In the interest of building a better Austin, Astrotheque are beginning a new venture each last Wednesday night of each month:
Underground: Synth and Dub. Free show with 3 of Austin's finest @ Sahara Lounge Doors @ 7, music till 12am.
At Astrotheque, we believe that electronic artists, beat makers, producers, rappers, and danceable reggae and dub bands need to stick together.
The idea is simple:
We are having this monthly show as a community builder. With many different acts providing free entertainment, Austin's electronic, hip hop, and reggae scene are encouraged to spend this off-night with us, swilling cold beer, watching people dance, collabing, and making plans for world takeover. Sahara Lounge is an enchanting and "culture neutral" environment, where funkiness and humor are valued over flash and cash.
We will foster a scene that values authenticity, connection, and personal trust. Bands frequently rely upon each other to play shows together. This is a free show that bands can put forth FOR ONE ANOTHER that builds the infrastructure that scenes are built on.
The music scene needs to run somewhat on the social and economic systems of dancing, drinking, and chasing tail. The environment will facilitate the closing of business deals, and the things that bring people together in the first place where such things can happen.
The music that appears to be the backdrop to these activities is really just the reason/excuse FOR them. The society that puts forth music supportively grows faster, changes more, and makes bolder decisions.
Which brings us to the study of today's bulletin:
The Recipe for a Thriving Music Scene
The most important part of this exercise is to get working musicians, band leaders, managers, and booking agents to think more concretely and specifically about the social, personal, and emotional impact that they would like their live shows to have. We need to be able to implement strategies that create an environment reflective of our values and representative of our art. We need to recognize the destructive power of chaos and its influence on the quality of our work, so that we can manifest intended outcomes rather than running from unintended ones.
What is the curious and special combination of social, economic, and evolutionary factors that make a Haight/Ashbury '67, Seattle '90, or Grenwich Village '65?
For the answer to this question, we turn to the mighty David Byrne, quoting the following list from his amazing book, "How Music Works." I will then place this new, community driven show within Byrne's system to see how its concept can be improved. It's important to note that this list is the work of Byrne, and that I'm merely contextualizing the information within Austin and Underground @ Sahara Lounge.
8 Ingredients for a Thriving Music Scene According to David Byrne:
1. There must be a venue that is of appropriate size and location in which to present material.
Check. Austin has more large and intimate world class venues with top of the line sound per capita than any city in the modern world.
Sahara Lounge was chosen due to warm personal relationships with its staff and its location in the cultural landscape. Much of the financially distressed side of the East Webberville community shares a parallel existence with that of the modern electronic musician in Austin. The purpose is to align these underdog scenarios into a sympathetic synergy where the cultural similarites of a wide range of different demographics expose a social need for music.
Don't quote me on this, but I love the sound of the room at Sahara Lounge when bands play. I think perhaps the building is so old that the vibration just passes right through it. Kind of the same way Hole in the Wall is such a beautiful rock room, even with the band waaaay too loud. Everything just sits tight and rolls out around the dance floor.
2. The artists should be allowed to play their own material.
Cover bands are for helping people to dance, party and get laid. Original bands are too, but at a more contemplative pace that allows for subtlety and even the iconoclastic rejection of the social system by which music lubricates reproduction. The point is that freedom of expression is still king, and the American experiment is alive and well. If you think that you still prefer a cover band, listen to one every night for a week. The terrible aftertaste is the hangover resultant of a binge on inauthenticity. While you are entitled and free to use music this way, it is at odds with the value of authenticity that we are baking into our music scene.
3. Performing musicians must get in for free on their off nights (and maybe get free beer too).
This creates a built in crowd for the band playing. Also, artists sitting in and an overall loose, family atmosphere has numerous benefits.
4. There must be a sense of alienation from the prevailing music scene
We're all underdogs. We're all in this together. This is rock and roll.
5. Rent must be low – and it must stay low
Well, hot darn it, we were doing so well! I suppose rent is low in East Webberville. But Austin is in BIG trouble on this front. It defeats the artist's chances of sustainability, and creates a flakey scene with no foundation.
There are a few housing programs that can sometimes help creatives by slashing their rent roughly in half if they qualify, but there are simply not enough such units to go around.
6. Bands must be paid fairly
See above. This is about sustainability. Bands don't stay where they get ripped off. When clubs exploit the fact that SOMEONE is desperate enough to play almost for free, they usually offer shallow, one-dimensional entertainment that also can't last because of faulty economics.
I came up in the music scene learning that I was responsible to pay myself. My job is to draw fans, and even music comes second to that when we play a show. It's not the whole truth, but it's taught me to look after my own.
In this case, we're going to throw a free show, with the long-term plan to keep it free. This is so that musicians and creatives on a tight budget can enjoy a social evening on an off-night. As performers, we will each put forth a performance for free on a collective gamble: that we can receive more wealth than previously imagined by more specifically envisioning our scene as it ought to be.
7. Social transparency must be encouraged
This is the artist/fan relationship. Fans will say, "oh, I know her," about a musician with a sense of pride. This is the artist/fan relationship, and the most surefire way for the artist to cultivate support for ALL of their material, as good friends become explorers of their catalog. Artists must be accessable.
8. It must be possible to ignore the band when necessary
It's about the fans, the friends, the love, and the party. Every band in a thriving scene knows this, and their transparency is what allows more authentic musical experiences.
One final element could be "a unifying value" that the social group all share. A fascinating exercise for young artists is to start with the word Love and work backwards. What do I want my music scene to be? LOVE.
What kind of love? Cool, refreshing, and creative. Bold, expressive, sexy, and in the bliss of connecting.
What does it feel like? It feels like an invitation to be myself.
What is the prevailing nature of respect? People are easily able to differ and disagree with one another. People are more in tune to body language, are better listeners, and perceive a great deal of truth, finding that interaction with others carries a gift in becoming more respectful.
What does the space between people feel like? Empty. I want to talk to someone and feel close to them. There is an inexplicable warmth in the air that not only makes conversation easy, but enticing and inevitable.
What makes you want to stay? Because nothing is happening anywhere else. The artist that we channel is activated by our system of values being in place at the event, and the specific preparations, most particularly ones that carry out this vision.
Continue asking these questions as they pop up, even silly ones. What's the difference between authenticity and great technical ability? How should our scene regard the role of vulnerability in music? What does it look like when a performer goes "off script" to feel a moment with an audience, and nails it?
We at Astrotheque hope very much to see you this Wednesday from 7pm to midnight. Texas Microphone Massacre and Softsurv will join us as openers before our set at 11pm.