To trace the roots of the current punk rock explosion in Indianapolis, you have to travel back in time to 1996, to a seedy, all-ages club called the Sitcom, and an obscure punk band called the Problematics.

By any standard, the Sitcom, located at 46th Street and College Avenue, was a dive. Located in a basement, there was one toilet, which frequently didn't work; the noise bounced off the walls and there was no stage, which meant bands played on the floor.

'The Sitcom possessed no permits,' wrote Ryan Downey in a 1999 NUVO article about the venue. 'It had no established legal capacity. Its 'security' was the self-policing of the community by its own members. No profits were made from shows. The Sitcom was run by everyone as a self-proclaimed collective. Anyone could do a show there, just by posting it on the calendar and promising the venue a percentage of the door.'

'The Sitcom was around the back of a nondescript building, through an unmarked door and down a steep set of stairs,' says Matt Chandler, a frequent visitor to the Sitcom and, at the time, a member of the group Sohcahtoa, which also played the venue.

'It always felt somewhat like a bunker to me, but in a very positive way. You ended up feeling like you were in a safe place to be weird and punk rock.'

'It smelled bad in there,' recalls musician Doug Perdue, then a recording engineer and now a member of punk band Dirty Little Secrets. 'It was dirty. It had a drop ceiling with all the ceiling tiles knocked out. It was a great place for punk rock.'

In the late 1980s and early '90s, prior to the Sitcom, 'There weren't enough punks to have a punk scene,' says Jim Kuczkowski, at that time also a recording engineer and a member of various bands. 'So you'd have the metal, the hardcore stuff, grindcore stuff was mixed in too. Any kind of underground stuff was lumped together and they played these horrible shows at the VFW and places like that.'

The Sitcom changed all that. Finally, there was a place where the under-21 crowd could go. Dozens of bands played the Sitcom, and the Problematics were definitely not the kings of the scene.

Consisting of four members, the Problematics wrote frenetic, blistering garage punk songs which 'confused the emo and hardcore kids at first, but won them over in the end,' Kuczkowski says.

'They played the best fucking rock and roll that ever came out of this city,' Perdue says.

'They were largely ignored but had a profound influence on a select few,' he says. 'They had a small but loyal following that recognized how special they were. For the most part, they played to fairly empty rooms around here.'

'The Problematics owned every show I saw them play,' Chandler recalls. 'When they set up and played, it was like seeing a band from another planet. They were there to look awesome and kick your ass, but always with a snide little grin that made it immediately apparent that they were out to have fun above all else. Musically, it was drunken and insane, but also insanely tight, always verging on a complete breakdown.'

'They were like an army coming at you with guns drawn,' says Kuczkowski, who produced the Problematics' one and only album, The Kids All Suck. 'They didn't give a fuck. They knew who they were and they'd tell you, go fuck yourself, we're the Problematics. That's the vibe I got from them.

'The whole band was a fluke,' Kuczkowski continues. 'That band didn't exist like other bands. Christos, the drummer, got a drum kit and started learning to play drums in the basement. Todd's bass stuff was lying around. There were all these guitars lying around. They started playing covers, like silly, goofy Mummies songs.'

'I remember picking up my guitar laying in a pool of beer,' says John Zeps, who played with the Problematics' Todd Gullion in Ice 9, a legendary hardcore band of the time. 'They were pretty reckless and kind of lived the punk lifestyle they talked about. I'd offer Todd a quart of Colt .45 to streak down College and he'd do it and not even think about it.'

'Maybe it was the myth that inflated their image, or perhaps the opposite: Their image inflated their myth. But they could just plain write great pop songs and rev them up to light speed,' Chandler says.

By the time they'd played a handful of shows, they'd released an EP, were signed to the prominent punk label Rip-Off Records and had recorded The Kids All Suck.

'They kind of opened a lot of peoples' eyes, not only just how punk doesn't have to be hardcore,' Kuczkowski says. 'You could see them waking up to the fact that rock and roll needs style.'

