Michael Mygind with Franco Villanueva (The Velisha) | Photo by Maria Villanueva

Michael Mygind’s Crucial Photography by Daniel Makagon

Aug 16, 2022

Part of the Seeing the Scene Series

Punk scenes are as varied as punk subgenres. Some scenes are animated by punk politics and consider their DIY scenes to be sparks for larger social changes while also transforming the lives of those within the scene. That general spirit has been at the core of DIY punk for Michael Mygind (aka Dane) and guides his participation in the Fresno, Calif. scene. He was quick to understand the importance of a stable all-ages DIY venue and worked to create a participatory environment when a space was acquired. Michael also considered ways that his life as a punk intertwined with his social work. He knew that punk rock DIY media could be used to provide aid for people inside and outside the scene. “Philanthropic photography,” is one way that Michael describes his work. He provides a template for other punks to participate in their local scenes in similar ways.

Habak at Friends Know, Fresno, Calif. | Photo by Michael Mygind

Daniel: How and when did you discover alternative music?

Michael: I was twelve or thirteen and I started with ska. It was the late ’90s and ska was kind of mainstream. I found Mighty Mighty Bosstones and then went to Reel Big Fish and then the Suicide Machines. Fast forward a couple years and I found Operation Ivy. Then I started to get more and more into punk and hardcore and all of its subgenres.

Daniel: At twelve or thirteen, you’d be in middle school and then I assume that expanded interest in punk and hardcore started because you met other punks in high school.

Michael: Most definitely. My sophomore year is when I really started to explore. That’s when Napster was blowing up—LimeWire, Kazaa, and other file sharing options. I started to get into Minor Threat and all the Dischord bands, Adolescents, T.S.O.L., and a lot of other West Coast hardcore punk. A lot of the people that I called my friends in high school drifted away because of different commitments. We did go to shows, but they were all pop punk shows. Eventually, I went to a show where there was a band called Active Ingredients. They came out of Bakersfield and were an older skate punk band. I met a few people at the show who were also into hardcore. From there, I was introduced to the hardcore and punk scene as I know it today. That’s where my real friends were throughout the remainder of high school.

There never seemed to be much heart in the pop punk scene here, whereas the DIY ethic was very clear in the punk and hardcore scene, which was a big mix: skramz bands, fastcore. I’ve always been very purpose driven and I’ve always been attracted to things that have intent behind them, so I was hooked. Since about 2003, I’ve been involved in the scene, whether playing in bands, putting on shows, or helping run a DIY venue we started.

The Velisha at Full Circle Brewing Co., Fresno, Calif. | Photo by Michael Mygind

Daniel: All of this was in Fresno? And was that first hardcore show in a DIY space or a club?

Michael: It was actually at a church. At that time, there were a few clubs, but there were also quite a few churches that had DIY shows. I wasn’t religious then and I’m not now, but it’s where the shows were. Then I started going to house shows as well.

Yeah, all the shows were in Fresno or in the county. There were some shows in Clovis, which is a smaller town just outside of Fresno. I grew up in Sanger, which is a farm town that is about thirty minutes east of Fresno. Then we moved here in 1997 or 1998.

Daniel: When did you start playing in bands?

Michael: It was about 2003. The friends I made at that Active Ingredients show, I got together with one of them and we started a band called Militant Youth, which was kind of the perfect first band. We were all discovering new music and it showed. We’d have a pseudo tough guy hardcore song and then we’d have a thrashcore song, a metalcore song, and then an oi song called “Mobile Barber.” I went to a show at one of those churches and there was a flyer up on the wall that had a jingle on it for a mobile barber service. We literally just took that and made an oi song. We would probably get our biggest pileup during that song because there were very simple lyrics and then, “Mobile barber, oi, oi, oi.”

I played bass in that band and then played bass in about four or five other bands. But I think the other band that is most notable would be Gorilla Stomp, which was a mix of youth crew hardcore and fastcore. I did vocals and we were around from about 2012 through 2015. We put out a self-released 7” and did a little bit of touring through the Northwest and into Canada. We went out by ourselves on that tour, and we had quite a few contacts, especially in Canada. A lot of this was through our venue. You know, bands come through and bands meet bands.

