Speak In Tongues: An Oral History of Cleveland's DIY Punk Venue

Speak In Tongues: An Oral History of Cleveland's DIY Punk Venue

by Eric Sandy Author and Ken Blaze Photographer

Speak In Tongues was a freewheeling, community-run underground music venue in Cleveland, Ohio that operated on a do-it-yourself basis throughout the late 1990s. The venue fostered a flourishing creative culture, where you could enjoy a puppet show from a spray-painted couch or meet other punks to start a band or a movement, but was also smoothly run with a great sound system and the best curation of music that you could hear in the city during its tenure. On any given night, you could go see hardcore punk, experimental jazz, or thrash shows where fireworks were set off inside the building. Traveling bands regularly booked shows there, including ones that went on to greater fame, like Modest Mouse, Avail, Lifter Puller, Jimmy Eat World, Alkaline Trio, Milemarker, and J Church. Venue operators, and later a management collective, contended with police surveillance, skinheads with knives, an exploding oil drum full of raw meat, a flaming car, and a different number of riots depending on who you ask. There may not have been a bar, but a healthy BYOB policy ensures that everyone’s memory is different, resulting in an entertaining story of a place that truly was what you made it, the source of lifelong friendships and endless lore. This comprehensive oral history tells a story that is greater than the sum of each person’s recollections, forming a picture of a unique, weird, special place that deeply informed the next twenty years of Cleveland’s underground culture.