ALL PHOTOS BY CICI YU
Venus opened in August. Within 18 hours, they filled all their booking slots through December.
It’s a Sunday night and about 75 people are huddled in a dark Lower Allston basement. LED lights encircle the pipes and funky fluorescent green-orange paints dot the walls. A moldy water heater sits in the middle. Some old boxes are stacked in the back of the room, and there are laundry machines next to the stairs.
It’s tough out there as a startup artist. Ambitious musicians in Greater Boston are always looking for new opportunities to break in. For local bands and fans, cheap and accessible basement venues are the best places to get your feet wet. Namely, spaces like Venus (aka Basement Venus), one of many house venues in Allston.
Every two weeks, people pay $10 to see a full menu of musicians at Venus, ranging from alternative, prog rock, and indie pop to jazz fusion. On each night, the venue books four bands with different styles from around the area and makes sure that both well-known as well as new bands get opportunities to perform.
The opening act for an early October show was an 11-person outfit called Chef & the Bitchin’ Kitchen from Berklee College of Music. With six musicians jamming together, the jazz fusion group filled nearly a third of the space.
“They were so explosive—it was entertaining the whole time,” said Matt Kugel, an Emerson College student who found Venus on Instagram. “I was enamored looking at all the bands and all the pedals that they had. It was so interesting to watch them flip their switches.”
Venus officially opened in August, and within 18 hours of launching, filled all their booking slots through December.
“This is our second time playing here,” said Ruby Sage, a singer-songwriter who posts original music on Instagram and played the first house show at Venus last spring. “It was a really cool experience, so we get to do it here again.”
Anna Schon is a singer-songwriter whose indie-pop band played on Sunday. She said there’s a vast community of students who run underground venues.
“House shows are really different and I think the community’s really supportive,” Schon said. “It’s not easy. It definitely takes a lot of planning and you have to do it way in advance.”
According to organizers, Venus was born in a “stinky” basement after the Berklee student band Elephant TalKc struggled to find a place to perform last spring.
“Everything was booked up,” said Marco Tewlow, a pianist and one of the promoters behind Venus. He said their other option for releasing music is to “keep playing ensemble-room shows in public access rooms at Berklee, which is an option, but those are free shows. You’re not making any money and turnout is very low.”
After unsuccessfully attempting to book shows at different spots around Boston, they went the route of countless DIY artists before them and established their own venue. DH, a resident of the house, said he’s always thought of opening up the space for live music. It hasn’t been an easy process though; although the house is mostly soundproof, the responsible landlord is always a concern.
“They don’t know about the show, but I have a sneaking suspicion they do,” DH said. “I think they think we just have parties, but somehow they have always managed to come to do some kind of maintenance work right before the show. For the last show, we were supposed to have bands start filing at 7pm and I had to hold it outside until 7:40.”
These shows also have unique concerns: in this case, the owners are concerned about people putting their belongings on the heater in the middle of the room.
“One of the band members during the last show decided to leave his phone on the heater to record the set,” Tewlow said. “And then when he got it back, it was piping hot. The phone was overheating to the point of exploding.”
Venus enforces its own rules—there is no alcohol, and they set a population cap to ensure everyone feels safe and comfortable.
“We want people to show up here and have a really good time and not have to look over their shoulder,” Tewlow said. “I’ve been to some places where they don’t have a population cap. They’re stuffing people further in and further until it feels like you’re gonna have a trampling situation. It feels unsafe, especially for shorter people, especially for women.”
Charlie Lomonaco, the songwriter and guitarist for his band Earthlings, said bands and fans are attracted to the creative elements of the basement venue.
“I think being able to just play at a house is a great opportunity because it’s just very DIY and you can just hang out with other bands and meet other people,” Lomonaco said.
The intimate experience is another selling point. In the basement, bands are not playing to the audience, they are playing with the audience.
“Just the aspect of not really having a stage and you’re kind of just on the same level as everyone else that’s there watching the show,” said Aidan Ward-Richter, the drummer for Ruby Sage. “The energy is just completely different. It feels way more intense and close.”
There is an etiquette in the community. If you want to find out where the show is, you need to follow the venue on Instagram and DM for the address. News of the shows spreads by word of mouth among people like Eden Orn, an Emerson student who said she liked the subterranean experience as opposed to larger venues.
“If you’re seeing a concert in a stadium, you feel really disconnected from the artist,” Orn said. “When you’re in a basement, you’re really up close with them. It can feel a lot more personal.”