The Dik Van Dykes Reunite
Hamilton has had a rich history of music over the last six decades, particular in its vibrant underground scene, and one band in particular deserves note. The Dik Van Dykes were a prominent force in a burgeoning Canadian post–punk underground scene in the ‘80s and while veteran fans have lamented their demise for a near quarter century it seems hell has finally frozen over and the Dik Van Dykes return for a special holiday hometown gig this week.
It was 28 years ago that Mike “Dik” Johnson (lead guitar/vocals), Sarah Hodgson (vocals), Renee Wetselaar (vocals), Steve Hoy (rhythm guitar), Stu Smith (drums), and Frank Viola (bass) formed the quirky and comedic, garage punk band known as the Dik Van Dykes.
“The Pop Tarts (Hodgson and Wetselaar’s collective nick name within the band) met in Mac Fine Arts, and they both knew me,” recalls Johnson. “I introduced them to Steve and Stu whom I met through (McMaster University’s campus radio station 93.3) CFMU. Paul (Bauman) was also at Mac, but we met him through his sound recording skills. Paul created the “Live from the Gown and Gavel” cassette for us, and then stepped in to play bass, as Frank Viola got too busy with a real job. So, we basically were conceived by the union of male and female parts belonging to CFMU.”
The DVDs would usher in a third wave of new underground music in Hamilton (predecessors Teenage Head and the Forgotten Rebels being at ground zero for punk in 1977, followed by roots rock and power pop revivalists the Florida Razors and the Shakers a few years later). By 1985, the new wave had fully blossomed welcoming in and enveloping punk, ska, electronic, disco, hip hop and more into a mélange of different musical styles but a lot of it had been usurped into the pop mainstream. Perhaps ripping a small page from the B–52’s early days and putting an emphasis on their gritty Hamilton surroundings, the Dik Van Dykes offered a crazy party that immediately made the underground exciting again and made them proclaim themselves “Hamilton’s ambassadors of tackiness to the world.” The Dik Van Dykes were a sexy, sassy and silly sextet that put an emphasis on fun.
Primitive garage rock played with passion, the Dik Van Dykes sung essentially folk songs of their surroundings that soon had audiences singing along and dancing up a storm. Songs with oft–borrowed tunes like “Road Warrior”, “Harold Snepsts”, “Adult Gumby”, “Curling”, “Klaus Barbie” were perennial faves but they would even document peculiar fans like “Lazlo” an out of place older gentleman that frequented gigs at the Corktown in those days dressed in a leisure suit and ready to play chess with any pretty girl. Perhaps the lyrics of “Birthday Song” summed up the humour with the opening lines “So I hear it’s your birthday/ who gives a shit?” The DVDs offered raucous party tunes that spoke for their generation.
“We practiced in a basement on Jackson Street West, until we graduated to the upper floors of Dundas Valley School of Arts once they closed each night — we couldn’t afford a garage, sadly,” recalls Johnson on the making of the DVDs garage rock. “The lyrics were messy like the shallow drawer of an old desk — full of interesting unrelated tidbits, often borrowed, never returned. When you do return to the drawer after a few years, some of those tidbits look interesting and/or funny again. Other things just look more dated, infantile, or… um, more infantile...
“Playing live was about connecting with the people who came to see you – dressing up, goofing off, laughing, making noise, and letting off steam,” adds Johnson. “The musical product we made was just something for people to take home and add to mixes. It was more important to us to have vinyl to send to university and college radio stations. The airplay meant the most to us.”
I was still a kid way back when and think fondly back on those special days of Hamilton’s underground music. It shaped my ideals and would continually inspire me to help document Hamilton’s glorious musical culture.
