Steve Koepke (left) at 924 Gilman with Cyrus Comiskey of the bands Black Fork, Drunk Horse and Saviors. (Rick and Susan Seger)
Although the new generation of punks may not recognize Steve Koepke, a white-mustached 65-year-old with a modest demeanor, NOFX's Fat Mike makes sure to say hello to him when his band plays in the Bay Area. Billie Joe Armstrong often takes time to greet Koepke at Green Day's shows, as well.
Getting nods from such punk royalty is no big deal to Koepke, who helped put these bands on the map as the creator of seminal concert calendar The List, the flyer and email newsletter he started in 1990. For more than a generation, The List and its associated low-budget HTML site, Foopee, have been the de-facto way for locals interested in punk, funk, thrash, ska and rock to plan their show calendars.
“People come up to me in their 30s and say they were 14 years old and used to plan out their lives by this list," says Koepke. Today, he's still going strong with nearly 2,000 subscribers — despite the advent of services like Facebook events and Eventbrite.
Yet although he's held the keys to hardcore heaven for nearly thirty years, The List's creator remains a face in the crowd.
Digitizing Zine Culture
Koepke, a Richmond resident and Bay Area native, got into the punk scene around 1989 — when he was well over 30 — after a friend turned him onto Primus and Suicidal Tendencies. At that point, 924 Gilman had been open for only a few years and Koepke frequented it two or three times a week.
“I love the energy [of punk], especially the young bands on stage at Gilman," he says. "I saw a lot of old rock bands where people stand on stage and don’t move around; the music might be really good but that’s it."
Koepke was friends with Robert Eggplant, a musician and writer who published the punk fanzine Absolutely Zippo! Koepke wanted to get more involved in punk and, though he found zine culture appealing, he set his sights toward technology.
“I noticed there wasn’t a good show listing around, so I tried to get as much info as I could,” he says. “I used to leave little notes at Gilman and shows, and said, 'If you want to get a listing of shows, send me an email.'”
At the time, Koepke was working in computer systems administration and used his Unix skills to develop an script that would populate a mass show listing email. In June 1990, at the dawn of the internet, The List was born and emailed out to the punk world.
These days, The List boasts 1,900 subscribers and features shows as far as Sparks, Nevada to the east, Redding to the north, and Modesto to the south. Koepke personally curates and posts well over 50 show listings per week, from backroom gigs at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records to bigger concerts at the Chapel and DNA Lounge. Foopee and five additional websites that use information from The List attract around 8,000 monthly visitors.
While Koepke used to focus exclusively on punk shows, The List has “pretty much anything,” including the occasional hip-hop or electronic show, or a music-adjacent art event. Particularly in its early days, The List became an accessible catch-all for punk, hardcore and ska bands who performed at DIY spaces and warehouses in addition to better-known venues like Gilman.
“It was important to get the word out back in the day when Green Day would play backyards and kitchens, or bands like Rancid and AFI would play small venues," Koepke says. "I hope people went to see those shows because I got the information out."
The List spread through word of mouth, handled down from counterculture generation to counterculture generation. Koepke did no advertising beyond printing The List and distributing it to local venues, record stores and book shops. Since then, he’s received a continuous stream of interest from bookers, promoters, venue owners, publicists and bands who want their performances featured.
Twenty-eight years later, Koepke receives about 100 emails a day and spends between 6 and 12 hours a week curating the Bay’s many concerts for his subscribers. The List remains crucial for lesser-known local and touring bands that might otherwise get lost in the glut of events on Facebook or Do The Bay.
DIY at the Dawn of the World Wide Web
The List arrived in the years leading up to the birth of the World Wide Web, and Graham Spencer’s Foopee took things to the next level in 1994.
Spencer moved to the Bay Area to study computer science at Stanford about 30 years ago and fell into the Bay’s punk and hardcore community. “At the time, the Bay Area was an epicenter for that—there was Gilman Street, all the East Bay bands,” he says. Spencer met Koepke at a Gilman show, knew about The List, and wanted to improve upon it with a webpage.
