In a city where venues serve $10 drinks and close at 1am, house shows have been a staple in Boston’s music scene. Local artists host shows in their homes where people of all ages and backgrounds gather to party, mosh, and experience the unsurpassable freedom that the nighttime brings. In the spirit of safety, many artists have stopped having in-person shows at their homes. However, they are still finding ways to share their creativity with the community.
To find out more about what’s happening in underground music, I interviewed two artists from Boston’s house show scene about their experiences with house shows and their transition to strictly online content. DJ Mad Dog (she/they) is a DJ originally from Arizona. Password Dragon (he/him) is a musician/organizer originally from South Carolina.
Q & A with DJ Mad Dog
(Edited for length and clarity)
Boston Hassle: How are you doing?
Mad Dog Mango: I think I’m doing better than most people. A lot of people are having tough financial trouble and stuff and I’m very lucky to not have that. A lot of people are living completely alone and I’m living with Eric and we have cats and I’m very lucky for that. I am feeling it more the longer I stay inside. Like, I feel weird every morning. Like I wake up and I’m in a loop and I have to do something or watch an episode of a show to get my brain out of that really depressing thought of “this is just life now.” It’s been good for creativity and bad for creativity…I feel more creative when I can be around people, I think.
BH: Tell me about your music before and after COVID.
DJ MD: The way it was before COVID, I found myself feeling frustrated with the local scene, feeling frustrated with the fact that like — dudes won’t say this — but like, DJing is a very “boys’ world” type of thing. It’s harder to get work as a female person ‘cause people just don’t consider you. So I found that, before COVID, a lot of shows I was playing were like, “Well someone else is busy so we’re gonna ask you to do it,” yknow. It was always like a second-thought kind of thing until actually the last show I played. There was more support there.
I was asked to play it as a first thought. It was at a house in Dorchester. My friend Nabi (Liu Krabbe) and our friend Noah (Password Dragon) were putting on a show together. Noah was the one who asked me to DJ and he was the first person to really see me as a DJ, so I really appreciated that. After COVID, I got off social media for a really long time in the summer, just for some quiet, and I found myself really falling back in love with the process of putting together a DJ set because I wasn’t comparing myself to people.
BH: I know you’re from Arizona originally. When you moved to Boston how did you get into the music scene?
DJ MD: I moved here permanently around 14 years old. I wasn’t aware of the music scene for the first three or four years until me and Eric (babygoat) and Nabi and Pat (P Dutch) all crossed paths. Eric’s apartment at the time became like a weird house for, like, making all this music. It was pretty magical at the time but I wasn’t that involved; I was just always there when they were making music.
And then we started playing house shows and I was kinda just there as the friend, the support. I’d be in the audience trying to get everyone to give energy or I’d be back next to Eric seeing what was going on. And the first time I did [perform] was one of those Sad Boy Socials at ZuZu and the Middle East. It was the start of that whole era and this guy, Disorder Ming, was hosting and putting on the show. And one of these shows he was planning was for women and femme people. He was like, “Oh, I need a female DJ,” and I was in a group chat with him. And I don’t know if it was him or Eric said, “Oh yeah, Isabel could probably do it.” But it was like, “okay, this show is in a week or less, can you learn how to DJ before then and make a set and DJ people’s sets?”
I was really scared because I was excited and wanted to be a part of this. But then I realized I would have to learn a whole new skill, but Eric helped me a lot. They let me use their DJ board and taught me how to use Mixx (a DJing software) and I remember that night was how the rest of [the Sad Boy Socials] were. Not many people would show up and the energy was kinda low and weird; not where the hosts and the performers wanted it to be. But I remember being like, “I feel good at this, and if I feel good at this and I don’t even know what I’m doing yet, I should keep doing this.”
BH: So your first show was at a venue. What are your thoughts on house shows compared to venues, as a performer or attendee?
