Punk rock is far from dead. Denver, Colorado’s Wiredogs are doing their part to keep punk’s fire burning with their infectious sound that can best be described as what would be the precocious love child of Rancid and Against Me!.
I first met the guys from Wiredogs in the summer of 2012 when Dan Aid (lead vocals, guitar), Austin Searcy (lead guitar, background vocals) and Mark Hibl (bass, background vocals) were still in their previous band The Hate. I had just moved to Denver full time and had begun working on becoming familiar with the local music scene. So, when friend of mine who had been working promotion for The Hate told me that she and her sister had agreed to run the bands merch table at one of their shows, I decided to go hang and help out a bit. The Hate was opening for Authority Zero, so they had a full house to entertain. When they took the stage I was instantly hooked on the bands dynamic presence, cutting lyrics, and driven message.
As the band matured, drummer Stefan Runstrom (formerly of Tickle Me Pink) came on board as a full time member. With a consistent lineup came a new name. After much deliberation, the band settled on the name Wiredogs, which is military slang for line electricians.
I recently had the chance to work a few shows with them as stage hand, and as lighting director. I found it to be quite the learning experience.
I’ve spent plenty of time working with altrock, folk rock, hip hop, and metal bands before, but never a punk rock band. I found there to be quite a number of marked differences between working a punk rock show as opposed to the other genres that I’ve worked with. One of the most noticeable was how the energy of the crowd dictated the show. While that is true with most live music, I found it to be much more of a pronounced thing at the Wiredogs shows. For example, at one point late in one of their sets, Dan knocked over his microphone and stand. Plenty of times while working stagehand, I’ve gone on stage to fix fallen or broken equipment, but something in the way the crowd reacted to the situation stopped me. Seamlessly, Dan made use of Mark’s mic for his vocal parts, and you could almost see the collective middle finger of the crowd defying the fallen microphone, the show surging on without ever missing a beat.
In that moment it was blazingly obvious that that’s exactly what punk is, and what it stands for. It isn’t an antiauthoritarian movement, as many people see it to be.
I’d say the spirit of punk rock’s message is to press on, overcome any and all adversity, and do it with your head held high.
As a lighting director, punk rock offered me a whole set of new challenges. I haven’t had a chance yet to take courses for concert lighting, so everything I’ve learned has been on the fly, total hands on experience. The thing with punk music is, much of it is a steady fast tempo from start to finish. This forced me to tune in a finer focus on the music, so as to prevent the urge to just turn on a strobe effect that matched the tempo. By delving deeper, I began to see the songs as stories and the lights as the accompanying illustrations, a new way for me to view the light show that I was orchestrating. I began picking colors and patterns that reflected the emotions that I felt best fit the song, as opposed to just doing something that I felt looked good. I see this new understanding of what a lighting director is greatly helping with the development of the light shows for the other artists in the other genres that I work for.
I capped off the weekend by sitting in on a Wiredogs writing session in Stefan’s home studio. We all crashed at his place after the previous night’s show, so first order of business in the morning was a band breakfast. A quick run to the store later, and everyone was pitching in, taking a part in prepping, cooking, and setting up.
When you share a meal with a group, you discover a lot about them. I saw that beyond the band, these guys were also genuinely friends. They weren’t just hanging out to play music together, they truly enjoy each other’s company. This sense carried on throughout the rest of the day, as they worked on arranging then recording a new demo. It was amazing to sit and watch the evolution of a song, especially one tempered by mutual respect among the musicians. There was no suggestion that wasn’t taken seriously, no one was domineering or belittling. By the time they had a demo-ready song it was easy to forget that they had started with a half worked out idea just a few hours before.
As I headed back home involuntarily humming the Wiredogs new tune I reflected on the things that I had taken from my weekend. You never know where an opportunity for personal growth lies. Take every chance you can to step outside your norm. You never know what you might learn.