Punk family album

A new public photo feed pays homage to Reno's DIY music scene from the '90s and '00s

As an awkward 14-year-old hovering around the edges of Reno’s punk and hardcore music scene in 2006, I have some memories of chaotic nights spent in the basements of some of the city’s DIY venues. They were cramped, dirty and sometimes lit by a single bare light bulb. I was just tall enough to catch the dozens of elbows and fists swinging in the darkness with my face—as my ringing ears were assaulted by the crackling PA speaker an arm’s length away. Houses with names like Fort Ryland, House of Dread or The Spacement would pair a local and touring band for a night’s show. The crowd would pay a few bucks at the door to beat each other up—and then it would happen again the next night. As far as cheap fun goes, it couldn’t be beat.

Those shows were half my lifetime ago, and many of these houses are now gone—either razed to accommodate a swelling city or converted to something more palatable to the average renter. So, when I saw a new Instagram page chronicling the history of Reno’s DIY venues, I readily followed it. @Punkhousereno curates user-submitted posts of shows, parties and everyday life of the young people who lived in these houses—sometimes a dozen at a time—from the early 90s to the mid 2000s. Equal parts digital archive and collaborative photo essay (and occasionally memorial), the page is a type of folk history built by people who were there.

 “I started getting photos from all these people, and then the more pictures that went up, the more people I had contacting me wanting to send photos,” said MacGregor “Mac” Schopen, the founder and administrator of @Punkhousereno. “It’s kind of just building itself. I want to stress, I do very little in this project. Like, I’m just posting other people’s pictures.”

Schopen lived in Fort Ryland (one of the more famous venue houses around Ryland Street in downtown Reno that was demolished in 2020) for years and spent a lot of his youth in the DIY punk scene. He sees his role in the page as strictly custodial. That is, he doesn’t want to emphasize his specific experiences or friend groups, but he still remembers the houses and bands that made an impression on him in the decade from the mid-90s to the mid 2000s. Born and raised in Reno, Schopen moved around the West Coast for most of the last decade, spending years in Oakland before eventually moving to Louisville, Kentucky six months ago.

“I’ve always felt that, for however much time I spend away from Reno, Reno will always be home,” Schopen said. “So, even though I haven’t lived there in over a decade and I’m now separated by two-and-a-half thousand miles, I still want to know what’s happening there.”

While still in Oakland, Schopen came across @Punkhouseoakland, one of a spate of similar Instagram pages to crop over the past few months to compile a visual history of their respective cities’ punk scenes. Some homesickness and a sense of necessity led Schopen to make the Reno page, but he stressed that his is not part of a broader national organization or campaign. He independently reposts old photos, many of them digitized from film, and posts a short caption with whatever names or dates are supplied.

“I just kind of hit up a handful of friends from back in the day and said, ‘Hey, you know the punk house Oakland page? I want to do one for Reno. If you have anything I can throw up on there, send it my way,’” Schopen said. “And people were super stoked on it.”

The resulting images, now well over a hundred, are funny, endearing, shocking and fascinating for all different reasons. They span decades—with fashions and film resolution progressing and regressing wildly from post to post—and also subject matter. Mohawked punks crowd a basement in one grainy snapshot while a group of costumed friends raise their drinks to the camera in another. There are also shots of purely historical interest, like the outside of Reno’s erstwhile Resurrection Records shop (where Schopen once worked) or a man referred to only as “Nick” protesting the Iraq War in front of the Federal building on South Virginia Street during the George W. Bush era.

“There’s a million pages that focus on bands, but what I think people find so appealing about these punk house pages is that they focus on the casual and candid moments of the people who weren’t onstage, who were just as important as those who were onstage,” Schopen said.

Some of the houses held shows. Some didn’t. Either way, the living was cheap. Schopen said he remembered residing in the unfinished basement of Fort Ryland in 2006 and installing his own floor to cut down on rent, which he split with six other roommates.

“I had to cut a hole in the door to put an extension cord through so I could have power in the room—just a ridiculous notion today,” Schopen said. “But because of that, I’d just hand 50 bucks to one of the roommates every month. I never knew who the landlord was, and I’m sure the landlord never knew I lived there.”

Ultimately, punk houses and DIY venues were utilitarian places where people could connect with friends and hear local and touring bands without steep covers. This was especially true in Reno, where musicians and fans alike have long been underserved by a lack of all-ages venues.

“It’s just something that’s born out of necessity,” Schopen said. “I think in 1989, the city kind of started cracking down venues that had all-ages shows but served alcohol. … So, a lot of these smaller clubs, like the Black Rhino, Area 51, or even Del Mar Station, started setting it up to where, if they had shows, if you were drinking, you had to stay at the bar. And if you were not drinking, you had to stay up onstage, which was fine, except I think they were losing a lot of money on alcohol sales. So, some of the places either went out of business or they just decided not to do all-ages shows anymore. So, the only places that were open were, you know, people’s houses.”

With many of these houses and bands now gone, @Punkhousereno offers an archival service for sure, and the nostalgic appeal is undeniable. The page captures a brief but consequential period in Reno before the proliferation of social media, when rent was cheap, when the music was loud and semi-illegal.

“I hate to be that, you know, ‘Back in my day, things were better,’ but there’s just something very nostalgic and soothing about remembering a time before everything was electronic,” Schopen said. “I think every city should have a page like this.”