Brian Bieber Q&A

December 20, 2021
Brian Bieber documents the surprising history of punk rock in Sioux Falls.

“Spaces are only as important or interesting as the people inside them, and they’re really only special because of the people that use them. There are thousands of these places all over the country, and each is truly just as important as the next.”

Shows were often booked by teenagers. Could such a thing even happen anymore?

I really don’t think so, and I’m honestly baffled it happened back then. Apathetic building managers were kind of the backbone of our scene. During production, I actually tried to track down the people that operated some of these rental halls, like Nordic and Odd Fellows, to ask them what they were thinking, but didn’t have any luck getting hold of anyone. So the question of who the hell would rent a building to children in ill-fitting clothes remains a mystery.

Your documentary reminded me of the one about Jay’s Longhorn in Minneapolis. What do you think makes certain venues so special? 

I think that whatever was in the air was in the air everywhere, and in a lot of ways, still is. Spaces are only as important or interesting as the people inside them, and they’re really only special because of the people that use them. There are thousands of these places all over the country, and each is truly just as important as the next.

When did you decide to wade in and do the massive amount of work to do a feature length documentary? Was it ever hard to see the finish line?

Show me someone who enjoys every step of a large creative project like this, and I will show you a maniac. There was definitely a lull in excitement for about three months in the middle of the post-production process. For a bit, it seemed like none of the story beats were clicking and the narrative didn’t make sense. Ultimately, it was Brienne, my co-producer and wife, who told me I needed to get some fresh eyes and perspectives on it. When I got excited feedback from the folks who looked at that early cut, it was easy to muster the energy to clean it up and finish it off.

Is there a show in your memory that sticks out to you?

It’s incredible to me that I got to see the Monorchid or Ink & Dagger or Iceburn in a tiny hall with 50 people, but the vast majority of people in the normal world would have no idea who any of those bands were. And at the time, it felt very normal to me to spend $5 to watch my musical heroes perform from three feet away, and chat with them after the show. Even Fugazi, who are to me what the Beatles are to my dad, were essentially just four friendly dudes after they set down their instruments. It kind of ruined the larger concert-going experience for me. Those early experiences make shelling out for an arena show a pretty tough sell, even now.

What are some bands from Sioux Falls that could have been big?

We were a very young scene, so none of the kids playing music–even though it was often really good–were even close to being at the peak of their powers yet, as evidenced by the exceptional and interesting music that so many Sioux Falls-raised artists have made in the years and decades since. That said, I’m pretty sure that Floodplain was a lucky break or two away from having a national audience in the late 90s. Same for Billy Music. There was a lot of raw talent in our scene, but during my time in it, those were the bands that were most refined.

People in the scene learned to do was serve as their own business managers. Do you feel like they were able to apply those skills elsewhere in life?

Oh, absolutely, yes. I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who invested time and energy into their local punk scene as a kid who didn’t somehow apply the ethics they learned there in their adult lives — professionally, artistically, or inter-personally. One obvious example is the documentary itself. I approached shooting pretty much the same way I approached playing music as a teenager: I picked up the instrument not having a clue how it worked, and taught myself as I went, for better or worse, depending on the scene.

You’ve also published a collection of short stories called “Nickel Plated Gold.” Are you still writing?

Sure, I’m always writing something, in some format or another. My formal training is in creative nonfiction and essays, but these days I’m having fun playing in a variety of storytelling mediums. Lately it’s been more visual. I’m shooting a horror short starring my old friend, Dessa, next spring. After that, I’m going to talk my friend Marc Wagner into making a comic book with me. 

How has reaction been from musicians? 

Knock on wood, reactions to the documentary have been very positive. More than musicians, though, we’ve heard from many people who were not in bands, who appreciated that perspectives from both sides of the stage were shown. The bands were primarily creating a real-time soundtrack to what was really going on. Which was a bunch of young people who were otherwise lost finding and cultivating a community of their own, that reflected their values. I say this as someone who loved the music and the people playing it, and as someone who also played in bands during that time. The music was important, and the venues were necessary, but it will always be the people who show up, over and over, that are responsible for the culture.