It began inauspiciously enough, with this post: "Welcome! On these message boards, one can discuss bands, other people's bands, shows, instruments, players, the scene, and engage in senseless acts of self-promotion. Enjoy!"
Matt Fecher founded IndianapolisMusic.net April 1, 2001, and activated the forums, where the above message appeared, on May 28. And thus was a completely accidental legend born. Fecher stuck around for several years, leaving in 2005 for Colorado. Longtime co-conspirators Ryan Williams and Steve Hayes then took over the helm.
"The whole thing evolved in a weird, organic way that owed to consistent, rabid communication," Williams says today. "The rest just stumbled on from there, a crazy kind of drunken swagger."
And here we are at the 10-year mark, to be celebrated Saturday at Birdy's. Some of us here at NUVO hold soft spot for the IMN gang, despite their occasional affiliation with, er, a different weekly publication, and the regrettable fact that they might have accidentally set a copy of this esteemed publication on fire on stage, possibly more than once.
It all came to a head in the early 2000s, through countless events, showcases, and a few things best left forgotten except for the fact we have photographic evidence, like hype-rock band No*Star, featuring Fecher, Williams and Hayes, or the time a bunch of IMN types did a horror-rock opera as the Danny Rollings Band and ended up beaning Indy Star music writer Dave Lindquist in the head with a bloody rubber nipple. The city's first burlesque troupe was born of IMN chats. (Full disclosure: I might have had something to do with that.) Good times.
It's hard to describe exactly the weird feeling of community that spun out of it, the lifelong friendships and camaraderie. "People who might or might not have met are now best friends, spouses, and parents of children because of contact that was somehow initially forged on IMN," Hayes says.
I don't want to oversell this bit of nostalgia; IMN wasn't exactly Club 54, to be mythologized decades later. (As Hayes put it, Fecher's attempts to pick up the ladies with "I run IMN" would more often than not be met with "What's IMN?") But in its way it was the anti-54. IMN wasn't so much a mover and shaker as it was a place where movers and shakers hung out and passed through, everyone on a more-or-less equal footing with each other.
It's an artifact of a different time, something that happened at exactly the right crossroads of culture and Internet, back in the pre-Facebook dark ages when message boards were the local pub where everyone could get together.
"People on the IMN boards walked the walk, it wasn't just idle internet chatter or complaints," Fecher says now. "People were actually taking action and interested in making things better."
"IMN was definitely part of a 'perfect storm' as far as Indy music went," Hayes adds. "All the things that were kind of happening at the same time — Punk Rock Night had just launched, the Melody Inn ownership that would convert it into the live music dive we've come to love had just taken over the place, Birdy's was a relatively new venue, etc. You can see how things combined to start something new."
IMN isn't as prominent as it once was, but neither is it idle. They still publish a weekly top 10 and run a podcast on the site and WFYI ("Public radio — I never thought we'd be that respectable," Williams muses). There's still chatter on the boards, even if it doesn't match up to those heady days past. "I think we filled a distinct place in the city's timeline in which we provided culture, community, and a sense of belonging to a good number of people," Hayes says.
It wasn't all sunshine, of course. The music biz, large and small, can be a nasty place, and IMN was no exception. "Overall I feel like I'm a lot more cynical about music than I was going in," Hayes says. "It's kind of like the old saying about how if you like sausage you should never watch it being made."
I don't think it's a coincidence that Punk Rock Night and IMN and the Battles of the Bands shot to prominence at the same time; they were all very different (and sometimes mutually combative), but they all drew from a similar pool. A lot of bands from that era are gone. Some exist in new incarnations. Others have gone on to bigger things (hello, Rev. Peyton and We Are Hex.)
And some of them are emerging from the electronic ether and reuniting for the show, many for the first time in close to a decade. I have no idea how Hayes pulled that off. The set list for Saturday's reunion show reads like the final couple of rounds of a particularly hard-fought Battle of the Bands. And just to complete the whole 2003 style, it's all at longtime IMN unofficial base of operations, Birdy's.
And as for the next IMN or its closest equivalent? You know what they say – time will tell. It always does.
"It's probably happening right under our noses right now," Hayes says. "Music scenes work best when there's a lot of churn and turnover and new blood to do exciting things. We're planning to reminisce for one night, then get the hell out of the way and encourage people to do it better than we did."
"Great music scenes happen all the time," Williams says. "Ours just included a website for a bit."