We also did a tour before that, going down to Southern California and into Arizona. Our van broke down and we ended up getting picked up by this sketchy guy who towed our van to his warehouse. He said he was going to help us fix it. His friends kept staring inside the van at us all night as we were trying to sleep. I liked the Northwest tour better. [laughs]

The Unseen at The Belmont, Fresno, Calif. | Photo by Michael Mygind

Daniel: Why did you stop?

Michael: The Gorilla Stomp guitarist moved to Philadelphia, and he was a big part of the songwriting. We weren’t going to find someone else who could maintain the chemistry. We still talk every day, all four of us. The ethic that we had in Gorilla Stomp, we were all on the same page. We would set up in about eight minutes, play for about twelve minutes, and we would tear down in about five minutes. If we were opening, we were going to set the energy and tone for the show. When we first started, I was very big on doing these Ray Cappo speeches in between the songs, but as we went on: song, song, song. Break for about twenty seconds for some water. Then song, song, song.

I did find another band after that called Urgency. We were a straight edge band and I played bass, but I think the ethic wasn’t quite the same. I ended up stepping out of that band and they continued and put out a 7”. For all intents and purposes, photography is my band right now.

Daniel: Before we get to photography, you have mentioned the venue you helped start in Fresno. Can you talk about that space?

Michael: In 2009, my friend Jeremy, who I met at that Active Ingredients show…

Daniel: …You aren’t kidding about that being an important experience. [laughs]

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] He made connections with someone who was an influential figure in the Chinatown district, which is a historic area of Fresno. But it’s also a neglected area. At the time, there were a lot of buildings that weren’t being used. It’s more or less the skid row in Fresno. Jeremy got in with him and let him know what we were seeking. It was hard to find venues. The venues that existed were charging $1,200 a night. The houses didn’t last very long, maybe two or three shows tops.

I think there was a mutual goal in the scene, which was almost like a gold rush type of thing, where everybody was searching for a venue of their own that they could start. We found the space and it worked out. There was a team of about six or seven volunteers, and we were the Chinatown Youth Center. We wanted to pick a name that was appealing to local officials. And we never got in trouble. We would have PD show up. They would often just peek in and make sure everything was cool. It’s easier because there is no drinking inside and no drinking out front.

We had some volunteers who felt we shouldn’t come down on people, and some ended up starting their own space. That was fine. But we’ve maintained that no drinking and no drugs focus to stay open. I’ve given the, “Hey man, can you walk two blocks that way and then come back?” speech a hundred times. The majority of the time, people are receptive to that. Especially since we went underground and function on an “ask a punk” basis—we don’t put our address on any flyers and either list Live in Fresno or Friends Know. Most everybody that goes, they know what we’re about.

Fentanyl at Courtyard Studios, Fresno, Calif. | Photo by Michael Mygind

Daniel: Can you explain what you mean by going underground? And the name changed?

Michael: In 2016 we retired our name and got rid of our website as well as all of our social media. We were getting harassed pretty heavily by music licensing companies. At one point, we did sign up for one of them, but we were basically being asked for a setlist for every band that played, and we were being asked for a pretty substantial payment every month. No matter how much I stressed that we were volunteer run and the majority of the bands that are playing were not going to play any songs you’re going to care about…You know, not everybody’s going to go in there covering The Beatles.

So, we went underground. But we also did that for our own good. During those previous seven years we were having a lot of shows, and a lot of shows that we didn’t want. Our volunteers are full-time students or they’re working full time. When they have to go and sit through a show they don’t necessarily want to be at so you could have the two or three shows a month they do want to be at, the burnout becomes real. Going underground was a re-set.

We became a little bit more of a practice space. We had bands jamming there who pitched in for the rent. When our friends wanted to roll through, we had the shows we wanted to have. And it’s been that way ever since. It’s no longer a chore to be at every show. And we were able to find the revenue to carry us through each month.

knowXnothing at Friends Know, Fresno, Calif. | Photo by Michael Mygind

Daniel: You said the area was kind of run down at first. Real estate prices are skyrocketing in California. Has the area changed, or more specifically, been gentrified?

