Students in Professor Lisa Phillips’ Literature of Journalism class were assigned to immerse themselves in the unfamiliar. Here’s what they found:
Bryan Godwin goes to a cramped house show late at night to see a new band perform and experience the music and movement with other fans.
If you are a student of SUNY New Paltz and interested in live music you will inevitably stumble into a house show or two while out on the town.
If you don’t know what a house show is, it’s a gathering of 18 to 20 something year olds, crammed together in a basement to listen to small time bands play music and to party. It’s a place, where depending on how you look at it, a good night might mean holes being punched through walls by intoxicated guests or axes breaking down bedroom doors because someone locked themselves inside and wouldn’t answer. You might even be greeted by the drip of water from a balloon of paint peeling from the busted pipes in the ceiling upon walking in the door.
After hearing this you might ask yourself “why on earth would I want to go there!?” Well that’s why I am here, as there is a lot more to the house show scene in New Paltz than just houses being destroyed.
On a late March night I found myself walking up a relatively long, poorly lit driveway towards the side door of a house. Now, normally, if you haven’t turned around and walked the other way already, you might be met by a cloud of smoke and dark silhouettes, along with the smell of weed and cigarettes, all illuminated by a singular porch light. I, on the other hand, was lucky enough not to be greeted by this. I avoided having to give awkward “wut sups” and head nods to those I barely knew by arriving a tad bit early to sit down with the owners of the house/venue dubbed The Law Office.
As I came closer to the house, I began to hear the thump of a bass drum and the vibrations of symbols. The two side doors, the first being a metal spring door, led to a screened in patio decorated with a reclining chair and some other seating along with at least 10 pairs of shoes scattered across the floor. The second door was an old wood door with glass panes obstructed by a thin white curtain. The sounds of a “check check check” over an amp system began to come through a little bit clearer.
Upon walking in, I was pleasantly surprised that the inside didn’t follow the theme of the outside of being poorly lit. As one would expect walking into a house that has parties every weekend, it’s not the cleanest. There are remains of parties from yesteryear scattered throughout the house. Some beer cans and gin bottles on the dining room table, ends of party streamers still taped to the ceiling. But I have most definitely seen worse; it’s at least clean enough that you don’t feel like you’d get a disease from sitting on the couches.
As I turned left and went through the doorway leading into the kitchen I was greeted by three-fifths of MoonUnitt sitting at the kitchen table. Mike is the first to see me and say “Oh hey, what’s up!” with a grin from ear to ear. With this acknowledgement, Charlie and Bianca’s heads snap up and look at me with smiles inviting me to sit. I happily accept.
The three of them sit around the circular kitchen table in front of me. Bianca is to my left, a blonde haired, blue eyed, pale skinned girl with the biggest cheeks that you just want to pinch from Long Island, NY. She goes to New Paltz for classical piano and she plays keyboard for the band. Charlie is a tall, lanky, pale skinned male with a mane of groomed curly brown locks and blue eyes. He is from Ossining, NY and he plays guitar and sings. Finally, to my right is Mike Carv, a caramel skinned brown eyed male with long fine curly hair in a ponytail with some of it shooting out. Mike plays bass and sings as well.
They start with the small talk and ask me how I am, what I’ve been up to. I bite so we can all get settled in. As I sit down I notice crumbs covering the table. I grab a napkin while talking, and wipe it into a tidy and subtle pile to the left of me so I can write without feeling crumbs sticking into my arms.
MoonUnitt was originally founded by Charlie and his friends in high school. It wasn’t until there was a few member changes and an idea from his friend Evan, now the drummer, that they decided to come up to New Paltz.
“We heard it was a really good scene, and since Evan knew people we decided to give it a shot,” Charlie said. When Charlie, Evan and Mike first came up they met Bianca and the other Mike, known as Mike “ICE”. Shortly after meeting them, since they were both going to school for music, knew the scene and were already jamming together, Bianca and Mike “ICE” joined the band and MoonUnitt became whole. The only problem then was where they were going to play.
This is where Eli Frank comes in. Apparently Frank is a 26-or-so year old musician who has a band here in New Paltz and owns one of the houses/venues that people go to see shows. His house is the Nacho House, one of the houses that consistently play shows every weekend. The others are Chippies, Moms, Ghosthouse and The Law Office (though at the time when approaching Frank, the Law Office wasn’t hosting yet). Along with this, Frank is a business man trying to have a hand in the whole house show scene. So naturally, in order for them to get some traction within the house show scene, why not seek him out.
Charlie’s first impression of Frank was Frank trying to shake down Evan for money. Evan saw him coming around with a collection jar and knew he didn’t have anything so he attempted to leave. When Frank saw this, he said “What you can’t spare five dollars?” almost getting upset with him. This is where Charlie stepped in and told him why they were there, being newcomers just trying to get some gigs. This was in late August; Frank told them he couldn’t help them till January.
With a collective “fuck that,” the band decided to just start promoting their own venue without Frank’s help. So they took to handing out flyers and making events on social media to get the word out. “We are a band that doesn’t like to follow the rules.” As Mike Carv said this, the door behind Charlie starts to shake from the band downstairs warming up. They are expecting a big turnout tonight and ask me to stay, but I decide to call it a night as I’ve had a long day and wouldn’t be able to stay awake much longer. I tell them I plan on coming again soon.
