A Guide to Bloomington’s DIY House Show Scene
Edit: Attending any party, in this case, a live music house show, comes with its own set of dangers. Please practice safety at these parties and be smart. Please don’t harass, assault, yell at, or disrespect other party-goers. Bloomington’s local music scene is thriving, but could easily be ruined by a few people. If you see assault or harassment happening, I urge you, responsible party-goer, to intervene.
House Shows. We’ve all been there. Trapped in a dark, steamy basement with sweat forming on your forehead, while the guy next to you vapes into your face, the girl behind you pushes into your back uncomfortably, and a microphone is feeding back as some neopunk, alternative metal blues group is playing their last guitar-heavy song of their set. And yet, as terrible as that sounds, we do it almost every weekend. Whether you’re in it for the music or just to get drunk, some house show experiences are better than others. This can depend heavily on the venue. So, I’ve taken on the challenge of critiquing and reviewing the prominent and up and coming house show venues in Bloomington, so that you, dear reader, can better navigate this underground realm of DIY basements, cheap wine, high-waisted jeans, probably a few turtlenecks, and that guy you hooked up with that one time who likes to go to the same parties as you.
First, let’s look at the tried and true houses of the scene.
Don’t get confused, the name of this venue has nothing to do with the classic song by the Commodores and everything to do with the exterior of the house. This rockin’ venue features a large-sized basement complete with the DIY, indie, essentials: christmas lights, a Buzz Lightyear mask, an air duct that almost hits the top of your head when you jump, some street signs, and three tenants who can play music way better than you can. Resident Sam Ramirez says one of his favorite decorations is the painted canvas of a bearded man in a vest that stands tall in the basement. The sound system is actually very good for a house show venue and the couch in the corner of the basement adds a level of acoustic absorption that is scarcely found elsewhere.
For all of those folks out there not interested in actually watching any of the music, let’s explore the rest of the setup. As one resident Grant Mitchell puts it, the upstairs is “a tasteful off-white with brown furnishings”. The Brickhouse boasts a big front porch complete with two chairs that look like they were stolen from a country club pool, a backdoor for easy basement/music access, a front room with lots of plush seating, and a kitchen where you can mingle with the most alternative kids Bloomington has to offer.
The Rathouse (2.0)
We all love a good makeover, but I’d go as far as to say that the Rathouse has been through an extreme home makeover. Last year, guests who visited the old Rathouse were packed like sardines into a cozy and loud front living room where bands were shredding their stuff, under the light of the infamous ‘Cocktail Lounge’ neon sign. This year, guests of the Rathouse can enjoy the same vibes in a whole new house, complete with a basement, backyard, and front porch. Triple threat.
In the basement, the ‘Cocktail Lounge’ sign lives on, illuminating the sweaty people who are swaying to the sounds of local music. Bands are normally situated in the far corner, giving guests a wider angle at which to view them. Who knew math would come in handy even at house shows? The washer and dryer are also situated in the basement, for guests who want to bring a load of laundry and be productive during the show. Don’t get too comfortable though. It’s easy to get caught on the skinny set of stairs that dead ends into the bathroom line, so always use the buddy system.
Palm Tree Palace
Palm Tree Palace, even the name sounds like an oasis and that’s just what this place is in the house show scene. Upon walking into the Palace, guests arrive in a room that is nothing but chill. Art decorates the walls, an eclectic shrine sits in one end of the room, and many TVs project astral visuals. Not to mention, the fish tank that is full of friendly aquatic creatures. This room is perfect for those alternative mermaid, cyber art vibes that are so sought after in today’s alt music scene. Proven at their last show, this room can hold a hefty crowd and provides a great backdrop for artists. This house is one of the only in Bloomington that has two usable spaces for artists to perform, and it has proven to be quite successful.
Downstairs, the basement is quite wide, so that many a people can enjoy the music without having to be too squished together. The basement is also pretty deep, so if packing up front isn’t your vibe, there’s lots of space towards to back to spread out and dance. By far, this basement is one of the largest in all of Bloomington. Next time you’re there, look out for the infamous inflatable pool floatie. Wearing this floatie is a right of passage in the Bloomington house show scene. This house is also located right across from the Singing Hoosiers house, which is the local hangout for all things show choir. Need a break from the house show? Go ahead and bump elbows with the IU’s glee club.
Now, let’s take a look at some up and coming house show venues that are hopping on the scene.
Just having announced their second show, Vault 525 is making their way onto the scene. Notorious for the number of Birds and Limes that can be found around their house, Vault 525 sits on a corner for easy access from all angles, by electric scooter or other modes of transportation. Let’s go downstairs. If you’re tall, be cautious! The ceilings in the basement are pretty low, so you might need to slouch a bit to avoid head bumpage. The basement is filled with dope lights and decorations and feels very cozy compared to other, more sterile, venues. Another bonus is that the sound system sounds great!
The Mosquito Mansion
Don’t let the name scare you, the mosquito mansion isn’t full of mosquitos. Well, maybe just a few. But, proven at their debut house show earlier this Fall, the Mosquito Mansion is also infested with eager music lovers, who want to mosh, dance, vibe, twerk, jerk, etc. Current tenant Luke Cherchenko describes the aesthetic of the house as “crowded” and “funky”. A projector is rigged up to display wacky videos above the artists’ heads. This was cool, until a crowd surfer’s foot almost knocked it down. With a front porch and a back porch, the Mosquito Mansion has two promising hang out areas to escape from the loudness of the indoors. The Mansion also boasts a few couches, and some local art.
Mosquito Mansion plans to host more shows soon!
Maybe the house with the weirdest name in the game, Cream Cheese is a force to be reckoned with in the Btown DIY scene. If a low ceilinged basement isn’t for you, then Cream Cheese might be the place. The high ceilinged living room makes for a less-claustrophobic-than-usual experience. The wooden ceiling beams are also quite attractive. Musicians are also set up on a risen platform, which makes for a good view for everyone. The living room has a door that exits directly into the backyard, which is outfitted with a picnic table and a big plush chair. Resident Collin Reynolds states he was picking out dishware from their backyard for weeks. If that’s not good party vibes, then I don’t know what is. Check out this house soon, just don’t forget your bagel.
All in all, the Bloomington house show scene is a welcoming, fun, and creative environment where artists get to share their music and we can discover new sounds every weekend. So, wherever you go, get out there and support local music!
Photos in this article are courtesy of Abby Harrison, Maddie Thurin, & Matt Jaskulski.