“Looking back, the best things I remember is having hair and cheaper beer,” laughs Johnson. “I’m not sure it was a special time in Hamilton music, frankly. There were some really good bands around the same time like the Problem Children but we came chronologically after Teenage Head, Shakers, Razors and the Forgotten Rebels had made their mark, and before bands like the Killjoys took off. What I remember most fondly is that once we strayed out from the McMaster Campus, there were very fun places for us to play like the Corktown, the Gown and Gavel, and Teasers (the now defunct Sandbar) as well as other bands in Hamilton who were fun and taking turns supporting each other. We had bands like Shadowy Men, UIC and Deja Voodoo frequently playing those venues too, and encouraging us to play other towns.
Given their connections at 93.3 CFMU, they released a live broadcast on cassette and subsequently two self–effacingly named albums, Nobody Likes...The Dik Van Dykes in 1987, and Waste Mor Vinyl in 1989, on Deja Voodoo’s uber cool Montreal based Og Records label. You can try to find the collection of compilation albums dubbed “It Came From Canada” – find out just how much cool music was happening in a very important national underground scene and the Dik Van Dykes were representing Hamilton proudly.
“I still haven’t seen another band from Hamilton, or anywhere else, that took themselves less seriously than we did,” notes Johnson. “Even some supposedly goofy bands like the Large Barenaked Men – I think that’s their name – had rock star aspirations. We never did…”
By 1988, the DVDs were even popular enough to open for the Ramones on a three night sold out set of shows in Toronto. But perhaps their convictions to a punk ideal meant the DVDs legacy would simply end when the band broke up. “We should have had more cowbell, and less wedding bell,” quips Johnson on the reason for the demise of the band in 1989. And while many veteran music fans reminisce over a beer about those crazy days with the Dik Van Dykes, seeing them play again was farfetched. For nearly a quarter century that was the case, that is until last year when the band surreptitiously reunited for a surprise birthday party for their drummer in Toronto last Christmas season. A resounding success from all accounts, it only seemed proper they actually play a show in their hometown. The Hamilton reunion show was at capacity before it was announced so there is no additional entry unless those on the special DVD list are not there for 9:30 pm but you can line up for any stand by spots as the night progresses. It’s already a popular night and particularly special for the Dik Van Dykes to reunite one last time in the city where that spawned them.
“Paul Blurt Bauman is a sound genius who works in Hollywood for Harman,” explains Johnson on what the band members have done since 1989. “He has produced live shows for some of the largest acts in music today. Both Steve and Stu work in the music and entertainment industry in Toronto. The “Pop Tarts” both have rewarding careers. Only Dik screwed up, by becoming a lawyer.
“The fact that we did [the original reunion show last year] in Toronto didn’t sit well with us,” adds Johnson on the Hamilton reunion. “The key to doing another show was for Paul to leave Tinseltown and return to the Hammer. As soon as he said he was coming here for Christmas, the arrangements began. It’s been 24 years since we last played our hometown, and anyone can do a twenty–fifth reunion. Why wait another year? We have plenty of surprises in store, for every person in attendance and folks may leave with a profound appreciation for the present, having survived this past life experience. As for the future, there has been talk of trade shows but where do you go from there? Never again is what we swore, the time before.”
The Dik Van Dykes reunite for one night only this December 28 at This Ain’t Hollywood with the Krumones, the Late Jimmy Marvelous and the Strummerelos. This is a free show and there are no refunds. After 9:30 pm anyone can enter as long as there is room. Non–perishable items will be graciously accepted for the Food Bank. Click on myspace.com/thedikvandykes
Punk rebelled against tradition but by the time I started writing for View, so many rebels were in the midst of starting their own holiday traditions well beyond dinner with the family, creating new extended families and sharing some holiday cheer. And so it goes with the likes of the now annual December Babies party tradition.
