The Bloomington house show network is comprised of dozens of privately owned and rented houses that are scattered across town. On any given night, students and other young adults freely filter in and out of these spaces, packing themselves into hot, stuffy, unfinished basements in order to socialize with friends and listen to a mix of local and touring acts. Somewhere between a house party and a concert, house shows are at the heart of Bloomington’s D.I.Y. music culture. While some house shows are one-off events, most houses have established names and host shows semi-regularly. For the well-established houses, the house’s life as a venue often long outlives any one tenant’s residency. Though these events are open to the public, one must seek them out in order to find them. Facebook events, paper fliers, and word of mouth are the most common vehicles for advertisement. Last Tuesday, I went to The Dream – a house located just south of downtown – to catch Femme Night, featuring Clue, Bad Psychic, Lily on Horn Horse, and Spacer.
With a few friends in tow, I arrived at The Dream about halfway through Clue’s set. Unfortunately, by the time I made it down to the basement, Clue had finished their short opening performance. Bummed that I missed out on what was billed to be ethereal space punk, I found consolation in the fact that I would be catching this Bloomington band at The Bishop in a few weeks. I took the extra time as a chance to get out of the stagnant heat of a packed basement and explore the venue. The Dream, much like other house show venues that I’ve been to, is like two completely different places above and below ground. Upstairs, the place has an aesthetic that calls to mind any other student house I’ve been to: mismatched dusty old couches, dirty dishes in the sink, and shelves filled with peculiar knickknacks. Downstairs, an obvious effort had been put into transforming an unfinished basement into a D.I.Y. music venue. Towards the far end of the basement, a stage was clearly demarcated with a maroon curtain framing the backdrop, a carpet on the floor, and shiny plastic party streamers hanging from the ceiling. Some mismatched chairs were set up against the perimeter of the basement. To the left of the stage, a table displayed an assortment of band merch and Shut Up And Listen zines. An ineffectual room fan was installed at the center of the basement.
While outside for a cigarette break, Spacer’s frontwoman Hannah Hadley peeked her head outside to announce that the next act was about to begin. Bad Psychic is the experimental goth synth pop project of Bloomington resident Liv Mershon. Dressed in tight pants, a jacket, scarf, sunglasses, and hat, I was amazed that she did not pass out from the heat, but beyond that, I was immediately taken by Mershon’s live presence. The multi-media artist energetically strutted around the stage with complete control. As haunting and repetitive beats hypnotized the audience into a swaying submission, Mershon delivered eerie vocal affects and impressive soprano runs. Bad Psychic’s EP, Threee, is available for streaming via Bandcamp.
My personal favorite act of the night was the touring duo, Lily on Horn Horse. Based out of New York, Lily on Horn Horse is the collaborative project of Lily Konisberg and Matt Norman. Together, these two released an eclectic, 28-track album that showcases their collective creative range. While their body of work is too diverse to draw generalizations, the duo’s vocals – Konisberg’s airy pop soprano and Norman’s flawed yet personal baritone – and Norman’s whimsically enchanting horn accompaniment, provide the foundation to their sound. Their songs are quick and punchy. Their music is sometimes jazzy, sometimes poppy, with elements of disco, electronic, and indie music thrown in. During their performance, these seemingly disparate elements were brought to life and amplified in the basement of The Dream. As Konisberg and Norman took turns sauntering into the crowd and interpretive dancing with their instruments, the two seemed determined to start a dance party. And it worked. The weirder the performance got onstage, the freer it seemed the audience got with their own limb usage.
As the event’s de facto host, Spacer was the last band to perform. Spacer is a three-part synth punk group that consists of Hannah Hadley (vocals, vox and synth), Olivia Graham (bass), and Connor Martin (drums). Already a well-established favorite within the local scene, the crowd bobbed around expectantly to favorites, like “Bullet” and “Sore Loser.” These three seemed quite comfortable on stage, delivering the standard that Spacer fans have come to expect: Hadley’s impressive vocal performance, raw and choppy compositions, and danceable, bouncy new wave rhythms.
Spacer’s performance was Hadley’s victory lap after a successful night. Throughout the event, she could be seen working the sound system, making announcements about the lineup, collecting suggested donations for the touring band, and informing people around the house when the music was about to start up. She even made banana bread for the guests. Because the existence of house show venues makes event planning both doable and informal, the local D.I.Y scene relies heavily on the efforts of the individuals who keeps events like these going year-round.