By Alex Tebeleff
If you’ve been a regular around the house show scene in DC, you’ve seen Ben Richter and Sarah Schaffer. Besides running shows at the Communiverse, Sarah Schaffer also plays in the killer three piece Lies About, and Ben also books shows at other spaces like The Beehive, all the while finding time to engage in his passion for social activism. I think their story is worth telling!
Tell me about The Communiverse and how it found itself involved in the DC music scene.
S: So we’re a group house in Petworth. The Communiverse has always put a lot of attention and care to cultivating a community inside the house and about a year and a half ago I guess we thought it was strong enough to grow, like add some fun, weird ingredients and share with more people. We started opening up our space more. Not just for shows – the latest version of DC Food Not Bombs got started using our kitchen.
B: It’s funny to think of our house as a part of this big(ish) scene with this legendary history. As Sarah mentioned, when [house founders] Cathy (Johnson) and Brad (Weikel) started our little project 4 or 5 years ago the mission was mostly focused around creating a safe and supportive space for those of us within the house, and we didn’t really conceive of the house as a part of some bigger network or tradition. Cathy is a vegan creative writing teacher and Brad is a human rights activist and a pretty spiritual person and the experiment that grew out of their vision was focused around cultivating strong and open relationships within the house and looking for opportunities to learn from each other and make each other better people. Thinking back we’ve definitely reoriented our intention towards engaging more with the community, but (at least to me) the transition has seemed pretty organic and I’d like to think that the work Cathy and Brad put in set the foundation for where we are today.
S: We have resources (namely a super handy PA), a lot of space – we feel compelled to share it. It feels good to blur the line between space that is private and public, and with so many other houses around. A good space can shift to accommodate much more than living day to day – we’ve been trying to think of it as a tool.
What kind of shows has the house been putting on lately?
B: House shows… Sarah and I helped put a show together around this really talented folk band Live Cultures from Brooklyn a few weeks ago. Sarah is close with Alex from the band, so we put something together for them a bit on a whim and they kinda blew us all away. Our friends from Pony Bones joined the bill and I reached out to this guy Thimble who I had seen play a set with his band You Will Never Guess What’s Going On at this annual Strange Folx event that the Baltimore Free Farm puts on. He drove down with his 4 year old son Ember and his partner Bryce and they each did solo sets while the other took turns hanging out with Ember. Special folx.
We’ve had two shows this past week… last thursday Sarah organized one for the amazing Julie Byrne from Buffalo. She was touring with Adam Lempel & Sunatirene, an experimental project with the dude from this killer garage band from Baltimore Weekends, and Sarah reached out to Nate from her band Lies About and he did a cool experimental type set too. Last Sunday we hosted a more punk rockish show. Foozle from DC, Quarterbacks from NY, and Cool People from DC. It was a Sunday and we had something like 70 people come out, which was really cool to see. Both in terms of the music and the people who chose to come, many who I hadn’t met before, IMHO I think it was one of the funnest evenings of music/people that we’ve hosted.
S: I have actually been wanting to see the DC dance scene within the house show arena for a while. When Ben started telling me about what the InFest planners were doing it inspired me to put together a day that’s come to include modern and improvised dance and music, burlesque, and sound installations. The theme is Space is the Place – trying to think about how art can transform familiar spaces. Props to Sun Ra too, of course.
What’s it been like planning In It Together Fest?
B: Oh man, the whole planning process has been really cool to be a part of. I’ve been involved as kind of a supporting cast member, booking music a bit but mostly reaching out to causes (Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center, Positive Force DC, The Way Home Campaign to End Chronic Homelessness in DC by 2017) that we wanted to support and be part of our mission and getting them on board. An unexpected side effect of getting involved to the extent that I have in IITF has been meeting all these other people who are doing some really cool stuff, maybe siloed away in Northeast or in different scenes across the city. It’s cool when you realize that your scene, or your community or whatever, is more interesting and more diverse than you had thought.
I was just looking at the most recent zine for this thing last night, and taking a step back I’m just blown away by what this thing has turned into. Mad props to Mike from Hole in the Sky and Geoff and Brett from the Dougout for putting in so much work to make this happen. It’ll be interesting to see whether blowing out our diy spaces with an explicitly political/noncommercial music and arts festival will build some bridges between our scenes or with our community, maybe bring more inclusivity and organized social awareness into the music community.
[If you’re reading this and don’t know much about In It Together Fest you can find info at infestdc.org.]
