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Atlanta punk! A reunion for 688 and Metroplex

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In 1982, William DuVall had just moved with his family from Washington, D.C., to suburban DeKalb; he soon learned which bus routes would bring him to Wax 'N Facts records in Little Five Points, the only place that carried the punk records he wanted.

"I was 14 and wasn't allowed to go anywhere interesting," he says. "I only got to go to clubs when I could convince my mom to take me. I vowed I would either run away from home or start a punk band."

Taking the second option, DuVall recorded a demo tape with some neighborhood kids. He took the cassette straight to Steve May, who gave the youngsters a booking. At only his second gig at 688, DuVall and his friends found themselves opening for the Circle Jerks.

"That was huge for us!" he recalls. "We'd seen them in The Decline of Western Civilization and now we were playing with them."

The beginning of the end for 688 came in early 1986 when Georgia raised the drinking age from 19 to 21; other new liquor laws forced the club to abandon all-ages shows. The club had never been much of a moneymaker, concedes May, who didn't take a salary for several years. When 688 could no longer serve as a sanctuary for disaffected teens, there seemed little point in continuing. May jumped ship to join the city's other well-known punk club, the Metroplex.

By that fall, 688 was history.

Metroplex: Punk's second wave

As a student activist pushing for marijuana legalization in the early '70s, Paul Cornwell learned the ropes of music promotion before dropping out of UGA to open a nightclub in Athens. A few years later, the former yippie moved to Atlanta to organize "smoke-ins" and pro-pot rallies.

Impressed with the anger, energy and fuck-you attitude of the new punk movement, Cornwell organized "Heartbreak Hotel," a series of underground shows held at the Cotton Exchange building near the then-grungy Buckhead triangle and other venues. Music was provided by such local bands as the Restraints, the Razor Boys and Heathen Girls.

After a few years, Cornwell started looking for a permanent space. "I got tired of cleaning out warehouses, so I opened a club," he says. In 1983, he rented out a former blood bank on Luckie Street and named it the Metroplex – in reference to the Dallas area's nickname, which in turn was an obscure homage to the Dead Kennedys.

It would take more than a year for the police to realize that the club had neither a business license nor occupancy permit, after which Cornwell moved it around the corner. The new building on Marietta Street was designed to allow all-ages shows, with the bar separated by chicken wire from the stage area which, with its cement floor overlooked by concrete balconies with industrial metal railing, resembled a bunker.

As the sound of the Atlanta scene shifted away from the simpler, more melodic style of British and New York punk, the 'Plex quickly became synonymous with the aggressive machine-gun rhythms of hardcore, typified by Black Flag and Bad Brains. Club-goers work off excess energy slam-dancing, stage-diving and crowd-surfing.

"For me, it had to be faster, louder, harder," DuVall says. "This was music that made no pretense of trying to get on the radio or sell records.

"But it wasn't just frenzy and anger," he adds. "The energy itself was life-affirming, like how [Bad Brains singer] H.R. began each show by diving onto the stage from the balcony. I don't know if straight-up punk rock would've existed in Atlanta without the Metroplex."

DuVall's new band, Neon Christ, debuted at the 'Plex in December 1983, becoming one of a host of local hardcore acts, including DDT, Dead Elvis and the Anti-Heroes, that frequently opened for such touring bands as DRI, the Exploited, MDC, the Plasmatics and Suicidal Tendencies.

Besides serving as a base for the hardcore scene, the 'Plex became a haven for a revolving collection of street kids and skate punks. Cornwell offered matinee shows – three bands for three bucks – and let teens hang out in the club during the day. Suburban kids who'd missed their ride home were allowed to crash at the club, as were bands that had run out of gas money. At any given time, there might be up to a dozen youngsters living upstairs.

"The whole game changed when Cornwell opened up the Metroplex to all these disenfranchised kids," DuVall says. "When your home is a war zone and you don't identify with anyone at school, you gotta have a place to play. It happened at just the right time for me."

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