Nov. 12 2008 12:00 AM

MSU student group brings music culture to campus

"Shinobu's Mike Morogoshi gives Matt Keegan the last scream of the San Jose band's set last week. (Andrew Norman/City Pulse)
A few blocks from the Breslin Center, where a mass of fans was gathering for the Spartan basketball team’s first home game on Nov. 5, a less-easily defined custom was being observed in the basement of Snyder-Phillips hall.

Estrella Torrez moved her brown ponytail to show me proof of her credentials. “Straight edge,” read the tattoo on her upper back. “We’re straight-edge, vegan kids from the ’90s,” said Torrez of her and her husband, Dylan Miner, who sat nearby at a fold-up table helping their daughters paint fluorescent-colored faces on small sugar “skulls.”

It was Torrez’ idea to combine a late Day of the Dead celebration with a ska/hardcore concert. She and Miner are assistant professors at MSU’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities and are involved with different ethnic student groups. Students from the College Assisted Migrant Program and a spikey-haired girl wearing pink knee-highs and a plaid skirt walked past us as we stood near the entrance of the Arts & Humanities Theatre. “We knew it would be an odd mix of culture,” Torrez said. “We did it on purpose.”

Up the stairs, by the band’s merch tables, Katie Secord, 19, explained that Torrez and Miner helped her register her booking company, Safe in Sound, as a student group, which allowed her free campus space to book shows. This was her second one. Secord said more than 60 people showed up for the first show, which featured an all-local lineup. “That’s pretty good turnout for all local bands,” she said, adding that at least 80 people had paid tonight.

Scott Bell, of Bermuda Mohawk Productions, had booked the headliners, Shinobu and Bomb the Music Industry!, two bands from opposite coasts that have cultish followings. Bell said having a free space and providing their own P.A. system allows him and Secord to pay bands better. He remembers not being able to get into 21-and-over venues growing up. Now he’s in a position to book all-ages shows “and bring cool bands to town, that way we don’t have to drive to Detroit.”

Bell and Secord hope to make these shows a regular event. Secord said they’re limited to nights when there are no plays or other performances scheduled for the space.

On the floor inside the theater, Bomb the Music Industry!’s set devolved into a frenzy of sweaty bodies. Kids crowd surfed and singer Jeff Rosenstock’s microphone became the scene for a mass pile-on, sing-along.

Bell said music with this kind of urgency makes sense in post-industrial Michigan. “Around here,” Bell said, “If you’re not moving, you’re freezing to death.”