Philly needs an all-ages venue. TWOB Fest wants to make it happen.
The inaugural TWOB Fest this weekend will raise money for an all-ages DIY show space in Philly, to open this fall.
My first piece for WXPN’s The Key is on this weekend’s TWOB Fest, which should be a lot of fun. Check it out!
Going to be controversial but realistic here and say this is a waste of effort and money. There’s a lot of cheerful rah-rahing about the importance of spaces in this article that I just think ignores a lot of stuff in plain view: we have an incredible environment for DIY shows presently, operating a business (especially music-related) in this city is a nightmare and there is a lack of any firm detail about the goal. For one thing, there is no lack of legal all ages spaces here. I can name The Fire, The Barbary, the First Unitarian Church, LAVA, and PhilaMOCA off the top of my head. Barring LAVA and maybe the FUC, music functions as a loss-leader for those places, which I guess is what the organizers of TWOB actually take exception with. The biggest threat to live music in general here was the Promoter Bill which was struck down pretty handily.
In their words, the aim is to “create something sustainable.” I think if you’re being honest with yourself, what exists in Philadelphia right now is quite sustainable. Yes, the bulk of DIY spaces operate illegally, but there has never been a crackdown on those shows like there was in Boston a few years ago. Excepting the Terrordome, I can’t think of any basement venue that has had to quit because of police attention in the 7 or so years I’ve been going to shows here. If I remember correctly the Terrordome had gotten a bit too much attention from the press which led to the crackdown there. The last few times I’ve read the alt-weeklies, Golden Tea House shows were listed so I’m not sure how much of a real concern that kind of attention is anymore. GTH is mentioned in this post as doing 15-20 shows a month which I think is what Terrordome was doing at their height, which clearly illustrates the principle that when one place shuts down it won’t be long before something else takes its place. If (god forbid) GTH ever got busted, no doubt something would materialize to fill the void.
There is almost a tiered/farm-league system between venues and promoters here. Illegal venues take up the bottom, pairing up small-to-medium touring acts and upstart-to-established local bands. As artists grow in popularity its not uncommon to see them move through venues like a system: first tour at a house show, year later sees them headline the Fire or the Barbary, few months later sees them opening or co-headlining the Church, and then maybe Union Transfer after album two. Perfect Pussy is a recent example — their first shows here were in a basement somewhere, then Golden Tea House. They’re about to headline the First Unitarian Church for the second time next week. Promoters play a role here that’s probably akin to talent scouts. The Guild, R5 and the Kat Kat folks all book at a mix of illegal and legal venues (R5 obviously less so.) I know the Guild and R5 have teamed up on shows before.
So I guess the aim is to replace the lower/illegal tier with something legal. Of course I don’t have a problem with the sentiment but I fail to see why it’s necessary when what exists now works and is far beyond what exists in other cities in the Northeast Corridor. I gather a secondary aim of this is to have a dedicated music club that does not have a bar or other commercial element. Again, I have no problem with this sentiment but I feel it ignores the efforts the Barbary and the Fire undertake to host all ages shows. I have booked one show in the city ever, so I’m definitely not an expert. But it was a complete last minute disaster during a blizzard and it was at the Fire. Nick from the Guild basically served as my proxy and it was really easy. I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience, though. I find the Barbary and the Fire kind of admirable because despite Philadelphia’s oft-cited blue liquor laws, both these clubs have made it a point to serve all-ages audiences. I don’t know their motivation for this but it exists and it’s worth noting. The Fire was barred from doing all ages shows three or four years ago because concertgoers had to enter through the bar to get to the stage. Rather than stop doing all ages shows forever, they built a separate entrance for the hall. The Barbary opens for all ages shows and closes their downstairs bar.
From a more crass commercial POV I wonder how the TWOB guys hope to succeed in “making something sustainable.” For one thing, opening any kind of business in this city is a major nightmare. Historically, music venues have been met with opposition from neighborhood groups. If it opens, what’s their “model?” Hoping to make enough money to pay the rent from 15-25 modestly priced shows a week seems tough although I don’t know what the numbers actually look like. Are they looking to set up a non-profit? Or will they be forced to operate the music club alongside another business like a coffee shop or restaurant? I think the money from this fest would be better suited for something like Girls Rock Philly or Rock To The Future or basically anything else you can find here: http://volunteer.phila.gov/
I just don’t know about all this. I feel like I had a ton of things to say about it when I first read it and now it’s been a couple days and this is the first time I’ve found the opportunity/energy to respond and I don’t want to write the million words I would have written a few days ago but I don’t want to let it go by without comment either so here is my response and hopefully the end of this paragraph is followed by some number of words that is less than 4 digits.
Anyway, there are two big problems with this attitude. The first one is the complete apathy towards the potential risk show bookers (and bands who play illegal venues, for that matter) are assuming by continuing to use these venues rather than attempting to replace them with legal ones. I think the overall lack of interest I always get from younger punk rockers when I get into conversations about this stuff has to do with the fact that at this point the community has been around for decades and we’ve all grown up with the romanticization of basement shows, and the idea that shows at clubs/otherwise legal venues are just “not the same”—because you can’t get as crazy or experience the sweaty drunken mess that happens when too many people are crammed into a space not designed to hold mass gatherings, because you can’t save money by buying cheap 40s and bringing those to the show, because sometimes in order to preserve the club’s ability to allow minors at the show, there can’t be alcohol on the premises at all.