DJ MD: Okay, I have a lot of thoughts on this. Venues can be really fun, but you have only a certain amount of freedom with a venue. There will be times when it’s out of your control and they’ll make the show 18+ or 21+ when you’re a teen, then all your friends can’t come. And the energy of a venue–having people that work for the venue and all the security guards there, having the bar and having to pay a lot for one drink–in my opinion all of those things discourage people who like underground music from going to a show.
And on the flip side, at a house you can invite anyone, you can charge a fee but you also don’t have to, and you can decide how much money you charge and split it among yourselves. But at a venue, there’s the whole thing of having to pay the venue or having to sell tickets to make enough money to pay the venue back if you’re not paying them up front. And then the other thing is, obviously, people enjoy drinking and smoking and doing other drugs when they go to a show. And at a venue, basically all you can do inside is drink alcohol and it’s expensive. I’ve found that a lot of people–including both of us–like to go to a show and smoke weed. It’s kind of really about freedom, and in the venue you feel like, even if it’s fun and successful and a lot of people come, it still feels very nerve-wracking and suffocating because you’re like “Okay, I have to make sure I don’t do anything that the venue doesn’t want me to do I have to make sure I end on time.”
And I also think it’s a little harder to keep people’s attention inside a venue because there’s nowhere to sit and standing in the middle of the room feels strange to a lot of people. But if you’re in a house, you can just wander around the house or go outside to smoke a cigarette and you won’t have the people who work at the venue coming out and telling you you can’t stand in front of it. It’s really more relaxing, and I feel like you have more freedom as an artist. And for people who host shows, you have more freedom as an organizer, too. I love house shows a lot, and venue shows–I appreciate the opportunity but they don’t have the same feeling of raw energy and community.
BH: Have you done any digital performances since COVID started?
DJ MD: I have. I did one Zoom show where I just did a DJ set. The Zoom show had three different DJ sets; the host reached out to all of us and was like, “Would you like to play a show?” The audio was kinda weird at first, but Eric helped me out with it again. It was really fun! I was like, is this gonna be weird? Is this gonna be good? But as soon as it started it was like going on a picnic with friends. It was small and chilled out but everyone was having a really good time and and being like, “Oh, I’m so glad in this Zoom call and not just watching Netflix and being sad.”
BH: Do you feel like there are any aspects of house shows that you’ve been able to bring to virtual shows?
DJ MD: Well, the last thing I said about house shows, which is really important, you feel like you’re in a supportive community of friends. Because no one’s gonna be tuning in who doesn’t want to see you and be supportive. If someone does tune in to check it out and leave, it’s nothing. But the people who stay for the entire call and they’re in the chat like, “I’m having so much fun.” It feels almost like a smaller calmer version of a house show.
BH: Are there any aspects from house shows that aren’t transferable to online shows?
DJ MD: You kinda can get this when you’re playing an online show, but not really: When you play a house show–and I don’t want to sound pretentious, anyone could do this–if you tune into the energy of the room and become good at reading room and reading people you can make a house show the most fun, you can keep raising the energy in a positive way to a higher level and I would say there’s a feeling of euphoria where people are dancing, singing, yelling, moving; the music is kind of hurting your head, but you’re lost in the moment of just being the maestro of the room, like conducting the energy of the room. People are there to have a good time and you’re there to help them have a better time.
It’s kinda odd but I feel like that’s the thing at house shows that I really really love is like giving people the gift of good music, creating good energy, creating a good night. And with virtual shows, you can make someone’s day a little more fun but it won’t reach the same levels. To me, it’s not as significant of a memory, and as a person who goes to concerts too, it also isn’t the same. There’s a feeling of being in a crowd at a show that’s like, “I am a part of something bigger than myself,” but we don’t have to do anything. We can just be here together enjoying music. I miss going to shows more than I miss performing at them sometimes.
BH: What is your prediction for the future of house shows in Boston?
DJ MD: I feel like I’ve been trying to have a prediction and I can’t land on one. But I think the overall feeling of a post-COVID world… I don’t know what that looks like because I don’t know how willing people are to change how things were before COVID. But what I hope is, again, if the drive and organization is there, I feel like there could be some pretty insane house shows after COVID.
