A Chat about DIY Spaces

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Emma: I just want to chat with you about when we started running our venue when we were in college for this week’s theme, Underground, which I thought would be kind of cool, what with it being underground and in a basement, it seemed appropriate.

Ana: Yeah it does feel appropriate. It was literally under the ground.

E: Yeah, which was probably pretty good, at least, in terms of sound control and keeping the audience from being quite so blatant to the entire world.

A: Yeah, it was a good strategy.

E: I didn't have any particular questions for you, but I guess just: what was it like, what was your impression, how do you feel underground spaces work and what does that community feel like?

A: I mean, I think it's really great when you have have a good underground space. I just like it when everyone feels loved and welcome, and you have this place where you can form communities.

E: Do you think that’s different than a traditional venue space?

A: Yeah. Yeah, because I feel like traditional venue space you don’t—I think there is something about having a show in someone’s house or their basement or something, I think it makes everybody feel more comfortable. It breaks down the barriers between the performers and the audience where its like “hey, I can go up and talk to you, this is really cool.” It tends to demystify things. It's also nice because the audience members start to know each other and start to talk to each other too. Usually when you go to a regular performance venue you're not like, “Hi friends that I’m sharing a cigarette with in the backyard, what do you do? Do you do music? How did you find this place?” Whereas, at an underground venue, you do.

E: That’s fair. Do you think there’s any major struggles with it? I mean outside of the fact that you do have to do everything yourself. Are there any things that you find really difficult or hard to deal with in those spaces?

A: Air-conditioning. That’s a big one. It always tends to be a bit more of a struggle than you’d think. Yeah, I mean, making sure everything sounds good is really a struggle. One thing that's sometimes hard to navigate in informal communities or informal venues is rules, policies, how you deal with problems in the community.

E: I know something that I usually tend to find difficult to balance is the place between being a peer and being an authority figure in the space. The places where you're supposed to be a friend and the places where you are supposed to be directing people and performers and keeping the space a healthy one and a functional one.

A: That's very true. You want to hang out, and you are everyone’s friend, and you want to be there as a friend, but also you know if your friend is getting drunk and disruptive you need to tell them to stop. Because it's in somebody's house, sometimes people don't have the same respect or the same level of behavior that they would in any other space.

E: I also find it a little difficult sometimes or more work in an underground space because not only do you have to coordinate all the performers and the equipment and organize all of that, but you also have make sure you have the space running well. And on top of that, you have to hunt down your community, and let them know that this event is happening, and actively advocate for yourself.

A: Yes! That’s true. Even if you think everyone knows it's happening, there’s still people who are like “what's that thing?”

E: It’s a whole additional issue on top of everything. Finding an audience and building an audience who will come back.

A: It feels really satisfying when you have people who do come back or who say, “Wow, I'm excited to go to your show,” and you're like, “Wow, we didn't have any air-conditioning and you want to hang out in my dinky-ass basement for a couple of hours.” It's really meaningful that we made a space where people want to do that.

E: Or people coming up to the show that we had in New York after I moved up here. They drove up from Maryland to come to a show and they were people that I couldn’t even remember the name of, but the fact that our shows made such an impression, there's nothing more heartwarming than that.

A: That's very true. Most of the time i dont think –that’s one thing particularly about DIY shows that makes them stand out. When people can form a community around specific spaces that they can't with above ground venues as much. I think thats the real difference. You know some place is good if people continue to show up.

E: I’m starstruck everytime I book any performer. They’ve chosen me to facilitate them performing, and they trust me to make it happen, and I’m like, “Wow, you've performed in other places.”

A: I feel the same way, like, “Wow, you're so good. Why would you want to play with me?” Especially if they ask you to do it again.

E: I always thought it was appropriate and kind of funny that our venue space was a sort of a pop up spot, because our shows always have the same energy when we show up to a place.

A: I think it was definitely harder to do it when we didn't have a dedicated space and we were just using someone else's space.

E: It's definitely harder to make the show happen, but there is something nice about getting to do shows in different spaces. It's just a little harder for the audience to know where to go or that its happening or how accessible it is, especially because you can't just post the address. One, it kind of goes against the DIY code, and two, it is potentially hazardous because you are much more likely to get your show shut down if it gets out where it's going to be.

A: I guess we’re weird in the sense that if someone says, “I need to put on a show,” our answer is “Yes! Please come perform at my house!” But it's actually kind of hard to convince people to have a band play in their basement. And they usually are like “What? I need to sleep. I have school tomorrow.”

E: Or: “I need to run that by my roommates because—

A: —they need to make sure their cats will be ok.” Those cats can be very sensitive.

E: There's a lot of things you have to figure out when you are going door to door asking for places to put on a show. I’ve found it to be much more difficult in New York because everyone is in little tiny apartments with no soundproofing. How do you convince someone that there should be a whole bunch of performers coming in that will probably be noisy, and a whole bunch of audience coming in who are only somewhat willing to be quiet-ish.

A: I think that's the nice part about putting on shows in the suburbs. You’re going to be doing it in a house. Most people live in a house, and I like the feeling of being able hang out on a front lawn in the summer.

E: I feel like my favorite part at our shows is where you are running the inside space and I’m running the door and the front of house operation stuff—where you beckon everyone back in and tell everyone the show is starting. I love that moment, and I think a lot of people do. It's like getting called in for dinner almost.

A: I do remember one of our friends said that. I didn't even really think about it because, like, yeah, the next band is starting and I want to let everybody know. But yeah, I guess it is different to come out and invite them all personally back in.

E: Think about the difference between that and some other places in College Park, where the attitude feels much more like, “The music is starting and you can show up if you want to.”

A: That's the difference, because we want to cultivate a space where it feels loving, and everybody is friends, and even if you aren't friends, you'll become friends by the end of the night. You aren't just going there to getting fucked up and smash into people for a couple of hours.

E: Thank you. I think that's a good place to leave off. I’ll call you back on the regular line.

A: “This is me on the regular so you know!”

E: Okay Shamir.

A: Alright byee!

E: Bye!