Basic Resources for Running a Safe Party Space

This guide will always be a work in progress. Email with suggested additions or changes. This guide is cursory in nature, and individual points will be expanded as separate articles.

Parties are hard to keep safe, and bad things can happen to them at any time. Last year’s Ghost Ship tragedy in Oakland is — if we do it right from here on out — the most stark reminder of this simple fact we’ll get in our lifetimes.

In the wake of that stunning tragedy, a lot of the official talk around the event focused on how Ghost Ship was an illegal show space. It wasn’t up to code, it wasn’t zoned for living and performance, etc etc. And a lot of us in the scene had a tight feeling in our chests for weeks after, muttering to each other “this could have happened in the space we were in last night.”

And that’s true. What makes the underground music scene beautiful is that it thrives in the face of the fact that conventional structures in society don’t account for us and what we make. It’s called home by people who couldn’t rightfully call any other setting home, and is a haven for art outside of structures of fads, arbitrary norms, or capital.

At the same time, finding this alternative way beautiful is really and truly just finding beauty in marginalization. We are left to fend for ourselves and when it all burns down, we’re met with finger wagging, lawsuits, and 4chan vigilantes. It led to one of those moments when we realized that because we improvise an alternative way of life, we don’t have the clearest ideas on how to really make it safe or sustainable.

It’s another flash of harsh reality, like when we find out about serial predators the complicit let roam, or about the drugs killing our brightest or youngest. These bad things happen in our scene. They destroy people, they strain the mesh of this stressed net that holds out communities up. They can happen any time and in fact they happen often.

This is an important point. The worst thing you can imagine is always around the corner. So we must be prepared.

On the topic of fires, there was one at the current Silent Barn in Brooklyn back in 2015. Silent Barn was zoned for performance, up to code, and insured. Those compliances didn’t stop an electrical fire from taking the upstairs apartments, nor the torrents of water sprayed by the firefighters from incurring substantial water damage.

But good fire safety practices prevented that fire from turning into a disaster and robust community support helped the Barn bounce back. We can and should treat all threats to the well-being of our family members in the underground music scene as preventable, while being versed in how to deal with crises when they inevitably arise.

What follows is a list of links, resources, and thoughts on running a safe party space. This is by no means the official rulebook for running a safe party and should be a launching point for your own research and conversations with collaborators about the shows you’re involved with. It will be added to whenever something relevant comes along.

Continue reading Basic Resources for Running a Safe Party Space

Wiggle Room @ The Hideout, 6/17/2017

You read about that alien alloy in the NY Times? Maybe these two summoned it. Wiggle Room does this thing that sounds like scanning a transdimensional HAM radio, weaving between mindfreak ambient and groovin’ hints at techno. Apparently they have multiple days of raw material sitting around on the cassette tapes they use to jam, but have yet to put out any recordings. We’re waiting, Wiggle Room.

That said, they are plenty busy. The two are integral in the excellent Terry Radio web station, with Ulla (sometimes Ulla Oo, Ulla Anona, Ulla Straus) assuming the Terry Radio mama status. Ulla has two new releases out on Lillerne and Sequel. The other half of Wiggle Room, Samuel White, has just shifted monikers from No Pomo to Mintgreen and has a really good mix up with C-.

This was filmed by Erica Mei Gamble at the Resonance Series, organized by Ben Baker Billington and Sullivan Roger Davis.


Institute of Plant Motivation @ WelcomBak 7/8/17

WelcomBak got started just this past summer in Pittsburgh with the goal of giving a space to femmes and queer folk in the area a stage, whether they’re established or just cutting their teeth. When I was talking to one of the founders Anna Azizzy about this a couple months back she was saying that quality documentation is a big part of the project, so it’s going to be exciting to see what else comes from the space.

This Institute of Plant Motivation piece was performed by one of the space’s other founders, Becs Epstein, and has basically everything you could want out of a performance: violet light, lots of plants, a PowerPoint. Take note of the fact that many of the slides talking to interaction with plants can help your own life! Self help through plant help.


Blacker Face @ Elastic Arts, 10/13/2017

Ahhh Blackerface!! Force of freaking nature. Blacker Face is a lot of things at once: activist post-post-post-punk, a prog band, confrontational, good as hell performers. They’ve been going for a few years now, but have really started burning hot in the 2017, also known as the year of atomic dumpster fire. Seeing Blacker Face live leaves you good and sweaty, and likely chewing on a rant frontperson Jolene W/E gave about white people. Jolene is really good at railing against white people. Really really good at it.

This one was filmed by Erica Mei Gamble at a benefit for Hurricane Maria relief I put together with the help of Ben Baker Billington. The RP Boo set from this night is forthcoming, and maybe I’ll up the little talk from the Logan Square Neighborhood Association as well.


Hexbreaker Trio @ Buckland Museum, 9/1/2017

This is the astral-traveling drone set you’d hope would be performed in a museum of witchcraft paraphernalia and ephemera. The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft & Magick is a relatively new open in Cleveland, housing he collection of influential Wiccan, the recently departed Raymond Buckland. The gallery’s curators Jillian Slane and Steven Intermill worked with Buckland to obtain the collection after the previous entity who bought the collection was selling off some of the curios on eBay. Fine collection of relics, many a story about the curious cat RB.

Hexbreaker Trio is a permutation of the phenomenal Hexbreaker Quintet, which itself is the supergroup of Telecult Powers and Grasshopper. This performance features Steven Intermill himself and Jesse DeRosa (aka Shingles) (wow that’s a lot of project names), and took place while one of them was recovering from a debilitating illness. The lazy move here would be to say “they’re working out some demons in this one, folks!” but I can’t even commit to that one since you literally can’t pay the Buck enough money to let the resident demon out of its little metal box. People have tried, as Raymond Buckland himself warned they would.

