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Have South Florida's punk kids stifled their rage-based love of nihilistic music to saddle up for MTV's pop culture pony ride? If the punk/hardcore music scene that rages nightly at Pompano Indoor Skate Park is any indication, that question can be answered with a resounding NAAAAAAAAAAY!
That's right. There's more to teenage life than candy-popped rock cooked up by the record industry to lobotomize the pimpled portion of the population while swiping its allowance.
Sure, PISP's $7 cover is pretty steep, but the scene is the real deal, not a raw one. Once you pay, you're in for local and visiting rock bands that often play for five hours. Located in a desolate warehouse district between Pompano Beach and Coconut Creek (2171 Blount Rd.), PISP is a 26,000-square-foot indoor playground for skaters, trick bikers, and edgy little rock-music scenesters. Like the Alley in Miami, PISP provides a live music venue for kids who are too young to get into most bars.
Inside, bikers launch on ramps and turn back flips in the air. When they pick up enough momentum, they can ride as high as seven feet, almost horizontally, across walls. Young skaters drop from 12-foot vertical ramps, cruise up slopes, and ride the undersides of their boards across rails.
A few minutes after I arrive at 7:30 p.m., the sounds of pounding drums, synth, and roaring guitars begin ripping through the warehouse. Local grind band Red Rocket Fiasco has just taken the floor.
"RAAARAAARAA" screams 18-year-old front man Evan Li. A crowd of 40 kids, between 15 and 20 years old, wearing black rock T-shirts and tattered jeans -- Manson fashion meets hipster -- stand in a semicircle around the band. Punks lounge on skate ramps and flit back and forth between groups of friends, their faces shining with pubescent streaks of grease. While the band is hurriedly breaking down after a ten-minute set of 30-second screaming fits, I ask the petite matty-haired Li to describe his music. He smirks, "I don't know. It's just music."
Philadelphia-based grind band Bodies in the Gear of the Apparatus takes the floor next, at 8 p.m. The group is turned around, facing the amps, because PISP is a warehouse and they can't hear themselves play. Lead singer Josh Vitale, with a shaved head and fantastically emaciated Trainspotting physique, paces back and forth across the floor. He stops and squats like a monkey, sticks his hand down the ass of his pants, and screams something that sounds like "BOOOORHUUUU" into the microphone.
After the set, the band hangs out in the lobby. Pez, the Bodies' large Korean electronics guy, says that, despite their unintelligible lyrics, they are a band with a message: "Technology is the downfall of man."
Pez goes on to describe the scene at PISP in the context of the "straight-edge" origins of hardcore. "Hardcore music originated as punk rock," he says. "These were kids who decided to be drug-free and not to put toxins in their bodies. The dancing originated because kids are like, 'We're really pissed-off, and we have awesome music.' Other kids are like, 'We had a shitty week; we're going to go smoke pot.' We're like, 'We had a shitty week; we'll just dance really hard and pretend we're fighting everything in sight.' It takes the aggression out. But most people are just doing it now because they think it looks cool."
Those people are right: It does look cool. Throughout the six-band lineup (All Absence, Red Rocket Fiasco, Bodies in the Gear of the Apparatus, Quell, What Wishes Can't Mend, and Into the Moat), 20 or 30 kids take turns stepping across the floor, throwing punches right behind one anothers' heads, and pitching themselves into the crowd. The closer you get to injuring someone without making contact, it seems, the better.
The arbiter of this chaotic local scene is burly Lee Mathis, a straight-talking entrepreneur in his mid-40s. Between sets, he stands in the parking lot smoking a plastic-lipped cigar while describing the music lineups he's hosted at his skate park for the past two and a half years. "This I picture as the CBGBs of 2000," he says, then flicks his cigar emphatically. "Not a bar, though. Most of the kids here are 15 years old. The Factory does all ages, but would you want your 14-year-old daughter there? As far as all ages, no drinking, I'm one of the few. Kids come here for one reason: the music."
Just then, a group of punks passes by carrying amps and guitars into the skate park. Many adults would look down their noses at the group, but Mathis describes them with insight: "When I grew up, everyone was dancing disco. Now they punch each other, but they're all friends. The world changes, and this is the way kids do it now."
Around 11 p.m., when local band What Wishes Can't Mend was playing inside the skate park, three kids walked up to me in the parking lot to bum a light. Evidently in their late teens, two of them boasted about dropping out of high school. They were hardly the 15-year-old innocents Mathis described, but when a new set started up inside, one of them said, "Into the Moat is on," and they trotted off with childish excitement.