Regardless of their often blatant disregard of fire codes, their sweaty mosh pits and their refusal to give up on decorating like it is 1985, underground music venues are arguably the most important part of the music scene to this day. It was because of underground, and often illegal, music venues that punk was able to gain voltage in the Western world. But, with the fall of punk, many of these underground venues fell from grace. It was not until the rise of new genres such as pop-punk, hardcore, experimental and indie that we have seen the underground scene begin to rise again and to resurrect the world of underground venues.
The renewal of underground venues is in part due to the resurgence of a strong following of underground music. With the growing impact of pop-punk, experimental, hardcore music and even indie bands, the need for small inexpensive spaces is growing as quickly as the fan bases are. A venue that is classified as underground can really be any place that is not licensed and is holding shows. It can be a warehouse, a private residence, a basement or even a cabin in the woods, such as the one mentioned by the B-52’s in their hit single “Love Shack.” They are often kept a secret to avoid legal troubles and the wrong kinds of crowds.
Despite the secrecy around underground shows, they still remain a vastly important part of the live music scene. They are an easy way for bands to gain a following, and to have a handle over what they play and how long – or loud – they play. There is no censorship, nor requirements and there is a very little financial risk in playing such a small venue. Much larger (and more legal) venues are vital to a healthy local music scene as well, but these venues can often be expensive and could require bands to provide fees and professionally recorded demos for the bookers.
If a band does not draw in a large crowd at a larger venue, they may find themselves paying out of pocket for the fees of putting on the show. Bands bringing in small crowds also will most likely not be hired again because each band is an investment for a larger venue. However, with small venues, money is not such an issue. Bands are not usually required to rent out the space, and often provide their own equipment which can be very financially equitable. It can also allow a small band to gain a following before they invest hundreds of dollars into a show that could lead to no one attending.
Do-it-yourself shows are also often open to all ages, removing the ageism that often accompanies larger venues. There are not usually age limits set for the musicians or for the crowd, meaning that it allows for a wider range of people to discover new music and to support their local musicians. DIY venues are usually open to people of all ages, sexual orientations, incomes, nationalities, etc. It is more than just highly inclusive shows; underground venues also offer a space for creativity to flourish in a supportive and open atmosphere. They orient themselves more around creative expression than a reputation or a monetary value.
The problem with underground venues, however, is that they often do not stay open long enough to really cultivate a large following which could combat more established venues. Many are shut down by landlords or police when discovered, often due to fire codes or not acquiring proper permits. They can be incredibly overcrowded, and if faulty equipment is used by the musicians, it can pose danger to the crowd. Yet, many of these venues can operate for years without a hitch if they are maintained and the events hosted here are well-planned.
The rise of the underground music scene could be attributed to many different things. It could be due to an unstable political climate, a lack of funds or just a need for a space in which one can create without spending money or feeling judged. Underground venues are important because they allow for the freedom for an artist to perform as they see fit. They embody what music should be about — free expression, and offering a voice to the voiceless.