Feature Stories

Dallas' DIY Shows Move Into the Clubs, But Haven't Left the Underground Behind

2016 got off to a rough start for Dallas' DIY music scene. A series of busts that started on New Year's Eve and ran for weeks after saw house show after house show get shut down by the fire marshal. Suddenly it looked like these underground shows would be forced above ground, or snubbed out altogether, and DIY as we know it might be under threat.

This weekend would appear to be a case in point: One of the city's most prominent DIY spaces — which isn't really even a space, but rather a roving venue — Vice Palace, is hosting its two-year anniversary party. Instead of holding it in a warehouse, like last year on its first anniversary, the party will be taking place at RBC, a traditional club venue in Deep Ellum.

"Some places got turned over,” says Josh von Ammon of Pariah Arts, a Dallas art studio and gallery that has hosted some music shows, of the venue closures that kicked off the year. “They were community spaces. I think that affected a lot of people’s choices on programming.”

But fear that DIY shows will be forced to transition away from house shows, galleries and warehouses into the relatively safe spaces of bars and clubs may not really be playing itself out. Evan Gordon, who runs the COoompound, a Dallas recording studio and event venue in a house, says he's actually noticing more DIY shows now than a year ago in Dallas.

“The scene is changing because it is growing a lot,” Gordon says. “I’m seeing a lot more unification of the different parts of the scene. They are working together and getting much more active.” If more shows are making their way into the clubs, it may have to do with having too many shows to fit them all into the more traditional DIY space: “I think the DIY spaces are pretty much at capacity and things are starting to spill out elsewhere.”

Stefan Gonzalez, who hosts the weekly Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions at RBC that draws heavily on artists that typically play DIY venues, agrees. He doesn't see a migration so much as the natural result of the current state of the North Texas music scene. “The scene is thriving in all areas,” he says. “There are certain factions that get a bit more refined, but we’re all in this thing together.”

Outward Bound had previously taken place at Crown & Harp, which is now booked by Lily Taylor — who, like Gonzalez, is a musician who remains active in the DIY community despite booking at a club. She has also performed at galleries, house shows, even a 12-million-dollar mansion. But she doesn’t give the different venues much thought. “I think the talent in Dallas needs a variety of venues,” Taylor says. “The diversity in the market of how shows are presented is important.”

Taylor doesn't see a clear system of growth from house shows to bar venues, but something more fluid. She admits that shows for DAMN, an ambient music series, and #TexasNoise, a series of experimental music, would not have found their way into club venues if not for the now-defunct art gallery Two Bronze Doors. But she also points out that this was just the case with one particular social circle.

“You have to be smart about throwing any kind of show,” Taylor says. She also thinks DIY is an overused term that means different things to different people. “We need venues of all kinds, shapes and sizes for a healthy creative community to thrive.”

Von Ammon says there has been less music programmed recently at Pariah, which might in turn force musicians who normally perform at DIY spaces to explore other options. He admits that the change in programming was partially influenced by a fear of getting shut down, but only for a brief period of time.

But that shift ultimately came more from practical reasons. “Music tends to bring in a lot of people,” he says. “It creates more of a mess than anything.” Cleaning up after hundreds of people for free was a responsibility he simply did not have time to shoulder. Rather than spreading himself too thin, he started putting more of a focus on visual and fine art shows.

Gordon does notice the DIY scene interfacing more with the mainstream, but thinks a venue like RBC is decidedly not DIY — and that raises questions about how the shows are affected.

“The ethos kind of carries over,” he says. “But it’s different when you have a show at a bar because the bar has to cover its costs whereas if you have a show at a house, ideally the rent is paid. There’s not really any cost so all the proceeds can go to the artists. I think that’s a really important part of the DIY ethos that gets lost when it starts moving to more traditional venues.”

Von Ammon says that, no matter what happens, he'll never be able to leave music totally behind. “We do have shows with Stefan and Aaron Gonzalez coming up,” he says. “I love those guys so much and I think they do such incredible work that I would always like to provide a space for them.” 
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Jeremy Hallock