$5 shows: The bands who fought to make punk cheap and affordable

$5 shows: The bands who fought to make punk cheap and affordable

Words by Morgan Mangan

Along with Fugazi and Wet Lips, Minor Threat were leading the way in making live music financially accessible to everyone.

In the ‘80s hardcore and punk scene, the idea of charging low costs for gigs became a huge part of what the genre was about. Minor Threat, led by frontman Ian MacKaye, became advocates for the notion to make shows as affordable as possible. Once supporting The Damned in Washington D.C., MacKaye voluntarily cut the bands pay in half when he found out tickets were $13.50.

Don’t take ‘Cashing In’ off Minor Threat’s 1983 record Out of Step, too literally. “The trouble with money, is that I want more/so let’s raise the price at the door/how much tonight? Three dollars or four?/you know we’ll make a million when we go on tour.”

Other bands of that period followed along in similar fashion including Circle One, a hardcore outfit from California, who’s singer John Macias founded P.U.N.X., an organisation that promoted and booked shows and never charged over $5.

MacKaye didn’t fall short on the idea of a low cover charge after Minor Threat came to a close. Forming Fugazi in 1987, he set the ground rules whereby they only played at all-ages shows and always stuck to a $5 cover charge. Their logic being, $5 was affordable to most and meant the person working the door didn’t have to make change.

Charging only $5 in 1987 wasn’t an easy task, the band had to be strategic with tours and managing the band. They saved money by rarely staying in paid accommodation, routing tours in a way that saved both time and petrol, eating very little and saving money on a booker and band manager with MacKaye taking up both these roles. Yet these weren’t the only challenges, as guitarist Guy Picciotto once said, “When it’s five bucks, you get every jackass on the street who has five bucks and nothing to do that night.”

Times have changed and $5 can’t buy as much as it could 40 years ago. Thankfully, Melbourne’s many venues have given musicians the ability to play free shows yet still provide guaranteed pay for playing. The Tote and John Curtin front bars, Post Office Hotel, The Retreat, Edinburgh Castle, Some Velvet Morning and Compass Pizza are just a few examples of venues regularly hosting free gigs.

When a free gig isn’t possible, there are still bands taking matters into their own hands to make music accessible. For WETFEST 4 in 2018, Wet Lips presented ticket buyers with the choice to buy a ticket for someone else to attend. When purchasing online tickets, if you were willing and financially able, you could pay for the price of two tickets and Wet Lips would make these tickets available to others who were unable to afford their own.

These are just a few of the examples where punk helped make live music cheaper, more available and more accessible.