The basements of Allston, Cambridge, and Mission Hill have typically played temporary home to two things: the excess gear of local college students and the rock bands of Boston’s music community. While the former is transient on purpose, the local bands often have no choice but to find new places to perform. As young people come and scenes go, one local artist is determined to provide a lasting hat-tip to these show houses that have seen their demise.
Melanie Bernier, a local artist and musician, has stitched a series of flags to pay homage to DIY music venues of years past for a series that she calls “Thank You For Your Service.’’ Having been originally introduced to Boston music through concerts that would take place in basements, Bernier was saddened when, a few years ago, the underground community took a hit.
2013 was a tumultuous year for Boston’s show houses. These concerts had been broken up before, but after a nuisance control ordinance was passed in an effort to target them specifically, local police allegedly began making fake Facebook profiles and email accounts to learn addresses for events. Some of Bernier’s favorite spots were shut down as a result.
“A lot of show spaces that had been around for a long time were being shut down by the police,’’ Bernier said. “On top of that, there were also a few instances of people opening up their homes for shows and people coming and destroying the house.’’
That’s when Bernier kicked into gear.
“It was sad to me that a lot of these places where I had built so many memories and friendships and played music were gone forever, kind of without a trace,’’ she said. “I decided to make these memorial flags as a thank you and a way to kind of rally a community that was feeling a lot of loss.’’
Bernier began working on the flags, which are stitched together using denim and other funky fabrics, in the spring of 2014. She now has seven with plans to make a couple more. For her, they are a lasting salute to places that have played a pivotal role for her community.
Boston’s music scene has long been defined by its youth, among other things. With a hearty college population, the local punk and underground music community has always found a way to cater to a crowd that cannot get into 21-plus venues. As a result, many of these shows end up in basements. While this can often mean late nights and putting privacy at risk, for those who inhabit these homes, the sacrifice is worth providing a place for local talent to perform.
“It creates a community space that’s free of peripheral enterprise,’’ Bernier said. “There are a lot of really thoughtful and progressive people [in Boston] who want to see art move in ways that isn’t just tied to selling drinks at a bar. It also advances art that might not make it to a stage in a commercial building. You can be a lot more weird.’’
A few years later, and Boston’s basement scene continues to survive, only a bit more cautiously. Bernier not only attends these shows regularly, but plays them too. Her band, The Barbazons, has been together since 2010 and played two basements just last week. Before that, as a student at MassArt, Bernier formed a feminist doo-wop group. As an artist, she began sewing when she was six, and customizes jean jackets among many other creative pursuits. For her, finding like-minded creatives was one of the most valuable things to come from her experiences at DIY shows.
“Personally, a lot of my introduction to punk music when I was a teenager was about finding a family, because my home was pretty dysfunctional,’’ Bernier said. “Having these spaces in a house, and that kind of familial relationship that you build with a band or the people who are around you in these settings — it just feels like a second home.’’
Bernier got an offer to display these flags as part of a show at The Distillery in January. She also hopes to include them at a show of her own somewhere once the series is complete. While she is open to selling them, she doesn’t have any details yet, other than knowing that anyone who lived at these houses will get a discount. So far, she said, the response has been “overwhelmingly positive.’’