As some of you may know already, after listening to a shit tonne of my father’s records, I gravitated toward the heavier side of metal – thrash and speed metal mostly. As the years went on, with the help of crossover groups like D.R.I. and Dayglo Abortions, I discarded my need for intricate riffage and fell in love with the ugliness and brash of punk rock. Although I ended up playing in a few punk bands, this happened long after the closure of Ottawa’s most legendary of punk venues of my generation – One Step Beyond.
Dan, on the other hand, was right in there in the thick of things, and has told me a few feckin’ eh’ right stories about the closet of punk rock on Rideau Street in Ottawa. He can remember being a teen (One Step Beyond is listed as one of Canada’s first designated All-Ages clubs) walking down Rideau Street and seeing the long lines of punks and other kids from the city’s underground music scene. One Step Beyond was created by Jeff Cohen and opened in September of 1986. Fondly, Dan recalls Tom McVeigh, One Step Beyond’s trusty door man/bouncer, and how this dude has seen it all. Feeling part of a community, the kids in this place would enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage from the bar, (probably after 5 or 6 not-so-non-alcoholic beverages before getting there) try to get a seat on the bleacher-style seats at the back wall, and see other like-minded kids from throughout the city. As I said, he recalls a real sense of community in this venue.
It wasn’t always the safest of places, but a few critical lessons were learned while hanging here. One, if you’re dancing (slam dancing, as the kids called it then) and someone falls, you immediately pick them up and get them out of harm’s way. Occasionally, you get an asshole who thinks it’s fun to smash people to the ground, but that was thing – the community started dividing itself between folks that had that true sense of family, and the assholes who just want to fuck it up for everyone. To this day, everyone I know does what they have to in trying to keep folks safe at shows. Dan recalls that this was time when red suspenders and red laces were not worn lightly – and if you had a great pair of Doc Marten boots (which were definitely not as readily found as they are now) you needed to stay clear of the skinheads, as they may just size you up for being rolled, and you’d walk home without boots.
There was no other venue for Dan and his friends to see shows at this time. One Step Beyond was an All-Ages venue, so teens were welcome, and they had shows in the afternoons on Saturday and Sunday’s, which was great for a 13-year-old Dan who needed to travel from the West End to it’s downtown location. Is it me, or has their been a serious decline in All-Ages shows in this town of late? I hope not. Kids need to see the bands they love. Yeah, we have festivals that bring these bands to town, but is there a community for young punks today like there was then?
At the time, Dan has started playing in a punk band himself, getting his feet wet, and he was familiar with a lot of the local bands at the time like Dead Trout, Harsh Reality, Grave Concern, Honest Injun, The Dumbs, The Trapt, Anal Chinook – just to name a few. Many of these young bands had the chance to open for their heroes like UK Subs, Henry Rollins, Fail Safe, Circle Jerks, Dead Milkmen, SNFU, No Means No, Ministry, and a whole slew of other bands that have become legendary to this day. Although, when one thinks about trying to keep the heat and lights on in a venue with only the sale of soft drinks and juice, it’s no wonder this Ottawa punk rock institution didn’t last.
One Step Beyond owner Jeff Cohen has since gone on to help reopen Toronto’s famous El Mocambo Club and create the promotion company ATG Concerts. He is currently the owner of two of Toronto’s most famous live venues – the legendary Horseshoe Tavern and Lee’s Palace. In the meantime, the building that once housed One Step Beyond (and where the Rollins Band cranked out a blistering version of “Next Time”) is now a tattoo parlour.
Thankfully, the spirit that One Step Beyond helped foster has lived on. Ottawa, Canada, has had and continuous to have a vibrant underground music scene. With the help of many of those kids hanging out at One Step Beyond, way back when, new venues have sprung up that bring those of us yearning for more than top 40 bullshit a healthy helping of all the bands we cherish and love. That’s something for a mid-level city like ours.
(Many of the images in this story were captured by long-time Ottawa music promoter Shawn Scallen)