It creaks, it squeaks and sometimes it leaks. The basement of J&J’s Pizza in Denton certainly has its odd charm, but after 15 years of hosting live music it's about to get a facelift. Affectionately known as the Old Dirty Basement, J&J’s will be closing the room through the end of the year after a show scheduled for Saturday, August 13.
The closure will only be temporary, and basement renovations won't effect the pizza side of the business, but with Hailey's Club and Rubber Gloves both closing since the start of the year, the news leaves Denton without another key venue.
“There are a lot of ideas that we really want to accomplish, but it won’t all be at once,” says Matt Farmer, a J&J’s employee and Denton musician. “In an ideal world, we’re going to have a new sound system; that is one of the most important things.”
The Old Dirty Basement is cramped, sweaty and the A/C doesn't work well (when it's working at all). The sound system is lousy and the room only holds 49 people, which means it's ass-to-crotch on a busy night. But that's the beauty of J&J's: It's like playing a friend's living room, with pizza and beer.
“We are going to keep it that way. It's not going to be fancy,” Farmer says. “It's not going to be the new, clean basement instead of the old, dirty basement.” They also want to expand the room’s capacity from 49 to 100, doubling the amount of people who’d fit downstairs. “We haven’t hired a contractor [yet] so we don’t know if it is structurally sound.” Eventually, they want to add a green room, a bathroom and work on the A/C downstairs, too.
It’s not about making the space fancier so much as it is making it more accommodating for DIY bands. “We are at the mercy of the basement,” Farmer says. After renovations, they hope to help the bands playing make a little money, which will most likely mean charging a cover. "It sucks that we won't be involved with Oaktopia this year,” Farmer says. “We love those people.”
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Oaktopia founder Matt Battalgia says J&J's will be missed. “J&J's is a rite of passage for Denton music,” Battaglia says. “If you haven't played J&J's, it's hard to say you're truly a Denton band. It's so awesome that they're renovating one of the most legendary spaces in Texas. Hopefully, it retains its character. We'll miss it, but it's well worth it if they improve it for years to come.”
Before it became J&J's in 2001, the spot was a Gatti's Pizza. There have been shows in the basement since 1994, well before the music scene shifted from Fry Street to downtown. According to a 1998 Dallas Observer story, Slobberbone was the first band to play there, with bassist Brian Lane working a shift upstairs before heading to the basement to perform in his uniform.
While the closure of J&J's is a temporary one, Denton faces a dwindling number of live music options that will only be compounded by the Old Dirty Basement's renovations.
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"Between Mac Island, [Rubber Gloves], Hailey's and J&J's going down, those four venues represented a large part of the underground scene,” says Benjamin Gathright, resident of one of Denton’s newest house show venues, Dane Manor. “Where will all of the bands play?”
Until now, the answer has been J&J's.
“After Rubber Gloves officially shut down, a lot of people who had their shows canceled just jumped on [here], and there has been an increase of people who have wanted to play here,” Farmer says. He has been helping Jessie Ham book the basement for the last couple of months, and will be working alongside Christopher Walker — one of 35 Denton’s talent buyers — for booking July and August.
The answer, according to some, may be house shows. “I've seen about four new ones pop up just this month,” says Zachary Walker, Fun Button musician and former J&J’s employee. One house venue, Jagoe House, has gotten more serious, IDing at the door and distributing stickers and marketing materials for its shows. “That's going to be the new norm till we get some new venues.”
J&J's isn't planning on slowing down too much before the August closure: Besides continuing their regular music programming, the Old Dirty Basement will be hosting Denton's first-ever comedy festival (dubbed, what else, the Denton Comedy Festival) on Saturday and Sunday, July 29 and 30.