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Are You Punk?

As Ian Fildes pushes back his bleached blonde hair under his cap and finds a comfortable spot on the couch across from me, I notice his painted nails and septum piercing. Fildes is a second-year student in a basic musicianship program at Douglas College and although he has some features which could be considered punk, there is nothing unusual about his appearance considering he is a millennial.

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As Ian Fildes pushes back his bleached blonde hair under his cap and finds a comfortable spot on the couch across from me, I notice his painted nails and septum piercing. Fildes is a second-year student in a basic musicianship program at Douglas College and although he has some features which could be considered punk, there is nothing unusual about his appearance considering he is a millennial.

It is a well known fact that Abbotsford is part of B.C.’s “Bible Belt” and a hub for religious groups. Underneath that innocent shell lies a yolk of culture that every once in awhile seeps through the occasional crack. The Abbotsford punk music scene is part of that yolk; many people know it’s there, but few choose to look past the pristine shell and acknowledge what hides beneath it. Even though the shell is what you see first, the yolk is all that matters in the end; it’s what sustains people.

It was a busy November evening when I met up with Fildes, who is focusing on voice and piano studies in order to get into the music therapy program at Capilano University. Looking at him in that moment, I would never believe that he was the same person I saw perform two weeks ago at a Halloween-themed show in a dingy, unfinished garage at a local Abbotsford show house. The frontman for local Abbotsford punk band Queen Bee and the Buzzkills, he was dressed in a toga and taking swigs from a bottle of wine as his friends and peers danced around him and cheered him and his band on.

As many young adults in the Fraser Valley, Fildes grew up with religious parents. However, he is not the typical Christian-kid-turned-rebel; instead, his father always made sure he had a punk music influence in his life. Typically, young adults in Abbotsford seek out the punk scene as a way of rebelling against the popular Christian rhetoric, but Fildes’ father chose not to force any particular religion and even drove Fildes and his band mates to perform at shows before they were able to drive themselves. In the punk scene many alternative forms of spiritual guidance and religion are challenged and accepted.

Fildes’ introduction into Abbotsford’s punk scene came as kind of a fluke. After picking up and playing a guitar at a party one night when he was 16, one of the other party-goers, a member of a local band called GSTS, asked him to consider jamming with the group. The rest is history.

“I found out there were more people that were into the kind of things I was into,” Fildes recalled. “It felt like home instantly.”

As a music student, Fildes is now able to look at both aspects of the industry, the professional and the fun. But not everyone has this ability and a lot of Fildes’ punk peers think he is selling out by going to music school and will lose his edge.

But Fildes thinks the opposite.

“Learning theory fits into the punk lifestyle because you are exploring what you love and you’re becoming a part of what you love and that’s a big part of what the punk ideal is,” he said. “Just because [it] can be sometimes more simplistic than other genres doesn’t mean the music isn’t still great.”

Despite its hard exterior, the punk scene is known to be welcoming, and this is exactly how local artist Kimberley Sutton found it during her rebellious high school days.

Sutton recently curated an art project which is displayed at Gator’s Pub, a popular local show venue in downtown Abbotsford. The project is a collection of posters for shows that have been held in Abbotsford, some dating as far back as 1991 or as recent as October 2016, and the evolution of the punk scene is highlighted throughout the entire project.

“The old punk scene was attached to old downtown Abbotsford and punkers used to be misconstrued as gang members,” she explained.

The city of Abbotsford has since made large efforts to clear out the negative activity in the downtown area. However, when people see punkers downtown they still associate their vests, spikes, and crazy hairstyles with that negativity.

“The optics still stay,” Sutton said.

But over time the scene has become much more encompassing of all styles and one can no longer tell someone’s music preference based solely on their attire and physical appearance. Punk is ever evolving and Abby punk has become much less aggressive and more thoughtful.

CIVL Radio, UFV’s campus and community radio station, is one of the most attainable resources the punk scene has in Abbotsford. The station connects the punk scene to the rest of the world by providing air time via promotion and discussion of music and events, as well as spreading awareness of band openings and other opportunities to perform.

Aaron Levy, CIVL’s station manager, claims that since punk music is the one thing that is universal for most modern youth, there is a punk scene to be found in any city.

“Punk is something most youth will identify with at some point,” he said.

Levy considers the Abbotsford punk scene to be very small given the size of the city. However, based on the kind of engagement the city typically receives, it is considered a successful punk scene because of its consistency.

Despite the preconceived notions Abbotsfordians may have towards punk scene individuals as what Levy describes as “dirty, good-for-nothing, drug-taking, underage alcoholic, irresponsible, violent, bravado-laden, offensive, radical political, dangerous queers,” most punkers are stand-up people; they watch out for each other and there are unwritten rules of how to behave at shows and in mosh pits.

“If there were problems laden in the scene it would be talked about pretty quickly,” said Levy.

It’s this sense of “watching out for each other” that the punk scene is really about, and as Sutton put it, it’s about “connecting with people to expand what you want to do.”

This parallels Fildes’ experience. He’s used his connections to find fulfilling work as a former music director for the Devon Clifford Foundation, which gives kids from low-income families the opportunity to learn to play instruments, and he currently works as a music therapy facilitator for children with autism at Monarch House.

“The punk music scene for me has been the gateway to the career I am in right now,” he said.

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