You wander in, people are smoking cigarettes indoors, a dude with a massive face tattoo gives you a once over with suspicious eyes. Are you a narc? Play it cool and you might just be let in, screw up and you could get booted, literally. Yet places like this are invaluable to your local scene, and you can’t underestimate the worth they could have in helping to promote your band. Punk houses are hard to understand at first, and for many, even the concept of a house show is bizarre. Yet if you learn to play it cool and enter the wondrous realms of darkness that these shows encapsulate, you could be setting your band up for great things.
In America especially, with it’s lack of support of the arts, punk is kind of a big deal, not just as a form of music, but as a general ethos. In my few months here I’ve rapidly come to realize that no matter what genre of music you play, if you’re in an independent band, you probably owe something to the punks in your local scene. Although this connection is of course more apparent for rock and metal oriented acts, I think that there is still something to be said for punk in pop music. (Beyond those silly Punk Goes Pop compilations) A lot of the more legitimate seeming pop artists out there today will not deny having spent years working their local scene and making friends with everyone, punk or otherwise. It may seem weird at first playing in front of thirty people in some smelly dudes basement but in the end, people respect you more because of it.
For what it’s worth, I’ve seen a lot of fairly major people from record labels show up to house shows to support bands that aren’t even on their labels. And yes, I know a lot of bands on independent labels who play house shows. What better way to prove your mettle than in front of movers and shakers in the scene who also can help make music your living? Sure, house shows are usually at best, semi-legal but that’s kind of the point! What better way to prove to your fans that you’re “real” and working for them than by playing in extremely intimate venues? I know that my respect and appreciation for a lot of my favorite bands only really came after seeing them play house shows. By playing house shows you are encouraging the growth of superfans and promoting viral marketing. I know from years of experience that people, young people in particular, will be much more supportive of bands (Regardless of level) that they’ve gotten to see in intimate venues than groups that only play larger ones. In a way it makes sense, think about it, are you more likely to tell your friend about a cool band you only just discover when you saw them play a 500 person room or about an incredibly intimate experience with a new band where moshers repeatedly shoved you onto the stage?
The best part is that playing these kind of shows is oftentimes pure profit, or nearly so. Punk houses rarely (if ever) charge a fee for the venue since it’s owned and lived in by the people who host it. This means that it’s fairly easy to quickly make a hundred bucks to further your bands ambitions. The people running these houses are aware of this, and usually, that’s why they do it, after all, they get some kickass shows right in their house every few weeks and get to sell beer for profit, it’s a win win situation. If you’re willing to sidestep some of the minor legal issues (Which to be fair, often change on a local basis) and embrace the true magic of the underground, then this could very well be the thing that makes your band a dominant force in your local scene.
One of the key issues that people have with house shows though is simply getting invited, how do you even find these places? They usually don’t publish the address online or elsewhere for legal reasons, and I have multiple stories about going to the completely wrong neighborhood by accident only to find out that the neighborhood I was supposed to be in had a lot more gunplay than previously anticipated. Getting into these things is usually just a matter of finding the right people in your scene. This doesn’t always mean the most important people in your scene though, a lot of the time they will claim to have ‘graduated’ house shows, or to ‘not need them anymore,’ which oftentimes is probably true. Punk houses are there primarily to help independent or low level artists. If you want to uncover the whereabouts of punk houses start talking to the guy with face tattoos, or the one who wears a jacket with patches for bands you’ve never heard of and whose logos are indecipherable, or maybe it’ll be the kid who runs a small indie label. If you ask around you’ll be sure to find what you’re looking for, and the rewards are truly great.
So why don’t more people buy into the magic of punk houses? In a lot of cases its simply fear, or an unwillingness to associate with people who many might view as the scum of the earth. Yet, the way I see it, if you’re a musician, you can’t really be lording it over anyone. This is one of the most effective ways to generate fans rapidly along with a fairly decent revenue (Seriously, what kind of guarantee do you play in ‘real’ venues for? Most punk house gigs can match it if you market the show correctly) Sure you often need to go into the ghetto, try not to get mugged, and desperately pray those pops were fireworks and not gunshots, but that’s part of life as an underground musician. It’s a bleak reality, but in the long run, it gives you great stories to tell and provides evidence that you ‘paid your dues’ and in a scene where fans can know literally everything about their favorite artists, being truly legitimate can curry you a lot of favor.
The essential takeaway from this article then, is fairly straightforward. Punk houses are crucial to your scene because they are what much of the underground is based off of, and if you’re reading this, the odds are you are currently, and probably will remain an independent or underground artist for a good long while. This is one of the best ways to show that you are the real thing and get people across the scene into your music. There are lots of ways to curry an international fanbase, but you’re nothing if you can’t draw locally. The intimate settings of a punk house gives you a chance to talk to people, get new fans, and prove that you deserve to rise up, and take the world by storm.