I have a hard time quantifying what exactly the punk scene is. I was reminded of this especially strongly when a friend came to a show to do research for an ethnography on local punk, and the question of “what is punk?” quickly snaked up a good hour of discussion. Ultimately, we settled on a shared identity by autonomy — people drawn together by a shared sense of not really giving a fuck. That’s not to say punk is nihilistic or destructive (quite the opposite in my experience), but there’s a shared mentality of independence and operation outside the “system” (traditional venues, in this case). Egalitarianism is the law of the land, right down to the lack of a stage. There is no green room, you’re likely to find touring bands tuning up on the front porch, bumming smokes off of the locals. The donation jar is another important symbol — to skirt zoning laws, almost all venues eschew cover charges in favor of a give what you can/want approach — there are no booking agents or publicists, nobody to take a cut of the door. If you donate four dollars, you can bet that’s going into a gastank or towards new strings. This also fuels merch sales, which in my estimation clearly eclipse your average night at a bar show. Both literally and metaphorically, there is no line between performer and audience member.
Nobody will deny that the scene is having a hell of a year, drawing in big shows such as Khann and Castevet, sending more bands farther out on tour, and just producing a ridiculous amount of music in general (far too much to keep up with on SP, in fact). As things begin to enter the August lull, people move and leases are re-signed, the four houses below will cease to host shows; JFK, Dan Akroyd’s, BASIC, and Geppetto’s. I spoke to Kiersten Boyd of BASIC and Darwin Keup of Geppetto’s (full disclaimer: he’s my roommate. I have no part in booking shows, however). I was unfortunately unable to get in touch with people from the other houses.
BASIC House (August 2010 – July 2011)
Opened: late summer 2010
Last show: July 3rd
Notable shows: FOCUSEDxMINDS, Renae
SP: Can you talk about the genesis of BASIC? Had you been involved in booking shows previously? What was your first show?
Kiersten Boyd: BASIC House is state property owned by the IBSA (Illinois Baptist State Association). BASIC stands for Brothers and Sisters in Christ. The house itself has been around for years, and I started hosting shows there late summer 2010. Before booking at BASIC House, I hosted shows at different churches around the area who would allow me to use their facilities. I was able to start booking at BASIC because my dad became the director of the house, and since I was using shows for outreach ministry the state approved having bands play there. I decided to start hosting at BASIC House as opposed to churches solely for the environment. BASIC House has a much cozier, diy feeling than having bands play in big empty rooms at churches. The first show ever booked at the house was Dorian’s Decay, Outgrown, Visions, Brave Souls, and The Wisdom We Gain. I always book bands that ask to play, and after I made the transition from hosting at churches to BASIC House, those were the first bands that asked to play the house.
SP: What does a typical audience at the house look like?
KB: BASIC House used to draw in good crowds for shows. Unfortunately, due to false accusations about how shows were run, the last couple of shows had very minimal attendees.
[ed. note — the accusations were that venue promoters were taking a cut of the door prior to paying the bands]
SP: Would you say BASIC has a mission? If so, what is it?
KB: The mission behind hosting shows at BASIC was to provide a safe environment for people in the scene, build relationships with them, and ultimately find a way to show Christ’s love to them through our actions. With this mission, we were able to provide young adults in the scene a safe place to stay when they were homeless. We were also able to team up with Salt and Light ministries to provide groceries on a weekly basis to young adults who could not financially afford food to eat. Some were even selling their own plasma in order to afford food, but because of the ministry at BASIC and Salt and Light, I was able to come in contact with these people and bless them with large amounts of free food on a weekly basis.
SP: Do you feel that Basic has faced any prejudice or adversity due to the house also being a Christian ministry? If yes, what is your response? Do you feel that punk and religion can co-exist?
