Getting bands to play at your house might seem like a hackneyed plot only plausible within the confines of movie-fantasy college parties. But grimy, do-it-yourself house shows hold a key quality that makes them far superior to those ridiculous cinematic ragers, wherein models take shots from ice luges funneling rivers of booze: They actually exist! They’re more fun, too: A good house show has the perfect shared energy of a live show and the comfortable, no-rules atmosphere of a house party. They’re easy to throw, too ... just as long as you avoid making some jabroni mistakes.
You’re going to need a house. You must have a house. A house is necessary for a house show. “Now hang on there fella—my apartment’s landlord is quite lenient and in fact a very swell guy,” squawks the simpleton. Nope, nope, nope! We both know your hawk-eyed overseer has seen you and at least one of your dodgy friends trundle through the door at some point, and will be on your ass in a second when everyone in your microscopic living space hears the first band drop a guitar pick.
You’ll also need to do an honest neighborhood evaluation. The suburbs aren’t immediately ruled out, but there are precautions to take. A good test of how annoying you’ll be is to crank up your speakers to near-concert levels (about 80 decibels), go outside, and stand at the perimeter of your neighbors’ homes while putting on your best curmudgeon-face. If the noise levels start to make you feel all crotchety, consider using a different room as your main stage or putting a mattress against windows. At the absolute minimum, inform your neighbors that your house will soon be filled with loud bands and raucous drunkards, and maybe bring them some kind of baked goods for insurance and as a token of appreciation. If they’re anywhere near your age group, invite them! Because it’s a free pass for a sound permit and also the half-decent thing to do.
Another way to keep sound controlled is to make sure that you concentrate the sound towards your audience. A quick crash course in acoustics: Point the speakers at the audience, try to hang blankets on the walls surrounding the band to limit excess reverb, and avoid playing on carpet because it’ll eat up the sound. If you hear the shriek of feedback, make sure the speakers are pointing away from microphones.
Finally, consider keeping the location as much of a secret as you can. Provide the address for bands to tell their friends and maybe use the nearest major intersection as the Facebook event location. And if anyone brazenly inquires, “Heeeeeyyy, man, where’s the paaaaarrty?” just give them the address to your city’s central landfill.
What You’ll Need To Set Up
The day of the show, get a few friends to help move all furniture against the walls and hide valuables —your TV, Xbox, Star Wars figurine collections— in locked rooms. If your place is largely carpeted, consider a finding shitty rug that you can lay down in the blast radius of your makeshift stage. As far as equipment goes, make sure to talk to members of each band about what they need. If they need a PA, you can usually rent one from a local music store for under $50, but you’ll probably need someone to help run it. (It’s best to rely on someone in one of the bands to help, but offer as much assistance as you’re capable.) Power-wise, you’ll be fine as long as you avoid plugging every single thing into a single power strip, so ask bands to use two different wall outlets if possible.
Wait, so. Bands?
Oh, right. For best results, find a local band you dig the hell out of and get them to help suggest other bands to fill out the show’s set. It’ll help you avoid strange genre pairings like sludgecore-doom metal and K-Pop, plus the likely overlap in friend groups between bands will keep people at least either social or amicable —ideally both.
If it’s even remotely possible, please, please consider paying the bands. Too many hosts take advantage of their relaxed relationship with musicians and skirt the responsibility. (Depending on the popularity of the band and the cheapness of your friends, it’s okay to ask people who are attending the show to throw in a few bucks.) That being said, if you’re a college student and genuinely can’t pay, be as accommodating as possible. These bands are doing you a favor, so be nice and treat them as such. Get each band a 12-pack and write their name on it.
While genre choice is at your full discretion, try and pick fun bands over the ones you wallow to in your headphones alone. Your house is not at a real venue, and people are expecting a good time rather than a serious show, so go after bands that can work a crowd as opposed to brooding, mysterious doofuses with exquisitely tousled hair. (It’s a T. Swift vs. Dan Bejar-type deal). One of the greatest closing songs I’ve ever seen at a house (or any) show included a raucous chorus with the inspired lyrics, “I wanna take you down / To Hot Dog Town,” repeated ad infinitum. Soon enough, every single person in the room was swaying and singing along in the spirit of phallic food innuendo—it was stupid and beautiful, really.
Look: This is what you’re going for.
Expect Humans to be Humans
Here’s the deal: People are going to drink, piss, and potentially throw up in any potential combination and order in the space you live. So for the love of God, plan ahead.
Offer any locked rooms to the bands for storage, because thieves will shamelessly prey on the chaos of a house show and use the opportunity to snag themselves someone’s prized pedalboard. If you’re positive that no one you know would ever do anything like steal from these nice people (or you!), please consider the worst person in attendance and the people they might they bring with them. While you’re at it, lock away your most valuable things, too.
Also, I beg you, please have a working bathroom for these people. Here’s a cautionary tale: There was once a house show that had more than 200 people present when its enlightened tenants decided bathrooms were passé, forcing visitors to settle on some dark corner behind a shed. Then, one unfortunate soul we’ll call “Watthew Mood” stumbled in on two dauntless women assuming squat positions, taking a leak. As he fled the scene in terror with apologies trailing in his wake, he decided to never allow anyone to resort to a similar (albeit incredibly rowdy) fate. Unless you want to risk incurring a gypsy curse on your own house, you’ll do well to take a similar vow.
Beyond that, get beer. (Not liquor! I’ll explain below.) Tell your friends to bring a six-pack with them if you want to make sure you’ll have plenty of booze through the night. Most importantly, make sure you have some kind of water available so that you aren’t solely keeping people hydrated with alcohol. These are your friends, after all, and you don’t want them to party to the point of collapsing.
(Mostly) Behave Yourselves
The power that comes with running a house show can make tyrants out of the wrong people. So even though you’ll be in charge, try to be patient with people as you scurry around trying to manage sound, host a party and also maybe not get evicted.
If you’re keeping the volume under control, the only real (and legal) danger you’ll face is drunk dunces hailing the attention of the authorities. Hopefully, your guests will generally keep it together, but get your roommate (or someone else trustworthy) to keep an eye out, too. Make firm rules for yourselves: Anyone who picks a fight, harasses the band, or starts getting too drunk to function should be politely moved to a place where they can sober up a little (and then maybe leave). Don’t be a chaperone and have fun, of course, but make sure you’re keeping an eye out for tell-tale signs of disaster ... or else you’ll be giving your rabid event the Old Yeller treatment before it takes off.
Speaking of grim finalities, here’s where I’ll risk death threats: Please don’t provide liquor. Buy 10 beers, 50 beers, 100 beers, but do not provide people with a fast pass to Sloshed City. Everyone’s welcome to drink, and if people bring liquor, there’s no need to police them, but providing hard alcohol will escalate the party with little chance of pulling it back in line. Which typically is fine except oh wait you live here and that’s a terrible idea.
Have Fun and Get Weird
This is gonna be fun, and you should get festive with it. Put Christmas lights on a suit of armor you found in the dumpster, make paper dolls out of Lone Star cans, buy a Slip N’ Slide, whatever. Make it Halloween themed if it’s during the summer, because Halloween fucking slams. Going hog wild on decorations means it’ll be more likely that people remember the pretty-pretty lights and neat bands, while also hopefully forgetting about the pool of vomit they created and/or subsequently stepped in. And if you manage to keep people distracted from their own bodily function misfires, you probably deserve at least a solid C+ in Advanced Partying.
Art by Tara Jacoby.
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