Michael: Well, you just said it. Spaces are getting bought up. There actually was another space across the parking lot from us, called CAFE Infoshop. They would have Food Not Bombs meetings and do homeless outreach, but they would also have shows. That place was bought, and from what I’ve heard, it’s the base of operations for a real estate firm that is looking to “revitalize” [uses air quotes with his hands] the area. I always joke that we would make for an amazing microbrewery or fair-trade coffee shop.

High speed rail is a big topic in California and current plans show that it would go right through Chinatown. We know that, sadly, nothing will last forever. We’re going to make the most of it while we can. The big reason why we’ve survived so long is that a lot of people don’t pay much mind to our part of town. At the moment, we don’t have any housing nearby. And there aren’t many businesses that are open when we’re having shows. Usually, the only other businesses that are open that late are clubs, which tend to draw a lot more attention than we do.

Daniel: Well, that’s a lot of interesting background for sure. Thanks for sharing those details about your bands and about your efforts to help make a DIY space and keep it running. Let’s get to photography since the regular readers are wondering if they landed on the right column. [laughs] When did you start making photos?

Michael: I took my first photography class in my junior year of high school. It was strictly film. I didn’t do any show photography at that time; it was mostly just the basics: learning composition and how to develop in a dark room. I ended up taking a digital photography class in college. All I wanted to shoot was shows, so all my projects were show photography. But the second time I took my parents’ camera, I actually broke it. For some reason, I thought it was a great idea to stand right next to the pit. I managed to get one photo off and then out of nowhere I’m down on the ground with the lens that won’t go back in on this Minolta Dimage camera. Maybe three or four months after they got the replacement camera, I snuck it out for more shows. But I was a lot smarter. I stood next to the PA system, found my way behind the drummer. I didn’t throw myself right into the thick of it.

Just after I took that digital class, which was about 2006, I was playing in several bands and I was maybe a year or so into a relationship, so I just got away from photography. It really wasn’t until 2019, so thirteen years later, when I bought a kit and a lens. I always did photography at work since I work in non-profit marketing for a provider of drug counseling as well as housing and veteran services. My supervisor, and mentor, at work pitched the idea of doing real estate photography with her and an acquaintance of ours. That fell through, but like I said, I bought the equipment and thought: “Well, I don’t have a band going, I’m helping run a venue, and we have at least one show a week. Let’s get back into it.”

Daniel: Did you feel like you were able to seamlessly transition? Or did it take a while to create the photos that met your goals?

Michael: I am definitely still learning. Every show is a new experience. Most shows I shoot are at our own venue because we have so many. The lighting is not the best. We’ve got some fluorescent tubes hanging overhead, most of which are turned off when the bands are playing. But I like it that way. I don’t want it to be easy. I like being tested. As I said, I was shooting photos in the years between, especially for my job: Veterans Day parades, treatment graduations. I was still practicing composition. I never lost a lot of the principles. It was just getting back to shooting the chaos of a show. Very different. [laughs]

I started back in July 2019, which was a terrible time to get back into this. [laughs] But I hit it hard. Every show I went to, I was shooting. Of course, that included every show we had at the venue, which was maybe six or seven a month. I also shot a punk fest here with Conflict, Defiance, and a lot of California bands.

Crucial Cause—Issue 8 | By Michael Mygind

Daniel: And what about output? I know you do a photozine called Crucial Cause.

Michael: Two shows in, I pitched my supervisor at work. We’re always trying to look for ways to raise funds for the Fresno AIDS Walk, which is now in its eleventh year. It’s a fundraiser for our HIV/AIDS program. Our veterans’ programs and housing programs receive millions in funding, but HIV/AIDS care lacks adequate funding. We are always trying to get creative. I explained to her what a zine was and showed her one that I just got from a show the night before. “Is it cool that I print a zine on company materials with our copier?” And she said, “Do it.” I think I had four or five shows under my belt, enough for our first issue. We did eight and a half by eleven folded in half, with double staples in the middle. Our copier at work is like a Ferrari, so it was pretty smooth. I was doing the zine monthly until the pandemic started. We had our last show at the venue on March 14, 2020. It was actually a ska show. It was kind of apropos: ska started it all for me and then this was the beginning of a two-year lull.