KB: If BASIC didn’t face any adversity then I wouldn’t be doing my job. Matthew Chapter 5 says “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” I have been slandered and verbally attacked in every way possible, and even though there were times when people in the scene brought me to tears, I would rather stand up for something I believe in then follow the herd for fear of how the scene will judge me.
I have never booked a straight up punk band so I cannot really answer that [second] question, but honestly I do not see why not.
SP: On a personal level, what is your favorite show that the house has hosted? What would be your dream show?
KB: My favorite show was the our last show with Thin Ice, Change Today, Messengers, Thirtyseven, and Life Exposed. Literally one person came to the show other than me, and normally this is something that would upset a promoter but I wouldn’t of had it any other way. Four out of the five bands are signed to labels, and initially I was afraid how the bands would re-act considering they had a large tour package and are used to playing in front of larger crowds. However, I was completely humbled by how kind and understanding they were. Since pretty much no one was there to watch the show except for the bands, they were able to change things up with their sets, and jam with their friends on the road and just have a good time. The one band I would love to book is Venia. They are the one band that drew me into the scene in the first place. I came across them at a point in my life where I was angry at myself as a Christian, and other Christians around me, because we were all claiming our faith and no one seemed to be living it out. Their album Convictions calls out Christians, and it really helped me with my own spiritual walk, so to book them would be an absolute honor.
Dan Aykroyd’s House (December [?] 2007 – July 2011)
The grandaddy of the current house scene, DAH has been hosting music for nearly four years now, long enough to have hosted shows from artists such as Native, Gaza and Weekend Nachos before they attained their current levels of popularity. The number of bands that have played this basement in Champaign numbers in the hundreds, from all corners of the country, and it also doubles as a practice space for quite a few locals, including the bands whose members call the house home. It isn’t every day that you hear someone from Oregon talking about great “the Aykroyd house in Illinois” is supposed to be, but that’s exactly what happened to me earlier this week on turntable.fm
Geppetto’s Workshop (May 2010 – June 2011)
SP: Can you talk about the genesis of the house? Had you been involved in booking shows previously? What was the first show you booked?
Darwin Keup: Basically, I lived at the first/original house venue Error House [aka Dan Aykroyd’s]. Once I left I wanted to continue doing shows but focus more on acoustic / “indie” shows being as there was an abundance of places for hardcore. We did our first show, Pat Bright Day, and the rest is history. The first show I put together ever was an acoustic show over at Error House called “A Very Error Christmas Show”. It was in the front room next to the fireplace. The first one I did at Geppetto’s Workshop was Pat Bright Day, which was a nine-band celebration in honor of Pat Bright who had just had May 18th named after him [for redesigning the city of Champaign’s logo].
SP: What does a typical audience at Geppetto’s look like?
DK: Any and everyone.
SP: What is your personally favorite show that Geppetto’s has hosted? What would be a dream show for you to have booked?
DK: The best show I’ve booked here would have to be either SS Web, Rusalka, Dino Bravo, and Earthworm Brotherhood or either time that We Are The Willows played. My dream would be to book either Owen or Andrew Jackson Jihad.
SP: Are you planning to continue doing shows at your next place?
DK: We might be, depending on how the neighbors are.
JFK House (August 2010 – July 2011)
While seemingly one of the newer houses, JFK actually has ties a long list of Urbana house venues, including Dead Rodent, Bunny Ranch and the Illinois/High houses. While each show carried a touring band or two, JFK primarily sticks in my memory for the outstanding local bills they put together, most memorably a five-band hardcore blowout back in September (quip: “every punk in town is gonna be at this, bet you it doesn’t start until tomorrow”). Perhaps it’s the incredible amount of Mickey’s I’ve consumed on the front porch, but I’ll remember JFK for the sense of camraderie above all else.
I was going to write something here about punk shows moving into decidedly different spaces (the Highdive, for instance), but ultimately I’d like to say that it’s been a great year, and I think everyone is looking forward to the next one.
(cover image by Darwin Keup, other photo via BASIC Facebook page)