By: Danielle Modica & Teresa Pavia | February 27, 2023
Underground basement venues, like most other things, closed their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic for health, safety and lack of staffing. The Albany creative arts scene felt the impact of not having shows to attend and ways to express themselves. Among those experiencing the pandemic arts gap were University at Albany alumni Ari, Sam, and Ethan. Post-COVID, the trio teamed up to open up a venue of their own out of a downtown Albany rental house basement – donning two washers and three dryers – suitably named The Laundromat.
Local musician Ladybyrd at The Laundromat
Photo Credit: Jarron Childs / @childs.takes.photos
“I spent my freshman year at UAlbany abroad, so when I finally got here I didn’t know anyone,” Ari said. “I met alumni from [The College of] Saint Rose at Lark Fest, which has the big music program, and eventually started attending their venues, the Orange Peel and Rice House. A year later, The Byrdhouse came around, I met all these people there - including Sam - and I fell in love with underground music.”
The motives behind opening the Laundromat were largely the same as organizers of The Byrdhouse. After being inspired by other local venues pre-pandemic, and feeling the loss of expression during the pandemic, Ari and Sam brought on their friend Ethan to bring the underground spirit back alive for another wave.
“...When COVID hit, everything went dead,” Ari said. “There was nothing… we were like… we’ve got to do something the second we have an opportunity.”
Not knowing if The Byrdhouse was returning post-pandemic, The Laundromat was born. A “the more the merrier” attitude followed suit, leading to the multi-venue city we have today. The entire underground community was no longer reliant on one basement.
“The Laundromat was something dreamt up by Sam, Ari and I literally at another venue. COVID was happening and things were just opening back up when we thought about how cool it would be to bring that kind of vibe back to college, rather than partying in a frat basement or your friends house,” Ethan said. “We all saw how the Albany music scene was suffering post-COVID and thought about how we could play a part in its revival.”
Sam and Ari jamming during one of the shows (Left to Right)
Photo Credit: Jarron Childs / @childs.takes.photos
Ari graduated from UAlbany in 2021 and moved to Tel Aviv, Israel for an internship. The planning didn’t stop, and he continued remotely putting together the venue with Sam and Ethan still being in Albany.
“I wanted to come back to Albany, but I had no job. I had no idea what I was doing,” Ari said. “Sam bought like 3000 stickers with the name ‘The Laundromat’ on it, and I was like, okay so we have a name. We’re gonna do it.”
Ari returned to Albany in Fall 2021 and The Laundromat opened their doors the next day.
“The day I got back to Albany I got picked up from the train station and immediately went to the house and started building the stage with Ethan,” Ari said. “The next day I'm literally sweeping dust off and rubble and everything until like an hour before the first show, and from there it kind of snowballed.”
The venue would place a heavy emphasis on the value of photographic documentation which they promoted on their social media platforms, a 21st century tool of the basement shows. Photographer friends of the Laundromat team would take high quality pictures for band and artist promotion.
“Every single show has an [Instagram] highlight where you can go through and see the whole show,” Ari said of the digital documentation. “I thought it was important to document and show culture in the post-COVID era.”
Beyond the use of social media as a documentation, Ari emphasized the importance of communication to further connections between underground scenes across the Northeast.
“Albany location-wise has always been the perfect stopover location, because it's equal distance between Boston, Montreal, New York City, it's close to Philly, it's close to Syracuse, it's close to Buffalo, Toronto…and now its kind of just on steroids with the social media,” he said.
Following this new spirit of connectedness across basement scenes, Ari created a group chat with people from various basement venues all across the country.
“Knowing that people will promote and know about shows in other cities creates cohesion and a closer community,” Ari said. “We’re talking about the whole East Coast that we’re building up, and it’s legitimizing grassroots basement scenes, which have always been an important aspect of indie music.”
As the year went on, with The Laundromat throwing more shows in their basement, more people who were not typically part of the scene started to attend shows through social media promotion and word-of-mouth, combining mainstream and alternative crowds.
“Jocks and frat-heads going to a show with kids with blue hair was a cool thing,” Ari said. “You kind of had this organic mainstreaming.”
Ethan spoke to the growing community as well, saying, “the venue allowed us to be creative and share our love of music with others, while also allowing others to share the things they love with the community.”
“Running a basement venue is not all fun and games, though, and issues come up in all shapes and sizes,” Ethan said. “From cops showing up to people breaking things, every night keeps you on your toes and you never know what to expect. It is all about adapting and fixing the problems so things run as smoothly as possible.”
The Laundromat closed its doors in May 2022 after Ethan and Sam moved from Albany post-graduation. Ari continues to be a prominent member of the Albany music scene and can be spotted at an underground venue almost every weekend. Ari plans to focus on promoting local bands through interviews and working with music-lovers from other states – and even countries – to “share the magic” of underground venues.
“Stepping back from [The Laundromat] and seeing the impact it’s had on the venues now… it’s awesome, you know? It’s why [The Laundromat] hasn’t gone into booking or management,” Ari said. “I hate corporate stuff and would much rather create an environmental revolution in the street culture scene – it’s time for something bigger.”
Photo from a rock show in The Laundromat basement
Photo Credit: Peter Herrick
Ethan continued this sentiment, saying “if you want to start a DIY venue, go for it. It won’t happen unless you make it so. Create your own path!”
Most recently, Ari aired an interview with Ukrainian math rock/midwest emo band Prokat Kasset (Cassette Rental) on University at Albany’s student radio station 90.9-W.C.D.B. The interview shed light on the band’s experience of Russian invasion, with most of the members being forced to flee at the start of the war. Transcripts of this interview will be published on the ASP site.
“The vast majority of these people show up because they love [music] and they love being around it,” Ari said. “That’s what’s made [the Albany underground scene] grow to where it is - it’s not like New York City where people step on people’s throats to get up somewhere… people are always looking to give opportunities to others when they can’t do it themselves in Albany.”
Writers’ Note: “It Sounds Better in the Basement” is a developing series playing off of punk band The Devil is Electric’s 2001 release of the same name. The song represents the soul of basement shows and its importance in providing a platform for local bands. As Albany college students, we strongly believe in sedimenting the student culture of the Capital Region for generations to look back on. As UAlbany’s independent student newspaper, it is our mission to tell stories while protecting those who live them - which is why we have chosen to refer to sources on a first-name basis (unless receiving permission otherwise). This series will continue with features of other local venues, bands, and notable figures. Next up, Caesar’s Palace.