By Setota Hailemariam
In the movies, going to a show at an underground venue goes a little something like this: you, alone, approach a nondescript building in an alley. You knock exactly 2.3 times and wait until a small hatch on the door slides open. You tell a bouncer the Classical Latin code word only a select elite have been deemed worthy enough to be informed of, and the door solemnly swings open.
In College Park, you grab some friends, bring your drink of choice, show up at The Void and pay $6.
For those who are unaware, The Void is a house turned music venue just minutes from this university’s campus, hosting shows featuring local bands as well as groups from across the country. Though its address on Facebook is unlisted — “420 Message-For-Address Street,” it cheekily reads — the space isn’t inaccessible; like the page says, it’s only a message away.
Organized and inhabited by members of College Park-based bands Tomato Dodgers and Humbalaya, The Void began operating under its name during the fall of 2015. It conjures up brooding, mystical images – which is clearly the founders’ intention – but the house itself is the polar opposite: teeming with tapestries, Christmas lights and tasteful graffiti. The words “have you ascended” are scrawled on a door frame upstairs, right underneath a pull-up bar. It’s confusing and unique and wonderful, all at once.
Downstairs, the performance space is humble. There’s no real stage, inviting band members and the crowd to get close and personal. There’s no stage crew either as bands put together and disassemble their instrument arrangements before and after their set. The sound team consists of a guy controlling audio levels on an iPad. It truly doesn’t get any more DIY than this.
Four bands – Sweet Peach, The Gods Themselves, The North Country and The Radiographers – were on the bill for The Void’s event Dec. 1, a show celebrating the release of The Radiographers’ EP “Please Give Me Spacetime.” They all hailed from the D.C./College Park area, with the exception of The Gods Themselves, based in Seattle. Every band was familiar with the DIY scene, though, in whatever place they called home.
Astra Elane, guitarist and vocalist in The Gods Themselves, said the Seattle scene is “flourishing.”
“There’s tons of bands in Seattle. There are a lot of underground places that people play, there are house parties that people play,” she said. “We’re a DIY band, but we play venues in town — it’s a town that’s conducive to performing musicians.”
“I think the sweaty, packed house party scene — just like people being crammed into a space — is super fun to play because you get all that energy from the crowd,” bassist and vocalist Dustin Patterson added. “I think being like on a stage above people really separates you from your audience … versus being this close where you’re just in somebody’s face, it changes the dynamic.”
Back in College Park, bands like The Radiographers got their start at similar sweaty, packed house shows, though now they’ve graduated to playing at D.C. clubs like Black Cat and Rock & Roll Hotel. They also opened for 2 Chainz at last year’s Art Attack concert at this university.
“When we first started as a band here we played a lot at WMUC, and that in a way is sort of DIY, like it’s all student-driven. And that turned into a lot of CHUM [Cooperative Housing at the University of Maryland] houses having shows — I know Ghost Office had a bunch that we played and Mad Ox as well,” rhythm guitarist and vocalist Mike Houser said, naming a few College Park houses that double as venues in addition to The Void.
“I’d say that the people who were at WMUC at the beginning were the ones who started branching and making the DIY scene what it was,” drummer Kevin Lehr added.
“ … It’s being driven by the people who listen and care about the underground music scene,” Houser said.
The College Park DIY scene isn’t an elitist, exclusive circle. It’s better described as a family who are more than eager to adopt new children. If you’re a young and hungry band looking to find a supportive community, or one with experience that’s ready to show your art to a new kind of crowd, you’ll find a home at The Void or anywhere else in town.
And if you’re a fan of loud, fast, synthy, dancey, punk, acoustic, or just about any form of live music, and want to see some bands that just might be the ones to blow up in the future, you’re welcome to come out to a show. The only criteria: be nice.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Void’s Facebook page
Setota Hailemariam is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.