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For LGBTQ+ people in Minneapolis punk scene, mass shooting violated safe haven

Venus DeMars sorts through her collection of punk and DIY zines she acquired throughout her career as an artist and musician in her south Minneapolis home on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023.
Venus DeMars sorts through her collection of punk and DIY zines she acquired throughout her career as an artist and musician in her south Minneapolis home on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. Ben Hovland | MPR News

by Nicole Ki

August 18, 2023

A mass shooting during a punk show in Minneapolis has drawn national attention for its impact on a tight-knit punk community known for its deep local roots and strong intersection with the LGBTQ+ community.

One man was killed and six other people were wounded after at least one person opened fire on a house venue known as Nudieland in the neighborhood of East Phillips on Friday night. 

Police have said someone walked up to the alley and began shooting after 10 p.m. At that time, witnesses say the yard was packed with about 30 to 50 people chatting as live music had just ended and nothing — no yelling or fighting — immediately preceded it.

“I think I just went into go mode,” said Claire Cobs, who was at Nudieland when the shooting happened. “My memory isn’t like really super clear what happened between getting on the ground inside the house and then being next to my friend as he passed.”

August Golden for The Current
August Golden was killed at a mass shooting in south Minneapolis on Friday.
courtesy Bryan May

August Golden, singer and guitarist of local punk-rock band Scrounger and resident of Nudieland, died at 10:15 p.m.

“I immediately was just terrified,” said jimmy cooper, who also lives at Nudieland. “And then I pretty immediately got wrapped up in realizing my little brother had been hit, who was there with my dad.”

Police had not made an arrest or commented on a possible motive as of Friday.

The violence at Nudieland is unprecedented for the DIY punk community in Minneapolis.

“It is rare. There’s brawls, sometimes you get assholes out there, you know, but not mass shootings,” said Venus DeMars, an icon of the Twin Cities punk scene since the ‘80s

“This is completely new in the queer punk community — there has not been violence like this. It’s had a huge impact. My fear is that it will stop people from feeling safe enough to do what they do. I’m seeing some of that unfold,” DeMars said.

A brief history of the DIY punk scene in Minneapolis

Punk has been a part of Minneapolis for decades. Punk legends Hüsker Dü worked their way to fame in the basements of Minneapolis punk houses and other punk venues in the ‘80s.

Minneapolis’ scene was influenced by England’s punk rock movement in the late ‘70s, which gave rise to huge bands like the Sex Pistols. The philosophy was “rebelling against the whole corporate music scene,” according to DeMars.

“This is before computers,” said DeMars. “The only way you could record is to have a really expensive reel to reel. Nobody could afford that. You’d have to go into a recording studio, you’d have to have a record label. And that would be the only way you would get radio play — the only way you could imagine having any kind of career in music.”

DIY punk was born out of those conditions to be an alternative. And when DeMars first moved to Minneapolis at the age of 18 in 1978, DIY punk was still in its early stages.

“There was not a scene scene, but there were pockets and individuals who were trying to work around the establishment,” she said.

It started out as people going to shows at punk clubs and houses and connecting through “zines,” or hand-made magazine-style pamphlets with artwork, show schedules and interviews with local artists.

DeMars played shows in the ‘90s at a rented warehouse in North Loop. Punk-house venues, which are the pillar of DIY punk now, formed from punks hosting their own parties, according to DeMars.

“The formal, venue-style punk houses that you see now, that kind of happened organically,” said DeMars. “The parties slowly became more and more regular things to happen, or a house people living together collectively were able to organize that to do it on a regular basis and, you know, be cool with their neighbors.”

Over the past 40 years, the scene has endured, now existing mostly as a community of punk houses that host scrappy, underground shows in basements and backyards and circulate digitized zines.

“It’s providing a place where you feel safe in houses and avoid all of the corporate rules and regulations so you can perform, get your band out there and have a community with your friends,” said DeMars. “You don’t have the restrictions that a club has, the gatekeeping for getting a show, making sure you have the right numbers of people coming in the door and buying tickets and buying alcohol.”

Punk houses often come and go because of the DIY aspect — lack of resources, money and bands breaking up.

“There are houses that only one show ever happened. There are punk houses that have been in the community forever that never had a show. But the history is so much bigger than that, like each individual space is a node in a web,” cooper said.

People play music on a porch
Scrounger play their first show at Nudieland in 2022.
Courtesy of jimmy cooper

Nudieland is one of more than five punk houses that are active in Minneapolis, according to cooper, who lives at Nudieland. The property has been a punk house for years under different names and eras, but has gone by Nudieland since 2019.

Prior to Nudieland, Cobs said the house was occupied by artists from the “punk-adjacent theater-type world” who hosted backyard plays.

Punk scenes in cities across the country are connected because punk bands touring from other cities will often come through Minneapolis and play house shows. Punks have a culture of helping each other.