Mostly because I think people will really want to go to them. Especially people who would blow them off before COVID, including myself. I wish I had gone to more. My mentality was, “It’s too overwhelming, I can’t go to any more shows,” but now everyone who’s being safe hasn’t been able to go out. When it is safe, there will be an explosion of people who would only go out every so often wanting to go out every night and see shows and see people. Events that were cancelled or postponed are going to fill out a lot more. I’m also a little worried that a lot of them could get out of hand.
Interview with Password Dragon
(Edited for length and clarity)
Boston Hassle: How are you?
Password Dragon: I’m doing okay. I moved away from Boston temporarily. I’m living in Charleston… hiding out from COVID, hiding in the woods. I’ve been good, I’ve been really productive, so that’s nice. Y’know work is what it is, and that’s difficult for everyone right now, but as far as productivity and creativity, I’m doing well. I’ve got a lot of stuff. I released an album this summer and I’ve got three videos.
BH: So you’re from South Carolina. When you got to Boston, how did you get into the music scene?
PD: There was this whole period when I was alone and I was more focused on making stuff by myself. And before, I had this community where I knew so many people, and felt like I had a community of artists to make stuff with. But in Boston, at first I was really alone, and then I was making beats a lot by myself and making videos a lot myself.
One of my first really good friends in Boston was this kid Dana–Weird Dane–he’s involved with these kids from Amherst called Dark World. He’s still a good friend of mine, one of the first people who invited me over his crib and we would just chill and make music. Through him I got involved with some of the people who used to be at the Butcher House in Allston and “Extra Cosmic Jungle Palace.” We did a couple shows there. I think it was one of the first places I played at in Boston. That was probably Weird Dane, and me and my boy Kush Eternal, and a couple other dudes. Hak, I planned a show with him in 2016 in Allston that was crazy.
BH: What do you think house shows bring to the music community in Boston?
PD: Well especially in Boston, where everything shuts down so early, the only way you could have a show after like 11 is for it to be at somebody’s house or somebody’s basement. And even then, it will probably be shut down by like 12 or 1. Especially in a city like Boston, where the police are really extreme, it’s a weird dynamic between the community of people who are trying to go to shows and make art and the people who live in Boston.
I feel like that’s something that the people who throw shows don’t think about a lot is like, talk to your fucking neighbors! Don’t be an asshole! I’ve had people plan a house now and then I pull up and they’re like, “We didn’t talk to the neighbors, by the way, they might be pissed off later, don’t be surprised.” And I’m like, “What the fuck? Go talk to your neighbors right now.” It’s just disrespectful to the community. You should plan and make sure your neighbor doesn’t have work at 8 in the morning because that’s real life.
But house shows are really important everywhere, not just a place like Boston because anyone can play, and everyone is there to meet each other and talk to each other and have a conversation, whether it be stupid or deep. I’ve had crazy conversations just in the backyard with some rando person. That shit is really meaningful. The fact that we can just have a venue for regular people to come talk to each other… But that’s when it starts to break down, right? That’s not the full honest truth of the house show scene. There’s so many people who are so pretentious about it and who are like, “Only cool people should be at my show. I want it to look cool. It’s a cool VIP party,” like, no dude.
BH: How have you adapted your work to the COVID era?
PD: It was a change in the making for a while, anyway. ‘Cause I should say a really important thing is I took like a year off house shows. And when I came back in like 2018, I linked up with the White Lighter Bangers people, P Dutch, Espioh, Liu Krabbe, Mad Dog Mango, Seranax–that’s my crew, that’s my family, I really love them. That was revitalizing and made me want to expand my community and my friends into more artists, which is something that’s been happening transitioning into COVID.
I’ve been working with these dudes out in Elizabethtown, NJ. Everyone should check out: Papo 2004 and Subject 5. I’ve been doing music videos with them, and that was me transitioning into COVID. I was like, “okay no more house shows, but I need to grind and do my video thing, do my producer thing, and my creating content thing every fucking day until we get restarted again.”
