Makeshift music: The DIY venue

It’s seven o’clock on a Saturday night and storefront MADE in Long Beach sits closed, silent and shrouded in darkness.

Two hours later, this cramped backroom space is filled to the brim with the moshing bodies of high school and college students. They all paid seven dollars to cram into this confined space and hear bands like Guantanamo Baywatch and Meow Twins blast their music and shake the building to its core.

This is why musician Kim House, and her band Kim and the Created, love to play these more compact spaces.

“You want the small rooms. You want to pack the energy no matter how many people come to the show.”

This tight-knit energy is in the nature of the DIY, the do-it-yourself venue. Find a space, rent it out and play.

Bands are playing one minute, and then when the show is over it is like no one was ever there. The makeshift feeling of these venues fits with the bands that play these places. It’s not uncommon for a band’s instruments to break mid-show, and for them to borrow equipment from one of the other bands playing that night.

Photo by: Aaron Seller. Shannon Lay, guitarist and vocalist for Feels playing at Top Acid.

There is both a sense of intimacy and solidarity at the DIY, the small locations like Unit B and Top Acid, which is not immediately apparent at larger stadiums and clubs. These small venues are on the rise, and for junior strategic and corporate communication major Mai Gattenyo, the camaraderie is why she prefers them. “People are friendlier and more open to talking to new people, whereas at other venues that are larger that isn’t the case.”

Nick Petty, senior film production major, echoed Gattenyo’s sentiments. “I like the intimacy. I think bands connect more with their audience. They almost have to when they are confined like that.”

The personal, communal atmosphere that organizations like Orange County DIY and Freak Style Booking create in these small venues even extends to the promotion of shows.

Hand-drawn flyers covered in elaborate, bizarre doodles and scrawled information are how people find out about the shows. There is no box office and tickets cannot be bought online. Instead, there is a cover charge at the door usually ranging from free to $10.

More often than not, the shows are all ages, so that younger fans who want to support these up-and-coming bands don’t have to miss out.

While there are people that prefer these small and DIY spaces, it does not mean that large-scale concerts and venues don’t have their place.

“I like outdoor locations, like Golden Gate Park or a lot of the music festivals I’ve been to,” said Cameron Horst, junior digital arts major.

For Horst, the “show” aspect that is common at these larger venues and festivals is another reason he prefers them. “The visual component is just as important as sound. I really like the show, the lasers, and the production.”

There is one constantly changing factor that seems to affect people’s opinions on small venues versus large ones: the music itself. As Horst put it, when talking about which he prefers, “It depends on the vibe of the music I’m going to see.” This is true for Gattenyo as well. “If the music is more slow and not the kind that I want to dance to, then I’d rather be in a venue with seats, which other small venues usually don’t have.”

This also matters to the bands themselves and what venues they prefer to play. Jam bands like Phish and The Grateful Dead prefer to play large festivals and outdoor spaces, while a band like Nirvana named Ann Arbor’s seedy little bar, The Blind Pig, as their favorite place to play. For a lot of the bands playing at the DIY venues, places like Top Acid and MADE are their Blind Pig.    

It’s the Sunday morning after the show at MADE in Long Beach. A couple stray flyers litter the alley behind the building. For the customers milling about in the store, there is no sign of the DIY show that took place the night before.

+ posts