Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, has a history that’s checkered. It’s best known as the home of the Kramdens, Son of Sam’s last killing, the locale for Saturday Night Fever, and the shooting of Yusef Hawkins (and subsequent marches by Al Sharpton).
Jordan, Sid, Loni at Punk Temple entrance
But during the late ‘90s and early 00’s, deep from the heart and basement of a local synagogue, a voice had risen up. The proclamation of DIY music came from what was known as the Punk Temple, a non-profit venue that showcased both local and national punk, rock, and ska shows. All money at the door went to rent the room; the cost of the show, and the rest went to the groups who played. Bands varied from the local borough or Staten Island scenes, such as Miracle of 86 (Kevin Devine), Monty Love, The Nerve!, 5 Cent Deposit, Inhuman, Up For Nothing, and those who were then on the rise from around the country, like Plain White T’s, Treephort, BigWig, and Blind Luck Music. All were welcome by the enthusiastic, all-ages crowd.
Breaking bands from other parts of the country seem both surprised and happy to see the audience singing along with the songs of the group’s indie releases, and sometimes even physically with the band as spectators were known to jump on stage and share a mic or two. And the groups loved it. It was a tight and growing scene with open arms for new music. It was a common sight to see the audience showing off newly purchased CDs of the bands playing, purchased at the street team table at the venue ballroom. Will Noon, of the now gone Philadelphia band Breaking Pangaea, stated at the time, “The kids that come to the Punk Temple are young and enthusiastic. And the crowd is pretty diverse. We've had a great experience with it, and look forward to playing there again.”
The Punk Temple was started in December 1998, by ex-Friendly Fire vocalist, Jordan Cooper, and played well over 100 shows. Jordan booked the local bands, counted the change, was Webmaster, and was the overall kommander of operations.
Skanking up the joint
Starting out by being a dj of punk music while attending Kings-borough Community College in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, Jordan found out how hard it was to get bands booked through his own band experience. Eventually, through connections, he started the Punk Temple. At first he was losing money, as much as $600 per show. Loni and Sid, who often attended shows, decided to help out, eventually becoming part of the core six-member Temple crew.
Loni Berman booked and coordinated national bands. “With me handling booking agents, Jordan handling local bands, and Sid doing some occasional booking, we were really clicking,” says Loni. “Everyone knew their tasks. It took a while, but once we got into a groove, it got a lot easier. The average attendance of 60 grew to an average of 100. We generally pulled in about 200 kids per show, no matter who played.” Will Noon posited, “Loni is a great guy. It’s really great when you come across someone who's doing things for all the right reasons. He cares about the kids and the bands, and wants to make sure everyone is safe and has a great time.” Loni also handled the nascent label, Temple Recordings (a joint venture with Blackout Records). One of their releases was by Friendly Fire, and they were to have a compilation album of bands playing the Temple coming out. What happened to this is unknown to me. At the time, Loni’s “day job” was then Manager of A&R at Artemis Records.
Temple heartthrob Chris King, of 5 Cent Deposit and Stray 76
Sid Kaptsenel ran the door, collecting the entrance fee (usually $8). He also set up the stage before the bands arrived, and handled the flyers for upcoming shows. Sid said to me in 2002, “Me and Loni decided that we should offer our help to Jordan to make sure the Temple stayed alive. Shockingly, he accepted, and there we have it. The shows have gotten better and better, bigger and bigger, and way more frequent. Things are great right now. Our basic philosophy is that we want to give kids of all ages a safe place to go to see shows, and get into good music. “
Jay Miller, also known as Monty Love, handled the stage during the shows, setting up the mics and checking the speakers. He was in charge of the area of promoting, and dealt with the newer, local bands, which worked out well since he could give them a sympathetic ear: He led his own group of joyful punkers, Monty Love (one of my favorite bands of that and just after period). And speaking of Templers who helped with the stage and had their own band, Mike Cherchid worked the soundboard, helping with the stage sound, and drummed for the band Stray 76. He would later open a club called Third Rail where metal club L’Amours once stood, but that has since closed as well. That leaves Rob Pasbani. One could often hear him screaming over the sound system between bands, “Check…your…coats” or “Buy…a…drink.” He was in charge of that stuff.
Mike, of the Brooklyn band Inhuman, said back then, “Inhuman have been playing the Temple in Brooklyn since the beginning really, like late ‘98-early ‘99. At one point I was even booking the shows there in conjunction with Loni and Jordan, and I also co-founded the annual Brooklyn Fest that happens every summer.”
But what matters was the chance for the fans to see the bands. For much of the audience, some of whom were still in their teens, it was their first chance to see a live performance. This was a nascent scene, and these kids were growing up with the bands. They lock back now and are able to say, “hey, when I was a kid, I saw so-and-so when they were first starting out.”
Kevin Devine in Miracle of 86
As Mike Inhuman, had put it: “We have had some great shows and some iffy ones, but I have fun there no matter what. I like the fact that the crowd is really young and not jaded; kids there wearing a Korn shirt today, may hopefully be sporting a Gorilla Biscuits or Sick of it All shirt one day, you know?”
