What Do You DoI run an illegal DIY music venue
Letting other people let their freak flag fly.
Maria is a Moscow-based illustrator, who has worked with Playboy magazine, and online publications like The Village and Wonderzine.
I played this mountain show. There were these events, where four or so musical acts would perform at different parts along this mountain hike in upstate New York. We would all go hiking as a group. Someone would perform at the peak, and another would perform on a landmark, like ruins of an old building, a big well, or by a stream. We’d use battery powered amps and most artists would perform stripped down sets.
There was one particular day where a lot of people showed up but only one of the four scheduled musicians actually came. So a car full of people I'd never met before came, and I recognized one of them as Sean. I knew that he lived at Beatnik Bog at the time. I'd been there a couple times just because of stuff that he put on. And I had never actually talked to him before. But the Ted, the organizer of the mountain shows, asked him to play and then Sean asked if one of his other friends there, Derek, could perform. That was the first time I met Derek. So we went hiking together and had a really great time. I was just really psyched that they showed up and were super into it. And I started going to shows at Beatnik Bog that they were putting on. I liked how informal they were, and they seemed a little bit more inclusive than other Brooklyn musicians. It was very low-key.
So I started doing a lot of shows with Derek at Beatnik Bog. I would come there and hang out. I just really liked the vibe. When a room opened up, he let me know about it and I said I was in. It was as simple as that. The rent was really cheap.
An artist’s den
On an average night, we don't have a show at our place. Right now, I work at a media school. I'm kind of their education assistant, like customer service. I just respond to all their emails. I do stuff like data entry or keep up their website. I work 10-6 every day. So the average days are actually quiet, because everybody's out and about doing their own thing. There's lots of interesting people constantly coming in and out, it's really easy to just hang out in the kitchen and drink coffee all day and talk to people. Everyone is constantly working on stuff. Our one roommates is always making paintings. Half of our basement is a shop that one of our roommates uses; he has some machine, I don't fully understand it, but he cuts patterns into wood. I record in the basement. Sometimes there will be a photo shoot happening or things that I didn’t know were planned. But in general, it’s like living in an apartment and sharing it with six roommates.
On the night of a show, we’ll all go sweep the basement, and people who have speakers will set them up, people who are making paintings will make sure their stuff is out of the way, pick up all the cans, take out all the trash. I get excited when there’s a good show in our basement. Even my roommates who aren’t necessarily that into music like having these gatherings, we like having people around.
We recently put a schedule on the door. It took a long time to have a schedule so that we didn’t double book stuff. One of the roommates wants to be warned when the show is happening. She doesn’t really like the shows, but she tolerates them as long as we’re respectful. But if a show happens without a warning, she’ll write a note on the front door. But also, more and more people want to put shows on there, so there’s a very good chance we could double book.
I get excited when
there’s a good show
in our basement.
Why I do it
Originally, I wanted a chance to play my own music and to give a chance to friends that I felt deserved it, a chance to play their own music. When you contact a venue, they’re like “put together a night.” So I started trying to think about how shows should go. I get a lot of enjoyment out of listening to people perform music. If you ever go on tour, you realize how much people are going out of their way for you to share your music. To return the favor, to gout of your way for other people is a great thing.
Being able to exist on my own terms is the most rewarding aspect. If you’re an adult, and you want to do something other than sit in our house, it is assumed you have to go to a bar and pay money for alcohol and food. I think it’s just really amazing to go downstairs and see a bunch of great people sharing this really weird stuff that they do. It's nice to have a way to be outside of that whole part of our culture. Also, it's in my basement, so it's happening all the time. We don’t have any disaster protocols. We’ve never had an issue with the police. I personally try to refrain from selling alcohol at the shows because that could lead to a lot more trouble.
I definitely think, as somebody who has hosted shows, people can feel entitled to this or that, and that's a problem. There's no promise because you're playing at somebody's house, they've already opened their house to you, that should be enough.
It’s kind of like
anarchy. We just
adapt to it.
The venue is the reward
We don't really promote very much besides making a Facebook event. We've publicly put our address on most events. If we do the door, it goes 100% to the band. The donations also go 100% to the band. The bar mostly goes to whoever's bartending. We might want to change that, but I personally don't think we should mess with that. In the past, whoever's worked the bar got the money for the drinks they sold. For me, I'm not really thinking about making money on it, I'd rather just give it to the bands.
I think it's a really interesting space because it's the passion of a lot of people. I think it's a very unique place because it's really organic, and it's kind of like anarchy. Nobody set out to do anything with it, it just kind of happened. We had one roommate that really likes working on these construction projects, and he's the one who poured concrete on the basement floor. We have a bunch of different visual artists who put their art around the basement and transform it. I'll come downstairs, and the one who did the construction and the one who did the paintings will suddenly have changed everything around into this new design. We just kind of adapt to it. I think it's really exciting to see the additions they come up with. The bar was hand-built by one of our roommates. When I moved in, as somebody who plays shows and puts on shows, I really didn't want to be too intrusive, but it seems like they actually get more upset when they're aren't shows happening. These people aren't really involved in the music scene, but they just want everyone to participate, and they just wanted to create a space for people to use. I'm excited to see what it develops into. I personally would like to keep it away from being a party house, because it's a basement, and more like a place for people who make experimental music to have a way to show it. That's just my opinion, I'm just one roommate in the house, and everybody has the ability to pretty much do whatever they want in that basement. I'm just excited that I have the ability to participate in it and make it what I want it to be.
A show should feel like
a special occasion,
a magical occasion.
Advice for future
Give people a chance, and make sure that you don't fall into a bubble, because there's many, many little worlds of groups of friends doing stuff together, and it seems kind of intimate, in Brooklyn, especially. Don't fall into too-defined of a scene, where the same people get the chance to perform every time. Try to always be open and give people a chance. Don't expect to make a lot of money off it, unless you want to make a big shift from DIY to, I don't know, a bar. Don't treat it like a business plan.
I think that our place is more like a house where we can have parties to our liking. I think that's another piece of advice, show should feel like a special occasion, a magical occasion. Those are the best ones, I think.