We come from Basementland
More than 30 years ago, The Clash sang, “We’re a garage band/We come from Garageland.” At the time, The Clash was a young, English punk rock band, and the song “Garageland” was taking a derisive term and turning it into an anthem for a more authentic musical world, away from “contracts in the offices.” That spirit lives on today in “the musical underground,” where most of the shows take place in basements.
The basement scene exists partly because of the difficulty in finding venues for all-ages shows—but there are advantages to hosting shows in basements. “They don’t have to pay a club owner, so touring bands can come here and make enough money to make it to the next town,” says Joe Ferguson, 25, who helps bring bands to town.
The houses also provide touring bands with a place to stay, and fans benefit from the low door prices, rarely more than $5.
“I prefer the environment of house shows—it’s more personal, you meet more people, and there are more opportunities for younger and newer bands,” says Jeff Baer, 21, a veteran of a number of local bands including The Spotlight Syndicate and Disconnect.
“Seeing bands in basements is what made me feel like I could be in a band. It’s different than seeing a band on TV or a big stage,” says Chris Mclendon, 25, who has played in a variety of bands including Vae Victus and Crushstory and now drums for Crucial Attack. Mclendon says basements provide a nice alternative to the bar scene because “people aren’t there to drink and smoke, they’re there to watch the bands.”
Show-goers say the scene typically has a two- or three-year boom-and-bust cycle. Lately, the scene is enjoying an upswing.
“The peak has lasted longer this time than I’ve ever seen it before,” says Mac Schopen, 25, also of Crucial Attack. Shows have been well attended, and the diverse show bills include bands playing hardcore, pop-punk, metal, street-punk, acoustic, noise-rock and more.
“Something that might have once been intimidating or elitist has evolved into something really welcoming,” says Baer.
“As a kid going to shows, you learn you can do whatever you want. It’s an empowering thing,” says Ferguson. A member of the scene for just a few years, he now books bands, plays in Bafabegiya and Crucial Attack, and helps run a record label, Spacement Records. He plans to open a record store, Sound and Fury Records, in mid-December.
The “DIY” ethic that fuels Ferguson is an integral part of the basement community and related projects. Food Not Bombs is a group that protests war and poverty and serves free meals in local parks. The group sometimes hands out pamphlets concerning issues like feminism, anarchism and animal rights.
Local residents aren’t the only ones noticing the underground music boom here in Reno.
“The last few months, every out-of-town band that has come through has been praising Reno,” says Mclendon. While this is largely because of the good times, friendly atmosphere and enthusiastic audiences, “The local bands they play with have a lot to do with it.” Mclendon mentions Crucial Attack, Disconnect, Arabella, Dog Assassin, Get Killed, and newer, younger bands like Duke Nukem and Molotov Folktale.
“In Reno," says Josh Hageman, a member of Disconnect and Pink Black, "There’s no specific sound people are expecting to hear, but as long as you give 100 percent and rock like you mean it, people are going to like it." And just as The Clash sang of "guttersnipes" who want to "stay in the garage all night," nowadays, Hageman, describes it as "a bunch of dorks in a basement having fun."