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Punk is not dead in Mobile: Hurricane Party exhibit

JX Black
Exhibit room displaying the photography of Julia Gorton

Hurricane Party is an art exhibit at the Alabama Contemporary Art Center in Mobile. Partnering with the 309 Punk project out of Pensacola, the exhibit aims to document Mobile punk from the 1980s to the present. It does so through a collection of photographs, flyers, homemade instruments, and interviews, among other things that line the walls of the art space.

James Black is one of the curators of the exhibit. “It's not going to be exact,” he said, “just roll with it. If you try to make it perfect, you're an idiot. You're never going to achieve perfection with it. So, like, let it be a little sloppy. It's punk rock, let it be sloppy.”

Joe Moody

A part of the exhibit focuses on a zine from the 2000s created by Cheetah Shine called Ear Damage. Black explained its importance in creating a timeline. “Having that archive of the shows that went on, the bands, where they played, the venues they went to, what venues were open, who played where… If Ear Damage hadn't existed, we wouldn't have been able to do this project…and it's literally stapled together pieces of printer paper.”

Black explained the relevance of punk rock and the community that it has created. “It gives people with nowhere else to go somebody to connect with. People that have been just kind of societal outcasts their whole life, it gives them somewhere to glom on to and be able to just exist, even if it's just for a minute.”

Neil Byrne is a member of the band Hibachi Stranglers and has been a part of the Mobile punk scene since the 1980s. “There were cliques, but you didn't have like a huge goth scene, you didn't have a huge metal scene, you didn't have huge punk scene… so, we all were kind of like united in our in our freakiness. In the mid-80s, everybody traded their parachute pants for jams and skateboards, you know, so, yeah, and I guess, metal cassettes for Bad Brains and Minor Threat…”

(Audio clip of Parking Lot from Hibachi Stranglers)

“It was before the internet,” Byrne said, “right before everything got commercialized right before MTV figured out how to market punk or how all these clothing companies figured out how to sell punk. Everything was word of mouth.”

Matthew Martin
Hibachi Stranglers 2024

Collecting all this Mobile punk memorabilia from over the years was made easier through social media and the help of Valerie George, an artist, professor, and a co-director of the 309 Punk Project. She had experience from a similar project in Pensacola.

“We basically just, you know, started an Instagram, started a Facebook community, and we just started pinging everybody that we knew asking them to bring their fliers bring their own T shirts like anything that they were willing to donate to an archive that could be used later on, and for other people's research for folks like us that nerd out on that good stuff.” Another part of the collection was done by James Black. “When you see that reel of digital flyers in the video gallery, that's almost entirely social media.” Other methods of collection are a little more old-fashioned. “What the art world calls ephemera, all of that came from a combination of asking folks on social media, ‘Hey, do you have any old imagery?’ and then asking the community both from just poking around asking people at shows and where people congregate, just, ‘Hey, what do you… what do you got in your garage?’”

Another draw that inspired the participants of the exhibit was photographer Julia Gorton, an established photographer of the New Wave scene in New York City in the 80s. After already working with Gorton in Pensacola, the 309 Punk Project brought her down for the origins of this exhibition. Gorton’s work can be viewed on her website:here. Valerie George said, “We just basically did a call and like, you know: if you're a weirdo, if you're a punk, you're a DIY person, you're a metalhead, you're a geek, then you belong. Come and get your photo made." Over 100 people showed up resulting in the exhibits front room, which displays a wall of Gordon's mobile photos across from her Pensacola photos, giving an image of the two scenes staring at each other.

Exhibit wall displaying portraits from Julia Gorton
JX Black
Exhibit wall displaying portraits from Julia Gorton

Scott Satterwhite is another co-director of the 309 Punk Project and explains the relationship between the two cities. “It was nice to be able to see this in a way that connected both of our scenes. I think most of us here in the Pensacola scene of voicing mobile as really closely connected to us and vice versa.” Satterwhite speaks on the importance of preserving punk culture. “It’s incredibly important,” he said, “It's about radical histories, but it's also about marginalized's about histories that are not shared, not valued by the mainstream.”

(Audio clip of Weeble and Wobble from Les Turdz)

The final room of the exhibit contains a loop of video interviews with people from the scene representing a wide spectrum of cultures, lifestyles, and ages. Black reflects on opening night. “What was kind of so interesting about the opening of this show is watching the people that are older than me see the people younger than me thinking there was nobody like that that age and then see the people younger than me see the people older than me and thinking, oh my God, not everybody older than me is lame.”

As you can see in Mobile punk is not dead. But according to Neil Byrne, it does require more than observation. “Nobody's going to make the scene for you.” Byrne said, “We have to make this. If the bands that you like aren't coming to Mobile, you should be booking them. You should be… you should be creating the band that you love. You should be creating the art that you love, and nobody is going to do that for you. You need to do it. And everybody has all the resources in the world now to make that happen, to get involved and if you're not doing it, and you have the ability to do it, then you're selling yourself short and everybody else short.”


Photographer Julia Gorton’s work can be found: here

The 309 Punk Project can be found: here

The exhibit’s page with the Alabama Contemporary Art Center can be found: here

Joe Moody is a senior news producer and host for Alabama Public Radio. Before joining the news team, he taught academic writing for several years nationally and internationally. Joe has a Master of Arts in foreign language education as well as a Master of Library and Information Studies. When he is not playing his tenor banjo, he enjoys collecting and listening to jazz records from the 1950s and 60s.
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