It's only 10 p.m., but the house show I'm attending is already on its fourth act. Spooky Folk's Kaleo Kaualoku is perched on the front porch, and the small crowd is hushed and attentive. Charlie Hunter from I Love Math Records, who organized the show, looks on with a smile.
This scene has grown increasingly scarce in recent months. While the house show scene in Denton is cyclical, it's been written off as struggling or dying, which might sound familiar if you've followed recent bogus reporting on the Denton scene in general. It comes and goes, but there's always at least a slight hum of life beneath the surface. The past few months, however, you've just had to listen a little harder.
According to Natalie Davila, who currently books for 35 Denton and formerly ran the house venue Majestic Dwelling of Doom, she rode one wave of house shows in 2008, and watched another in 2010. "For quite some time we were the only people regularly hosting shows," she says, "but we collaborated a lot with former tenants of Fra House and House of Tinnitus to host shows together."
When things were rolling, Davila booked bands like Peaking Lights and Health. But then, things died down. "I think the house-venue scene changes so frequently because it is dependent on being at the right place at the right time," she says. That's tough in a college town where graduates or lapsed leases cause many to move on to other locations, leaving their venues behind.
Cops and nosy neighbors also play a role, though, according to Hunter. "Neighbors hate you," he laughs. But he also claims "the cops in Denton went out of their way a couple of years ago to shut down the DIY scene."
There are many still willing to try. Both of the guys involved with Gutterth Records are looking to start house venues in the fall. And as the Lion's Den shuts its doors, thanks in part to light police intervention, a whole new generation is picking up the flag and waving it proudly. Justin Talley of 606 Congress and Pablo Arauz Peña and Mick Dale of DDRK House are a couple of examples.
Talley has been holding shows for more than a year, which is an infinity for most house venues in Denton. He's worked closely with neighbors to keep complaints and issues with the cops at bay, all the while booking acts from as far away as Chicago and Nebraska with the help of friends.
"There's always a party vibe to those places, but there's a big community aspect to them too," Talley says. "Places like Rubber Gloves have so much heart and do so much for this town, but house shows create this different experience that you just can't get in a venue."
Arauz Peña and Dale agree. It's not that venues are particularly hard for bands to get booked in, but "it's hard to get people to pay a door fee all the time in order to see you. So, the house show helps people who either can't afford a venue show or are too young to get in."
Also, the home/venue combination makes networking among bands and new fans much more natural. The stages and crowd/performer dichotomy of typical venues creates a separation between the two that can usually only be breached in brief encounters at the merch table.
Many of the people starting their own house venues experienced their first Denton show in a home, whether it was RTB2, Teenage Cool Kids or Terminator 2. Experiences like that make an impression and inspire, and according to those who have done this before, that's exactly what it'll take.
"It is a pretty big undertaking to run a house venue," Davila says. "I think people don't realize how much dedication it takes and how exhausting it can become once you've done it for awhile."
Charlie Hunter isn't worried: "The house-show scene has been left to the next batch of music lovers in this town to take and make their own."