Boston Hassle

Artists in Boston’s independent music scene deal with changes

Ben Semeta hopped on stage to check his bass guitar rig and then hopped off, almost unnoticeable, as a crowd shuffled into a Cambridge nightclub for a concert on a recent Sunday night.

Semeta and his band, Black Beach, are an anomaly of sorts in Boston’s independent music scene. They’ve been playing together for at least a decade, though it was only three years ago that they started playing as Black Beach.

“I’m kind of blessed none of us went to school at a city,” he said in an interview before Black Beach’s set that night. “We didn’t have peers to support us – we had to break into the scene.”

The trio started playing together back when they were still in high school, with a goal to just have fun playing together.

“It took a while to find the style we are good at writing,” Semeta said. “I like to think that Black Beach is different: we didn’t meet and say ‘hey, let’s start a band.’ We have been jamming our whole lives together.”

Boston’s bound to have garage bands and basement shows – but even so, there are no major record companies to sign them. Black Beach stands out among the numerous short-lived groups that fade in and out of the scene, or move to a bigger city.

It’s partly because, in the digital age, they’re able overcome a lackluster music scene by self-promoting on music discovery platforms like Bandcamp.

“It used to be that you had to tour nonstop, but with such sites and social media you can stay relevant in places you have visited once or twice, just by posting occasionally,” he said.

Other bands started by college students move out of the city as band members graduate or pursue other endeavors – contributing to the short-lived nature of the scene.

Kyle McEvoy started Seagreen Records a few years before Black Beach was started, but 230 miles southwest of Boston, in Watertown, Connecticut. At the time, all he wanted was the ability to physically self-release music from his former band, The Guru, so he focused on cassettes and vinyl records. The Guru shared their music on Bandcamp and would hand out business cards with their Bandcamp link at concerts, McEvoy said.

The Guru was made up of college kids that, like Black Beach, started out jamming, but in 2014 the band tossed the towel after Eddie Golden III, the band’s drummer and lead singer, no longer wanted to continue the band. The Guru had successfully booked tours across the U.S. several times by then, McEvoy, who was one of the two guitarists in the band, said. The Guru frequented Boston, being that McEvoy went to school in the area.

But the splitting of the band left Seagreen Records at a strange crossroads, despite the romantic aspect of ending a band while still somewhat successful that had led to the record labels fruition, McEvoy said. His confusion about how to progress his label partially derived from the temporariness of the music scene in Boston, he said. Now McEvoy lives in New York and is figuring out in which direction to take his label.

“In Boston it is a new music scene like every year,” he said. “For the most part it is college bands that eventually make the move to New York City or L.A.”

The sentiment is not exclusive to McEvoy or Semeta – Dan Shea, founder of Boston-based music blog Boston Hassle and more than 15-year scene veteran, said he has observed several variables, such as increasing cost of living and the short-lived nature of college bands, take a toll on the scene since he started getting involved at the turn of the 20th century.

Shea’s non-profit Boston Hassle and its monthly newspaper the “Boston Compass” have struggled to get an affordable working space in the city and are currently operate out of an illegal warehouse, he said. Part of the reason being that it is an anti-corporate, do-it-yourself, pro-independence consortium.

“It is hard to come from a place where money isn’t the first thing you think [about],” he said. “Existential questions for the organization itself: We are trying to create a situation for freedom to experiment and try to foster all kinds of art in a communal way. But trying to do that in a city in a way that the more bohemian and artistic people, no matter where they are in their life, are going to be here less and less because they are going to be priced out, who will be our audience?”

Social media and new music discovery platforms have made the scene vulnerable to change, but also helped bridge the disconnect in finding new music, according to Shea.

“It really comes down to the people who are looking can more easily find what they are looking for,” Shea said. “Subculture is about people who are looking, most people look at the surface. There are so many options and so many directions where people can go.”

Despite the short-lived nature of the local scene, Semeta remained optimistic before Black Beach’s set that night in Cambridge. This December, Black Beach was nominated for Rock/Indie Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards.

A band must remember why they started in the first place, even with such achievements, Semeta said.

“We are never going to stop,” Semeta said. “At the end of the day we started a band just to jam with each other, with no goal in mind.”

VIDEO: How a couple of local artists promote their music

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Hassle Fest 8 starts tomorrow

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Hassle Fest 8—the eighth installment of Brain Arts and Boston Hassle’s music and art showcase—will kick off Friday night at Brighton Music Hall with more than 30 scheduled acts over the two-day long fest.

Local Allston groovers Sadha will play the fest for the first time Saturday afternoon. Guitarist Jacob Schwartz said he is excited to be playing, being that he has grown a part of the Boston Hassle community ever since he volunteered tabling and doing sound for Boston Hassle shows a couple of years ago, before he went to college. Schwartz is a freshman studying musicology and music theory at Hampshire College.

“It just feels really nice [to get to play], we are all just a big family and I guess if you put in effort you get nice shit out of it,” he said. “Boston Hassle has put me in touch with a music scene that contains music and art that I care about. I have an incentive to play shows.”

The fest also includes an THRASH LAND—an art environment focused with a theme of recycled items displayed through the work of local artists.

Jilian Medford, singer of Ian Sweet, said that she is looking forward to playing an eclectic collection of songs during the band’s set Friday night.

“Really nice for us to be debuting songs from the new album to people who haven’t heard them live, we play a couple old ones, especially when we are in Boston,” she said. “I wanna dig up some olds […]  just for the sake of messing it up or seeing if it works out. I want it to be a fun set, for sure, it always is, but whenever we play this new record it can be emotional for me so it can be nice to play some of the older ones.”

Ian Sweet is originally is from Boston—Medford met the other bandmates when she moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music—but moved to Los Angeles for a couple of months.

“I am excited to be back in Boston and with all of our friends,” she said.

The Monsieurs have been rocking Boston and Allston for years now, but guitarist Hilken Mancini said she hasn’t lost appreciation for the local scene and events such as Hassle Fest. The Monsieurs will play this year’s installment of the two-day festival on Friday night.

“I am just glad that this continues to happen and I feel lucky to be a part of it as I get older, and as a woman,” she said. “There is so much going on and there is so much support  […] it is good to know that people still give a shit about rock and roll.”     

Tickets are $25 at the door. Music starts at 6 p.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. on Saturday. Tentative set times can be browsed here.

Photo Courtesy DigiBoston, Creative Commons

Black Market exhibits local creativity

Signs leading to the entrance on the side of Elks Lodge

Signs leading to the entrance on the side of Elks Lodge

Scores of people browsed hand-made crafts, used and new vinyl, and an assortment of clothing at Ignore Rock and Roll Heroes and Boston Hassle’s Black Market yesterday.

Vendors’ tables hugged each other from wall to wall with narrow aisles for people to gander, both in the lodge’s first floor and basement. Admission was $1 at the door and there was a cash bar (21+) and coffee table in the basement.

There were more than 65 vendors in this installment of the “art/record/flea/artisan” market, according to the event’s Facebook page.

The bimonthly market is held at Cambridge Elks Lodge—down the street from Central Square. There were people of all ages and crafts of all sorts; here are some that caught my eye:

Pun Pantry: A brand at the intersection of food and pop culture, connected through puns, had a table in the basement, right down the entrance. Several people walked by and would look a second time before chuckling at puns like “Taylor Swiss” or “The Grapefruit Dead.”

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Sean Patrick Watroba was selling his art in a variety from poster-sized prints to dollar coin-sized buttons. The “Harambe” button pictured below is one of a few amount, Watroba said. The button next to it is one of Watroba’s illustrations—it reads “I have nothing left to live for.” 

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Joseph Mauro of Providence, R.I. set up camp at a table next to the bar with a collection of music photography he has shot at concerts in the Rhode Island scene, he said.   

Here is part of my live-tweeting coverage from Sunday.