“Officially, it started when I overheard (Bruce Peninsula vocalist) Neil Haverty and (The Deviance vocalist) Andy Richardson cheers–ing themselves at a bar during the summer months,” recalls Cowlick drummer Jackson Hudecki. “Since we’re buds I said, ‘What’s the occasion?’ to which they responded, ‘we share the same birthday!’ When I asked when it was, I was delighted to find out that I, too, shared this joyous day. We all celebrated by group hugging at the bar and then ordering another round. The ‘Trifecta’ was united. We then decided to have a big party to commemorate our respective births later on that year, and thus the annual December 29 show began. Little did we know on that warm summer day, we would be embarking on an 11 year stretch of December Babies shows.
“The best thing about being able to host a party like this one is getting your friends together under one roof,” adds Hudecki. “Having multiple people celebrating and bringing their friends as well just means the building is resonating with love and happiness. As a kid, having your birthday so close to Christmas was hard to get people together and make it special. Everyone was busy, people were travelling, etc. Now that we’re all grown up we still face those situations but the holidays are a perfect excuse to get out of the house and celebrate pretty much any occasion, let alone some dudes’ birthdays. Neil Haverty, Andy Richardson and I were the Trifecta – the “OG’s” as Andy has recently put it. We’ve been friends for over a decade, with Andy and Neil going much much further back than myself. What we didn’t expect were other friends to step up and say ‘the 29th is MY birthday, too’. So in the spirit of ‘the party’ we opened the doors once again and brought in several other friends to celebrate, too. This is also an excuse for ANYONE who has a birthday in December (especially the END of the month) to come out and rock. In fact if your birthday falls between December 24 and December 31 you get in free at the show. Just prove it at the door.”
While the reason of this seasonal party is the B–day boys themselves, Cowlick singer/guitarist and Dylan Hudecki and Bruce Peninsula/ the Deviance’s Steven McKay would end up planning the festivities to include some special entertainment.
“The Honkies is basically just a reconfiguration of the Deviance, who have been playing these shows year over year since 2002,” offers Steve McKay. “We thought it might be fun to a tribute to The Band, with sort of a Last Waltz format. Max Kerman, Adam Bentley, Kori Pop, Cam Malcolm, Matt Paxton and more of our buds are going to hop up in stage and do one or two covers, leaning heavily on The Band’s material. It’s our way of spicing it up after 11 years. The band name comes from that brilliant Richard Manuel interview from Last Waltz, where he recounts all of the various names The Band was called before landing on it. It’s an inside joke for fans of the Canadian Squires.”
“We are doing half of our own songs with the rest of the set being covers,” interjects Jackson Hudecki. “Helping us sing those covers will be the lead singer of one of Hamilton’s hottest and dirtiest bands, a local show promoter who will represent an entire generation, a drum–god/one of my all–time heroes, a sexy bike–loving Chiquita and an old band mate emerging from the Coast and more.
“This year, we’re also doing it as a benefit,” adds Hudecki. “Murph’s Subs has been a staple in our community since we were all kids. His food helped us all reach the height and weight levels that we dreamt about as kids. Half of our beard growth can be attributed to his food – the other half is pure determination and years of birthday candle/shooting star wishes – so without him we’d literally be half the men we are today. His retiring is going to leave a lot of kids short and with future patchy facial hair, but as they say ‘all good things must come to an end’. To see this man off with a few extra dollars is the least we could do. This is one of a kind show. Every year it’s different, yet somehow oddly the same. Ask one of us to tell you something special about each event and we’ll tell you ten stories about what we might think is the same party. This even has been held all over the city, with all sorts of bands playing with it; Charlemagne (that would change their name and become Arkells), Neil Haverty’s The Boston Letter – one of my all–time favourite parties from the Pepper Jack cafe – Bruce Peninsula, the Deviance only to name a few. We encourage any and everybody to come out, to enjoy themselves, to meet a new friend, to hug it out, to high five but most importantly, to have fun.”
The Eleventh Annual December Babies show happens December 29 at the Casbah with Cowlick, the Honkies, Billy Moon and more with proceeds going to Murphy’s Subs Retirement. Doors are at 8pm and $5 gets you in. Click on cowlick.ca