What’s the Deal With House Shows?

Mini Blinds (photo by oddmonsterpdx, Instagram)

I walk down the stairs, but get stuck halfway in traffic. The walls are wet with perspiration. I shimmy sideways through a tiny avenue between bodies, only to be confronted with more bodies. The temperature is rising and I continue my slippery shuffle over beer slicked concrete. Towards the source of excitement. No one seems to be bothered by getting brushed passed, too preoccupied by the sonic momentum of pounding rhythms and singing amplifiers as the crowd pulsated harmonically. The band was in full swing, entranced like Delphic oracles in their artistic rite. The quintessential House show: a critical territory for musical subcultures and a gathering place for creative underdogs.

This is a memory from May 2017, and the house where this show took place has since closed its doors forever after its tenants were evicted for renovations. Despite Portland’s growing economy, many are being priced out of portland due to rising property values and inflation. As Portland’s infrastructure changes, various music scenes face a challenging issue; diminishing public spaces.

Theres nothing for kids to do here, and killing house shows is killing the kids.

There should always been something said for the the adaptable tenacity displayed by artists of all kinds, and music is no exception. House shows exist out of a desire to hold the culture closer, and because businesses shouldn’t have a monopoly on live entertainment, and of course, because there are so many musicians and fans under 21. In a city where alcohol is everywhere, many shows are held at bars and missed by young adults., which has been the catalyst for pockets of fringe folks to open their own closely guarded speakeasies and clandestine music halls in their basements, garages, and living rooms.

“Theres nothing for kids to do here, and killing house shows is killing the kids. That hurts all around, because not only are those the future artists, but they’re the one who are excited to spend their money,” says Nathan, former house venue proprietor and local musician. Portland’s all age venues are noticeably lacking.

Sweet Reaper (photo by edenkittiver, Flickr)

It’s harder than ever to stay afloat financially in portland, many people are working multiple jobs and spending half or more of their income on rent, leaving them too tired or simply unavailable to go to shows, which leads us to the leading cause of scene shrinkage: attendance.  “With venue shows, sometimes you’re lucky if you get anyone there, and if you do, they drink and hang out, maybe they watch your show, maybe they don’t. They don’t want to get moshed into, they don’t want to spill their drink. And as a band member, you are far less likely to see one red cent of whatever money is made. You get your 2 drink tickets and 1 guest list spot, and thats it,” said Nathan Richardson, local musician and former house venue tenant. Undeniably, house shows have a much more lively energy. Perhaps it’s because the generally ore youthful crowd blowing off some steam, but I mostly think it’s that we know we’re getting away with something. For me, going to a show is similar to a religious person going to church. I get the same thing out of it: community, celebration, and a profound sense of inward and outward connection.

“Portland just always changes you know? It’s so cliquey. There’s punks that never show up to certain punk shows, and there’s punks here that don’t even know other punks… It’s a weird city, and its always been weird. It goes through a lot of phases of whats cool and whats not, because it’s a trendsetting city,”  said Nathan. Exclusivity is definitely a factor when it comes to getting more people involved and interested. It’s natural for us to be protective of our environments, especially when authenticity is so readily co-opted by commercial interests, and conversely, its hard to be a new person in a new place, especially with Portland’s newly adopted  xenophobic outlook on those who have recently moved here. Social media and word of mouth are the main forms of promotion when it comes to house shows, which ensures the safety of the event in a semipublic way, but also creates a nepotistic barrier that could potentially be keeping out people who would otherwise be active cultural contributors.

So what can we do to make things better?

Bands always remember the places where the crowd was wild more than others.

Talk to people, reach out, make an attempt to get to know them, and create friendships. Communication is key. Portland people are not always the most outgoing folks, and it can be frustrating trying to find a foothold socially, but that old Mr Rodgers-type idiom says it best: just be yourself.

Mr. Wrong (photo from Mask Magazine)

Resist the urge to not participate. However small, history is made at every show whether the crowd be 5 or 500, and you could be a part of that. Don’t be afraid to have fun and express yourself. Not everyone ‘dances’, but those who do are typically envied at some capacity. Bands always remember the places where the crowd was wild more than others, so if you like what they’re doing, show it.

Behave respectfully. I can think of more than one occasion where someone’s poor behavior or bad decision drew attention from the neighborhood and law enforcement, causing evictions and other undesirable situations. This type of culture venerates autonomy as much as it requires it, and its up to each of us as individuals to display constructive habits as the standard example.