Flashing lights illuminate a pale cinder block wall, and in between bursts, Austin Max takes the stage and plucks the opening chord to his song “Will You Be Mine.”
His band, The Max Tribe, was one of three that played at the Cosmic Palace last Saturday. In front of a crowd of about 40, three groups jammed out for Dr. Martens-clad college students stomping and head-banging in a dingy Allston basement.
A substantial population of college students call Boston home, alongside a notable music culture with famous musicians and bands like Eric Hutchinson and Passion Pit coming from Emerson alone. The city and surrounding areas offer a variety of concert venues ranging from the massive 17,565-seat TD Garden to The Paradise Rock Club, which fits under 1,000.
Even with a plethora of sites to see a concert, many Emerson students chose to experience live music at house shows by packing themselves into twinkle light-lit basements of fellow classmates. Some of them play host to different bands from the comfort of their own homes.
The Cosmic Palace’s goal is to foster community. Lucian Maisel, a senior visual and media arts major, is a resident and “booking agent” at the house, formerly known as the Extra-Cosmic Jungle Place. He said that he wants everyone to feel welcome and comfortable at his shows, and to know that it is a safe space for viewing and playing music, especially for new artists.
“I want to bring a sense of, dare I say, classiness to the place,” Maisel said. “Put more art up and generally not scare people so much when they are downstairs.”
Sophomore visual and media arts major and Maisel’s housemate, Evan Greene, said he agreed that his house is meant to provide an area where no one has to be afraid of sharing their work.
“There are a lot of DIY venues in the Boston area, and we are just trying to continue that tradition and create an all inclusive safe space where artists can present their work,” Greene said. “Everyone can play music and have a great time.”
DIY venues are independently-erected concert halls, usually created with a low budget and in the private realm of a home. The Cosmic Palace designated their basement for bands to perform, complete with lights and equipment. There is no set stage usually, but a makeshift stage tucked into an empty corner of concrete.
Max, a student at the Berklee College of Music, said the Cosmic Palace was a great environment to perform in.
“It was awesome, it was a great vibe,” Max said. “I love playing basement shows. It’s very intimate. I always meet a lot of interesting people when I come here.”
When Maisel moved in, he said, their house had been used for concerts for years prior by students from Berklee, calling the apartment both The Problem House and The Butcher Shop. Other students, however, have built their venues from the ground up.
Senior visual and media arts major Patrick Lynch said he remembered the personality of the first house show concerts he went to when he got to college. Since then, he knew it was something he wanted to do when he moved into an apartment. When Lynch and his friends signed the lease on a place with a basement, he got his wish.
“It’s an incredible way to see music,” Lynch said.
Lynch’s home is known as Hotel 75, due to being constantly filled with guests crashing for the night. According to Lynch, he and his roommates have put on three or four shows since they moved there last year.
He estimated that their basement fits around 100 guests. Lynch said a majority of their shows feature bands from Pittsburgh, because his roommate is originally from there and has some connections to musicians in the city. He said a benefit to having an artist play at your house is that they can stay and hang out there after the performances.
Lynch said he’s hosted some of his favorite bands like Brightside, an indie rock group from Pittsburgh with a sound similar to Surfer Blood. Lynch said it was surreal to see one of his most beloved artists in his own home and get to hang out with them after.
Eli Page, a junior marketing communication major, also runs a concert house out of his residence, The Lunch Box.
“We came up with a bunch of stupid [names], and I was trying to think of one that meant something to me, but it was difficult, when you don’t want to make it so serious,” Page said. “The Lunch Box was the first place I worked. It was a pizzeria in my hometown. So I thought that would be cute.”
Since its creation, The Lunch Box has hosted three shows, and Page said he’s planned one for February. Page’s residence isn’t the standard concert house structure. It doesn’t have a separate basement—the venue typically best suited for these types of performances. His apartment is on the lower level of his building, so it’s already somewhat tucked away.
Page said he doesn’t mind this, however, because he feels that people respect his space more because his living room serves as the stage.
“It kind of forces people to have a bit more personal accountability,” Page said. “They can’t mess our stuff up and it’s a lot more intimate. It’s cute sometimes, everyone’s sitting on the ground and people are standing in the back. If we are doing our job right no one feels uncomfortable. It's a good sense of community.”
Junior marketing communication major Jimmy Fahey lives at The Lunch Box, but is not involved with the production of shows. Fahey said that due to his conflicting schedule he is always arriving in the middle of a performance.
“I’m usually coming home from work, and I’m greeted by a swarm of people, mostly people I don't know,” Fahey said. “They are all pretty cool and it’s generally a good time. I just really like supporting the local arts scene and the music scene and seeing talented people perform.”
Maisel said preparation for these shows usually takes all day at the Cosmic Palace. He and his housemates clean up, and the bands come over hours early for sound checks.
At The Lunch Box, Page said, he and his roommates move their furniture and all personal belongings from the living room so none of the guests have access to their property.
To ensure no one’s things are touched at Hotel 75, Lynch said that the housemates board up some doors with cardboard so there is only one path in and out of the basement.
Additionally, Lynch said, he usually will rig up some lighting and hook up a camera.
“It’s been always surprisingly lax, the amount of set up,” Lynch, said. “[It’s] just making sure everyone has the equipment that they need.”
When the show finally begins, Lynch said, it’s always really relaxed, despite the times where people punched holes through the wall and stole band merchandise. Other than that, Lynch said, they’ve had no real problems, Maisel agreed that house shows have a different environment than that of a party.
“A lot of people are very respectful [of the house] as opposed to a usual college party and I like that,” Maisel said. “People actually listen. They listen to orders or stay quiet when people are playing.”