The Problematics' final performance at the Sitcom cemented their reputation. Packed with teen-agers, the Problematics kicked out the jams one last time for the local crowd.

'It was a crazy bouncing-off-the-walls night,' Kuczkowski remembers. 'The kids were just going apeshit over them.'

In the audience that night was a 16-year-old named Justin Allen, a regular at the Sitcom and the Emerson, the only two all-ages clubs in town.

'I saw them at their last show and it changed my life,' Allen says. 'At that point, I was into mohawks and stuff and when I saw them, I realized what rock and roll was all about. I didn't even dance. I just stood at the side with my mouth at my fucking feet. I knew they had amazing songs, but it was the fact that they could back it up with charisma that got me.'

That night, Todd Guillion sang the band's signature song, 'Cool Enough For You,' which symbolized the history of the band, as well as the Indianapolis punk scene.

I guess I'm not cool enough for you

I guess I'm not cool enough for you

I guess I'm not good enough for you

So FUCK YOU!

I guess I'm not cool enough for you.

After that last show, the Problematics went their separate ways. One member moved to Washington; Guillion moved to San Francisco. The others remained in town, quit music and got day jobs.

Even today, tracking down the Problematics is a tough job. A phone number for Guillion, who lives in San Francisco and plays with a hardcore band called Time in Malta, is out of order. Leads on the other members didn't pan out. Other punk bands of the time, including the legendary Sloppy Seconds, don't even remember that they played shows with the Problematics.

But the Problematics, whether intentionally or through sheer drunken revelry, have had a gigantic influence on today's local punk rock scene.

'All of these bands you hear at Punk Rock Night today, including The Slurs, wouldn't exist if the Problematics hadn't been around,' Chandler maintains. 'They paved the way, even if few people remember them now.'

Part II: The Dark Ages, 1996-2000

After the Sitcom closed and the Problematics broke up, Indianapolis punk rock entered a dark period. Audiences were gravitating toward jam bands such as the Why Store, while the punk rock scene fragmented into factions.

People didn't stop going to punk shows; there were just far fewer of them to attend. The same kids who went to the Sitcom found themselves going to the Emerson Theater, the Purple Underground and a few other all-ages venues.

'In our era of being young, we went to every all-ages event, because that's all we could do. Hell, we had access to liquor, but we couldn't get into the bars,' Doug Perdue says. 'When the Sitcom closed, it fucked everybody out of a cool place to play.'

As operator of D.I.Y. Studios, a place with six practice rooms and a recording studio, Perdue found himself a beneficiary of this punk scene fragmentation. Just about every underground band found their way into D.I.Y.

And then one day, a friend brought Jim Kuczkowski into the studio.

'Kooch came in and I instantly didn't like him,' Perdue recalls. 'He was a preachy know-it-all, a jerk, and I didn't want anything to do with him. For a year, I told him not to come around the studio, to fuck off.'

Eventually, though, Kuczkowski's ability to network within the punk scene brought business to D.I.Y. and the two became reluctant friends and business partners, and eventually close friends.

At the time, Perdue was playing keyboards with Acid Green, teaching himself to be an audio engineer and to run a studio. 'I recorded demos for so many bands. You see that stack of tapes over there?' he asks, pointing to a 4-foot high wall of tapes. 'Probably three-quarters of them are local bands that either didn't make it or broke up and became other bands. At any given time, you'd go into the studio and there'd be six or seven bands sitting there, talking to each other.'

Kuczkowski and Perdue also began the process of building their own, new Northside recording facility, the Engine Room, which recently opened and also serves as a hangout, just like D.I.Y.

In early 2000, one of the bands practicing while the Engine Room was being built was the Whiteouts, a band that included Christos from the Problematics, Bob Cripe, Kuczkowski and the late Merle Griggs.

The group also contained a lead singer who left the band in such disgrace that Kuczkowski refuses to name him. 'He doesn't deserve the press.'

Justin Allen joined the group as a replacement, but something was still missing.

'It'd been off and on for years trying to put people together,' Kuczkowski says. 'We'd kind of given up and Merle was like, 'Let's do this.' He called [drummer] Brad [Wallace]. I wouldn't have called Brad. He was always in two bands and I didn't think of him as a drummer for our band.'

In mid-2000, Griggs died and the band project went back to square one. Kuczkowski says there was a period of months where everybody was depressed, nobody felt like playing anything and the Whiteouts project was dormant.

At the time, Britney Spears was at the top of the charts and free-form jam music dominated the local clubs. The return of punk rock in Indianapolis seemed like just another dream.

Part III: the Dirty Little Secrets

On Dec. 31, 2000, Jennifer Perdue, Doug's wife, woke up and decided as a New Year's resolution that she wanted to play in a band.

'I'd wanted to be in a band since the fifth grade,' she says. 'My little autograph book at the time says, 'Good luck with Princess and the Punkers.' That was the little band name I made up. So I told Doug I wanted to be in a band, and he said, you work down the street from [drummer] Cleo, go talk to her.'

Thus was born Dirty Little Secrets, one of the most beloved punk bands in Indianapolis. They combine hard-edged punk with the lovable, cartoony sound of Jennifer Perdue's voice, all backed up by one of the tightest rhythm sections in the state.

Add to that the duo's stature as First Couple of Indianapolis Punk and you have all the makings of success.

'I just knew that I wanted to play music. I'm not that great of a guitar player, but I know how to sing,' Jennifer Perdue says.

With Doug Perdue acting as the group's producer, DLS evolved from being a poppy-punk band to a straight-ahead hard rock band, and one of the favorite performers at the Melody Inn's Punk Rock Night.

They give praise to Steve Pratt and Greg Brenner for starting the weekly punk rock shows at the Melody Inn, a venue they feel is perfect for punk.

'It's not so centrally located that you have - and I hate to put it like that - people coming to your shows that you don't want coming to your shows,' Doug Perdue says. 'If it were in Broad Ripple, you'd get a lot of drunken frat people in there who'd think violence is acceptable and cool and want to do it all the time. Sometimes stuff happens at a Punk Rock Night show, but it's between friends. Almost never will a fight break out and both people not say, 'I'm sorry,' at the end of it.'

But they realize the limitations of playing the same club week after week.

'Even if we filled the Melody every Saturday night, it's the same 150 people. And they'll get tired of hearing us. We can't write material fast enough to keep it fresh for them. No band can.'

The group has gained enough stature that it plans to leave today for a two week tour of California punk clubs. And while Doug Perdue has plenty of touring experience from his Acid Green days, the rest of the band has never undertaken such an ambitious tour.

'I'm really looking forward to it,' Jennifer says cheerfully.

Bringing her back to earth, her husband reminds her, 'We're doing it on no budget. We're going to be staying anywhere we can crash. It's going to be a tough fucking tour. It's going to be tough to go out there and get back and not hate each other.'

They know that the tour is critical for the future of the band. 'We don't think we're going to make it in any capacity just by playing here,' Doug Perdue says.

'The labels that might be interested in the good bands from around here are on the West Coast,' Jennifer Perdue observes. 'They're just not around here.'

Part IV: The Slurs

Around the same time Dirty Little Secrets started rehearsing and playing, the final formation of The Slurs began to take shape. Kris Messer joined the band on bass and the group was ready to play shows. Jim Kuczkowski's girlfriend, photographer Shanna LeJeune, came up with the name The Slurs one night after it was discovered several other bands were already called the Whiteouts.

The Slurs played their first show in April 2001. A total of three people turned out to see them.

But Kuczkowski kept the band going, writing material and putting the musicians through marathon rehearsal sessions until everything was to his liking.

'I would never say some of the things to my band he says to his band,' Doug Perdue says. 'They'd tell me to fuck off. Yeah, Kooch is every bad thing that everybody says about him. It's all true. But that dude knows what he fuckin' likes to hear and he does it very well. He gets the job done.'

