Chaos + Order: Bryan Ray Turcotte and Punk Preservation

Chaos + Order: Bryan Ray Turcotte and Punk Preservation

When you think of archives, a couple of images might immediately come to mind, maybe the silence of a museum or dusty tomes in a state library collection that require special permission and white gloves to read. The main objective of such collections is to preserve these objects from the past. Bryan Ray Turcotte’s approach to collecting is a little different. Perhaps the world’s most prominent collector of punk ephemera, Bryan has built a reputation for his integrity, owing no doubt to the sheer love he has for the objects in his archive. What’s more, his own longstanding involvement in the subculture that his collection documents is evident in the innovative ways he encourages people, particularly the young, to engage with it; that is to say, he has found a way of infusing the traditionally conservative act of collecting with the punk spirit. With more projects on the go than ever before—across art, publishing, film, and more—Bryan spoke to us about punk in the Covid-era, snubbing rapacious collectors, and how he maintains his archive of the punk subculture as a space of creativity and life.

What was it like celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Fucked Up + Photocopied? How is looking back on the punk era that the book documents different now to doing so in 1999?

It’s super weird for me; so much time has passed. 20 years! Ugh! Nobody seemed to give a damn about punk flyers in the ’90s. When I see flyers selling for huge dollars these days it kinda freaks me out a bit, and then I snap back to reality and think ‘Fuck yea!’ This shit is everywhere! Seeped into the culture forever! Fucking A! Art! On the highest level. I am forever proud that I grew up in the punk scene, and ultra honored to have the privilege to document it. In my opinion the scene is WAY bigger now than it ever was when I was a youth.

Do you recall any memorable reactions to the twentieth-anniversary edition from young people who may not have even been born in 1999?

My son, Ralston. He’s 13 and in his own punk band. He loves Black Flag, Bad Brains, Misfits, and the Germs. I think the 20th-anniversary edition hit him like a brick; he was like ‘What the!!?? You made this???’ I mean, he knew I made punk books but after listening to all the bands on his own it finally dawned on him and everything clicked haha.

You’ve gained a reputation as a collector and archivist with integrity as you never try to flip things for a profit. In fact, you don’t sell at all. To whom do you think of yourself as responsible when it comes to building your collection and how you use it?

That is a really good question. I honestly feel responsible to everyone in the scene, young and old, from Darby Crash to bands like WACKO and the young kid just figuring it out. I can’t bring myself to look at the flyers, set-lists, photos, stickers, and all the ephemera as having a resale value. It hurts my brain to even TRY to think like that. Is that weird?? I mean I get asked that every day; people see that I have doubles of certain items. When I post on Instagram a stack of one specific flyer or whatever people light me up with comments like immediately after I post: ’How Much??’ or ‘Why do you need more than one??’ Ugh! Fuck off! I would rather give those doubles to rad people than sell them to some random collector. I know myself, I would HELLA regret trading flyers for money. That being said, I do enjoy a good trade for other flyers!! Haha.

How much of your collection is things you bought yourself back in the day and how much is things you’ve acquired as bequeathments?

I started off with a small but mighty collection from when I played in a band and went to a ton of shows in Nor-Cal in the early ’80s. By the time I moved to LA when I was 19 I had maybe 500 flyers, a handful of stage snagged set-lists and stuff like that; my room was floor to ceiling wallpapered in flyers and posters. Now the collection is beyond me even knowing how many items there are. Every week new stuff comes in. It’s so rad; punk Christmas every week! Haha. I buy things whenever I can, although I refuse to pay hugely inflated prices on stuff. I have to think about the long game and try not to get over excited every time a rare item pops up. Tons and tons of stuff has come my way from people who feel it will be celebrated and kept in a safe place. If they ever want it back they know where to find me.

With the items you did purchase yourself when you were a young member of the LA punk scene, what were you thinking at the time? What was your attitude toward merch, before it became memorabilia?

