Maybe The Ramones said it best on the seventh track of their 1976 debut album: “Hey daddyo/I don’t wanna go down/To the basement/There’s somethin’ down there.”
Imagine the place these primal punks were conjuring up: A damp, dimly lit underground room in an ancient house with a low-hung ceiling, its exposed ductwork and rotting wooden rafters strung with ages’ worth of dusty cobwebs, perhaps. It’s an environment that wouldn’t look too out-of-place in your garden-variety late-night slasher flick, right?
But basements like these — and such are the kind that can be found all over Clifton Heights — easily transform from eerie urban catacombs to anything-goes live music venues dedicated to the sweaty glory of Punk Rock. These claustrophobic spaces are perfect for music fans willing to pack in for a more immediate experience than the one offered by a lot of local clubs. At basement shows, the line between stage and crowd are blurred, and performers’ faces, armpits and appendages are suddenly brought frighteningly close to the audience (when those performers aren’t slamming directly into said concertgoers, that is).
Bucking an increasing generational trend favoring reserved behavior, Hands Across Basements (this Thursday through Saturday) is Cincinnati’s threeday celebration of the pure, fun-loving spirit of loud music in subterranean settings. And putting together and ultimately enjoying the celebration on one’s own terms amounts to way less hassle and far more fulfillment than trying to work with a bar to plan such an event.
Organizer Kaleb Keefer says he “wanted to book a completely D.I.Y. festival where people live and have the entire local spectrum of Punk bands play, plus the respectable ones within driving distance.”
That means there are no riders, no guest lists, no bouncers and (hopefully) no problems. The fest is just fans and bands of all ages, backgrounds and experience representing all known permutations of what’s considered “Punk” and coming together to have a good time and rock out on private property. Hands Across Basements’ only stated intent, according to the event’s MySpace site, is “to accomplish three D.I.Y. basement shows that are well-attended, can pay the bands at least gas money and that are fun as hell.” Noble, simple goals indeed.
The shows are all about fostering that Punk community spirit. After spending time in bands in both Cincinnati and Boston, Keefer grew dismayed with the increasing divisiveness he witnessed. He did his time in Beantown and headed back home to find what he considered a “good and well-rounded” Punk scene here. Keefer admits that the quality and variety of young, loud music in Cincinnati tends to wax and wane based on the success and seemingly imminent demise of various venues.
Younger fans — the lifeblood of any healthy music scene — are often left in limbo and looking to get their fix, hence the importance of the basement shows. With help from friend and Cincinnati-based Dopamines singer/bassist Jon Weiner, Keefer obliged, organizing the first Hands Across Basements last year. It was a resounding triumph, even garnering coverage in Alternative Press. Last year, the Warner House (2389 Flora St., Clifton) celebrated its 10 th anniversary show, says Keefer. In this 11 th year of Warner shows, Keefer is happy to report that the current residents are buying the place, which obviously bodes well for the future of live basement Punk on Flora Street.
This year, the Bike Haus (1308 Clay St., Over-the-Rhine, at the old Publico building) is Thursday night’s venue, the Warner House hosts Friday’s mayhem, and the condemnable-sounding Tetanus House (2631 University Ct., Clifton) finishes things off on Saturday. All shows, for which $6 donations are being requested, start around 8 p.m. An impressive variety of bands from around the Midwest will appear on Friday and Saturday night’s lineup: breakneck noisemakers Holy Shit! (Milwaukee); the raw, pissed chicks of Condenada (Chicago); the hard-charging and melodic Wormburner (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and plenty more are on board. The Dopamines, evil ass-kickers Meeoow Motherfucker, the jittery/danceable The Read and more hold down the fort for our fair city.
Keefer says he’ll be around Cincinnati for a while longer, but he won’t be here forever. The man is versatile; he can both organize epic Punk fests and wax philosophical. In fact, he’s got a Ph.D. in Philosophy in his sights for the future. In any case, a new generation of head-banging noise-mongers will have to take over and help this city’s basement scene maintain itself.
“Hopefully someone picks up after me,” he says. “Another anal, organized person who’s super motivated — not that I don’t have help.”
For full details on HANDS ACROSS BASEMENTS, visit myspace.com/handsacrossbasements.