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Ask a punk: Inside Beat's guide to basement shows


Summer music festivals are but a distant memory of better days, and now that syllabus week is coming to a close, you may be wondering where you can get your fix. For those new to campus and to New Brunswick, you may be surprised to find concert venues are a lot closer than you think.

Hub City is home to a notoriously rad basement music scene. For those who have yet to step down into a perfectly grunge basement of certain off-campus houses, keep your eyes peeled for show announcements and make your way into a whole new world.

Show-going veterans will tell you that the basement scene is an experience unlike any other. Unlike most New York City or Philadelphia venues, the basement is exactly what you would expect it to be: intimate. It’s all about the lights, sound and atmosphere. Often dubbed with quirky, memorable names like The Banana Stand (we see your "Arrested Development" reference), The Glitterbox, Kool Ranch or The PussyPad, basement venues work toward achieving that friendly feeling that fans want to experience with their favorite bands.

Bryan Hinczynski, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and operator of the Tiki Lounge, opened his basement to bands and fans last fall.

“The first time I walked down into that basement I knew I wanted to host shows there,” Hinczynski said. “The space is just so perfect for it. It was really just a vision that luckily worked out becoming reality.”

For the Tiki Lounge and many other basements, the goal when booking bands is more than just picking whoever is available.

“I want to book bands that their friends want to come out and see, but will also put on a great show for the people who show up not having any idea who any of the bands are," he said. "I have booked a few out-of-state bands in the past that were personal favorites of mine just because I think they're amazing and New Brunswick deserved to see them."

There's no shortage in the number of basements available to bands, and the movement is made possible by the collective effort of each house.

“Everyone has a general understanding that we are all working towards a common goal, which is a healthy, thriving music scene.” Hinczynski said.

The best part about the shows? There’s something for everyone. Whether you spent your summer crossing the country for festivals like Coachella in California, MoPop in Detroit or stayed local for Governor's Ball in New York City or Skate and Surf in Asbury Park, New Brunswick basement shows have it all.

If you’ve never been to a basement show or don’t recognize a single name on the lineup, don’t be afraid of showing up and regretting it. Often times, the people organizing shows care more about putting on a good show than filling the house.

“People who don't know bands show up to these shows just to go see a basement show and that is the coolest thing to me,” Hinczynski said.

While basement shows are a staple to the Rutgers community, their impact goes far beyond New Brunswick’s city limits.

Bands looking to make it big look to the basement scene as a stepping stone toward fame, and even though the chances of being discovered are slim, it’s not impossible. Local bands looking to catch their break can look up to The Gaslight Anthem, an American rock band that formed right here in Hub City.

The Gaslight Anthem headlined the second night of this past summer’s Skate and Surf Festival on May 17, performing for thousands of fans of all ages.

In a one-on-one interview with Benny Horowitz, drummer for The Gaslight Anthem and a former employee of The Daily Targum, Horowitz recounted his time in New Brunswick, developing the band’s image through the basement scene.

“We just created a scene for ourselves and because we all were playing together and doing these shows together, it formed a community, and it formed something that grew into something bigger than we were,” Horowitz said.

In a modern age where it’s so easy for people to record, share music and make merchandise, working toward success can become passive. For Horowitz, the New Brunswick basement scene is a perfect example of just what bands need to do if they want to get noticed.

“You want to play a show? Do your own show,” he said. “Book the bands you wanna see. Rent the PA. Get off your a-- and like, actually do it. And not, like, wait for some magical ‘I’m gonna make you successful’ fairy to come around and do it, ‘cause very, very rarely will that happen.”

In Hub City, budding bands should have no problem finding their own niche in the underground community. Likewise, fans of all genres can expect to go out and find groups that play anything from pop punk to rap all under one roof.

If you’re in a band, securing a spot with other local bands on a stage under the streets is not as hard as you might think — it can be as simple as diving into the Internet or texting a few friends for a contact. With the basement scene being as popular as it is, chances are you know someone that knows someone that can get you there. 

If you don’t, community groups on Facebook made specifically for New Jersey bands advertise venues, and basement venue operators often post online looking to fill lineups and dates. Email enough people, and before you know it, you’ll be attending classes in the a.m. and touring New Brunswick in the p.m. While we can’t promise that you’ll be bathing in dollar bills, a solid, fun experience and getting your name out there is something we can guarantee.

Reflecting on his rise to stardom, Horowitz said it's important to occasionally take a moment to savor the experience.

“I would have like told myself, especially when I was younger, to like relax," he said. "Kind of enjoy the ride a little bit more and stop ... thinking ahead and being nervous and stuff like that.”

If you’re a fan, search basement names on Facebook for event pages or check NBshows.org for an unofficial listing of upcoming shows. You’ll have to do a little hunting, as basement locations are often kept secret and may change every year. Before you head out to a show, you should also make sure to have a bit of cash on you as most basements charge an admission fee — no more than $10, and usually offered on a sliding donation scale to support the cause. 

During the warmer months transitioning from summer to fall, pay attention to your attire. Flannel and skinny jeans may be your pop punk aesthetic, but save it for November and on, when being in a hot, sweaty basement with fifty of your closest friends is a little less uncomfortable.

Overall, the most important thing for bands and basement crawlers alike is to have fun. If you’re a band and think that the path to fame is a painfully winding road, stop worrying about where you’ll go and pay attention to where you are. When you finally reach the end of the line, you can look back fondly at your experience in the New Brunswick basement scene as a source of sweat and sanctity.

“If you’re happy with the place where you are in life, everything that happened before that is okay — even if it sucked at the time because it somehow brought you to where you want to be,” Horowitz said.

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