The idea is excellent. Who wouldn’t want to go to a punk show in a decommissioned Cold War bunker? The Diefenbunker is a place that captures the imagination, and it has a certain amount of mystique. The night of punk rock, zines, and crafts at this historic site had been building anticipation for a few months.
Granted, it’s not easy to get there. The museum knows this, and provided a free shuttle to and from downtown Ottawa. No excuses!
Here’s how the night went down:
Back of the bus
30 minutes is a reasonable distance. I’ve travelled longer for a concert.
It’s a similar distance to the Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, though the countryside offers different things. Outside the window was a rural-industrial landscape—I was particularly taken with the sign advertising “culverts.” It may not be a covered bridge, but it’s arguably more important to be exposed to the outlying areas of a city, especially if you like tap water and well-maintained infrastructure. (I do.)
There was slight miscommunication with the transportation company, which led to the shuttle attendees waiting an extra half hour for the buses to arrive. Still, everyone was very patient. I am not a punctual person myself, which means I’m not allowed to be annoyed when I have to wait.
Finally, a blue wayfinding sign indicated the Diefenbunker was near. The anticipation builds.
It could be the most unique entrance to a venue in this town.
Strolling down the blast tunnel into nuclear safety, I couldn’t help asking the delighted visitor next to me — “Have you been here before?” It was curiosity, not a pick-up line, and she she was literally bouncing.
“This is my favourite place in the world!” she said, “I’ve been here almost ten times.” Her friends confirmed that she does, in fact, talk about the Diefenbunker frequently.
After turning a sharp corner and greeting the staff, we descended 70 feet underground.
The Blast Tunnel. Photo by Shawn Katuwapitiya.
The cafeteria is the largest room in the Bunker, and the linoleum tiles provide a historic ‘50s feel. The hall is quaint and well-maintained.
That evening, visitors could make their own pins, enjoy beverages and $1 pizza, and contribute to a zine being prepared by Possible Worlds, which is a gallery and workshop space in Chinatown. Someone at my table was gluing a picture of a sea mammal to a page. “I came for the zines,” she said to me. “I’ve been reading them for a while but I’ve never made my own.” I later heard from a musician recovering from a knee injury, who also appreciated the alternate activities, because it meant that he didn’t feel any pressure to stand for the entire evening.
I spent some time flipping through the zine library on display, but I admit – I was there for the music.
The Mess Hall. Photo by Shawn Katuwapitiya.
Built to protect the Bank of Canada’s gold reserves in case of emergency, the vault is a safe pretending to be a room. There is a sense of danger and protection while inside. It is metal and concrete, with nothing to absorb sound. The sound technician was uneasy and explained that minimizing the reverb would be a challenge.
For each performance, the atmosphere was unique and exciting. The setting enabled us to suspend our disbelief, and I was pleasantly surprised that each band had representation by grrl rockers. Turns out, punk pairs surprisingly well with both feminism and nuclear destruction.
Bonnie Doon made quite an entrance in hazmat suits, engaging the audience with tight riffs and tales of the outside world. They are fixtures on the Ottawa music scene, but I’d never seen the group before. Their stage presence and accessible melodies will capture the casual listener, and they invited audience members to spray paint them after the show. Would recommend.
They were followed by DOXX, who were more hardcore and also louder. I could feel the sound tech starting to sweat, but luckily I had earplugs. I’m a person who is often drawn in by lyrics, and while I couldn’t identify many words during this set, I still enjoyed it. Punk has a certain rawness that is especially evident during a live show.
Nightshades were up next, and I enjoyed the first song. However, the idea of making my own crafts was at that point more appealing to me than listening to music, and I stepped out of the vault and sought out the button-making station. It was creative magic.
Nightshades make some noise in The Vault. Photo by Shawn Katuwapitiya.
What is it about the intrigue of the Cold War era that feels like a good fit for the Diefenbunker?
I spoke to a self-identified ‘retired punk rocker’, who provided his opinion on the location. “It’s an iconic and triumphant moment for punk rock. We’ve taken over a government sanctuary.”
I further inquired about the philosophy behind the punk movement. According to him, punk is about “not letting anything you are born into – be it race, wealth, gender, not letting that define you. It’s about finding individualism in a world that is trying to tell you who you are.”