Manhattan’s local music scene is thriving despite factors that threaten its growth. With a limited number of venues, bands depend upon the interest and investments put in by fans and area business owners.
Sarah Cunnick, co-owner and store manager of the Sisters of Sound music store, said the Manhattan music scene operates in cycles.
“It ebbs and flows,” Cunnick said. “Some years, there’s not a lot of bands, and then all of a sudden [the scene] blows up and there are so many local bands.”
The waxing and waning of the scene is characterized by a few factors, like the existence of venues for bands to perform live.
Taylor McFall, music blogger at MHKmusicscene.com and member of the bands Sope Boyler and Philosophy of Lions, said the scene’s surge of growth followed a recession due to the closing of Aggie Central Station in late 2015. The bar had hosted regular live shows and open mic nights.
“Aggie Central Station was a main focal point for the scene,” McFall said. “When it closed, things kind of dipped.”
Currently, common venues used by bands to perform live music include Sisters of Sound Records, Auntie Mae’s Parlor and house venues like the Church of Swole. However, even these venues present limitations that damage Manhattan’s carrying capacity for bands in the scene. These constrictions include size of the venue, age restrictions and genre bias.
“Some places stick to genres of music that they’re comfortable with,” McFall said. “There’s no place that would regularly host metal shows. Even loud punk and loud rock, it’s hard to find a space.”
Regular venues are a lifeline for all music, but they are especially important for local scenes. They provide a foundation to develop the presence of underrepresented genres and the opportunity for new bands to hone their performance skills.
In order to provide Manhattan bands with these venues, McFall and other members of the scene are putting effort into talking to owners of area bars and restaurants to host music shows. These efforts are often stalled by the question of money.
“The type of venue that we want is going to set aside money in their budget to have live music, and there aren’t very many places like that,” McFall said. “They see live music as a way to make money, rather than a way to provide atmosphere to their customers, and so they get frustrated with the fact that music is not a moneymaker.”
Grassroots organizations and house venues like the Church of Swole, run by a local band called Headlight Rivals, offer that exposure advantage over bar and restaurant spaces. They don’t operate in a business format, and therefore do not rely on money to keep doors open. This allows for more welcoming spaces for obscure genres and new bands.
With so much work for local musicians to do, that is where the fans come in.
“In the [do-it-yourself] setting, the crowd is key,” Eric Kleiner, lead singer of Headlight Rivals, said. “Playing in front of people, especially a wild crowd, will fuel energy for the band. The more energy the band has, the more the crowd will return.”
Dedicated local venues provide a supportive foundation for bands by hosting shows for all ages in a variety of genres, but the venues and bands need the fans for support as well. Both elements provide the fuel for a vibrant music scene like Manhattan’s.
“The venue’s absolute support of original, local music gives life to the scene and all those that take part in it,” Cody Brummett, guitarist for Jade Archetype, said. “The most important thing anybody can do in supporting a local scene, in my opinion, is to go to as many local shows as you can.”
With the dedication of fans who go to shows provided and hosted by invested venues, the scene is and will be able to continue toward McFall’s vision.
“I want to see it thrive,” McFall said. “A lot of activity, a lot of shows, a lot of crowds, a lot of weird stuff — that’s what I want.”