"My impression of the crowd at the Punk Temple is that the people seem to beenthusiastic about being there,” added Fred Mascherino, also of Breaking Pangaea. “If the bands are willing to have a good time, the fans will be right there with them. It was packed when we played, and I hear that that's the way it always is.”
As with any scene, there are regulars that showed up. One saw the requisite Rancid and NoFX shirts, wool caps, and even the occasional ‘70s full out punk bondage gear, including Mohawk spikes (one even had what he called a tri-hawk) and metal studded jackets and bracelets. The mosh pit was fast and wild, with speed circles, skanking, windmills, and twin twirling (two people holding hands and spinning as fast as they can for as long as they can). Sometimes you’d see some young teen with a Ramones shirt, with the original line-up. The only things banned on the premises were smoking, drinking, and drugs (though they seemed to be happening outside on the steps of the synagogue). But one thing a Temple attendee got was a good show.
“The kids at the temple are always really enthusiastic,” claimed Brendon Thomas of Blind Luck Music during the early ‘00s. “They go off for the music, and in turn we go just as crazy for them onstage. A good show is all about the energy interaction between the band and the audience. At the Punk Temple, there always seems to be this positive vibe that everybody just feeds off of, and in turn, we all always seem to have such a great time. Meeting and talking to people there is fun too, especially since we're from Vermont and we get to experience firsthand how different life is for all these kids in the city, and yet, see how similar we all are when it breaks down to the basic emotions that come out in the music.”
Blind Luck Music
The surrounding neighbor-hood was sometimes suspicious of the Punk Temple crew, and had a bit of a “redneck” attitude. Between sets, one night in April 2002, there was trouble at the nearby Burger King when some local “Tony Monaro” wannabes assaulted a couple of Temple attendees, a scene right out of “Billy Jack.” Tolerance and understanding wasn’t exactly a neighborhood historical trend, though even then it was actually better then before that time. But the Temple goers had a strong sense of community, into which just about anyone was welcome. As Sid said, “The Temple has become a nice little community where almost everyone is supportive and is there to have a good time and enjoy the music and atmosphere. What I get out of it is a sense that I'm giving back to a music scene that basically made me who I am today. Punk music and underground music in general has been probably the most important thing in my life since High School and the great thing about punk is that its so easy to get involved and be a real part of it. I figured giving some time to this is the least I could do after all I've gotten out of this music and subculture.”
Back then, the Punk Temple was part of an unofficial triad of punk clubs in the surrounding boroughs, including Dock Street in Staten Island and the Red Zone in Queens, but you would find lots of people who regularly attend those clubs showing up at the Temple come Saturday Night.
Show styles varied: most of the time it was punk, but the guys who ran the place did a great job of blending genres, as long as it was DIY. “I just wish more HC shows would happen there, or heavier Punk shows, but Emo and Pop-Punk bring in all of the money, so I can see their point. I'm just glad that Inhuman is welcome and a part of the original group of bands that continue to play there. Actually we may have been the first legit NYHC band to play there, and that's pretty nice,” said Mike Inhuman.
But the overall philosophy of the Punk Temple was that it was something special. Loni explained before it closed, “The Temple is not Irving Plaza, it is not run by Clear Channel or Delsner-Slater. The Temple is a DIY venue. What that means to me is that we can make it whatever we want to make it. We don't have to worry about selling a certain amount of tickets or having a particular type of show or having a particular kind of crowd. The Temple is also about community. It has become a place where kids can be themselves, and they can make friends with others. So many friendships have been made at the Temple. I really feel like we are making a difference by doing the shows because I feel we have made a lot of people happy. I have a love for music, and I love being involved in it in any way. Putting on a show and seeing 350 kids come out to see a band that doesn't draw that much anywhere else makes me feel like we've done a good job, promoting the venue, and promoting that band.”
Tony, who formed the band SQNS
The Punk Temple closed in 2003 after a summer’s evening show featuring Leftover Crack. The venue had been oversold due to so many kids wanting to see it. The basement was tremendously hot, so many people stayed on the sidewalk between bands. And those who wanted to get in but couldn’t also hung around, possibly to hear whatever music leaked out, or be with friends. This led to drinking and being loud, which resulted in the neighbors calling the police. Because of the overcrowding of the club, it was shut down by law enforcement. After that, the synagogue would not rent the space out for shows. Shortly after that, the synagogue, which was struggling financially, was torn down for a high-rise condo complex.
The guys who ran the Temple, Len, Loni and Sid, basically disappeared from the scene after that. Monty kept it going during Monty Love shows at Dock Street until the band broke up. The Nerve!, who played the Temple, started shows at Peggy O’Neill’s in Coney Island for a couple of years, and when they broke up, the shows stopped there. It’s been five years since the Punk Temple closed, but it is still sorely missed and was a great place to see the bands.
Many more pictures here: