The 2 Keys Reunion: Rob Ruzicka on St. Louis Punk Rock's Legendary Community -- And Why It's Still Important Today

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Rob Ruzicka - COURTESY OF
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Nestled in the corner of a dead-end block in Richmond Heights remains the 2 Keys House. Possibly unknown to its current residents, the house's basement walls continue to hold a strong historical significance for St. Louisans of a certain music generation.

The short-lived 2 Keys Industries operated between December 2001 and July 2002, with an explosion of teen angst and punk rock ethos. Spawning friendships and bands alike, the 2 Keys House was responsible for fortifying an already close-knit music community. Organized by a rotating group of twentysomething hardcore fanatics, the 2 Keys crew operated under a D.I.Y. philosophy, offering all-ages access to both national and local acts in a collectively created performance space. Free of the rigid rules and regulations of bars and traditional music venues, this safe haven helped cultivate a blossoming hardcore community.

A handful of local bands developed and thrived here -- from the fast-as-fuck fury of bands such as To No End (featuring Scott Plant of Civic Progress) to the legendarily destructive "thrashwrath" of the always entertaining Kill Me Kate (featuring members of the Humanoids, Cross Examination, Nineteen and the Breaks). Like many punk venues across the world, the 2 Keys House offered more than just hardcore; other underground subgenres included the electrically-charged dance punk of In Medias Res, the beer-soaked rock of 12 Gauge Blues and the off-kilter, angular punk rhythms of Corbeta Corbata.

This fall marks the eighth year since the 2 Keys House shut its doors to the public. But luckily for "nostalgia junkies" and newcomers alike, a reunion has been in the works over the past year. This Saturday, November 27, at El Leñador (3126 Cherokee Street), a once-in-a-lifetime reunion will feature performances by To No End, 12 Gauge Blues, Corbeta Corbata, Kill Me Kate and In Medias Res, as well as a few surprise guests.

Plane tickets have been purchased, countless practices have taken place, surprises are in store, and the word is out. Can the bands' excitement and enthusiasm of their salad days be retained after all these years? Rob Ruzicka, who's one of the primary organizers of the 2 Keys Reunion, has been booking, promoting, and playing D.I.Y. shows for well over a decade. (He's also the lead singer of Cardiac Arrest and unofficial custodian of St. Louis punk history.) Always extending a friendly hand, you can find him at almost every hardcore show around town, chumming it up with old friends and, more important, ushering in a new generation of alienated youth. Below, he discusses the importance of 2 Keys then and its influence now.

Josh Levi: In 2002, you were quoted in the RFT saying "We're all around 22. We're doing this and letting the kids know where all the money's going, so when we're 30, others will pick up the work and pass it on to the next generation." - In regards to shows, bands & punk ethics, is the scene different? Rob Ruzicka: I want to take this moment to say to anyone who has grown up, dropped out or moved on from punk and asks the question, "That stuff is still going on?" to anyone who is still involved -- life won't stop when you die. Just because it disappeared from your life doesn't mean it disappeared completely. There were plenty of people doing this before me and there will be plenty after I'm gone.

I've had the privilege of seeing tons of bands come and go, watch people grow up and their ideals change, and survive all the different, petty things that happen in any music scene. I can say with pride that not one thing has changed. Sure the sound or fashion might slightly change, but the kids are still pissed! They still stand up for what they believe and work to change things they feel need to be changed. I never underestimate anyone regardless of how young they are, because I haven't lost touch with what it was like to be young. We didn't like what we saw so we decided to do it ourselves. People looked down on us and wrote us off because we were "a bunch of dumb kids." We didn't invent D.I.Y., we applied it. You can't stop progress. The Kids will have their say!

At the time you had recently arrived from a brief stint in Chicago. What brought you back to St. Louis? I came back to St. Louis with the purpose of getting something going musically, or otherwise, to put St. Louis on the map in the realm of DIY punk and hardcore. At the time the St. Louis hardcore punk scene existed almost solely in bars. Underage kids were forced to pay extra at the door and then confined to a corral just to see some wannabe rockstars go through the motions on a three-foot stage. All of this because they had no other options. It was either this or nothing. For a genre of music that was created, performed and primarily directed towards young people, this was far from ok.

Another thing that we wanted to accomplish was to create a show environment that wasn't based around ignorance and violence, two things that also seemed to be plaguing St. Louis at the time. People were aching for an alternative and all the pieces were there, it just seemed that no one would take the first step and say, "Okay, let's do this." When I was in Chicago every other weekend I had a friend from back home staying with me because they wanted to check out a band that wasn't stopping in St. Louis. I started telling them that they should book these bands themselves. It couldn't be that hard. After awhile I sat back and thought, "I keep saying it can't be that hard, so why don't I just move back and join the effort?" When I got back I sat down with a handful of friends and we talked about how we felt things should be and what we could do to change things. Soon thereafter I started contacting bands I liked and it took off from there Surprisingly, a lot of bands would skip St. Louis only because they didn't know who to contact for a show.

