegating Rockford to number three. Once a blue collar manufacturing center, the city fell victim to the same fate as other rust belt towns. It up and went bust. Mostly. Rockford is a city I’ve passed by, sometimes through, mostly by bus, for most of my life. I've met a handful of the city’s ex-pats here in Chicago. A few of them are mentioned in this book.
The zine’s author, David Ensminger, is a Rockford native himself. He was intimately involved in the punk and DIY scene there in the late 80s and early 90s. He details the city’s underground rock movement from the 70s through the mid aughts. It was a scene that closely paralleled what was going on in other cities across the country. The book starts with Rockford’s, and perhaps the whole state’s most well known export, Cheap Trick. Lesser known bands such as Aerosol Vomit, Bludgeoned Nun and War on the Saints played small clubs and parties attended by a dedicated cadre of skaters, zinesters and likeminded punks who welcomed national touring bands.
Through interviews with musicians, writers/artists and recording engineers, Ensminger documents the history of the scene and paints a picture of a typical American city full of bored and restless youth with more energy and creativity than they knew what to do with. What they did do was create their own art and music and their own scene even though it may have failed to garner much attention beyond Winnebago County lines. Rockford is in good company with countless other cities in that regard.
Out of the Basement is an interesting read even if you aren’t from Rockford or Illinois or the Midwest. Here’s hoping Microcosm gets to your town and your scene soon—Chris Auman