With Koepke’s blessing, Spencer created Foopee.com, a stripped-down site that features a week-by-week, day-by-day listing of concerts. On Foopee, shows are further searchable by venue and band, and each listing notes whether the show is all ages, whether one should expect a mosh pit or whether it’s likely to sell out.
A comic on Foopee’s homepage is the only clue to the origins of its name. Spencer explains that Foopee comes from a four issue fanzine called Dear Jesus, which was created in the late '80s by Born Against vocalist Sam McPheeters.
“They had a comic character called Foopee, and Foopee was just a real jerk,” Spencer says, noting the proper pronunciation is "foo-P." “He only made like two different episodes of Foopee, but my friends and I thought it was funny.”
Today, Foopee autonomously scrapes information from The List for daily updates. But it still looks straight out of the ‘90s with basic HTML formatting that’s devoid of any flair aside from blue hyperlinks. About 2,000 people visit the website each week — half from the Bay Area and the rest from Paris, Los Angeles and New York.
“I’ve thought about, 'Should I make it fancier?' But I kinda like it,” Spencer says. “There’s the aesthetic of punk which is everyone should grab a microphone or a guitar and make their own music; it’s sort of anti-professional. Anyone who knows old HTML could bang out something like [Foopee] — it matches what the music scene is about.”
The List in the Age of Algorithms
Elbo Room owner Matt Shapiro said he first encountered The List in 1994 at the now-shuttered Epicenter; he still tries to make sure all of his shows make it to the coveted site. Foopee is “very comprehensive as far as my interests are concerned. It’s awesome that everything is in one place and you don’t have to worry about an algorithm.”
Algorithms — specifically those belonging to Facebook, Songkick and other event-tracking platforms, neither of which responded to requests for comment for this story — may seem like the biggest threat to The List and Foopee. But Spencer, a partner in Google Ventures, credited Koepke’s unique curatorial approach for keeping the list relevant.
“It’s very democratic and egalitarian,” he says. “You could design algorithms to do that but, often times, that’s not what the people designing these systems want. Steve levels the playing field.”
Foopee and The List are also an unintentional cultural archive, a record of shows both large and small that shaped the Bay’s musical community. Many of the people who first contacted Koepke about his email list have become industry professionals with long social histories.
“I’ve been doing it so long that a lot of people come up to me and thank me,” Koepke says, adding that most people wouldn’t recognize him. "It’s nice to think I accomplished something.”
Koepke still goes to shows at Gilman and the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma — two of his favorite venues in the Bay — though he’s not out in force as he once was. He spends time working at a car dealership and collecting antiques that he sells on eBay, occasionally thinking about what he might do with his massive record collection or bounty of show and rave flyers from the '90s.
As venues fall prey to gentrification, and mega-promoters like Live Nation and Goldenvoice eclipse independent bookers, young artists can find it difficult to get a foothold in the Bay Area music scene. Yet Koepke remains hopeful for the underdogs. He points to the large amount of venues that have opened in the East Bay in the past few years, and sees some benefit to the tech sector.
“Right now there’s so many different venues that have shows,” Koepke says. “I think a lot of it has to do with the tech bubble because there’s a lot more young people with money looking for things to do. It’s a good thing because a lot of local bands are finding it easier to find places to play.”
The Bay Area’s musical sensibilities have also drifted away from its ‘80s punk roots. Venues like Gilman are still crucial to the scene, but the groups who initially populated The List have blown up, faded away or left for other cities. Like many other regional cultural staples, punk has been pushed further into the fringes.
“I don’t know how punk’s gonna survive sometimes, because it gets so expensive that young bands might not be able to live here or practice,” Koepke says.
The Bay may no longer be the alternative epicenter it once was. But Koepke is confident that, like punk, The List will never die.
“I have almost 2,000 subscribers, as long as people want me to send it out, I will," he says. "I guess eventually I’ll get too old to do it, but I think it’ll always be relevant because I can’t see people not going to shows anymore.”