Q&A with Punks in Vegas Founder

It’s safe to say Las Vegas’ music scene has vastly changed over the past 10 years. From once being considered a flyover city, Vegas is now a must-play destination for touring artists with its growing Downtown music scene and multitude of festivals such as Life is Beautiful and Psycho Las Vegas that have since arisen.

However, if there’s one aspect of Vegas’ music scene that hasn’t skipped a beat―and is perhaps one of the closest things to the scene’s actual heartbeat―it’s Punks in Vegas, a music blog that’s stayed true to its mission of covering the city’s eclectic music scene over the past decade 

Created by local librarian Emily Matview as a grad school project, the online site quickly took off months after its creation and has featured hundreds of articles, photos, and stripped down acoustic video sessions of local and big-name artists in the punk music world, including Less Than Jake, Dead to Me, and The Bouncing Souls (the site named itself after their song “Punks in Vegas”).

For Matview, the project has always been a labor of love for her and the website’s small network of volunteering contributors that have documented everything from underground house shows to larger-scale venues and festivals like Punk Rock Bowling. Since its creation, Punks in Vegas has garnered close to 16,000 followers combined across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the once steady stream of shows and plans for a big 10-year anniversary celebration, Matview has remained active in developing an oral history series featuring interviews with former local punk artists. 

We caught up with the Punks in Vegas founder to reflect on the site’s history, and what lies on the horizon.

What is the origin story of Punks in Vegas?

I went to grad school for library science, and one of my electives was on website development. So for my project I put together a show guide of shows that were coming up in Las Vegas.

Back then 10 years ago, I would wake up, have breakfast and I would look all over the internet to see what kind of shows were coming up. It was so different back then.

Once I graduated [in 2011] I suddenly had a lot of free time for the first time in a long time. I was getting some dinner with my friend Aaron Bautista and he was telling me to set up a website. 

I just wanted to promote shows that were coming up that I was excited about and hope that I could get more people to come out to the shows so that we could have more shows so more bands that I liked would come to town. 

You’ve amassed a decent-sized following across since its founding. When did things really start taking off for Punks in Vegas?

When I was posting about these shows I was like “I want to write about these shows, and I really wanted to showcase that we had some cool stuff going on out here.” 

I would talk to people online―you know band labels. A lot of people didn’t realize that we had a scene out here, or maybe they had a friend of a friend that had a bad show out here, so I started reviewing shows like a month or two after the show guide went up. Then my partner at the time was like “you should post some pictures to go along with it” and she loaned me her camera and things really started picking up a lot after that―somewhat surprisingly. 

I really didn’t think that many people would care outside of my circle of friends. I didn’t really have a super grand plan of expansion or anything. I was just doing it for fun and trying to get more people in my circle to go out to shows, but the bands started sharing everything.

Do you think your site caters to a niche audience that’s often overlooked by other local media? 

The Las Vegas Weekly and all of those other (local media) organizations have been so nice and supportive of us, but also because of all of the limited space that they have, they’re not really going out there and covering the kind of shows that we were covering. They just don’t have the room for it. It’s not like they don’t want to, but they can’t go and cover random house shows and even like a lot of bar shows and stuff like they have to save that space for bigger things, so I think it was just filling a spot that wasn’t really being filled in that way. 

I never really expected to cover bigger shows, it wasn’t something that I was setting out to do. I think it just hit that niche of really cool shows that were happening that more people got to find out about hopefully through us. 

How have you seen Vegas’ music scene change over the past decade?

When I first started Punks in Vegas, there was like a lot more punk-type bands, emo type bands, that were in that mid-level, and now there seems like there’s a lot bigger gulf between bands that are like big-big, and that bands that are kind of smaller and do the Downtown Vegas thing, 

Downtown has changed so much in the last 10 years and there’s so many spots down there for bands to play. So I think there’s a lot more avenues in that way. 

I think it’s kind of hard to guess what’s going to happen out here because of COVID and everything. It seemed like we had some really good consistent things going on [in Downtown]. 