I grew up in NorCal: San Jose and Los Gatos primarily, about 30 minutes south of San Fran. We would ride the bus and skateboard everywhere to see shows, from Sacramento to Santa Cruz and everything in between. Any time we saw a flyer on a poll or in a shop we would snag it, fold it, and put it in our pocket. Then we would go through all of them and decide what shows we wanted to see and whether or not we could go without getting into trouble with our parents. At the shows there was rarely merchandise available to buy: usually stickers were free or super cheap; there might have been a 7” single, but rarely were there shirts or posters and stuff like that.

We would make our own shirts. My high school pal Marc and I made a Minor Threat silkscreen in our art class in the 10th grade and screened everything we could get our hands on until the teacher busted us and destroyed the screen haha. I still have my green gas station jacket screened on the back; my son just snaked it from me. He wore it at the last show we saw before the Covid shutdown—The Faction and JFA—his first circle pit and first stage dive! When I started buying things like shirts and singles and original art, I never ever thought of them having any future value monetarily; I just knew these things meant the world to me and I wanted to share them with my friends. We would trade records and make copies of flyers for each other. To be honest, while making Fucked Up + Photocopied, all we ever considered was ‘will my friends back in San Jose—the kids I grew up with—dig this?’ That’s all that mattered to me. We got some flack from some people for running type in the gutter and the overall chaos of the design and stuff like that. Whatever! haha.

Is there a music scene in LA at the moment that you see as the heir to the punk scene you were part of in the ’80s?

Oh hell yea! There are a ton of rad bands and young kids making stuff. I love that shop in Downtown called DESCONTROL. BAD DOG is rad! So many bands and clothing makers and tiny record labels. I like the Downtown and East Side Punk Scene a lot.

Where are you focusing your energies at the moment?

Oh man!! That’s a loaded question!! Over 20 Books in some sort of production, plus a few zines, a film to finish, and way too many music projects!! My brain goes a mile a minute. So many spinning plates!

When Hank Pierce says, in a text entitled ‘Punk is Dead,’ “Punk is dead, long live punk, kill your parents,” by “parents,” he means himself and others who were part of the punk movement, that older generation. He’s saying that the youth have to find their own way. In your experience, how do young people approach your work, be it your books, shows, or the documentary series Art of Punk?

My philosophy has always been ‘punk Is everything’; it’s growing and spreading and evolving. I am an open book to discuss or teach the DIY ethic that has roots in all my projects, but at the same time I always advise people to ignore everyone else and make a path on your own. Live your own truth; don’t ask permission. I only hope to inspire and show that it can be done without a rulebook or a guide. I get hit up by young people all the time. What I usually do is invite them to my studio and let em go through anything they want: try on the shirts, handle all the flyers, ask questions, that type of thing. Let em feel the energy and touch the stuff so they can get inspired to create. They should never feel like this stuff is beyond their ability. You know what i mean? I give SUPER rare items to young kids all the time. Like, if they are gonna wear an old Suicidal Tendencies ‘Possessed to Skate’ tee, then they deserve it. Better to be worn and pass on that energy.

Where do you locate the spirit of punk in the Covid era?

Haha I ask myself that all the time. My son’s band did a cover of the Damned ‘Smash It Up’ during Covid. Rehearsed and recorded all their parts using only Zoom. Totally wild! It came out so rad! My buddy had just bought a new house in the hills and he was going to do some renovating so he had the idea we might like to Smash It Up! So I directed the video, one kid at a time, to keep it all Covid safe. Teenagers covering a Damned song and spray painting and smashing up a multi-million dollar house for their video! That was my way of finding punk during Covid.

You’ve engaged with a number of different mediums across industries, what projects do you have planned for the near future?

Always Books for sure; I truly love making books and zines. Documentary films will continue; I have a few in production: more Art Of Punk and a feature on BIG BOYS. 

I’m working on a coffee shop idea at the moment and I’m on the board of the punk museum opening in Las Vegas soon. Oh and I have been working on some unique NFT’s. I’m sure I left a few things out.

Bryan’s books Fucked Up + Photocopied (20th Anniversary Edition), Fucked Up Reader, and Punk Shirts available now in-store and online at Double Double.

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