The City Scene
Somewhere in a dingy basement on the outskirts of Boston, a new form of music appreciation is taking shape. It consists of a five dollar cover fee, a couple of unknown artists, and a bunch of hip college students to fill the room. Shows often happen in houses of students who live off campus. Criteria to host really only includes one thing: A basement big enough to stuff in about fifty people. When I arrived in East Boston, around eight o’clock, it seemed there were already about half that many people milling around the musty basement of the white paneled townhouse. The lights were dimmed so low it was hard to see where you were going. JUUL smoke gave the air a hazy texture and the faint smell of alcohol and sweat lingered everywhere. A drum set and speakers were set in a corner of the room, but no one crowded the area where the band would be. Teenagers lounged on the floor, sat on couches and chairs pushed to the edge of the room, and chatted in small groups. Eventually, the first band made its way to the instruments and started playing a sort of alternative rock with breathy vocals and a funky bass progression. Some people danced a little with their shoulders, tossing their heads back and forth. Others just nodded along to the beat. There definitely wasn’t a bad view in the house.
Seemingly the opposite of stadium and arena shows, this kind of homemade venue gives students the chance to listen to live music for cheap—and in a more intimate setting. So close you can actually tell which chords the guitarist is strumming and see the sweat beaded on the lead singer’s forehead. While similar to other small venue spaces in capacity, basement shows are completely planned and executed by the artists and their peers. What do music lovers and concert goers potentially have to gain from these underground shows? Is it a better way to connect to the artists? A road to a more raw and natural experience? Do basement shows hold added social potential as well?
Emily Bunn, a current student at Emerson College, describes the experience as “very DIY,” meaning “do-it-yourself.” She continues to describe the setting as “...youthful...With it just being college kids in a basement, decorated in paper heart strings, it felt somewhat underground and very fun.” Bunn is specifically referring to a show many Emerson students attended a couple of weeks ago in East Boston around Valentine’s Day called “Resurrection of Love.” The process brings together many different groups of students on campus; some from the internet radio station WECB and others from the student-run record label Wax On Felt. It seems to be a way that students interested in music can reside in one space, collaborating and planning to create a music community in Boston for students by students.
The experience also offers a social component. Many of the attendees are around the same age and from the same colleges. Most are in their later teens to early twenties and are from Emerson, Berklee, and sometimes Northeastern. Brought together by a common love of music, the environment has the potential to build new music groups, create connections between the existing ones, and foster a whole new sound. With the nature of an urban campus, there aren’t a lot of places where Emerson students can hangout and interact. Basement shows seem to be one of the few, but is this community really as welcoming as it should be? Bunn describes the social environment as fun, dictating that “everyone was hanging out with their own friends, musicians included... I think that anyone would have probably talked to anyone else, though,” she says. While essentially described as “welcoming,” it does seem that many students come in preformed groups—some surrounding the artists themselves. This begs another question: How do these events get planned, what goes into the planning, and who decides who hears about them?
WECB Program Director, Alexa Harrington, says that “word usually spreads via word of mouth and through Facebook events a few days before the actual date.” A Facebook event was created for the “Resurrection of Love” show, complete with the address and other details attendees needed to know. This is the part where being involved in WECB or Wax On Felt comes in handy. Being “in the know” seems to be the key to finding out about these underground events. The slight secrecy though, might be part of the fun. This side of the music scene wouldn’t be truly “underground” if everyone knew about it, if posters were plastering the walls of Emerson spaces. Mia Manning, the Events Coordinator at WECB, has experience hosting one of the basement shows. She says that planning a show was a good way for her to get involved, since she doesn’t play an instrument. The experience helped her realize she might want her future career to involve music in someway. Manning added that basement shows “allow you to meet new people and make more connections. It’s a great way to discover new bands and music in the Boston area.” I’d have to say I agree!
Photography by: Hana Antrim and Lukas Markou