“I never hung out at any squat really, though Sonic Youth did play at one or two on our first European tours,” remembers Sonic Youth front man Thurston Moore in Punk House: Interiors in Anarchy (Abrams Image, 2007). Moore edited the book, which was just released. “My experience with that scene is that it was crusty utopianism, its energy made manifest by its youth,” he writes in the introduction, titled “Punks are Good People.”
Burlington, Vt.-based Photographer Abby Banks, on the other hand, is intimately familiar with squats, anarchist warehouses, artists’ spaces, feminist collectives and other semi-permanent living situations that are tucked away in industrial zones and cavernous, dilapidated houses across the country. For three months in 2004, Banks conducted a whirlwind tour of 50 punk houses in 25 cities, photographing the chaotic interiors of these DIY spaces for Punk House. The hefty, hardcover book features some 250 pages of vibrant photos, displaying everything from graffiti-covered walls to backyard gardens, from toilets painted in bold colors to entryways draped with pirate flags.
In the mix are two Asheville punk houses that no longer exist, as such: Big Side and Little Side, plus an unnamed outdoor squat. Punk houses tend to be populated by artists, musicians and activists who would rather spend time pursuing creative endeavors, doing political organizing, drinking PBR or hosting shows than work full time. But with property values rising in the Asheville area and cheap rent increasingly becoming a thing of the past, punk houses are growing fewer and farther between compared to the time when Banks breezed through.
The photos tell much of the story. There’s a kitchen scene with a shattered window and a fridge cluttered with band flyers, stencils, upside-down American flags and an ACRC (Asheville Community Resource Center) sticker. Beside it, an oven sports a yellow stencil showing the anarchy “A” as the center of a sun, and the word “grow” printed beneath it.
In another photo, there’s a glimpse of industrial-sized buckets of tahini and grains stacked high in a pantry. In the foreground is a poster with the squatter symbol in the top right corner. The message printed on it is only partly visible. It reads: “‘So change it,’ he said. If you do not respond to that challenge, you are as good as dead.”