It is now a Friday in late April. It’s been a month so it’s not exactly soon, but it’s not like I haven’t seen them around. I saw them play at Bacchus earlier in April. I didn’t stay long due to a weird set up with no place to really stand once it got crowded in the restaurant.
This fine April night, though, I was going for the full experience. I met up with my friend Jes. We pre-gamed a little, roughly from 8 p.m. to 11p.m. Okay, so more than a little, but after a few rum and cokes, some twisted teas and a couple of bowl packs, we filled up our soda bottles with what was left over and we were on our way to the Law Office.
We found out about this show from Facebook where they created an event and because I already knew them, I was notified about it. The bands that played were Sun Voyager, described as earthy heavy gaze rockers, MoonUnitt who is more alternative rock and there were two others but I didn’t see them, so it would be a waste to tell you who they are.
As Jes and I approached the house and walked up the driveway, it appeared as I thought it would be: all the smokers chilling on the outside with the faint sound of music coming from the house. There wasn’t that many awkward “wut sups,” though as Jes and I ran into our mutual friend Max and his friend who’s name slips my mind. We stand outside until they are done and go in with them because we feel safer with numbers, as anyone would.
As I walk through the second door and into the house, I notice it’s a lot busier this time around, as the house is in full party mode; you can hear the chatter and laughter from outside. We make our way into the kitchen, and sure enough, are greeted by Charlie, Bianca and Mike Carv, who all smile and say “what’s up” and “welcome back.” Charlie lets us put our coats in his room and we head down stairs.
When I open the door I’m met with a blast of hot air and the vibrations of music in the air. As I make my way down the rather steep, claustrophobic staircase, I hold onto the angled ceiling for support from the staircase above. As I get down, I look to the right where there is a rather dense wall of people I don’t feel like stumbling through. I go to the left, following Jes, going behind the staircase to the main floor of the basement in front of Sun Voyager who is maybe midway through their set.
The basement is big yet compartmentalized; it’s split by a half wall, which separates where the band plays from the bar where MoonUnitt tried to make money by selling shots every once in awhile instead of putting out a donation jar like most houses.
This is where I think Mike Carv was going when he said “we are a band that doesn’t like to follow the rules.” When you were to first hear that you might think “oh, they are misfits or punks or something, and they might be destructive,” which they can be at times, like any other band, but I think it was more aimed towards houses charging people to see them play.
Charlie has two main goals. The first is that he wants people to hear the band play and the second is that he wants people to think when they hear his music. He wants his music to spark a conversation. So for MoonUnitt, playing seems to be more about giving to people, and having them enjoy themselves is enough payment.
Oh, how they got a full payment tonight from the crowd. Sun Voyager had the crowd rocking and energized, having an almost constant mosh pit going for their final four songs. I had a blast throwing people back into the middle as they came stumbling towards my side of the pit. This is the job of people on the outside walls of a mosh pit: to contain it and make sure it doesn’t extend into the crowd and no one gets hurt who isn’t paying attention.
Then it was MoonUnitt’s turn after Sun Voyager was done. They were the final act. Then again, that’s no surprise as it is their house, so they are always the final act. As they set up, though, and got ready to play by testing their equipment, they looked rather serious which, is unusual for this group of characters: all these laid back, almost always smiling guys and one girl, looking rather focused.
Charlie was in front tuning his guitar, bent over listening to the speaker as he played; I decided to go up to him. I jokingly say “so how are you feeling right now?” Charlie laughs and responds with “fuck off Bryan,” then laughs and clears his throat and says, “nah I’m feeling good.”
With that, they start shortly after Charlie having to kick me off the “stage” as I was bullshitting with Mike Carv and Bianca in my drunken state. At first there weren’t that many other people there, but after the first few minutes of their first song people started to flood down the stairs. The party was going again after the short intermission between the setup of the new bands.
As I watched on, bopping to the music doing my thing, I realized something. At one point, once I got out of my own head and looked around at everyone dancing, I slowly realized we were all moving in one similar motion; the crowd was synced being controlled by the band moving in one to the same music. It was probably one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever had, to just look up and have everyone unknowingly moving the same way as you from the same influence.
It’s ironic how it takes being packed in a small, dark basement to finally let your inner self out.
Read more about #ImmerseYourself here:
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Matt Schenfeld goes underground exploring house shows and the performers of New Paltz’s music scene.
Trish Mollo stays committed to a 6 a.m. start at the gym to delve into the minds of the gym rats that seem to live there.
Alicia McGowan observes the rugby team and how they handle practices, games, losses and life.
Emily King is a farm girl at heart, but keeps that a secret as she accompanies the Sustainable Agriculture Club on campus and discovers what they think of the future of farming.
Maeve Allen watches puppets perform during a rehearsal of Avenue Q, where the theater department students express themselves through their characters.
Max Freebern is confused about this wave of music new to him called Noise music, but he sits back and lets it surround him.
Sabrina Petroski joined the SUNY New Paltz burlesque troupe for their 10-year anniversary show where she learned more than just the art of burlesque.