Although your site has “punk” in its name, you cover artists of all different genres. Can you elaborate this?

In the really early stages the main thing I was trying to do is to try to promote stuff that I like, and most of what I like I would say would fall under the general umbrella of punk. But I’ve always liked a lot of stuff outside of punk, so sometimes I think it would’ve been a better idea if I had picked a different name because I know some people get a little grumpy about like ‘why are you covering this band, or this band, but not that band,’

But I think that like at the heart of the site is generally stuff that’s like punk or punk adjacent like ska-punk, hardcore, emo―stuff like that. But you know the idea is for everyone―any of the [contributing] volunteers―to promote whatever it is they like. 

I don’t try to pigeonhole it into one particular type of sound. You know within the scene itself you see a lot of bands you’ll see like [indie group] Rusty Maples play a show with [punk and metal group] Illiciator, and maybe there will be a hip-hop artist on the show too. There’s always been a lot of cooperation within the scene, so I think we just ended up being a reflection of that. 

How has COVID affected your site’s content?

This is the longest time we’ve gone without shooting a show or without filming a session. We’re trying to keep things as safe as possible. We’ve had the interviews go up still, but I’ve kind of shifted my own focus into those oral history books I’ve been working on. I’ve put out four or five of them. It’s a lot of work interviewing all of those people, doing all the research and everything so I figure that since I don’t really have a lot else going on it’s a good time to focus on those more like history-based things for myself. There’s not a specific deadline for it. 

Do you have any goals for the future?

As more people are vaccinated and it feels safe enough I’d really like to get back to filming sessions. There’s so many local bands out there that we haven’t got a chance to film with. Right before the shutdown happened we were going to film with [local band] Beau. I didn’t want to put anyone in a position to feel unsafe or promote anything that might not be safe. 

I feel like kind of the next step as it gets nicer outside and things get a little bit more safer, is I’d like to just start filming a bunch of local sessions.

It’s a little tricky because we try to film a bunch of bands at once….but with COVID it’s like I don’t want to have all those people standing around. It’s really hard to plan because sometimes.

For so long I’ve just been kind of imagining in my head all the cool things we can do for a 10-year show because it’s such a big event. I mean I can’t imagine we’re going to have a 20-year show because eventually I’m just going to get too busy with life at some point or maybe I’ll move somewhere else because of my career. 

I don’t know maybe I’ll just do it forever, but I’ve been imagining all of these cool opportunities for a 10-year show. Maybe next year we’ll do a 10-plus show and it’ll just kind of accompany years 9,10,11 altogether

People often have their own reasons for identifying with punk rock. How do you resonate with the culture?

Being “punk” is very much a part of my identity, but it’s a part combined with a lot of things that make me “me.” I’m a person who is punk, I’m a person who is trans. I’m a person who’s a reader. Everything comes together to make me, “me.” I don’t necessarily make “punk” the biggest part of my identity like I did when I was in high school. Back then I was picked on a lot and a nice side benefit of being part of a scene made me the “punk kid” instead of the “weird kid” so that was nice! 

But now I just think of myself as Emily and being punk is a part of that. It’s a part of who I am and it influences everything I do. That DIY esthetic, for instance, has influenced how I promote my programs at work. It makes me a more successful librarian in the way I go out and flyer the town about Coffee and Comics [library comic book club] or the free food we provide to at-risk youth, things like that. It influences me to think outside the box with more diverse programs and displays. I feel like it makes me a better professional and a better person because of my experiences in the scene.

When I see some oldhead punk complaining that they can’t use homophobic or transphobic or misogynist insults anymore because “kids are too sensitive now” or whatever it makes my eyes roll so hard that they fall out of my head. That idea that punk should be “punching down” is completely in opposition to what I stand for as a punk, as a transwoman and just a human freaking being, and it makes me not want to be associated with those people. To me punk should be about punching up not down, about making the world a better place and not hate.