New Brunswick Basement Venue has International Reach

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Joshua Burnside, a singer-songwriter from Belfast, Northern Ireland, performs at New Brunswick’s Paradise: Lost.

by Nicole Gifford

Attracting indie acts foreign and domestic, New Brunswick concert venue Paradise: Lost is a fixture of the longstanding basement show scene. The show house is operated by city residents who are passionate about the college town’s music culture yet unaffiliated with Rutgers University.

Tom Dalzell, 22, and David Pressler, 21, are among four residents of Paradise: Lost and are the chief organizers of dozens of do-it-yourself (DIY) music shows every year that are accessible to anyone with $5 and the venue’s address.

“It is difficult to break into the scene, admittedly,” Dalzell said. “It’s really difficult to find a house. People are always wary of who they give the address to.”

But once show-goers uncover the location of basement venues in New Brunswick’s underground circuit, they can enjoy sets from bands that people like Pressler and Dalzell book using the website DoDIY.com and a few simple Google searches.

“On it we have our email and a little bit of description about our house – what we go for, who we try to attract,” Dalzell said. “Once we establish the touring band, we start going through bands we know or friends we know with similar sounds.”

Though Pressler and Dalzell are often on the lookout for bands that match aesthetically, Pressler says that the main criteria for playing at Paradise: Lost is having songs he actually wants to listen to.

“More than any particular genre, we just have to like them.” Pressler said, “I don’t book anything I don’t like – I feel like booking someone for any other reason is kind of dishonest.”

A September show featured Joshua Burnside, a singer-songwriter from Belfast in Northern Ireland who contacted Dalzell through the website DoDIY in July.

“Just the idea of him being from Ireland and wanting to play at our house tempted me to book him even before I listened to it, but then I listened to him and I loved it.” Dalzell said.

Paradise: Lost has also hosted Canadian bands and booked a November show for a band from Japan.

“It just shows you how far DIY can go,” Dalzell said.

Shannon Moore, a 20-year-old Rutgers University junior who books shows at a house called the Candy Barrel and performs in New Brunswick-based band Eagle Daddy, says that the experience of playing a show at Paradise: Lost is always a positive one.

“Paradise: Lost is a great place, run by some of the nicest people around,” Moore said. “They make you feel very at home there.”

Dalzell and Pressler are both longtime participants in the New Brunswick DIY scene. Pressler, who grew up in New Brunswick, attended his first basement show at 15.

“I feel like a lot of my memories from adolescence are from running up and down Louis Street, going to shows.” Pressler said.

Pressler’s band, Osaka, played their first ever show at Paradise: Lost.  Dalzell had asked Pressler to open for his band, Sink Tapes. Pressler moved into the house later that year and began booking his own shows, and Dalzell moved in soon after.

“I wanted to foster the environment that inspired me for the next generation,” Pressler said. “This is the one thing that I’m actually motivated to do in life.”

Though Paradise: Lost’s residents are enthusiastic about what they do, Pressler notes that running a show house is not without its challenges.

“You’re always at risk of having your personal property stolen or destroyed,” Pressler said. “We also try to keep everyone on our property and we try to end it as quickly as possible. I feel like as long as we do that we can usually avoid the police presence.”

For Dalzell and Pressler, booking shows at Paradise: Lost also presents the temptation to schedule frequent gigs for their own respective bands.

“The more you play your own house, the easier it is to do it again,” Dalzell said. “So you have to space it out as far as possible or just go to a different house.”

But according to Pressler, the other advantages of running a show house as a band member outweigh this dilemma.

“We get to meet a lot of people from a lot of places, which is nice if you’re a musician and you want to book tours,” Pressler said.

Not attending Rutgers University has also colored Dalzell and Pressler’s experience with booking shows that are frequented by students.

“When I was younger, it was easier to be bitter about it, because you’re kind of on the outside looking in,” Pressler said. “You’re not a part of that college culture – people talk about their classes and what they’re doing when they’re at shows, and you don’t really have anything to say to them or about that.”

While Paradise: Lost’s residents don’t resent Rutgers students, they often wish they would be more respectful of the city.

“You can’t help but feel you’ve got a lot of children on your turf, a bunch of kids who, to them, this is just a playground,” Pressler said. “They can go running around smashing bottles and getting wasted and making a lot of noise, and I hate that, but I understand that the basement scene can’t exist without college students.”

“The DIY scene in New Brunswick is absolutely associated with Rutgers, but there are also non-students who run amazing houses,” said Max Freedman, a 21-year-old Rutgers junior who also books bands at the Candy Barrel.

However, according to Freedman, belonging to Rutgers organizations, including Rutgers student radio station 90.3 the Core, provide an unmatched advantage to people affiliated with the university who run show houses.

“I think more than being a Rutgers student being helpful here, I think being a member of 90.3 the Core is hugely helpful in promoting shows,” Freedman said. “The members of the station all know each other and also local musicians and showgoers, so the network established there is super amazing when it comes to promoting shows.”

Moore says that having a wide range of connections is an important part of getting people to come to shows and preserving the scene for the future.

“Being students provides us all the opportunity to meet new people through the various courses and clubs we take part in,” Moore said. “The more people we know and meet, the more people we can expose to all the great bands and shows that happen in New Brunswick.”

While ground rules like contributing a $5 donation, being respectful of neighbors, and smoking outside remain the same at all show houses, Freedman says the vibe at each venue differs depending on geographic location and who is in attendance.

“We’re both on College Ave, but Paradise Lost is a bit further in, so the crowds back there tend to be more seasoned in the basement scene, and more full of people who frequent shows all the time,” Freedman said.

Even though each house draws different crowds and bands, Freedman finds that competition within the basement scene is fairly minimal.

“I like to pretend there isn’t because we’re all doing this for a love of music and really nothing else, but there’s got to be some sense of competition.” Freedman said. “But I think the competition is more in terms of ‘how well are we treating the crowd and the musicians?’ instead of ‘which of us has better acts?'”

Moore says that the organizers at the Candy Barrel try to maintain a safe, diverse, and fun space for gigs, and Pressler has always attempted to do the same.

“We try to make our house a tolerant and welcoming place.” Pressler said. “We try to get to know everyone who comes to our house, beyond just our friends.”

Pressler says that he is proud to be a New Brunswick resident and believes that the work Paradise: Lost and other show houses do to maintain the basement scene is a service to the community as a whole.

“To me, the basement scene is what makes New Brunswick beautiful,” Pressler said.

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