Daniel: When you say that you released monthly, was each zine the documentation of a single show?

Michael: The early zines were definitely from the monthly shows but also featured some of my old photos from 2006. I think I got up to issue six.

Daniel: I have issue six, which is dated March 2020, and issue seven, which is dated August 2020.

Michael: Six was the quarantine issue. It was a lot of going back into my photos, looking for the photos I overlooked. Some were, honestly, my favorite photos. For some reason, I didn’t really see anything the first time. When you’re not going to shows, I thought it was important to find ways to get content out there. The most recent issue was in April 2022, I think. Photos were from when we started having shows again, starting in January 2022. We took quite a bit longer than other clubs and other promoters. The timing didn’t feel right to do it before, and even during our first six or seven shows back, we still required masks. We didn’t have any problems with that requirement because people know us.

Daniel: You said that you do these zines at work to help raise funds for the AIDS/HIV project. Can you talk more about the zine production process?

Michael: I don’t shoot for the moon, so I usually do about thirty copies of each issue to start. I’ll have them on our back counter at a show while I help with sound, doing beer and drug patrol out front, or getting set up to shoot the next band. In between, I’ll be back there selling zines. I’ve attended quite a few zine fests since the pandemic started, which reaches a whole new audience.

On top of that, I’ve also done quite a few 11” x 17” prints, photo paper prints. All of that was also done at work on company materials and approved by the COO. Standing in that copy room while people are waiting on their spreadsheets or their grant applications and they’re seeing photos of angry people getting printed out always makes for interesting conversations. But it speaks to the culture there and the flexibility that we have.

I’m definitely due for another issue, issue nine. I would like to get back to a monthly basis again. And with issue ten, I’d like to go back to the idea that I did with issue five, which was a collaboration. Most issues are just my photos but with every fifth one, I would like to do a collaboration with another DIY photographer.

Daniel: Local or from anywhere?

Michael: I reached out to a friend in the Chico area in Northern California. He and his friends have put out quite a few photobooks. They have a collective going on, and I’m hoping to reach out to him to see if they want to work together. And they were my inspiration for doing my zine. I thought, “Well, they’ve got three under their belts; it can’t be that hard.”

Daniel: Do you first sell locally and put the rest on eBay? I bought the zines from your eBay listing.

Michael: I never retire the issues. I always start with thirty. If I have eight issues under my belt, I probably have a box of two hundred or so between the different issues. About eBay, during the pandemic, it made sense to go online. I’ve always sold on eBay, collecting retro video games and whatnot, so it was natural for me versus looking into making a website or a Shopify account.

Daniel: I follow you on Instagram, but I don’t track quantity of posts. Do you use Instagram a lot? And how do you use Instagram in comparison to your photozines?

Michael: I primarily post my photos on Facebook and Instagram. I’m not the savviest when it comes to marketing myself. Nor do I really want to be. I’m not looking into the algorithms or what sells. I’ve always believed that I can post something organic and simply go off of those merits. Then, if that catches on with people and introduces me to new people, that’s amazing.

I’ve always tried to look at things in a broader sense: I can put photos out there. But what more can I do with them? I’m always trying to look at things and see if there’s a need where maybe there’s a creative way for me to double up with the photos. That really means transferring the photos into philanthropy. Again, printing things at work and going to zine fests on my own time to raise money through the zines for causes I believe in.

Death Before Dishonor at Strummer’s, Fresno, Calif. | Photo by Michael Mygind

I think that social work and the DIY hardcore and punk scenes go hand in hand. The prevalence of substance abuse, the prevalence of mental health issues, and youth homelessness are issues that affect people in the scene and beyond. I work in the field that I do, and for the provider that I do (WestCare), because that work goes hand in hand with DIY punk. I’ve oftentimes come to shows and I’ll see a friend across the street calling me over, opening their trunk, and they have bags of clothes or a bag of canned food. I show up to work the next day and send the bags over to our treatment program or veterans’ program. I’ve been able to carve out my own little niche and, I guess, open people’s eyes to local social service providers. And that’s been the biggest takeaway for me with the zines. Not just having the platform but hopefully getting people a little more involved.