Join The Communiverse Aug 2 for Day 3 of In It Together Fest, Aug 17 for a Girls Rock DC benefit with Valerie and Regina from the Flor Veinte Collective, and early September for a big surprise show.
This Tuesday is just loaded with great shows. Yet another new house venue, The Commune, does its first show. Psychedelic Pop bands Melted Toys (San Francisco) and Street Gnar (Lexington) both are on a label with DC roots, Underwater Peoples. If you’ve read the column before, you know I think DC’s Go Cozy rules.
A really great bill at Bathtub Republic in Columbia Heights. Ballad’ve and Stranger In The Alps are two of DC’s best bands in the country/folk realm, and folk rockers Family and Friends is a fantastic band from Athens, GA that is blowing up with good reason; they are great performers with artful songs.
Yet another show to fuck up your personal decision-making process on this Tuesday night. Everyone on this bill is a super standout musician. Synth-driven Philly duo Hallowed Bells is a project on both the killer Philly label Edible Onion and DC’s own Blight. Records. Anthony Pirog is my favorite guitarist in DC. Tolva is the new project from local synth wizard Erik Sleight of Br’er and Stronger Sex. An amazing bill of some of the finest sound explorers you are going to find anywhere.
Rough House is another new house venue in DC that’s just started to do shows this summer. This punk show is likely a good indication of things to come. Red Death and Stand Off are two great DC hardcore bands, Angel Dust is a punk band from Maryland, and Forced Order is a hardcore band all the way from California.
Nashville alt-country project Wilderness Alive headline this show at The Lab, also featuring DC electro-pop project Simone and the Spectrum, Virginia indie pop band A Marc Train Home, and the very interesting DC indie pop project Real Clothes.
My personal favorite bill at Ft. Reno this summer features the absurdly catchy Title Tracks, one of my favorite DC bands over the past decade (pay attention to the lyrics if you can keep up with his speedy delivery, they are fantastic), my favorite band to emerge in DC in 2014, The Effects, and a psych rock project with a ton of potential called Myrrh Myrrh.
A great art event at Artisphere, brought to you by Transformer, focusing specifically on sound art. I love seeing events like this; it’s a wonderful way to connect the different artistic communities in DC. In the end, it’s all expression! Transformer is a non-profit visual arts space that helps artists find opportunities to create and display their works. Alex Braden, Emily Francisco, E. Jane, and Ian McDermott are the participating artists at this particularly interesting event.
A punk bill at yet another new house venue.
A great bill at Ft. Loko featuring DC garage rockers Teen Liver, wild punk band Concord America from Atlanta, and Athens based psychedelic band New Wives. I really love this bill — should make for an engaging show from beginning to end.
If you want to dance this weekend this is the show for you. If you haven’t heard Alma Tropicalia before, they are a DC based (you guessed it) Tropicalia band, and do a great job of representing the genre with an extremely fun show. Gypsy groove party band Black Masala makes a perfect match to open the bill.
What should be an insanely packed show at Union Arts featuring three great DC hardcore bands, Coke Bust, Zoom, and Collusion, with Texas punk and death metal influenced hardcore bands Power Trip and Mammoth Grinder headlining a stacked heavy bill.
DC/LA pop band Brett are masters of their craft. In a day and age when live pop bands couldn’t be less focused on the actual music itself, Brett is a refreshing change of pace and an incredibly fun live band. Fellow Cascine label mates Yumi Zouma and Chris Burns join this bill on a rooftop party at Dunya that should go late into the morning.
DC’s Chain and The Gang has gotten better and better since their inception, with their most recent record being their best yet. Brattleboro, VT based The Lentils and Boston surf pop trio Fat Creeps open.
If you wanna get out of town this weekend to see some great music, this is the show for you. Lots of great DC area based musicians playing at this benefit show in Green Valley, Maryland including one of my personal favorite songwriters from the area, Marian McLaughlin.
Fast rising DC songwriter Sean Barna opens for alternative rock band Filligar at DC9.
Another interesting heavy bill at Union Arts this week featuring DC punk band Highway Cross, trippy New Zealand punk band Civil Union, Richmond punks Brainworms, and new DC punk band Peoples Drug.
The Black Sparks are a group of local kids from the Maryland suburbs who have gained a well deserved following in the DC area for their really impressive take on punk. These kids are the real deal and are a band to watch for a long time in the area. Seriously, go see them. DC indie rockers The Raised By Wolves and Stereosleep open.
Insane hardcore bill at The Pinch.