People put their romantic good times ahead of what’s best for the show, in other words. It’s the attitude of a young “punter” (in British terminology—this basically means “person on the scene whose participation is limited to being a paying customer”) who has no idea, and no concern, about what goes into making the shows you go to actually happen. Promoters are often able to pay the bands less money at house shows because instead of being able to set a door price, they have to make do with young kids showing up with whatever small bills and loose change they’ve got at the bottom of their pockets/purses—because taking $3 is better than turning the customer away and losing that money entirely. Promoters who do house shows aren’t able to cover their expenses out of the door money, and people who actually provide the space (which they sometimes live in) don’t get any financial compensation either. Last time I went to a house show, someone kicked a hole in the living room wall during the first band. Wonder who paid for that? Not the kids who came to that show and danced hard in a 12x15 room, that’s for sure.
And this brings up the other big problem I have with the complacent “let’s just keep doing illegal shows” attitude. It reminds me of the argument that happened on the Self Defense Family tumblr back in June when Pat suggested that the reason hardcore bands charge less for shows/merch is because hardcore kids are entitled little shits who won’t pay the price the shows/merch are actually worth. I’m paraphrasing, and I’m not trying to call you a little shit either, for what it’s worth, so here, let me briefly quote Pat:
Most hardcore kids don’t care about sustainability.
They burn everyone out. They refuse to pay bands what they’re worth, and refuse to allow promoters to make a profit. They won’t pay what a 7” is worth, making the pressing of the format most closely tied to the culture nothing but a promotional item or loss leader.
They don’t understand the idea of a markup on goods. They believe that breaking even is the same as sustainable.
This is the same problem with illegal venues. It’s not sustainable. When you can’t make any money from putting on shows in your basement, it has to be a labor of love, and the second you don’t love it anymore (because dumb teenagers kicked a hole in your living room wall that you can’t afford to fix, perhaps?), you stop doing it. And the idea that “when one place shuts down, it won’t be long before another takes its place” is again, this idea of burning people out and waiting for others to come along and take their place, which basically treats everyone in the scene like replaceable cogs in a machine, not as actual people who are important to the community. On some level, everything probably can be reduced to that, but that’s not what I personally want out of a scene. It seems so capitalist and anti-humanist, and I just don’t approve. Let me quote again from the Self Defense tumblr, from a different post during that same argument:
To most hardcore kids, bands are interchangeable. [Until they go to grad school and don’t have time to keep up on music. Then it’s “I really want to like these new bands, but there’s just no one doing it the way _______ did.”] As long as there’s always a band to fill the void, the quality of the band doesn’t matter and the quality of that bandmembers’ lives sure as shit does not matter.
As a dude who is really into music, this idea just sucks. It’s like people who replace their dog with another the day after the animal dies. Or, people who get new partners in a week. It illustrates that the role was the crucial thing, not the individual.
I’m uncomfortable with that shit too. I wanna believe people are more important than that. This whole house show thing started up in the first place because communities wanted to have music in their areas and the option to do it through a legal venue didn’t exist. We’ve romanticized it all to hell now, and that makes sense—it’s a defense mechanism so we don’t remember how less-than-ideal a lot of these situations are, how shitty of a time we sometimes have in trying to prepare for or clean up after a show in someone’s basement, or all the times the PA breaks or everyone hangs out in the backyard hobnobbing instead of watching the bands or whatever. But underneath all the romance, all this ever was was punks finding ways to make do, and to have the best situation they could. When a better situation comes along, or at least seems within their grasp, I for one would hope people aren’t so attached to the romance that they willfully turn away from the possibility of improving their situation, instead asking that those who sacrifice the most to keep their community alive continue making those sacrifices indefinitely, regardless of time and money lost, or risk of arrest/eviction taken on.
Sure, it’s going to be very difficult to make the jump from house shows to opening an actual club. I was involved in a group of 8 or so people who tried to do that very thing about 10 years ago, and we all put thousands of dollars away in order to try and make it happen, and it still wasn’t enough. We ended up giving up. Funnily enough, one of the big problems here in Richmond was the exact opposite of “hav[ing] a dedicated music club that does not have a bar or other commercial element”—the scene here absolutely demanded that any new venue have the ability to serve liquor, regardless of the fact that an alcohol-free venue would have been a thousand times easier and cheaper to open.
Either way, my point is this—it’s hard, but the current alternative isn’t easy, and the burden of that current situation falls heavily on a few isolated members of the community who are no doubt sick of putting up with all the bullshit that goes along with it. If they weren’t, I doubt they’d be having this conversation in the first place. Sure, maybe you think their efforts are doomed to failure, but nobody ever succeeded by not trying. And I hate to say this, because I feel like there’s no way to do so without seeming like a dick, but here goes: if you’re not one of the ones putting forth the effort and expenditure and taking the legal risk to put on shows at illegal venues, you’re really out of line telling the people who ARE doing it that they should be content to keep doing so indefinitely.
No hate, no beef, but I’m just sayin.