What the scene was like then? How has the scene changed, and what influence has the 2 Keys era had on the current state of D.I.Y. culture in St. Louis? The scene that existed within the 2 Keys House was really tight knit. That usually implies that it's hard to be accepted or welcomed into the fray, but it was quite the opposite. I've talked to a lot of people who move here from out of state and they all agree that it's really hard to make friends in St. Louis. They say it's very cliquish. We wanted to get away from that. We wanted more people to come out. We wanted people to have a good time. What's fun about going to a show and being worried you might get pounded by some meathead? Or going to a show by yourself and being stared down or ignored by everyone in the room? We made it a point to say hello to anyone that walked in the door and introduce ourselves to anyone that showed up alone. You wouldn't believe what little things like this can do. It's a very powerful thing to make people feel welcome, feel wanted. After the house closed to shows this was definitely one aspect that carried on to 2 Keys shows in other venues. Beyond the music, I think this was one of the biggest reasons it found any success at all. Corbeta Corbata @ Lemp, 2005:

What were some of your favorite 2 Keys gigs? I have two personal favorites. I think the apex of the house was the Kill Your Idols, Holding On, My Luck, Final Plan gig. Not so much because I was crazy about all the bands, but because I think this huge show seemed to represent everything we had worked so hard to achieve. Kill Your Idols loved the vibe of the show so much that they canceled their next day gig in Tennessee and played again. My other favorite was Epileptic Terror Attack from Sweden. St. Louis was the first date of their US tour. They flew into Chicago and it took them 7 hours to drive to St. Louis. (If you don't understand the hilarity of this, please refer to the directions portion of Google maps.) They were good naturedly heckled throughout their entire set and accidentally almost burned the house down.

Why is the reunion important? I think the reunion is important in the sense that it will provide a younger (and older) generation a little bit of St. Louis musical history. Personally, I am obsessed with St. Louis hardcore punk -- and hardcore punk in general, for that matter. I love discovering bands that have been lost to the ages, and I'm always on the lookout for more. Just ask any of old punks in this town that I've harassed, ha! St. Louis is a weird place. Here It seems every era of bands dies with THAT era. I've never fully understood it. I'm speaking from the hardcore punk standpoint. The knowledge of bands from a specific time period exists only to the people who experienced it during that time period. Then it dies out, people move on and drop out, and another group of kids comes along and starts up their own thing largely oblivious to what came before them. Unless you stick it out and continue playing music, or have a nerd like me blabbing to anyone who will listen, you will be forgotten.

It's kind of depressing considering the great bands that St. Louis has spawned. It has always been a goal of mine to change that. There have been a lot of people calling us "nostalgia junkies," and it's true to an extent. But honestly though, and I know this sort of contradicts what I just said, this show is mainly for the people who were there. The main purpose of the reunion is for a bunch of old friends to get together and have fun again. A lot of us have moved away or gotten caught up in life so it's just an excuse to get everyone under one roof. For me, this is more meaningful than a high school reunion.

How did the reunion come about? Around the 5 year anniversary I thought it would be fun to throw a big party commemorating the occasion, but I didn't put too much thought or effort into it so it didn't progress beyond wishful thinking. Then last year while planning a benefit/memorial show for my friends Nick Mardanes and Brad Cassidy, I pitched the idea of In Medias Res playing to their guitarist, Kit Gesmundo. I mentioned, in passing, that it would be cool if we got other bands from 2 Keys era to play, too.

The IMR thing fell apart, and I put the entire idea of a reunion out of my head. About six months later Kit contacted me saying that In Medias Res was planning on playing that fall and that we should revive the idea of a reunion. By this time I thought the entire thing was dumb and too much of a nightmare to coordinate. Well I was right about one of them, I'll let you decide which. Kit convinced me otherwise, citing that Thanksgiving weekend would mark ten years since the first "show" at the house. I told him if he could guarantee 100% that IMR would play then I would get on board. I never could have dreamed what would follow. The majority of these bands broke up at least five years ago. Between members living halfway across the country, members not playing an instrument since the band's break up, inter-band conflicts, etc, I can't believe we got some of these bands to reunite.

What acts are you most interested in seeing perform? I'm interested in seeing what antics Kill Me Kate has in store. They were always entertaining/unpredictable live. If you ever want added stress in your life agree to let Kill Me Kate do anything. Really, though, I know it's a cop out, but I am equally excited for every band playing. I loved all these bands, and I'm ecstatic that I have the opportunity to see them one last time.

