TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 2016|
Posted by: Mike Montemarano
In Rutgers University's general off-campus housing areas, it's practically impossible to walk anywhere without hearing the elusive but inviting sound of a jam. From its massive student population to a huge emphasis on arts and culture (including a few quintessential-to-rock-history music venues), New Brunswick's live music scene has become incredibly vibrant, scattered, and eclectic.
Since everything is organized haphazardly, sometimes hours in advance, and needs to be networked through word of mouth alone for fear of police shutdowns, there are anywhere from one to two dozen houses any given weekend hosting a diverse range of DIY performances not only from local bands but also any touring groups that well-networked basement dwellers can manage to get a hold of. The scene remains so elusive because of the shutdown of numerous venues and both aspiring indie artists and the renters of "show houses" often come in high tension with police efforts to crack down on any and all get-togethers for fear of underage drinking.
For bands like Thursday, The Bouncing Souls, and The Screaming Females, the many gritty basements of the college town required constant devotion to performing live in order to gradually reach points in which small rooms that were sloppily soundproofed with mattresses on the walls were filled well beyond any responsible capacity.
Despite the fact that these gritty, unkempt basement scenes are basically illegal in pretty much every way, the community surrounding the shows is incredibly approachable and kind to all newcomers. At these Rutgers shows, there's both something unifying and natural about slam dancing and mosh-pitting in a space that resembles the trenches from a World War I movie but it can also be terrifying considering the fact that I've been accidentally trampled more than a few times after taking a fall.
These tiny show houses have such unsettling and beautiful qualities to them and they make everything feel so fragile despite the resiliency of this particular music scene. There was a band I saw called Sojourner where someone bumped into the outlet, effectively shutting out all the lights, and another person bumped into what I assume was sheetrock which caused clouds of dust to suffocate the air, but the band just kept going in the dim lighting of a few cell phones. By the time they finished their set, everyone emerged with a layer of possibly toxic dust crusted over them...it must have been a weird scenario for any onlookers passing by.
I've even become friends with touring musicians who are trying to turn their music into a living, despite none of them being based out of New Brunswick or going to Rutgers. The amount of connections I've made through basement shows is beyond counting and is where the vast majority of my friendships have stemmed from. The amount of musicians I've come to know are from all areas of New Jersey, and some are even out of state, but they've all managed to find a home for their live performances at Rutgers. The basement scene here has become one of the biggest hubs for indie music of any genre you can name and has centralized the dynamic energy of live music within New Jersey. For any college student aspiring to dabble in music, there's no better place to make connections than Rutgers University.
This hasn't stopped the school's music community from taking more traditional approaches either. Our school's radio station is open to anyone with tons of time slots to host their own radio shows which are bombarded with local favorite acts and big Jersey names, in addition to the station supporting local artists with one big headliner at an annual show, dubbed the CoreFest.