Daniel: That’s great. A nice way to blend a lot of your interests. And I agree that these issues link well with issues that affect punks. You have done some photobooks as well: two volumes also titled Crucial Cause. I have the first book, which includes punk photos. My sense is that the second book is a broader mix of documentary images. Can you talk about making the books and your sequencing choices?

Michael: The first one was out of necessity. It was in July 2020 and had been three or four months without shows in our venue. I paid for the book myself and went through Blurb, which is a self-publishing company. It was made strictly to raise money for the venue. Some of it was a best-of the zines. But there are also quite a few photos that weren’t in the zines.

Video Prick at Friends Know, Fresno, Calif. | Photo by Michael Mygind

When I was deciding on the photo to use for the cover, on top of being a gripping shot, the general composition of the photo of Sierra from No Right just fit the format and tone at the time so well. I knew early on that it was the one. To date, it’s still one of my favorite shots. In terms of sequencing, I was motivated by skate videos. You start big and end big with subtle pieces in between with a big spot in the middle. The last photo was of the space during a Video Prick show.

I missed the space, and it was evident that a lot of people did, too. Once I announced the book, one of our very close friends and longtime supporter, reached out and said, “Whatever you sell, I’ll match.” I did an initial run of fifty, which sold out and made $900. He matched. That $1,800 dollars got us through about eight months.

No Right at Friends Know, Fresno, Calif. | Photo by Michael Mygind

Daniel: Wow.

Michael: Then I did a second run of about thirty and have two left. I primarily sold the second run at zine fests and underground vendor fairs.

The second book is a benefit for the AIDS walk. I paid out-of-pocket and did it through Blurb again instead of doing it through work. I like to challenge myself by making myself uncomfortable at times, trying new things. I was definitely getting a lot of support from friends in the community for all the show photos. I wanted to do another book—this was about one year removed from the first book—but I wanted to do everything but show photos. There are travel photos, Japanese pro wrestling, skateboarding, dogs, and architecture. The majority of the photos were in color even though I tend to prefer gritty photos and black and white.

Daniel: The first book featured a mix of black and white and color, but mostly black and white.

Michael: If I feel like if color fits the bands, which is usually poppier bands with a brighter sound, then I’m not going to do grimy black and white photos.

Daniel: You started making photos a while ago and then had a long gap until you dove headfirst into photography in 2019. That’s only a few years ago, but how has your photography changed? Are there different kinds of things you’re trying to do with your punk photos that you weren’t doing in 2019?

Michael: I think, ultimately, it’s just improving my skills and my way around a camera. Since 2019 I’ve doubled up, so I have two Nikon D3500s with a double strap. That has definitely been a learning curve to maneuver at a show: two cameras with mounted speed lights on them while climbing on top of amps to get the right angle. There has definitely been some progression to help avoid lengthy times huddled behind the drummer switching my lens. It’s been fun to try to work with the different lenses. I use a standard Tamron 18-200mm as my bread and butter. Then I use a Nikon 50mm on my other camera. I absolutely love that lens, although it definitely provides quite a bit of a challenge during more aggressive shows. It’s more geared for the poppier, indie shows. But when I’m able to dial it in right, the results are always awesome.

Daniel: You’ve mentioned a few different times during our conversation that you use different strategies depending on the genre of music. What does your night look like when shooting a hardcore band and how does your approach change when shooting an indie rock band?

Michael: My guard is definitely up for hardcore and punk shows. I am generally on the perimeter. I’m on both sides. Then I’ll move behind the drummer. For a more subdued show, I’ll be up front. I’ll be crouching down at the front of the crowd and gain a lot more freedom with how I shoot. Generally, I’m usually one of about three. It’s kind of an unspoken language. I look across the room, they look at me, and we just switch sides. Swap angles. There’s no competition. If anything, it’s trying to get shots where people aren’t on their phones. That’s always a pet peeve of mine: someone’s in the background and they’re just staring at their phone. I guess if there’s a competition, it’s to avoid any of that. You don’t want a shot with people looking bored. But, back to the hardcore shows, the day will come when a boot meets my lens, but I’m a little more cautious than I was when I was seventeen.