BH: What do you feel like you’ve been able to maintain from house shows and not maintain?
PD: I’m gonna answer the second part first. The part I can’t bring over is that you can’t translate the energy of trying to make a bunch of people dance and go crazy. You can’t translate the energy of trying to create movement in a crowd when you’re alone in your room during the pandemic. That shit makes you introverted, and that’s a good thing. We all need to be meditating and being more introverted in this time, and thinking of how we can better ourselves through our daily actions.
But, it’s hard to make a track that’s going to make someone want to dance. That’s something I’m constantly trying to conquer. Everything I made lately has been really introverted. I enjoy being disassembled and abstract and hard to look at regardless, but I’m trying to achieve what we did have, when you’re in front of a crowd you have the mindset of, “Oh I can go home and make the illest song that will make everyone go crazy and have this ethereal moment of bouncing off the walls,” but I want to recreate that for people who are on their own in their house. That’s the coolest thing to me is when you’re in your room by yourself and you’re dancing, that’s the purest moment.
The thing I have been able to translate over is communicating with people still and trying to connect with people. It’s a struggle but we still make it happen. I’m still connecting with new artists and talking to new artists. Like, the other day I’m talking to this person on Instagram and we’re like, “Let’s do a video together!” and they’re just like, “Okay just call me.” And so I was like, “Okay so I’m just gonna meet this dude over video call right now,” and it was cool, we clicked. And I was like, “Woah, I can still connect with people. Even though the world is separating all of us we can still find ways to connect and share information and build a larger community of artists and creators and get cool stuff created.” Even though it’s weird and awkward we make it happen, that’s the whole point.
BH: Is there anything from your digital work that you’d like to bring back into house shows?
PD: I wish people could pause the performance while they’re watching it–that would be so cool. That’s the coolest thing about digital media, so that’s what I would wanna crossover: if everyone could stop and reverse time. But as far as being more introspective goes, talking about my feelings, or telling stories that talk about feelings, that’s my big thing. I try to be a storyteller in general. So I want to tell more introspective stories about emotion, inner conflict, subtle things, and not always the crazy explosion and the glass breaking and the chain-link fence melting all around you, but like the little clot of dirt on the ground and the snail that crawls past in instead. Even though both of those things are cool, the pandemic has made me more like, “Oh there’s some really crazy gnarly shit going on with that snail too.”
BH: As I’m sure you’ve heard, many of Boston’s beloved venues have closed permanently due to COVID. What’s your prediction for the future of shows in boston?
PD: I’ve kinda gotten out of the prediction game because the world is so chaotic, but my wish is for Boston as a scene to grow… We need a warehouse space on the outside of town where a lot of people can gather and have shows all night, with safe transportation to and from. We need to find a good large space for people to gather where we can have non-venue shows. I think someone with money needs to fucking invest in a warehouse. We’ll see. I think it will definitely be more house shows, though, because the venues are closing and stuff like that. And after COVID’s over there’s gonna be this crazy fucking debacle festival. Even though it’s gonna be weird because everyone’s gonna be still in shock.
A couple days after our conversation,
Password Dragon sent me a voice clip with an excellent PSA:
“In the same vein of respecting your neighbors in regards to house shows I think it’s really, really, really important to note that in times of COVID, it’s disrespectful to a community to throw a show that could likely expose their whole neighborhood to a deadly infectious disease. The same way your neighbor could have work at 8am the night after your show, your neighbor could also be an elderly person or have a preexisting condition. Your neighbor could have an auto-immune disorder like HIV. We should not be having house shows right now. Even if it seems like everything is calmed down and everyone is relaxing, now is not the time.”
If you were at house shows before the pandemic, as a performer or an attendee like me, it’s likely you have a basement-shaped hole in your heart. As DJ Mad Dog and Password Dragon said, there is nothing quite like the euphoric energy of dancing in a basement with your neighbors and friends. But, creators are still creating and they are only a click away!
Be sure to follow the artists from this interview and listen to their music!
Mad Dog Mango: