By Jim Schutze
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Unless you're a local punk enthusiast who perhaps spent some time studying the collective works of Rudolf Rocker and his "anarcho-syndicalism" posse, you most likely have not heard, nor heard of, Chad Ferman. Yet he has done plenty to keep his fragile flame burning around here. Perhaps a handful of you remember his most recent band, The Gitlows, otherwise known as those skinny Denton boys wearing tight black pants with black, butchered Ramona Quimby haircuts, screaming and squirming around in the audience. Or something to that effect.
"I loved that band," Ferman says, his voiced tinged with nostalgia. "I'm a nerd; I love concept bands. It was a contest sometimes, to see who could damage the most equipment." However, he's glad it's over, he says, "because I was really broke." But that just barely scrapes the surface of Ferman's hard-won love affair with the genre.
Besides The Gitlows, Ferman has played in and toured with a handful of other acts, including Adler, Braving Tomorrow, and Brucke 1905; currently, he plays bass in Kid Chaos. For three years, he's been running the Denton/Dallas Showlist Web site, the most comprehensive and accessible guide to regional shows. Back in the mid-1990s, he also helped run the short-lived but ultra-idealistic Durruti Column "anarcho-syndicalist collective" (once based out of a Lower Greenville storefront that housed the Record Gallery during the '80s), and he's been doing shows out of Denton's scrappy punk mecca the Highland House ever since he returned from a brief residency in Gainesville, Florida.
To further his résumé, Ferman and collaborators Cory Kilduff, Jeremy Harris, Brett Tohlen, Zack Kerr, Mike Weibe, Fadi Al-Assad, and Stephanie Burchard began planting the seeds for Green Means Go! last fall, launching their nonprofit record distribution collective. The project has since blossomed into an impressively ambitious, if not idealistic, effort: a volunteer-run, all-ages performance space and distribution headquarters, with hopes to build a stronger, more visible music movement across the Dallas-Denton-Fort Worth sprawl.
Disenchanted by the lack of support for and within the local music scene, Ferman moved to Gainesville with a group of other Denton kids last summer. Famous in punk-kid circles for turning out bands such as Plataka, Hot Water Music, and Discount, Gainesville has developed a reputation as a more constructive, personally political community.
"The first day I was there," Ferman recalls, "this kid gave me a zine called Stop Moving to Gainesville It's Not That Cool Here." Nonplussed by such resident-scenester rants, Freeman and company found plenty about the music and kid culture inspiring -- especially The Wayward Council, an established non-profit record store.
Ferman and Kilduff schlepped back to Denton in October, hoping to build in Texas what they had witnessed in Florida. They moved into the Highland House, renamed it the more sincere "The People's House," and began booking shows in what he refers to as "the shack behind" the house with renewed enthusiasm. By this point, Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, Denton's other prime local venue, had ceased to book smaller punk shows. Along with trying to accommodate "everyone that called us," Ferman and Kilduff booked touring acts such as Ann Beretta; Fighter D; and Paris, Texas -- the kind of punk-circuit bands that bypass official venues (and their age limits) in order to play to packed houses of loyal kids in homes, church basements, universities, and rehearsal studios.
By late fall, benefit shows and open meetings for Green Means Go! had begun, and community involvement was swelling. Things were looking up for Ferman and his cohorts -- until they were slapped with a People's House eviction notice three days after Christmas. Understandably, this thrust the band into "panic mode": Shows had been booked well into January, and the demise of another venue could prove the killer blow to the scene.
Enter a former auto-tinting shop just off Interstate 35 in Denton. Ferman and his friends have begun restoring it; it's the quintessential labor of love, turning the shop into a performance space with a capacity of 200. Meanwhile, Green Means Go! hosted its first non-People's House show on February 6 at the Good/Bad Art Collective's space. It starred Milemarker, an intense, constantly touring band that epitomizes punk's noble and ongoing DIY cause.
The new auto-shop space should be ready by mid-February, and already on the roster for the coming months are touring acts HAW, Elliott, and the aforementioned Hot Water Music and Ann Beretta, along with a weekly Thursday '80s night. Keeping with the People's House mantra, the shows will be all-ages and staffed by volunteers. Ferman insists on avoiding the term "club" and its association of nighttime-only events. The group wants to cultivate a round-the-clock policy; Ferman talks of the possibility of hosting a Good/Bad art installation, and, of course, the rekindled record-distribution plan.
Green Means Go!'s product distribution fell behind during the rush to find a new home, and setting up the new venue has eaten up all the money that was formerly intended for establishing an inventory. But, Ferman says, the distribution side acts as the collective's financial hub, and the collective believes record availability boosts an area's music consciousness.
"There is a definite need in the area for a place to buy Outhud and Rondelles records besides the post office," Ferman says, referring to the genre's close ties with mail-order inefficiency. Green Means Go! is exploring other outlets for its bands as well. While many of the acts that have come through the People's House have enjoyed generous airplay on college radio stations, that market bottoms out in this region. There simply isn't an adequate, strong signal -- a "college-rock" format station between the several isolated university communities scattered around North Texas -- so the collective is looking into buying AM frequency.
"You can't [beat] anything like radio as far as exposure goes," Ferman says. "And AM is cheaper, and the broadcast goes so much farther."
While the collective chips away at the radio option and relaunches its distribution element, it muses about setting up future outposts, once a month or so, in central Dallas and in Fort Worth. "Hopefully, it will help make things less isolated between Dallas and Denton and Fort Worth," Ferman says. He insists that while he's pleased with the sparks of an underground punk scene in Dallas, his ambivalence about his past dealings with the city is hard to shake. He started the defunct Dallas chapter of Food Not Bombs in the early 1990s, then saw the Durruti Column come and go, surrendering their territory to frat boys and gas pipes.
"When we were doing [the Durruti Column], everyone around there was dead-set against us," he says. "It's even worse now. It's all this bar rock in Dallas, and that's it. All the [punk] kids that I meet from Dallas, they don't even want to play there." Ferman, of course, can't blame them.
But with Green Means Go!'s increased visibility, Ferman hopes to bring a heightened music consciousness to Denton, and perhaps beyond. His longtime punk ideologies remain intact -- he would like to see a scene less exclusively white and male and generally more informed and democratic. Not to mention more enthusiastic.
"Plenty of kids have said, 'No one's going to want that,'" he says. "I just want to know, how did you all become so jaded? I want bands to come through Denton and think, 'Yeah, those kids are on top of it.'"