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Underground Music And the DIY Scene

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Local band Sleep Cheaters.

In cities all around the country young artists are cutting their teeth and refining their art in homes, basements and warehouses. These unusual venues are all part of the DIY culture of independent concerts. For most of these shows you will not see posters around town with the addresses and house names available. There won’t be any advertisements in the papers, as many of these venues that host these shows are not legally sanctioned. These spaces are incubators for musicians and various other artists alike where you can see an up and coming artists from all around the country and world for $5 to $10.

Here in Grand Rapids, Tim Pierzchala, a  27-year-old musician, has been playing in bands and at DIY venues for nearly a decade. He currently plays in a band called the Sleep Cheaters. His band plays in local basements as well as bars. He started playing music, like so many in the underground scene, at a young age.

“My first band was called National Cadaver, I’d say I was 14 when I started playing,” Pierzchala said. “My dad bought me an instrument(guitar) and I guess that molded me into the person I am today.”

Pierzchala remembers the music scene of his youth fondly.

“I started going downtown and my parents weren’t very fond of it at the time, the music, (punk rock) I was playing,” Pierzchala said. “I remember I’d go to shows at the DAAC, I’d go to Skelletones a lot, places like that, house shows, anything I could find to get out of the house.”

The two venues he mentioned have since closed. They were the only two all-ages venues operating in Grand Rapids for years. Many local musicians spent their teenage and early twenties at these venues.Chances are if you talk to most any musician in town over the age of 24, they usually have a story or two to tell about the DAAC or Skelletones.

“There’s tons of warehouses, obviously I don’t want to give addresses or anything, that hosted shows after the DAAC and Skelletones closed down,” Pierzchala said. “A lot of the bands that do play basically put all of this together themselves. Patches, artwork, flyers, everything. It’s all up to them. As opposed to a venue where they have someone hired to do that.”

One the the biggest appeals for these underground venues is the lack of separation between the musicians and the fans. Typically if there is a stage at all, it’s a small one, no higher than a foot or two tall.

“It’s more interactive for sure,” Pierzchala said. “You can be a part of it. I’ve played many of shows with people just moving around having a good time. Running into you, knocking microphones over. You’ve got to just kind of take the pros with the cons just because it’s more personal.”

These shows aren’t just about getting rowdy and drinking either. A lot of shows are organized for specific events such as a fundraiser for a good cause or a friend of the music scene who has fallen on hard times and needs the communities support.

“What I like about it is it could be a benefit for a good cause or friend in need,” Pierzchala said.  ”It’s going to a cause other than just filling some guy’s fat pocket.”

Alex Ellison, 30, originally from Whitehall, began playing in Grand Rapids when he was 16. He began his music endeavors in a punk band called HIV. He is another young musician who got his start because of DIY venues.

“Skelletones was significant because it allowed younger people, specifically people under 21, a chance to show other people who are passionate about music, a chance to express themselves.”

Ellison recalls the atmosphere of the places he played as a young artist like this: “Hopeful, during those times there seemed to be a lot of hope coming out of music,” he said. “You get a lot of kids who don’t know where they’re going or who they’re going to turn into, spirits were high.

“It’s appealing, you have a lot of people coming together just for the sake of music, expression and art,” Ellison said. “It’s really open to the community, it’s open access. As long as you’re not working against the people putting on the shows and the people going to be a part of the music, it’s a really good space for expression, making friends.”

The results of meeting other artistic people at these shows has led to many life-long friendships and new creative collections coming into existence as a result.

“These shows are fun, there is a lot of people drinking and just letting themselves go, having fun,” Ellison said. “We even played a folk show in the bed of my truck in my friend’s backyard. We played some rowdy songs like ‘Drive My Truck to Hell,’ ‘Six Packs and Thirty Racks,’ ‘Jesus Christ, Holy F*ck,’ all hits.”

Musicians like Ellison credit DIY venues with helping them get where they are today in their lives. It has helped everyone.Musicians like Ellison credit DIY venues with helping them get where they are today in their lives. It has helped everyone who has gotten involved in the scene grow as an artist.

“DIY venues are important because it gives bands a place to play their music, where it’s not in bars or clubs with a $10 to $15 cover, and it allows people to bring their own alcohol and not get charged an arm and a leg. A lot of the money goes to the bands,” Ellison said. “Also, a lot of venues in some towns don’t want to support certain bands if they carry a certain message,  (DIY venues are) open to everybody.”

These are just a few of the people you may pass by on the street on any given day in Grand Rapids who are involved in the music scene. So keep your ears open for a chance to experience the city’s underground music scene.

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