The first and final focus of every underground event is the audience. It’s important to have solid performers, but to really make a vibrant show, it’s all about the audience. For without them, there is no performance. That’s called singing in the shower.
I remember going to shows a few years ago and it sucked when Portlanders didn’t dance. This is changing with our growing population and the resurgence of techno and EDM basement shows; however, I was at a Ghostface Killah concert in 2013, and while Ghostface was killing it on stage, the audience was lame. They looked like they were waiting in line at the DMV. You can have a good performance, but mixed with a bad audience, the experience will be tainted.
It’s like being a Blazers fan at the Rose Garden. It sure as shit isn’t always how the team plays that affects how you feel—it’s the crowd. If you have a dedicated crowd, no matter how many of our centers get injured or what happens in the playoffs, the fans are still wearing Blazers hats the next day. I’m not encouraging half-assed performances, just saying that the audience is the most important part of a live event.
The number one thing you need to do at a show is be an active audience member. If you are supportive and focused, others will follow. It’s a monkey-see, monkey-do world out there, so be a good monkey and cultivate a kick-ass audience. Put in this effort and you will positively affect the overall experience for everybody.
Crowd environment is especially influential at underground events. The very nature of intimate, word-of-mouth gatherings gives extra responsibility to those who attend, because at smaller shows the audience is even more vital to the experience. For instance, I was at a basement punk rap cypher at the 503 House with just 10 people, but our wild, sweaty thrashing while dude on the mic repeatedly screamed “Donnie Darko” created a visceral exchange between performer and crowd, making it one of the best shows I’ve ever been to.
Underground events are self-policing. At a house show, there are no managers to complain to or bouncers to ask for help. So if you see someone acting like a jerk, or talking loud during a quiet solo, say something to them. It can be stressful, but it’s your responsibility to facilitate the energy you want to see at a show.
The underground is for who it always has been and always will be: the audience.
Ollie Collins is the founder of the theater company Monkey With a Hat On and co-founder of the cannabis farm Fire Flower. Stay tuned for more of his thoughts on The Portland Underground in the next issue of Vortex.