This video was filmed by Rob Galo.


Golden Donna @ Smart Bar, 9/16/2017

There haven’t been a whole lot of Golden Donna sets proper in the past year, with Madison, WI’s Joel Shanahan often opting for the Auscultation moniker. Those Auscultation sets, like ones that Erica filmed at Voice of Valley and last month at The Hideout, tend to be of the heady rager variety. This Golden Donna live PA at Smart Bar, on the other hand, is an emotionally heavy one. It starts off with some really sweet ambient house synth work, working eventually to a storm of sirens.

JS is one of the survivors of the Ghost Shop fire last year and it’s really been a pleasure to see him playing out, bringing his best. Like many of his unfortunate cohorts, JS has been dealing with a lot of aftermath, so be sure to download his most recent Golden Donna release Memory from Bandcamp in support. The live set from WSUM on that one is a gut punch, encapsulating the project’s oft-visited dream states. There’s also a running gofundme, for those so inclined to help directly.

Some quick editorializing: as an underground scene, it’s our job to show love to the people who survived Ghost Ship. We can show love by supporting the music they’re releasing to raise funds (such as 100% Silk’s recent compilation) and, even more importantly, by working to hold each other accountable and make sure this never happens again.

This video was filmed by Erica Mei Gamble.


Forced Into Femininity @ INC Miami, 2/11/2017

There was a moment when it seemed like Jill Lloyd Flanagan might never come back to Chicago, just touring for months on end as Forced Into Femininity. Stories got around about JLF’s performance at INC in Miami, and we can now log went outside and climbed on top of a double decker bus in the annals of Forced Into Femininity stage antics including but not limited to: rubbing bugs on people’s faces, shrieking inside of a garbage can, taking cigarettes out of people’s hands and making other people smoke them while giving someone a piggyback ride, spraying hairspray everywhere, animatronic insect.

You may know JLF from Coughs or Gula Gila, or maybe you caught one of the countless Forced Into Femininity performances from that massive tour and had it burned into your brain. Well, hopefully you did, because the Forced Into Femininity project is on a brief hiatus for now. In the mean time, catch up on the recordings from Decoherence and Hausu Mountain, or catch JLF in one of two new bands, CB Radio Gorgeous and Hagspittle.

This video was shot by Andrew Chadwick at Churchill’s during the International Noise Conference, organized by Rat Bastard.


CV & JAB @ Ambient Church, 11/10/2017

Wow this is exquisite. Apparently, if you shock mycelium with electricity, the organism freaks out and starts producing mushrooms to cast its precious spores. The before, during, and after of that whole process is evoked during this CV & JAB set at Brian Sweeny’s Ambient Church series in Brooklyn. Set this one full screen and enjoy Eric Epstein‘s projections, reminiscent of a hyper-closeup of the photons within the northern lights.

CV & JAB is the relatively new collaboration Christina Vantzou and John Also Bennett, each very much so real deals in their own respects. CV was one half of The Dead Texan  and has been developing her canon of ambient-inspired music for classical strings across a number of releases for Kranky (rising to the top of that niche the label made its name on). JAB has been known as serious ambient jammer for a long while now as part of Seabat, and you’ll can find him these days playing flute and shooting sequences in Forma. The YouTube description says the pair has a record coming out on Shelter Press, really a good label.

This video was captured by Simone Films.


Fastness @ The Compound, 2/5/2017

You have to hear the Fastness album that came out this year. Emme Williams wrote a batch of songs that’s like a Big Gulp full of all the sodas blended together (a “suicide” I believe?) but instead you’re sipping all of the human emotions. Fastness’s singular electric piano vocal jazz is a classic example of “they just don’t make it like they never used to, anymore.” In this host’s opinion, the two Chicago songwriters who should be putting out records on the biggest labels doing it are EW and Brett Koontz.

This may be the last performance Fastness has done with a full band, and it’s a real delight to hear the EW’s material get this exquisite jazzy treatment. The way EW uses her voice and piano as one instrument puts her performance front and center always, and that means she managed to make some real heavy hitters melt into the background here. In this video, she’s joined by Carlos Chavarria on sax (of ADT, Tarnation), John Daniel (computer ambient maven behind Forest Management) on drums, and Brian Sulpizio (aka Health & Beauty) on guitar. Beautiful performance from a fleeting combo. Really, check out that tape.

This video was shot by Erica Mei Gamble at a show organized by Emme Williams.

— Host

Surfactant @ Club Rectum, 3/4/2017

This one was shot at a benefit for Planned Parenthood earlier this year. On top of it being a night when several of Chicago’s top femmes of the DIY scene threw the fuck down in front of a pulsing hoard partying for a righteous cause — it was sweaty even by Rectum standards — it marked the special occasion when Whitney Allen and Whitney Johnson finally got together for a collaboration they were talking about for years. The long-running idea was to find a third Whitney and call the project Whitney, but the name was snatched by, well, some dudes. Classic.

Whitney Allen is the seething freak fronting noise rock faves Toupée (as well as related projects Columba Fasciata, Blood Licker) who has been performing solo recently as Couteau Sang with a series of terrifying masks and wind instruments. Whitney Johnson’s solo project Matchess has long been one of the best ambient acts in town, and she’s recently staking out territory as a contemporary master of tape manipulation. WJ also plays viola in Circuits Des Yeux. Anyway, this is one of those collaborations that doesn’t totally make sense until you hear it, then it makes total sense.

This video was shot by Erica Mei Gamble at a Planned Parenthood Benefit organized by Jenny Polus and Karina Natis.

— Host