In your opinion, what impact did 2 Keys have on the local community? I can't speak for anyone else who was involved, and I welcome anyone to correct me if they feel I'm wrong, but I feel 2 Keys had a great impact on things to come in the St. Louis music scene. Maybe it was just an anomaly and 2 Keys was a minor blip along with dozens of other things that some how aligned all at once, but I feel like it served as a catalyst to a lot of the underground punk scene in St. Louis today. It would be egotistical to say that nothing in St. Louis has since happened that you can't trace back to 2 Keys because there were/are plenty of bands that did their own thing and had great success doing it.

Though, usually when someone was doing something we liked and respected we quickly made friends and brought them into the fold, ha. I think a lot of friendships and bands formed through chance meetings at 2 Keys shows. And I hope that 2 Keys helped enlighten kids to take action and change things if they felt something needed to be done instead of complaining about how much St. Louis sucks. The "do-nothing complainers" quota in this city was reached a long time ago. The Breaks in 2005:

On a different note, 2 Keys had an impact on the economical aspect on the city, as well. A lot of the shows would draw people from surrounding states. I've played tour guide to bands from all over the world and have had a lot of people come back to visit and hang out. I've met people who moved to St. Louis because they liked the scene and bands that 2 Keys created. Not to mention that after the house closed a lot of the shows moved to spaces we found in what other people deemed "bad neighborhoods." A number of us moved into these neighborhoods and joined efforts help make them better. Some of these neighborhoods are now "hip" and "desirable" thanks in part to various people involved in the post 2 Keys scene. It's been ten years and I still have bands wanting to try the Pointersaurus Challenge because they had heard about it from other bands we had booked. You're welcome, Pointer's Pizza! You're welcome, Mayor Slay!

What was the hardest part of organizing the reunion? The hardest part of the reunion, after tracking various people down, was organizing the practices. A lot of the bands have at least one member that doesn't live in Missouri anymore, so I offered to stand in for various members during practices. For some reason initially I became everyone's middle man. Bands seemed to rely on me to contact their other members and to organize practices. I think they were very skeptical of the show actually happening, so they didn't want to put too much effort into it. There was a lot of "We'll only play if so and so plays." But once bands started hearing that the others were practicing, everyone started to get excited. Honestly, I'm already pretty tired of hearing a couple of these "reunion" bands since I've had to practice with them so much. Ha! That is kind of a bummer because I wish I could experience the show with everyone else. A little of the specialness is gone for me, but I guess that's a sacrifice that has to be made in order to ensure everything goes well for everyone else.

What type of audience do you expect to attend? This is actually the one thing I am really curious about. A lot of the core people in the scene back then have moved on or changed social circles. I've been telling people that this will probably be the most diverse "underground" show they will ever attend. So many different groups of people will be represented there. I've talked to friends involved with the heavy hardcore scene, the indie rock scene, noise scene, DIY scene, parents, norms with 9 to 5's, JeffCo hoosiers, hipsters and the list goes on and on -- all have said they were excited to attend.

Revisiting what I said in a previous question, I've even talked to younger kids that I knew would be interested who weren't planning on attending. I asked them why, since I knew they would be into the bands playing, and they told me that they had never heard of the bands. When I said, "So what? good music is good music." They replied with, "Well, we weren't around for that stuff anyway." Until I told them what the bands sound like and what some of the members went on to, they were clueless to these bands. It blew my mind that something could exist right under your nose for years and you could be completely oblivious to it. I mean, I wasn't around for Poison Idea or Jerry's Kids, but I still love their music and if the opportunity arose I would go see them.

In terms of D.I.Y. in St. Louis, who has picked up the torch? It's funny, when I first started booking shows I was a real snot-nosed brat. I mean, I still am, but I've gotten a lot more laid-back about things. I remember one of the first real shows I booked, an older scenester, who felt really threatened about all the new blood and his loss of relevancy, pulled me aside and gave me a long schpeel. Everything he said was really negative. He told me I was too positive about things. That one day this scene would be gone and there would be some real low points before it got better. I wrote it off, but never forgot it. Occasionally that night would cross my mind.

Today, I realize he was partially right. He was right that the scene would drop off. It's completely cyclical. I've seen the days of booking a show and not telling anyone til the day before and 100 people would show up. I've also seen the days of promoting something for a month and begging people to come out the day of only to have 15 people there. And I've only been going to shows for 16 years! I go through periods of wanting to give up, but then I see young bands like Sweet Tooth, Surburban Smash, Shaved Women, Dude Nukem, etc. They are all dedicated and actively working to keep things going. Sometimes you need to see those things when you're feeling like giving up. People like Martin and Erik Meyer, Mark Plant, Chris Eck, Ben Salyers, Angie Rana, Tiffany and Dustin at Apop Records, and countless others -- I hate making lists because I know I'm going to forget someone and I feel like anyone doing anything deserves recognition -- are currently flying the punk/hardcore flag in St. Louis. Without them things would be pretty miserable for anyone looking to see underground shows or find out about new music. And when all those people are gone there will be people that take their place. I'll be around in some form or another as well. I've survived this long, I don't plan on leaving anytime soon.

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