Five people, a dog, a cat and a half-grown pig live in Albuquerque’s Gold House. It is an unofficial venue—a DIY space that hosts music shows a few times a month—and is part of a much larger network of off-the-books show spaces.
This is good for “Pigoom,” who likes to snuffle around on the floor, looking for stray bottle caps and munching on people’s shoelaces. The venue is equally important for Albuquerque’s alternative/underground music community.
On a recent Sunday night, Colleen Johnson of Oakland bands Twig Palace and Upside Drown sang to a packed living room. It was her fourth and final show in New Mexico, after playing—over the course of about a month—a library fundraiser in El Rito, the Revival art opening at CCA and another ABQ house show.
Johnson’s voice is haunting and powerful, and everyone listened appreciatively to her entire set. Many were friends, people she’s collaborated and crashed with since arriving in the state.
“Part of why I love touring so much,” she tells SFR, “is that I get to step into these communities, into someone’s house, and it’s an immediate ticket to intimacy.”
Johnson is no stranger to house venues, both here and abroad. She lives in one in Oaktown, called the Speakeasy House, and first played the Gold House four years ago.
Besides the lack of barriers between performers and audience, Johnson appreciates the “culture creation” aspect of informal shows, as well as the diversity of background and age among those involved.
Open-mindedness, she says, is key to the DIY movement, under whose umbrella house venues fall. This, to her, is “the sign of a healthy scene.”
When speaking with former and current members of Gold House, I was struck by what an important platform such venues offer. Some ABQ bands perform almost exclusively in alternative venues—places with names like the Iron Haus, Glitter Factory, the Vassar Bastards and Synchro Studio.
So why is there a relative shortcoming of such spaces in Santa Fe? Is it just because of the population disparity?
One major challenge is liability. Even the BYO approach to alcohol presents legal risks and challenges.
However, liquor regulations fall under the statewide Liquor Control Act. There are the risks of property loss and damage that come with opening one’s home to the public, but these are also ubiquitous. Maybe it’s simply that basements, a staple of the average house venue, are in short supply in Santa Fe.
Whatever the answer, there’s hope. Various alternative venues have bloomed, then transformed or expired over the years, but of enduring permanence is the warehouse district in the Siler area. This area harbors, among others, the High Mayhem Studio and the new and promising Radical Abacus.
Radical Abacus is primarily a person—or at least the “institutional pseudonym” for the person—behind the space. In an email sent from San Antonio, where he had just finished working on Meow Wolf’s Nimbus installation, he explained to me why house venues are vital: “There is a kind of excitement, experimentation, and even revelry that only occur in the walls of a home, or can only occur outside of traditional venues and institutions.”
“Houses,” he continues, “are places to gather a crowd of friends and newly-met friends, places for hospitality to trump formality. The home [itself] is a curated piece of the experience.”
Abacus’ ambitious future plans include the April release of Knack Magazine (on emerging arts), more music and art shows and possible expansion into additional spaces.
On an even less formal level, some semi-private spaces—more house than venue, they host occasional shows and generally restrict entrance to a handful of friends—are also thriving.
Such was the case with David Wax Museum’s appearance last week before an intimately rowdy living-room crowd.
The purgatorial status between private and public is understandable: When a venue gains attention, it becomes vulnerable to both theft and scrutiny. As Johnson says, “Once you start advertising yourself, you really open yourself up to being shut down.”
This, it turns out, is the ultimate challenge for Santa Fe, Albuquerque and beyond: How do you help expose good music and good bands without overexposing yourself?
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