When you’re standing in Rob Buttrum’s packed living room, the word “claustrophobia” inevitably enters your mind. It’s not like an episode of A&E’s Hoarders — you don’t exactly feel suffocated or trapped — but every inch of available space is covered with records, VHS tapes and posters. And if you entered it five years ago, you experienced a different kind of claustrophobia in the presence of nearly two hundred other humans.
“Right where you’re sitting, actually,” he says, pointing at the carpet below my feet, which has seen its fair share of sin. “Bands would play right there.”
Though the space, known as House of Tinnitus, hasn’t seen a live act in half a decade, Buttrum never intended to quit the labor of love. He just needed a bigger boat, which arrived in the form of Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio. Since 2010, he’s wielded his experience as a musician, promoter, artist and booker at the Denton dive, where he brings in nearly a third of the acts, plus other one-off spaces in the area, all under the name of his now-defunct house venue. Though he says decades have blurred the memories, he’s probably more responsible for DIY’s longevity in the city than he’ll ever admit.
Sitting on his living room couch, Buttrum recounts the swirling maelstroms that once raged in that very room. On a regular basis, Denton’s finest would show up to cut loose and unleash a category 5 hurricane’s worth of energy in his house. The living room could only be about 200 square feet — the size of a regulation soccer goal. Except at these shows, the net was filled with over one hundred drunk souls feeling utterly alive.
When Buttrum started House of Tinnitus, he was new in town, having just moved from Baltimore. Right away he had noticed a craving for shows that wasn’t being properly sated, so he committed himself to being a dual conduit for noise and metal bands in North Texas.
“Denton needed something like that, and we provided it,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it as we watched it take off. It was out of our hands.”
Denton’s DIY scene was roaring around 2008. The town’s resurgence necessitated more venues and shows to host all the bands. Buttrum lists off a series of former venues that were the city’s foundation, located in houses, taquerias, video stores, laundromats and art studios. Eventually he had to start turning down bands who were too big for the space. House of Tinnitus had become so notorious that many people didn’t realize it was an actual house and not a standard venue. Acts from California were reaching out to play there, and Buttrum had to tell them no.
Then, in the middle of 2010, Buttrum completely pulled the plug. Being a musician himself, his role as a continuous power source was costing his own art. And in the time since it shut down, the DIY boom has fizzled. “Denton was pushing more than half a dozen venues at that time,” he says. “Now there are maybe three or four. Macaroni Island is on its way out, too,” he adds. Macaroni Island — a venue that’s also home to Michael Briggs’ Civil Recording studio — announced last week that it will shut down at the end of the year.
With a new wealth of free time Buttrum has been able to hone in on his solo noise project, Filth, as well as run Out-of-Body Records, which is his own tape-centered music label. In Filth, he uses sound manipulation and his massive collection of reels to create sound combinations that he records to tape without the aid of computers. As a self-professed analog junkie, his deep library of tapes and sounds allows him to hunt for specific noises and add them to his repertoire. His ability to add the right burst of audio to songs was also key to his other band, Terminator 2, which called on him to create unexpected textures and add extraterrestrial layers. Being so deeply rooted in the noise genre, he’s an obvious choice to book those bands.
So it was almost inevitable that Buttrum should decide to book shows again at a venue outside of his home. In his first year apart from the physical House of Tinnitus venue, he booked across a handful of Denton DIY venues before striking up work with Rubber Gloves. Though the dive venue is a markedly different space, he has steadfastly maintained his philosophy that all show revenue should go to the touring band to ensure they make it to the next town. Buttrum can’t imagine taking a cut, because he has never booked bands for personal gain. He does it because he feels it’s what the city needs.
“Without a place like Rubber Gloves, Denton might not have made it through the slower DIY years,” he says. He’s very direct about the venue’s importance to Denton’s music scene: “Gloves is it. It’s not a posh college bar that’s trying to be something it’s not. Denton would be fucked without it.”
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Buttrum technically remains a free agent, but the 10 years he’s spent as an essential part of the noise scene made him the perfect candidate to book Rubber Gloves. He’s toured the country and played alongside other noise acts, hosting many of them. Deeply connected as he is, he usually ends up with more bands than he has days in the week to book them. But with his breadth of knowledge, he’s able to craft bills that take risks, include local acts and have a complexity that benefits both national and local performers. Last month, for instance, he had Stefan González’s Orgullo Primitivo open for California noise act Pedestrian Depot, while next month’s Echo Bed show will be the home-coming for B.S. Wright, who’s moving to Denton from Portland.
Pulling someone like Wright into the Rubber Gloves sphere reflects classic House of Tinnitus thinking. Buttrum notes that Denton’s population is transient, with the college demographic turning over every four years. He’s seen his share of ebb and flow, and much of his work involves reaching out to newcomers and introducing them to the subterranean house show scene. By booking at Rubber Gloves, plus Dallas venues like Crown and Harp and Double Wide, he’s able to carry the banner of his venue to shows beyond Denton.
The walls of the house may no longer shake, but Buttrum is still moving the DIY scene, wherever it takes him.