by Juleana Enright
Note: Names of people and venues have been changed to maintain anonymity.
Nestled deep within the hollowed confines of the city there exists a series of “secret locations” that regularly play host to a slew of local artists, bands and performance troupes you’ve probably never heard of. This is not because you’re not “cool” enough to know them or just don’t possess the magical passwords. For the majority of these venues, the surreptitiousness is very much intentional. And while yes, there is the appeal of knowing something that not everyone is privy to, unlike concepts of a similar vein – secret societies, for instance – these parties are less about elitism and more about preserving a DIY culture.
Even in the realm of mainstream, some are ditching the traditional route – clubs, venues – and opting for more intimate of spaces – warehouses, house basements – where the focus is on the art and the music – and not simply being seen. Instead, the locals behind these “secret location” parties rely on a DIY aesthetic proving that you don’t need the infrastructure (the proverbial and the literal smoke and mirrors) to host a good show but a network and a connection to the artists and bands you love.
I chatted with one local promoter who’s been hosting shows on the DL for eleven years on what it takes to book and host shows outside the system.
Despite what you’ve heard about the “underground” scene, not all shows are under the umbrella of punk. In fact, TE makes it a point to declare that he “doesn’t throw punk shows.” When you attend a show at his house, you won’t feel afterwards as though you need to shower fourteen times. No one will spill a 40 on you – or even be playing Edward Fortyhands – and you won’t be lured into a musty subterranean crypt where the walls have been painted black and the smell of pink insulation permeates the air. If your plan is to fuck stuff up and get wasted, TE’s venue is not the place, but if you’re looking for a showcase of some of the best “unknown” Minneapolis bands curated by a booking veteran, you’re in the right spot.
Self-described as “a mystical, magical mansion of musical pleasures,” TE’s “secret location” hosts touring and local bands, provides them with gas money, a place to crash and even a home-cooked vegetarian-friendly meal – whipped up by TE himself – in return for a killer rock show and the respect of a well-cared-for house guest.
Though easily described as an important figure in supporting local music, TE could care less about the recognition. Over his eleven year span of booking shows, it boils down to the same simple mission – to watch his favorite bands play and lend a hand to get them seen. TE likes the art of entertaining, inviting guests to survey the local music scene in the comforts of his living room – combining the allure and mystery of a house show with the flavor of hospitality.
“House shows are more fun. I like being in control of all it. If something happens, then it’s my problem.”
TE has a few rituals that keep the “secret location” feeling like a home. “I wake up; I set everything up and I light this specific candle that smells like cinnamon. It’s weird,” he adds. “It’s not punk rock at all. The house smells good. The house is clean. People come in and see that. I’ve been to shows where people are jumping off the second floor onto people on the first floor, throwing beer all over, throwing food all over and maybe the people who live there don’t give a shit, but still, you’re in someone’s house. You’re coming into my house to watch some bands that I’m probably going to end up paying out of my pocket because I don’t get enough donations, I’ve cooked you food and I tell people they can take whatever they want out of my fridge. If I give all of those options to people, generally they’re not going to be jerks. No one has stolen anything; nothing’s been broken, and some shows have topped over 100 people.”
He joked that at his day job – a desk attendant for a condo building – he probably comes into contact with more issues and incidents than he does a hosting “punk shows.” But then, it’s not a punk show. The crowd fluctuates – indie rockers, garage-band aficionados, crust punks, dream poppers, shoegazers, people in their 40s – it’s a different crowd every time.
TE describes it as more of a family gathering than anything. When the weather is nice, he hosts a grill-out and campfire. There are other outstanding differences as well. TE doesn’t do shows in the basement, but the living room where the acoustics are better. He has neighbors on both sides, but the house is professionally sound-proofed, the shows start early, rarely run past midnight and he periodically checks in with his neighbors to assure there are no disturbances.
Recent guests have been bands like New York’s Lemuria who shared a stage with Against Me! at First Avenue, Seattle fuzz-rockers the Pharmacy which toured with ex-Moldy Peaches frontwoman Kimya Dawson, Seattle punk rockers Big Eyes, Minneapolis’ energetic rock vets the Birthday Suits, plus locals Kitten Forever, Voytek, and Teenage Moods.
TE is a fan of mixing bills and this month will see shows from locals the Burglars – whose sound recalls the soft crooning ’60s pop of Broadcast – with indie alt-country from Philadelphia’s Arrah and the Ferns, or local aggro-noisy four-piece Serenghetto with the ballsy sounds of lady garage rockers Hot Rash (which are set to play St. Paul’s Girls Got Rhythm Fest this May) and folk-psych from Atlanta’s Hurricanes of Love. It’s this theme of eclecticism and inclusiveness that makes the “secret location” home to a variety of crowds – scenesters and non alike.
Throughout our interview TE raves about a few of his beloved local bands listing raucous twee pop-punk outfit Nice Purse (featuring members of Howler) as his current favorite. TE also mentions Cadette (of which Laura Larson from Kitten Forever is a member) and recent “Picked to Click” artists and SXSW players Prissy Clerks (which includes Total Babe’s Clara Salyer and Howard Hamilton of Red Pens) who harness a sort of Ronnie Spector sound.
TE metions the bands pumping out of St Paul’s MacPhail’s Center for Music as among those to watch – Americana punk rockers Mystery Train, the shoegaze-y Phantom Vibration, the girl-fronted indie poppers Hot Tang, Hot Freaks (featuring Sarah Darnall of Buffalo Moon) and an as-yet-unnamed new band comprising Susy and Annie of former local punk band the Soviettes.
And because it is nearly impossible to avoid, we talk a little about the “Howler hometown hate debate” and the critique of coverage repetition. These – the bands under the booking guise of TE – are easily the bands Howler frontman Jordan Gatesmith was referring to: the overlooked crop of local music makers.
There are bands that we watch because we know they are talented and bands that we should watch because they’re not afraid to be fallible. Even less talked about are the people supporting them in their houses, in local record shops and in coffee shops. When you start looking, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by a vast catalog of local bands, but the way TE sees it it’s almost impossible to keep them unknown.
“I recognize that a lot of people don’t know who these bands are, but there’s not really a good reason not to know, especially with the addition of Bandcamp. I wish more people did know about these bands. Because some of the bands that play at the house when there’s only like 60 people there to watch, they should be playing to a room full of 400 people.”
Instead of keeping his tastes private and esoteric, TE makes it a point to introduce people to them and fans and bands alike have noticed the difference.
“People are really respectful of the house. Jillian (Schroeder, from Teenage Moods) said something along the lines of it was so welcoming in there it felt like coming into your family’s house during Thanksgiving.”
TE talks about branching out from just concerts to showcasing art shows, listening parties, poetry readings, comedy – recalling the roots of the underground scenes much in the way the defunct spaces Bat Annex and Bedlam once did and the way currents like Madame and Medusa do. But don’t expect a switch to a larger venue anytime soon. He prefers underground shows and so do the majority of the bands.
“I think it has to do with that they’re more personal. There’s no stage; no security and the bands aren’t playing 30 feet away from the crowd. Most bands with a following know that they’re going to have a good show at a house. They’d rather play a house full of 100 people with donations at the door than a $8-plus club show with 50 people at the door and the club taking half the door money. It just makes sense. Mostly though, I think it’s for the fun and to support the DIY ethic.”