Punk rock paradise

For nearly 13 years Brandon has been an oasis for fans of hardcore and punk music. The Mecca of this paradise is Sound Idea, a music store that has just about everything a fan of these genres could ask for. It is a hub for local, domestic and international punk rock and hardcore.

It takes fewer than 10 steps to walk the length of the store, but that length is packed with vinyl records, CDs and cassette tapes with music from every decade.

It is difficult to spot Sound Idea from the street because it is set back from the road. At first glance, nothing seems to scream, “cool punk rock record store here,” but there is a reason for that.

“I want to stay a little truer to my ideals and keep it as underground as possible,” said 39-year-old owner Bob Suren.

The store may not look like much, but that keeps with the tradition of sticking up for bands that are not well known.

“When people come in here and ask ‘What’s cool?’… I’d push them toward something underground – maybe from some country they’ve never heard of,” he said.

In addition to selling music, the store produces it. Sound Idea has its own record label: Burrito Records. The label has signed bands from America – many from Florida – and also reissued albums from overseas bands.

Freshman Tommy Conte is in Cult Ritual, a band signed by Burrito Records. Conte said he has been going to Sound Idea regularly since he was 13 years old.

“(Suren) brings in a lot of stuff that you couldn’t find anywhere else except a mail order that you’re going to have to pay shipping on and whatnot,” he said. “Why do that when you could just go to Sound Idea? He has a lot of records that are from up-and-coming bands that no one would ever know if they weren’t buying from Bob.”

Of the extensive catalogue of bands in stock at Sound Idea, a few well-known ones are Crass, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, 7 Seconds and Fugazi. There are hundreds of other bands available and many are unknown to those outside the scene.

If you can’t find something in the store, management will likely be able to order it. The store’s Web site, soundideadistribution.com, has a massive catalogue and sells to individuals and wholesalers all over the world.

Because the punk rock genre is so widespread, Sound Idea has several ways of getting people in touch with more music. Apart from the stock for sale, it has a tape and CD exchange box in which customers can put in a mix and take one out. The store has periodic record-swap events at which out-of-print vinyl and other rarities can be purchased from outside vendors. Sound Idea also carries independent magazines centered on punk and even has a magazine trading policy that gives bands more exposure to the public.

Almost every Saturday, between 10 and 100 people file into the back room of the store to watch a show from a local or touring band. The deal is usually three bands for $5, but Suren said he’ll charge $7 for more popular bands. Acts from almost every state and more than 12 countries – including Holland, England, Japan and Argentina – have played at Sound Idea.

Suren said he opened Sound Idea because the drummer of a band he was in suggested that they go into business together. In 1991, after graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Florida, Suren said he didn’t enjoy the “cut and dry” newspaper style and wanted a change. He said he felt that he wasn’t finding enough creative expression through journalistic writing, so he decided to search for deeper meaning through music – a music store, that is.

Suren began saving money and buying stock for the store in the early ’90s, but his would-be partner backed out after Suren had spent approximately $28,000. Suren, however, said this came as no surprise, and in March 1995, he opened the store on his own and has never had a partner since.

Suren said that punk as it is known today is not what he wants to support.

“Huge bands like Green Day and Rancid, you’re not going to find them here,” Suren said. “Maybe if I was selling Green Day or Rancid, I would do better business.”

The biggest band Sound Idea carries is probably NOFX, and Suren said he isn’t all that wild about selling them because mainstream punk bands strike him as sort of commercial and boring.

“To be punk rock was always underground and it’s ironic. I mean, NOFX came from the underground and they struggled in the underground for a long time and then they became this huge popular band,” he said. “I don’t know if I can put them down for that because … they worked really hard and achieved something, but it’s not really what I want to push people to.”

A problem with the classification of punk rock, Suren said, is that it has become an umbrella encompassing bands that sell out stadiums like Blink-182 as well as bands that play in basements for four people. He said he simply roots for the underdog.