Revisiting The 2016 Denton Music Town Hall

It’s been almost two years since Denton’s first and only music town hall. The event served as a  'State of the Union' of sorts for the music scene, addressing a slew of recent losses: J&J's Basement, Hailey’s, Rubber Gloves. In the following year, 35 Denton would announce there would not be a 2017 festival. Constituents and attendees aired their grievances, expecting the worst for the local scene.

But, in the two years since, what exactly has changed?

J&J’s reopened to much fanfare. Locally, Thin Line Fest is a powerhouse of photography, film, and music. Backyard on Bell offers frequent, free, all-ages events en plein air. Andy’s got a complete rehaul, and newer non-traditional venues, Studio E and Where?House, have proven to be innovative and eclectic spaces to display art, poetry, and music alike.

But, in all of this good news, one pillar of the Denton music scene seems to be in limbo. The house show scene is at a crossroads, and in a city where it’s DIY or die, perhaps it’s time to take stock of issues present in our scene. The Dentonite sat down with four, past and present, members of the DIY community – some band members, some house owners, and some of both – to discuss what they’d like to see from the community in the coming months.

Danielle Longueville has been a part of the Denton scene since 2010, and in her time as an owner of now-closed venue The Crescent Castle and as a member of the band Class Action, she’s learned a few things.

“When I came to UNT, I promised myself I would do the thing and get involved with the creative scene,” Longueville said. In her time spent in the DIY community, she made connections that led her to Oaktopia and to other internships that served as stepping stones in her career. To her, the DIY community is a compassionate place and being a part of it helped with a sense of belonging during her time at UNT and beyond.

Mills Chaiken, member of Sad Cops and co-owner of The Mustard Zone, echoed this sentiment. “The house show scene is a great place for people who need an identity,” Chaiken said. “In a way, the scene provides a service.”

For Chaiken, the time he’s spent in his 5 different ensembles has been a time for great self-reflection and has provided plenty of chances for socialization – whether he’s playing a show or putting one together. When comparing other cities he has toured in to Denton, Chaiken said that Denton's heavy college student presence in conjunction with a youthful, left-leaning student base makes it stand out.

“Austin is more venue-focused,” Chaiken said, describing the various establishments that DIY bands in the Lone Star Capital have the privilege of playing at.

Denton’s college-town population, lax noise policies, and wealth of suburban houses to rent and, subsequently, destroy make the town a breeding ground for house shows – even if right now, the town finds itself on the slimmer end of venues.

Daniel Noe from Wichita Falls has spent about a year in the Denton scene, playing house shows with his band Allegheny Ave. “I’m an outlier, I’m looking from the outside in. I feel like I’m in a weird position of seeing things from out of town,” Noe said, but generally he believed that Denton was in a good place.

To him, the lack of venues makes the market less saturated – it’s good for booking and, conversely, good for bands to not have to compete for spots in a lineup. Upon being asked what he might like to see from in the upcoming months, Noe expressed a wish for more communication between venues and performing bands, from both ways.

Carson Cobb, frontwoman of Southway, finds the DIY community to be a place of diversity, like a musical melting pot, but that sentiment isn’t always expressed in the lineups. “More often than not, I’m the only girl that’s in any of the bands,” Cobb said of her few months in the house show scene. But it’s not as if women aren’t attending or interested in the DIY scene.

Nearly all interviewees remarked on a lack of female presence in the DIY community. The panel at the town hall reflected this even two years ago in which femmes were underrepresented. In the retrospective Dentonite article, detailing the events of the town hall, was a presentation from Andi Harman, who, along with a team of seven other women, introduced their HEARD collective. The femme and non-binary creative co-op has since ceased function, but its effect and sentiment have been felt across the town; women are a large part of the DIY community, even if entire lineups (or entire panels) are often solely male.

Regina Bugarin is a local talent buyer, as well as a musician and a resident of The Space Station, who has been outspoken about damning violent behavior and sexual assault allegations in the DIY community – a topic that has been on everyone’s minds since the events leading to Jagoe’s closure occurred at the beginning of 2018. But with the effects of the #MeToo movement and a dwindling tolerance for shitty, abusive behavior, all eyes are on the house show scene to deliver safer events for attendees and to hold abusers accountable for their actions.

More changes are in store for Denton in the second half of 2018 – for instance, Q’s, the 24-hour queer café is coming. New renters will be signing leases for the fall semester, bringing a wave of new house venues, however fleeting. But no matter what happens, it’s clear that the DIY scene is under pressure to improve safety, diversity, and communication – on all fronts. Make events safe for bands, for bookers, and for fans. Make lineups and venues diverse, and support local LGBTQ spaces as they emerge. Concerned about a band or a venue? Communicate. The local DIY scene is far from dead, but it’s far from truly living. There are plenty of ways to improve local music; just ask a punk.

Header image courtesy of Garrett Smith
Header image design by Mallory Frenza