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The end of three punk houses in Raleigh

Questions raised for music fans and city officials

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Clapping with their hands and the ceiling: the GSS House in June. - PHOTO BY BRIAN SHAFFER

A 21-year-old named Cameron Craig is wearing a sparkly blue dress with spaghetti straps. And he's yelling into a microphone: "This is the last shit you are going to see thanks to the Raleigh Police Department."

His band, Gorman Street Sluts, is playing a show in the basement of his house, long known in Raleigh by the band's acronym, GSS House. When Craig yells, the 70 people crammed in the basement respond, an eruption of boos and curses ripping through the room as people bang their fists against the walls and low ceiling. Then the tone shifts. "And my mom is here!" he yells, smiling. The crowd cheers and parts. Mom makes her way to the front to see her son play punk rock in his house one last time.

The GSS House, a brick house with white shutters at the corner of Kent Road and Garland Drive, seemed to be the final hope for the Capital City's once-thriving scene of hard-rock houses. Two years ago, the Posi-Dome stopped doing shows. Then, last year, the Thrashitorium was served with an eviction notice. A house on Ferrier Street closed last August, and one on Flint Street is done with the shows it's been hosting for years. A suite of violations, citations and gentrification became too much of a hassle for the people living at GSS. They're shutting down and moving out, leaving a stream of questions for Raleigh policymakers and music fans in their exit.

On July 10, while Richmond's Government Warning and Oakland's Annihilation Time played in the basement, police arrived at the GSS House and issued a nuisance party ticket that eventually cost the residents a combined $800 in legal fees. "We asked the cops what can we do to make this better," Craig remembers. "They just looked at us and didn't say anything."

Ben Lovelace, another 21-year-old resident of the house, elaborates: "It's ridiculous that we are opening our house up, and all that is being done from a government standpoint is to shut it down. We open it up to everybody."

Indeed, over 18 months, the GSS House opened its doors and floors to 64 touring and local bands, including the Vicious from Sweden and Under Pressure from Canada, Tooth from Durham and Double Negative from Raleigh.

But it was too good to last. Throughout the summer, the residents of the GSS house say they received notifications from the Raleigh Housing Authority. Their grass was too high or there were rugs left drying outside. These complaints were taped to the front door. Then there's the Raleigh Police Department, which has issued several tickets at the GSS House for noise violations and nuisance parties. On the morning of May 15, for instance, someone was playing a piano in the living room—no audience, no party, no show, just a guy and a piano.

Instructions for showgoers from a GSS show in June - PHOTO BY BRIAN SHAFFER

"The officer went to the location in response to a complaint call, determined that a violation was occurring, and issued the citation," explains Jim Sughrue, RPD public information officer. In other words, according to Municipal Code RCC 12-5007, the instrument caused "unreasonably loud, annoying, frightening, loud and disturbing or unnecessary noise."

Unnecessary noise is relative, of course: The final straw for the GSS House came when residents learned their landlord had sold the house, and new developers were planning to build apartments abutting the back yard. The construction would be loud, but the tickets for the rock shows weren't likely to stop. "We had the option to stay for six more months," says Lovelace, "but it just wasn't worth it."

The authorities aren't always to blame. Sisters Rachal and Roxann Spikula had been hosting house shows for 10 months in a duplex on Ferrior Street before they were told they had two weeks to move. "We never had the cops come to our shows," explains Rachal, 23. Instead, they learned the house "[was] being demolished by Preservation Homes in order to build McMansions." McMansions, as Rachal calls them, are houses Preservation plans to build on three lots on Ferrier. They will range in size from 3,000-to-4,000 square feet, and will cost around $800,000. Preservation Homes' Web site (www.preservationhomes.com) says the company strives to "provide good looking, quality homes for quality people."

But the Ferrier House was a good venue for different music. "There are not a lot of places in Raleigh that foster what we would like to put on—experimental shit," explains Rachal, who performs with her sister in several noise-based bands.

"We were trying to bust up the dude-rock vibe in Raleigh," Roxann adds. "We made it a point to have every one of our bills be mixed-gender." Like the boys of GSS House, the Spikulas were interested in bringing people from far and wide into one space. The house's final send-off put Chapel Hill troupe Boyzone and six other bands on the same bill as Italian band Wolf Anus.

When houses close, it's a significant blow to a city's music and art scene, especially when three of the survivors close within four months. "There is the obvious loss of fun, interesting and different spaces to see shows and friends," Rachal explains, "but Raleigh also loses out on the cultural exchange that happens when bands come through [the area]."

Artists gathering from around the county or the world bring different cultural and societal perspectives to what Rachal calls "this little southern town." She wonders what will happen to that exchange now.

In the backyard for the last night at the GSS show. - PHOTO BY JAMES PREISS

On the last night at the GSS House, that was the question lead Obtruder Nick Baxter, 16, asked: "What are we going to do now that the GSS House is shutting down? Sell out to The Brewery? The Berkeley?" he sarcastically asked. Again, boos, hisses, ceiling punches.

So where will this cultural exchange happen? Are there alternate, low overhead spaces in Raleigh for young punks to curate? Can the tale-of-two-Raleighs trope support a truly underground scene. Will it head west?

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker hopes it will stay and survive: "The shows—as long as they are not too large—add a lot to the music life in our city," he says, adding the issue should be brought before City Council. "Perhaps clearer rules to how many people can attend are needed. If the issue was raised, the council could try to draw an appropriate balance to allow these shows in a residential area."

Maybe houses aren't the place, though. DesignBox engineer and Spark Con cofounder Aly Khalifa says the city is full of unused commercial spaces that could allow for a scene to exist alongside a downtown that continues to grow in all directions. "Look how many people want to have music. If they are willing to put themselves out there and risk being evicted. The entrepreneur spirit is great," he says, referencing such houses as GSS and three blocks of empty buildings in downtown Raleigh's Warehouse district. "The trick would be to capture that energy and give them a space—an abandoned warehouse. Give those buildings something to do, and give those people options."

Meeker says that's a possibility, and he could see city council working to get music into unoccupied spaces in the city. Brian Walsby, a longtime local musician and Double Negative's drummer, sees the scene as a cycle that's self-correcting. He believes more venues will eventually surface. "I've lived here for 20 years and it always goes in waves," he says. "It's too bad, but someone will make it happen again."

The last night for the GSS House was a finale with a bang: The bill was stocked—locals Double Negative, Gorman Street Sluts and The Obtruders. Richmond's Cloak and Dagger were down for the show, alongside Denmark's Cola Freaks.

The scene turned out in droves. Ages ranged from 15 to 41, and more than 150 people spilled from the sardine can of a basement into the large backyard. On hand were the classic studded-belt, spiky-haired punks, the typical high school skaters, a few hemp-and-sandals pseudo-hippies, someone dressed like Boy George.

At one point in the night, while the sweaty throng stood in the yard between sets, a police car rolled along the street, checking out the scene. By the time the car reached the end of the road, the partyers had already packed themselves back into the house, quick and organized. Everyone knew the in-the-house-now drill, and everyone obliged.

"No cops, no drama, we got lucky," Craig says later. "It was totally cool."

Now we'll just have to wait until it is again.

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