“There are benefits shows all the time. And oftentimes a cover will go to one of the many mutual aid organizations or, say, a friend who has a medical bill they can’t pay for or, say, the house needs a new PA because the only PA in South Minneapolis is broken, right? It’s a very real mutual aid element rather than like trying to make money,” said cooper.

Cobs said that showed even during the shooting. 

“There was a very large amount of people who were just immediately trying to help. One example of how frantically we were trying to help each other: There was a friend of ours that didn’t even realize he had been shot in the shin” because he was busy helping other people, Cobs said. 

Minneapolis punk scene has long intersected with LGBTQ+ community

DIY punk has also become an inclusive space for queer and trans people because of its culture of acceptance. Cobs, who has been involved in DIY punk since she was 12, said she came into her queerness as a trans woman through punk spaces.

“I think seeing yourself reflected in the people performing the art or other people attending the party is huge,” said Cobs.

The intimacy of house shows helps.

“It’s a little harder to find out about, but no one’s gonna give you s--t for going to the bathroom at a punk house, which might be the case for people at more of a legit venue depending on your gender identity, where you are, what the politics of that place is,” said Cobs.

Cooper, who is a trans man, said it’s about the strong element of shared values.

“Whether that be a capitalist critique or a critique of the family as such, or trying to find out or figure out some other way to live — that is resonant with many queer people who don’t otherwise feel seen, whether or not it’s explicitly queer,” said cooper.

Cooper and Cobs said all house venues welcome queer and trans punks, not just Nudieland: “There is no functional cultural difference. Yeah, Nudieland is special, but not unique by any means,” cooper said.

Although DIY punk has become a safe haven for LGBTQ+ and queer people, it wasn’t always that way.

“It was really hard,” said DeMars, who came out as trans in 1988. “We were blacklisted. We couldn't play in regular clubs — we played in alternate clubs.”

There were times when it was dangerous to be a trans punk, but DeMars said the scene has become more welcoming to queer and trans people. 

Minneapolis police told MPR News on Friday that “an interaction at the event escalated to a point when shots were fired ” but did not say more. 

Some people have worried Nudieland was targeted because of its LGBTQ+ audience. Friends confirmed that several survivors who were shot are LGBTQ+.

Some have even called for the shooting to be deemed a “hate crime.” Minnesota law doesn’t have a specific crime called a “hate crime,” but it does have statutes that allow for sentencing enhancements in crimes motivated by hate or bias.

When asked whether officers were investigating if bias such as anti-LGBTQ+ bias could have been a motivating factor, Minneapolis police said “all possible motives” were still being considered as part of the active investigation.

Police said two people ran from the scene but were not yet sure whether one or both fired, and as of Friday had not released a description of either but said “investigators are developing strong leads into who was involved and what transpired.”

Community comes together to heal

The DIY community is still grieving the loss of Golden, who friends say was a talented songwriter and guitarist.

“He knew so many people over the years,” Cobs said. “The ripples of this are being felt by thousands and thousands of people.”

Immediately after the shooting Friday, musicians began hosting benefit shows in the Twin Cities: local band Splimit last Saturday, New Jersey hardcore band Gel on Tuesday, several local bands at Palmer’s Bar on Wednesday, several bands at Dusty’s Bar and local band Gully Boys this Saturday, Kansas DIY band Sweeping Promises this Sunday. In Fargo-Moorhead, people in the DIY scene set a benefit for Aug. 31

Donations to support people impacted by the shooting poured in from across the country, raising more than $250,000 as of Friday afternoon for two GoFundMes — one for Golden’s girlfriend, one for all people impacted.

On their donations, people wrote that they were sending from Denver, Philadelphia, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Kansas City, Houston, the San Francisco Bay Area, Flemington, N.J., Flagstaff, Ariz., Olympia, Wash., Richmond, Va., Chattanooga, Tenn., Tampa Bay, Fla., Madison, Wis., Minot, N.D., and even Tijuana, Mexico and Nova Scotia, Canada. 

A band plays in a house
August Golden and his band, "Scrounger" play a house show in Detroit, Mich.
Courtesy of Bryan May

“It reflects what the whole community through all the decades have always been about is about caretaking. It's about seeing each other. It's about building community. And this is absolutely reflecting that kind of compassion, and that kind of humanity that this community has always had,” said DeMars.

There’s also been more concern about safety at house shows. But for now, most upcoming shows have been canceled, including a house show DeMars and her band were scheduled to play on Saturday.

“There will never be another show at Nudieland,” said cooper. “How could there be? But like, this is not the end. And it's going to have a long-term effect on the DIY community, probably all kinds of DIY communities, not just here, but across the country and internationally.”

“We’re gonna have to find a way to make things safer. This was an incredibly unprecedented event, and I’d like to make that clear. But going forward, you know, we’re going to work together to make sure this can happen again, in a safe way, in a holistic way, in a way that continues to be welcoming.”

A man stands with a sticker
August Golden, 35, was killed at a mass shooting in south Minneapolis on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023.
Courtesy of Bryan May

This story originally published on MPR News.