Kuczkowski downplays the notion of himself as a control freak in the studio and onstage. 'I'm driven to make the band something I'd admire and that I would think is cool,' he says. 'I'm not worried about what's going to happen nine steps from now. I'm worried about now. I'm worried about my 16-track recorder sounding good. Shit like that.

'It's not what I'm doing for a living, so I want it to be good. It's not like I'm just getting through some crap band I have to play with to survive,' he says.

He even denies being the Svengali of the group. 'I always look to Justin [Allen] for a lot of input and I kind of check everybody's vibe, but when it comes down to it, Justin and I know what it's supposed to be.'

Show by show, practice by practice, The Slurs became tighter and tighter, with Kuczkowski trying to avoid any notion of pretense or artifice.

'This band is not about, like, some kind of art,' Kooch says. 'It's not like there's a statement we're trying to make or anything. It's about kicks. It's about making party music. I don't understand why there aren't more bands like us. I was trying to make a band that I would want to see and that I would enjoy. And I'm hard to please.'

Onstage, even in small quarters, The Slurs are a frenzy of activity, with every member looking fierce and angry while somehow maintaining a cheery attitude. It's a contradiction, but so is punk rock.

And then there's Allen, easily the most charismatic frontman in town, whether he's just standing and singing into the mic, or, as on several occasions, stripping off his shirt and covering himself with glitter.

'Put him in the worst band you've ever heard and they're going to sound 500 times better,' Doug Perdue believes. 'He's just got rock and roll in his blood. He channels some rock and roll icons. I tell you what, some of those dead rock stars have found their way into his soul.'

Like the Dirty Little Secrets, The Slurs know the art of not overexposing themselves. After a SRO crowd at the Melody Inn in late May, and a June 6 gig in Broad Ripple, The Slurs aren't scheduled to play again until Monday, July 1, when they'll play at the Melody Inn with the Texas bands The Firebugs and The Chop Sakis.

'I just don't want to wear out our welcome. If everybody kept coming back every week, I wouldn't mind doing it every week. But I think we're going to cut down on doing shows around here and make them more special. I'm looking at the end of August for the next Punk Rock Night, for example.'

Meanwhile, The Slurs will continue recording their first full-length album (their only recorded product currently is a vinyl EP pressed in the Czech Republic) and embarking on a Midwest tour with local punkers The Retreads.

Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, Kuczkowski and Allen downplay any idea that The Slurs have helped revitalize the Indianapolis music scene.

'Yeah,' Kuczkowski says, a sarcastic tone in his voice. 'We changed everything.'

'I want you to put down there that The Slurs saved Indianapolis,' Allen adds, laughing. 'We would like to go on record as saying we made Indianapolis.'

Then he quickly says, in an almost touching way, 'I'm just kidding.'

But with The Slurs and Dirty Little Secrets leading the way, a new crop of punk bands has emerged. The current all-ages clubs are filled with young punk bands and a lot of established bands are retooling their music to sound, well, more like The Slurs.

'The music scene in Indianapolis is not fully blossoming yet, but it's trying,' Kuczkowski says. 'It's like a little petri dish full of things. You look at it and there's just a little something going on. It's just the nature of things. If you look at the history of cities, Indianapolis has to have its time someday. I personally think it's 10 years off.'

'I think it's now,' Allen says.

More impartial observers, like John Zeps, give The Slurs a lot of credit. 'Last year, the whole music scene almost hit rock bottom with horrible jam bands,' he says. 'Now there's been an underground resurgence. The whole rock and roll feeling is coming back. And I see that with The Slurs; just the energy they give off live. I have faith in the scene again.'

And yet, despite the intervening years, and the potential for great future success for these Indianapolis bands, in the end, one of the biggest crowd-pleasing songs of any punk band in Indy comes from Dirty Little Secrets.

At some point in every show, Jennifer and Doug Perdue take the mic and sing a song that is unfamiliar to most of the people present.

I guess I'm not cool enough for you

I guess I'm not cool enough for you

I guess I'm not good enough for you

So FUCK YOU!

I guess I'm not cool enough for you.

Wherever they are, the Problematics must be proud.

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