Meet the Jewish brothers who started an annual punk rock convention

Long before it became an annual festival, Punk Rock Bowling started out as a simple gathering of friends in the Los Angeles punk music community for a bowling tournament in Santa Monica.

Now the Stern brothers, Mark and Shawn, are set to host their 21st Annual Punk Rock Bowling, a punk community convention in Las Vegas.

It started with around 200 musicians and punk fans in a bowling tournament and has evolved into the enormity it is today. By 2011, the festival had migrated to downtown Las Vegas, where around 15,000 fans come each year from around the world to attend.

“We had no idea that the little party we threw for all our friends in 1999 was going to grow into a festival in its own right and would be what we spend most of our time on every year.”
– Shawn Stern

“We had no idea that the little party we threw for all of our friends in 1999 would become a festival in its own right and be what we spend most of our time on every year,” Shawn told SLUG Magazine. before the last festival. in 2019. The 2020 festival has been canceled due to the pandemic.

The Stern brothers never settle for focusing on one thing, and they have a hostile relationship with the business side of music.

In the early 1980s, when their group Youth Brigade began touring nationally, it was a difficult time for fans of punk music; police often harassed fans for their outfits and style.

To never sit idly by while the punk scene was denigrated, Shawn and his younger brother Mark took over an old warehouse in the San Fernando Valley to host their own shows. They named it Godzilla’s, and for a while, it was the epicenter of the valley punk community. The LA Times called it “the perfect punk playground.” Rightly so, the warehouse had also been a former bowling alley.

Around the same time, in 1982, they started their own label called BYO Records (an acronym for Better Youth Organization) with the intention of changing the way the punk scene was viewed and helping their fellow punk bands. to live from music.

In 2015, BYO Records removed its entire catalog from Spotify due to an unfair distribution of royalties. Their music has since returned, but Shawn and Mark are still opposed to working with major labels. While it certainly costs them some exposure, the Stern brothers remain convinced that it brings authenticity to the music.

“There was constantly a huge dilemma between Shawn and Mark as to whether or not they were musicians or business people, whether they were label owners or a band,” their brother Jamie said in the 2009 documentary “Let Them Know: The Story of Youth Brigade and BYO Records.” But with Punk Rock Bowling, the Stern Brothers’ do-it-yourself approach is the perfect solution to their struggle to straddle the line between being businessmen and musicians.

Part of the appeal of Punk Rock Bowling is that it’s much smaller than other top music festivals, and that’s by design.

“As a musician, I would like to play in front of people who really give a [expletive]”Shawn said in the documentary.

While there are strict COVID vaccination and testing policies in place for all attendees this year, there will still be one of Punk Rock Bowling’s signature features since moving to Las Vegas: their “infamous concerts.” »Pool party that allow festival-goers to sing, dance and headbang from the water at the Downtown Grand Hotel.

While there is certainly competition for tickets to Punk Rock Bowling and after parties, there is hardly any competition among the groups Shawn and Mark reserve for headlining the festival.

“I don’t feel like we’re competing,” said Shawn. “I think bands can help each other out, just out of respect for the fact that we’ve all been doing this for a long time and we’re all lucky enough to be able to play music and make a living.

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About Carman F. Black

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