Mike Straight
1127 s. 51st, street West Philadelphia, Pa. 19143

Thoughts & Stories of Mike Straight #87

    Aww, this issue instead of my normal rants on abstract political theory or biting social critique - I have decided to address the phenomena of basement/house shows and to give some helpful tips about the do’s and don’t of these shows. I think too often people take these spaces for granted and don’t show a proper gratitude for their existence. I think an idea that is easily forgotten is that “basement shows or house shows” by their very nature take place in people’s homes. There is a big difference between a place which is primarily a venue, and one which is someone’s home. I have seen many examples of people “burning out” from doing shows simply from the disrespect from both show goers and the bands that play them.
    Lately there has been a bit of hype about “basement shows” as a cool concept, and where basements were once venues of necessity  now I repeatedly read interview with bands saying things like “we don’t even want to play clubs, were all about basements”
    Basements shows are “cool” and I saw this first hand when I lived in Portland. There I lived in a house that did shows and we did one for the band AGAINST ME. That week the Portland Mercury, the weekly newspaper with the largest circulation, did an article on the coolness of basement shows, and mentioned AGAINST ME. They didn’t care what the ramifications would be for us, the fact that they promoting a show that they knew nothing about. At the end of the day our small house was swamped with 200 kids. It was a hectic situation, as our basement could barely fit 50 let alone 200 people.
    The problem with basement shows becoming “cool” is that the ambitious bands that want to build their “street credibility”, try to play basements without a thought of the DIY mentality that was what started the whole thing. My house alone has received demos, press packs, and inquires about our booking practices - and not from bands that we would ever want to play here - and of course we are not alone. This, new-found basement fame, has caused pressure on basements everywhere, and on the people that live in these houses. It is not only the logistics of basically having a party with bands playing, but is also the potential negative legal ramifications that maybe people don’t realize. In Philly, the authorities, going by Licensing and Inspection, are notorious about going after “illegal businesses” and house show that are collecting money (even as a gas fund) are seen as such. Fines, evictions, and even jail time, are both threats and actual occurrence that people have received from doing a show at their house. My own house got a letter from our landlord to “desist from operating an illegal business”.
    We try to keep our events on the downlow, promotion from word-of-mouth, and while this may make basement shows a less accessible event for all those who want to see the bands, it is a practical necessity for us who want to continue to do shows, and to even keep our house. There is a threat for us to put on shows for others, and I know there are many houses like us, and everyone involved in basement shows, needs to remember this.
    I had to email someone last week who put up our house with address and contact info, on a internet venue board. I had to explain why he should immediately take it off and to make sure to ask any house that he wished to list on the board if they wanted themselves listed. Our landlord trouble started from a internet listing, and L&I has been cracking down. A house only a few blocks away from us was busted with undercover cops, and consequently evicted.
    There is a common disrespect that people have for what houses have to go through to also be a venue for underground music.  So I was thinking that maybe people are unaware, so maybe a S&L column addressing the issue, written from someone who has extensive experience a living in a punk house, has played in bands and toured, and has gone to many basement shows, should happen. I just wanted to bring up some often overlooked points, from both those who play in bands, and those who put on shows - so here as some easy things that show goers, bands, and residence of a punk house can do to make basement music go better and make them a more enjoyable event for them all.
For Bands -
    Remember that putting a show on in a house can be a chore. While it can be fun, it can also be taxing on all who live there. Remember that people are going out of their way in order to provide a space for you to play. It is amazing to me the disrespect I have seen by bands to those who are opening their houses up for them to play. If you have a band that wants a show don’t carry a feeling of entitlement. People are not required to set up a show for your band - instead they are doing something that they have chosen to do. Do not be disgruntled that they don’t want to do a show for you. Remember there may be 100 factors why a household wouldn’t want to do a show on a certain day. A good punk house is a collective which will come to a consensus about any event they wish to have. Different personalities that may have a different wish for both the attitude of the house and the types of evens (and bands) they want to put on. Even in my last house there is a mixture of opinions about what events to have. I remember when my old roommate Corina stated that she was sick of crust bands and only wanted performers who “have accordions and naked clowns”. Remember when you book a show that while you think you D-beat bands are hot shit, but those who you are asking to book it may not care for the style at all, and are doing it mostly to help you out. Be respectful if someone just doesn’t want to book your band in their house.
    Don’t be offended if people show up to the house and aren’t there to see bands. I think one thing that bands easily forget, is that a punk scene is more then music, and not everyone who goes to a house show is there for just music. Don’t be disgruntled if not everyone wants to load into a basement to see your band. People go to shows for socialization as much for music and that is something that needs to be recognized and respected. Really if I am in a good conversation about Bio-diesel or Marxist theory, I will keep the conversation going instead of seeing a band. People will check out your music if they want to, and “supporting the scene” goes much further to some people then just watching bands.
For those who do shows-
    Soundproof, yea soundproof. No really, soundproof. While you may just love crust bands maybe your neighbors are not so found of it. Basic sound proofing doesn’t take much time, money, or effort. If you are going to do shows respect your neighbors by minimizing the impact of the show as much as possible.
    Remember if you agree to do a show for a touring band, really do it. You have agreed to put on an event and this band may have given up something else to be in your house. Don’t half-ass it! If you don’t want to do a show, say it. It does no one any good to have a lackluster show where nobody is excited, or even nobodies there.
    Feed the damn touring bands! No really, do it. Unless your house doesn’t have a kitchen there’s really no excuse. Finding good food when on tour in the land of chain fast food (the USA) can be a serious and costly pain in the ass for a touring band, so if you are going to do a show for them, cook them some hot food. Rice and Beans, Pasta, etc. there are many meals that can be made for a group on tour that are both tasty and inexpensive to prepare.
For those who come to shows-
    Be respectful of neighbors - Don’t scream, or drink in front of houses. Don’t damage or steal for peoples house (really this happens - after one show someone had even stolen our toilet paper) Show up with some $ for touring bands. It is hella annoying to have a group of punk sitting in your living room and can’t cough up a couple dollars for the band downstairs.
    OK I said my piece, and I hope people take this to heart. Feel free to write me comments and criticism...
Rock on - Mike Straight - straight@defenestrator.org

