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

click to enlarge Rob Ruzicka - courtesy of
courtesy of
Rob Ruzicka

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.

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