Why DIY Venues Are Vital to the Health of the Entire Music Scene
The first time I saw Lucky Dragons perform in a "legitimate" venue, it was with No Age on Halloween in 2010 at the Bluebird Theater; prior to that, I had only witnessed Luke Fishbeck and Sara Rara's project perform on the floor of DIY spots like Silent Barn in New York City and here in Denver at Rhinoceropolis. Not so much a band as an interactive performance experience -- the audience is invited to collaborate with Lucky Dragons using its own music and visual art-driven technology -- the L.A.-based duo chose not to use the stage, setting up on the floor of the theater and still inviting the crowd to be a part of the show. Playing a set on the floor is not the norm in terms of performances for a theater venue -- but it is business as usual for warehouse shows.
Tom Murphy. Dangerous Nonsense performs at Glob in 2013.
Last week, I learned that a row of Denver warehouses that formerly served as show spaces was being torn down. However temporary most DIY spots are meant to be, it is still frustrating to think that as Denver grows, it is inevitable that venues like these may be harder and harder to find. But they shouldn't be -- because in order for music and art scenes to thrive, it is imperative for venues of all sizes, shapes, philosophies and varying levels of legitimacy to exist, very much including non-traditional, often stage-free DIY venues.
When looking at the function of warehouses spaces (Note that for the sake of this conversation, when I say warehouses or DIY spaces, I mean any place that operates outside the usual live music venue industry, be it a warehouse, store front, garage, art gallery, house, etc.) within the scope of a local music community, it is important to see them for what they are -- places for often non-traditional entertainment events to unfold and safe spaces for people to practice, create and perform their art.
Tom Murphy Rainbow Sugar performing at notorious Denver DIY venue, Monkey Mania, in 2001.
Because they are often unlicensed and essentially under-the-radar, there is a certain creative freedom that comes along with a warehouse show. Things get broken, climbed on and lit on fire; miniature parades and puppet shows might go down the same night that a grindcore band plays. There are generally no rules -- other than "don't be a dick" -- at these kinds of spaces, lending to the notion that artists can take their art to a level a traditional venue wouldn't allow.
Warehouses also serve as springboards for acts as they grow -- a band like No Age came out of the DIY scene in L.A. and toured at that level for quite a while before becoming big enough for a booking agent who could place the band at larger venues the Bluebird. At the warehouse show level, bands are still booking themselves by making connections with other bands and people in other cities who run DIY spots.
Monkey Mania Facebook page. Fissure Mystic at Monkey Mania.
That's where the community aspect of warehouses is key -- there are no promoters in these situations. There are no venue operators or booking agents. There are bands and artists who live or play at their "home" warehouse venue, as well as other people in the DIY community who act as bookers but usually don't make any money doing it. Then, once a band surpasses that DIY level -- whether because it has been signed to a larger label or moved to a level where it can afford a manager or booking agent or whatever the case may be -- the band moves on to playing "legitimate" venues.