SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — An ad hoc punk rock scene of teenagers and adolescents in Sioux Falls once nearly lost its lease at a Scandinavian hall over a cigarette.
It's like "Footloose" — but with a Northern Plains twist.
"I think in the late '80s and early '90s, especially, no one was paying attention, so kids were able to get away with a lot," said writer and debut filmmaker Brian Bieber.
Bieber's documentary, "I Really Get Into It: the Underage Architects of Sioux Falls Punk," captures the DIY alternative music culture in South Dakota's largest city at a time when the city had yet to put its seal on downtown. The film premiered over the weekend with a series of sold-out screenings at the State Theatre in Sioux Falls.
Bieber said in an interview with Forum News Service last week that his film reveals a small but impactful moment in the city's culture, when "you had 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds booking venues."
"No one really thought at first to say, 'what, are we allowing a kid to do this?' People just didn't really care, and it didn't occur to them that there were relatively big things happening in the basement of Nordic Hall."
The underground Sioux Falls scene in those years before punk and grunge went mainstream in 1993 was a veritable secret across the city. Legends have long lived that it wasn't uncommon to find a young Green Day on a local bill — or sleeping on a local promoter's couch. Other heavyweights, hearing about enthusiasm in this otherwise sleepy prairie city, soon arrived, like The Offspring and Neurosis.
In his feature-length documentary, first released last fall during the COVID-19 pandemic but fully unveiled this month, Bieber captures the raw, sometimes-grainy footage of teenagers in the basement of Nordic Hall in tattered jeans or spiked hair, often without parents' approval.
"We're at one of those intersections of interstates kind of in the middle of nowhere, so we became a really nice option for people to come play when they're on their way to larger markets," Bieber said.
The documentary's debut comes at a pivotal moment, Bieber said, as the state wrestles with how to incorporate transgender children into schools and community life, including sports. The filmmaker's cut from the weekend sales will go to The Transformation Project, shepherding a spirit of togetherness he first felt when his mother dropped him off at the Nordic Hall at the age of 14 — at least a block away.
"I'd walk in, like, "I don't have parents," you know that vibe," laughed Bieber, who created the film with his wife, Brienne Manor. "Parents, for the most part, loved the shows. They were weirded out at birth. But they loved it because they saw it as a positive thing."
The documentary also features interviews with Fugazi frontman Ian Mackaye, lead architect of the local scene Terry Taylor, as well as a raft of alum from the music scene — some now in Seattle, Minneapolis, or others closer to home.
And the film tracks a bit of early 1990s media-inspired controversy, when an otherwise innocuous feature from a local TV station ended with a tongue-in-cheek parental warning not to be too hard on children returning who smell of smoke, as some of the kids smoked cigarettes in the basement.
A resulting citywide fight led to the cancellation of shows and Taylor camping out at city hall.
"Once they got noticed, they kind of had a target on their back," said Bieber. Although, he noted the music — and cultural — scene, especially for kids affectionately referred to as "misfits" in the film, were migrating to other outlets anyway.
"You'd see athletes in the offseason suddenly had a hardcore band," said Bieber. "But there was something special in those early, early days."
For more information, people can find links to the documentary and information about the film at ireallygetintoit.com.