Venue Closures Got You Down? Throw a House Party
With local music-friendly venuse closing, it's time to take the scene into your own hands.
Khayree Billingslea has some pretty strong feelings about the Tempe Police Department's Safe and Sober Campaign, the city's annual zero-tolerance crackdown on parties, underage drinking, and impaired driving. "The city of Tempe turned this place into a police state for three weeks under the guise of preventing people from drinking and doing stupid shit," Billingslea says. "But, really, it's just to collect as much money from residents as possible in a quick amount of time, before people feel so repressed they end up lashing out."
Then he adds: "It feels a little like a blitzkrieg with [some] justifications, but it's not [entirely] about what they say it's about. It's complicated, but I hate how it affects my neighborhood."
Billingslea's words aren't necessarily hyperbolic. In 2013, Tempe police made more than 1,300 arrests during a three-weekend stretch. This year, during the campaign's first weekend, almost 400 people were arrested. So what makes Billingslea, in particular, so irked? He sees these tactics as threatening to the already struggling underground music scene, a DIY collective that's helping keep art and music alive in the Valley.
During the past four years, Billingslea has booked more than 70 shows, starting with his work in the Underground Foundation, an Arizona State University-sponsored organization he helped create to promote local art and music. As Tempe undergoes somewhat of a construction boom, the music scene has suffered, as venues such as Parliament, Big Fish Pub, Sail Inn, Long Wong's, and more have shut their doors. The few remaining venues are highly competitive, with their bottom lines dictating the genres they pencil in and the audiences they attract.
"You're only allowed to get so esoteric," Billingslea says. "Booking [house shows] gives a lot of power to the people who are fans of music."
The DIY scene has few places left to turn -- that's why Billingslea believes it's more vital than ever for folks to step up and start booking their own shows. Maybe that person is you. To become a promoter, you don't need a degree or anything fancy -- just elbow grease, an Internet connection, and a few friends. Here's Billingslea's guide to booking the ultimate house show.
The ideal neighborhood is boring or derelict. Go for a warehouse or storage unit if you can find one. Otherwise, try to land a gig in places where people are more supportive of whatever you're doing -- 'Hipster Compton,' as Billingslea puts it. The ideal house has a large living room and backyard, so apartments and townhouses are terrible.
"You want neighborhoods where most people are renting the property, where there aren't many families," Billingslea says. "At least get a place where people will open the door when you knock, so you can let them know you're about to have a show."
This is crucial to reducing noise complaints or other incidents: Talk to the neighbors.
"Say your friend -- this actually happened -- was in a motorcycle accident and you need money to cover medical bills. We booked a house show for him and all the residents we told were like, 'Dude! Absolutely!' No matter how stuck-up or conservative they appeared to be, they were totally down. After that, we always said it was a benefit show . . . Always make it cause-related. It's not really lying, because you're promoting the cause of allowing people to play music in places they wouldn't be able to otherwise."
Setup: Encourage biking, walking, and carpooling, but at the very least, inform people to park at least 100 yards from the house. Never park in front of someone's driveway.
"It's important to remember these communities existed before you decided to book a show in them, and you need to respect that," Billingslea says.
Take tickets in the back -- the front is too loud and it's harder to run, if needed. The golden standard for tickets is $5. Kegs are also key -- the only show Billingslea curated that went awry lacked one -- but underage drinking is a no-no. Always check IDs and be sure to mark hands. While unlikely and hard to prove, you can be charged with providing alcohol to minors.
But Billingslea's biggest fear isn't that the cops will shut down his shows -- he's far more afraid that someone will get drunk, then get behind the wheel.
"Then I'll be responsible for at least providing the venue in which those kids were drinking," he says. "In which case, that'd be a shitty scenario. Which is why you try to make sure that underage people aren't drinking."
Using admission proceeds, make sure you have enough to pay the homeowner for damages, noise complaints, and for taking the risk in the first place. No matter what goes down, give the owners that money. First-offense noise violations can cost $250, but you should research city codes to be sure.
Insulate the house (especially windows) with mattresses or Styrofoam or, if you can find it, the soundproofing foam used in recording studios. If the cops do arrive, apologize -- but only once. Then ask guests to quiet down, making sure to have them feel responsible for whether the gig succeeds or fails. "If the cops come a second time, you're probably going to get a noise complaint. In that case, you end the show and pay the house."
This is why you should have a backup house to move to, if possible.
"We had this band called Them Savages play with a bunch of drone metal and pop punk bands," Billingslea says. "The drone band and the pop punk band just basically pissed off the neighbors to hell. When the cops came, they saw people that didn't have any facial hair -- kind of too doe-eyed -- so they just assumed there was underage drinking, and they shut the show off right there. At that point, we just moved Them Savages to an adjacent house."
If you do everything right, most of this shouldn't be a problem. In fact, the cops will probably be the least of your worries. Depending on the guests you invite, they should understand the situation and will behave themselves. In fact, Billingslea has never had a serious issue with the police.
"I've been to shows that have been busted by the cops, but I wasn't running them -- or if I was running them, it wasn't that big of a deal because there's always a solution," Billingslea says. "The community that we book in has fostered an attitude wherein you don't do anything that could cause [trouble.] When someone throws a bottle because they don't get it and they break something in the backyard, people pretty much get the cold shoulder, like. 'what the fuck are you doing.' It's a sort of self-regulating community, which is the cool thing about DIY and independent music."
Finally, when it's over, get everyone out. Quickly.
But wait -- what do you get out of all of this? While you may be risking your place getting destroyed or someone calling the fuzz on you, booking a house show will help foster a creative community that thrives. When we can no longer rely on "official" venues, it's important to show that all we need is each other.
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