Endnotes-
Ok, now I am going to pull a Chris and talk about the great bands whose paths I have crossed lately (this is a punk zine isn’t it?)
First, the new NORTHERN LIBERTIES CD has come out and it is amazing! Really it is so good. If there was ever a band in Philly that gets overlooked its NORTHERN fuckin LIBERTIES. They have a sound that goes beyond explanation. Similar to the band that once called Philly home, MACHINE THAT FLASHES - NORTHERN LIBERTIES is a percussion and bass combo overlaid with vocals. A fellow named Justin belts out bizarre lyrics with a sense of infectious madness. Here are the words to Midnight Train to the Dogfood Factory “O canned food, Broken Hearts, Heads on sticks + burning cars, Flightless birds + sightless worms, Fly into a back sun, that never burned -Midnight train- pulls away - Destination: Death Factory.”
Yes, their words are out there. Seeing them live sometimes gives me Goosebumps it is so-so-fuck, words fail me to get the right mood, and the sound they build. Comparisons-humm. A bit Joy Division, with part Fugazi, and an added touch of heaviness, it is damn intense. Definitely if you want to check out a band that is really pushing boundaries that need to be pushed, it is NORTHERN LIBERTIES. The recording they built sounds real good, and the CD is filled with Justin’s artwork - intricate drawings that make me think of what Nick Blinko would do if he ended up Squatting in Philly during his formative years...
Next is a new band called ELEANOR and the RED DEVILS who fuckin rock! Ok, I do admit that I may be a bit biased, being that Eleanor is basically my sister and all, but I really, really, am impressed. Musically they remind me of early 90’s DC melodic Emo/hardcore and with Eleanor’s vocals and John’s guitar, they also make me think of the Norwegian band LIFE...BUT HOW TO LIVE IT. They are touring this summer and if they are playing a basement in your town definitely, definitely go see them (and be respectful of the house too!) Oh, I shouldn’t play around their name, as I do this with bands and in consequence I think my friend Shawn is still annoyed that I helped getting his band called “THE BAD DUDES” when they were trying to go by Pathogen, and I don’t think Eric and Cory were impressed that I referred to their band My ASS Is ROTTEN in my old zine. Therefore I should mention that ELEANOR and the RED DEVILS (the name I think they should use) are actually calling themselves simply RED DEVIL.