Wednesday, December 14, 2011
House Shows: WTFH (What the Fuck Happened/ Where’s the Fuckin’ Houses?)
How did unpopular bands of kids, young adults, and those of the straight-edge brood get their start? They sure as hell didn’t start by playing the Royal Oak Music Theater, St. Andrew’s Hall, or the Fillmore. Some bands had an “in” and were able to play their local bars, such as notable Detroit groups Cinecyde and the Sillies with Bookie’s in the mid-to-late 70s. However, those that didn’t were out of luck for the longest time. Finally, someone, somewhere (be it John Brannon in Grosse Pointe or John Lydon in the motherfucking OCEAN) decided that there had to be another way. Bars, shady promoters, and a general lack of autonomy finally created a real underground, one that had not been touched by the hand of subversion. There WAS another way: Abandoned buildings with generators, a closed business with an empty basement and access to legal electricity, a rented community center/ VFW hall, or maybe, given the right people in the right place, a house.
Collectives are not nearly popular or relevant enough to generate a mention, because here in the United States, we are too individualistic and money-minded to successfully run a collective for very long (the ones that do, like ABC No Rio and 924 Gilman St. are the exception, not the rule). With that being said, a house of composed of a relatively limited number of residents is an ideal place for a local show. No a band like the American Anthrax, the British Subhumans, or Blood for Blood is not best suited for a house, living room, or a basement. These bands draw considerable numbers, but only with the assistance of a good local promoter; some fans are not in touch their music scene, and only pay attention and go see their favorite bands if it’s advertised in the local alternative paper; for Detroit, it’s the Metro Times and Real Detroit Weekly. Old metal-heads and punks who went to shows in their younger days may be preoccupied with the rest of their lives (or just plain LAZY) and only come around for the big-name bands at the well-known bars/ venues, and frequently but get drunk, sing along for a few songs, and go back to their life as though nothing happened. From an American perspective, I do understand why it is so with them; however, as a contributor and a dogged pursuant of new, fresh music within and separate from the local music scene, I too can condemn this apathy without being hypocritical. Perhaps it can be nailed down to priorities; many of us, young and old, have jobs that take up our time and energy, sapping s of the ability to find and listen to new music. Regardless, even with a 40-50 hour work week, there remains plenty of time to invest in local music, an evening to visit a local house show (the information for which needs to be made available as public domain, be it by fanzine or locally-run website) or even a bar show with local bands. At some point, the problem is NOT door cover, lackluster promotion, or preoccupying circumstances of life. In the end, some of these patrons, regardless of who they are, simply do not care, at least to get out more than a couple of times a year to throw on a denim jacket and be your fucking metal or punk self.
The problem of powerhouse shows and apathetic fans is intertwined; when a show passes through, a band or two that’s local will play first and possibly second, then the touring group goes on, and those fans go crazy for the touring band(s) they came to see, maybe buy so merch, and go home, ever forgetful of that opening group they sort of liked.
With this, it’s simply more profitable to play a bar, cater to the lazy fans, sell merch, and move on to the next town to it again; after all, bars offer better guarantees, promotion, and sound systems. However, not only does this not cater to the high-potential, low-profile local scene, it undercuts the underlying point behind music, which is a personal, intimate expression of one’s ideas and thoughts to an audience of people. Here, a house show is merely a representation of music being played as it should be, and as it is best understood by the fans who enjoy it. It is a scenario where people are forced to be right up front, to REALLY listen to what is being said, and it breaks down the walls (in the kids’ eyes) set up by big venues, like security, regulations, raised stages, time limits, and content control. What it does is gets to the heart of everything music is about and sheds the frills that can unnecessarily accompany it.
In addition to this, house shows require some effort to discover and plan out; those who partake in house shows are inherently have-nots, lacking the promotional ability (or money) to touch the fan base of the proles and the know-nots. It seems as though all the odds are stacked against houses that host shows, at least business-wise. Considering these points, there still exist benefits that will always trump bar shows, or things that bar shows will never have, and vice-versa:
I. No/ fewer rules, more personal contact with the band and venue “management”, fewer guarantees/ hoops to jump through to book a show, and ultimately, let’s face it, it’s just more fucking FUN.
II. In contrast, the inconveniences of difficulty in information availability, less readily available parking, smaller capacity, lack of immediate availability of alcohol, and a weaker sound system are things to consider.
However, given all of these pros and cons, ultimately DIY house shows are more inclusive, less restrictive and correspondingly, more FUN. Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter if it’s my favorite band or some local band that has energy, I will still have ten times the fun than if I’m stuck in some urine-infested, alcohol-infused shithole filled with 70% people I don’t’ like. Even if it’s just 30-40 people for a house show, it doesn’t matter; those people are new friends whom you can share a mutual memory with in the future and build a community. When 1000-1200 people show up for a show at the Majestic or the Fillmore or wherever, it’s routine and boring; when it becomes primarily about the earning potential and gets away from the music, it quits being fun. When it becomes primarily about getting drunk or high and gets away from the music, it stops being fun. Coke Bust, an awesome D.C. fastcore band, put it best: Fuck Bar Culture.