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Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009

Return of the Speedfreaks

Milwaukee punk vets celebrate a new record

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Dan DuChaine, veteran drummer of the Speedfreaks, has seen it all. Along with vocalist Stephan Tremblay and guitarist Carl Steinhagen, he crashed through the hardcore and punk scenes in the early '80s when shows were "brutal," and not just in terms of sound. These days, "if you see a kid getting beat up in the front line, you stop the show-that's etiquette," DuChaine says. "But violence was a big problem back then."

The punk scene itself may be more forgiving, but the Speedfreaks' music remains largely unchanged, filled with raw, positive energy. A quarter century after they played their first shows together, the group has finished a new album, Survive, which they will celebrate with two release shows this weekend.

"By total coincidence, we were all at a tattoo convention, and ended up running into some people we hadn't seen in a while," DuChaine says of the reunion. On a whim, the guys decided to create a MySpace page, DuChaine explains, "and all of a sudden this thing goes up, and we started getting contacted by people from the past. Carl just came out of left field and said, 'We should get together and see if we could play this stuff, just for kicks.'"

The relaxed, "just for kicks" attitude was what got the band-with their new bassist, Chris Ortiz-back into a practice space, where they committed their old material to memory so quickly they even surprised themselves.

"I was a little hesitant at first," Tremblay says, "but they got me down into the basement. After we all got together, that first practice, all the doubts that we had kind of went to the wayside. Basically, we just cut our teeth on all the old material. We were just picking and choosing our favorites."

A natural progression had begun. "Everything was baby steps," DuChaine says. "We just kept setting little goals without even anticipating them."

Eventually, these steps led them to record with Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street Recordings. The band found that making a record was a completely different experience. "It was about 20 years ago that we made what would be like an album, but there was no way you could get vinyl back then," DuChaine says. "Tape trading was the way to go. They were always readily available and you could send them easily. Everything was very grassroots."

Recording technology wasn't the only thing that changed during the band's hiatus. The magic of instant communication has made things easier on touring acts. "Before, you'd drive across the state, and get there to find out that your show was the day before, just because dude forgot to call you, or the club got shut down, or some skinheads showed up and ruined it the night before," DuChaine says. "So, now you can at least find out that day if the skinheads ruined it."

But, perhaps best of all, given the newly harmonious nature of the punk scene, ruined venues are becoming a thing of the past. These days, DuChaine says, audiences are friendlier and more open to seeing music outside their comfort zone. For instance, the Speedfreaks recently played a show at LuLu with hip-hop acts El Gordo, DJ ShortRound and Fres. While some eyebrows shot up at the bill pairing, it was ultimately a success. Some of the Puma-suit-clad audience members clearly there to hear hip-hop even returned to see subsequent Speedfreaks shows, Tremblay says.

"Everyone's just hanging out, there's no pressure to fit in," DuChaine says of today's audiences. "I remember that being a problem years ago. Now, it's about keeping it communal, keeping it in the neighborhood."

Speedfreaks releaseSurvive with two nights at Club Garibaldi, on Jan. 23 with Hammered, Test-Site and Mother Orchis, and on Jan. 24 with Eske, The White Rose, El Gordo and Cry Coyote.