New Brunswick, New Jersey music scene
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New Brunswick, New Jersey's music scene has been the home to many notable rock bands. New Brunswick has been a center for punk rock and underground music; a scene that thrives on semi-legal live shows in residential basements. These shows are host to not only local bands, but underground bands from across the country and the world. Numerous self-managed (DIY) bands from New Brunswick have gone on to receive broader acclaim, including Kadian Quartet, Semiotics, Milkmen, The Blithedale Romance, Dusters, American Lions, and Will Wood and the Tapeworms. Others include Modern Chemistry. In March 2017, NewJersey.com wrote that "even if Asbury Park has recently returned as our state's musical nerve center, with the brick-and-mortar venues and infrastructure to prove it, New Brunswick remains as the New Jersey scene's unadulterated, pounding heart."
1970s to '90s
More typical examples include locally successful bands such as Crossfire Choir in the 1980s and Rotator Cuff in the 1990s. Crossfire Choir, crossed over into the New York scene at CBGB where they opened for more well-known punk bands. The band lost a record deal with Geffen Records while recording an album with Steve Lillywhite (who worked with Psychedelic Furs and U2) in London. Rotator Cuff was noteworthy as being one of a handful of bands who made video debuts on MTV's 120 minutes along with bands like The Blases and Nude Swirl.
MTV host and radio personality Matt Pinfield was also part of the New Brunswick music scene for over 20 years, including time spent as music director at Rutgers University's student radio station, WRSU. Local music-hosting bars frequented by Rutgers students included the rock bar Court Tavern (with its motto "Cruel but Fair"), and the dance club The Melody Bar. These establishments hosted many local bands during the 1980s and 1990s, including: Transilvia, Crocodile Shop, Inspecter 7, The Rockin' Bricks, The Hub City All Stars, Frozen Concentrate, DP and the Greys, The Blasés, Glen Burtnik, The Slaves of New Brunswick, Spiral Jetty, Tiny Lights, Mango Garden, The Wooden Soldiers, Destroy All Bands, All God's Children, Spiraling, Spy Gods, The Thin Men, Hip Shy, No Matter, Bad Karma, Alice B. Talkless, Lord John, The Deal, The Mad Daddys, Mars Needs Women, The Urchins, Sit 'n Spin, Three to Six Inches, Mildred Pierce, ExVegas, Sicker Than Others, Hippie Killer, Instant Death, Rotator Cuff, Jigs & The Pigs, TWIG, The Atomic Missiles, The Stuntcocks, Shrubs (American band), Nudeswirl, The Eve, The Cheshire Cats, Lord John, True Love, Loaded Poets, Anderson Council, The Fletchers, Aviso Hara, Bionic Rhoda, Buzzkill, Boss Jim Gettys, Duochrome, Prosolar Mechanics, Lesser Koodoo, Parallax1, Moot, Stretch, Probable Cause, The Null Set,Unsound, Duck Soup, Judy Dad Called, Flyte, BBC, The 45's, Bloody Smegma, The Groceries and Peachfuzz.
Bars and Clubs
The indie rock band Pavement made their live debut at the Court Tavern on Church St. The indie rock scene at Court Tavern in the 1980s included touring bands such as Butthole Surfers and others that went on to successful recording careers as well The Flaming Lips and Superchunk. In the 1990s bands like Mule, Ween, Moistboyz, Don Caballero would be paired up with locals like Transilvia, Aviso'Hara, Blisters, Prosolar Mechanics and Bubblegum Thunder.
The Court Tavern surprised many in the community by closing in January 2012, but reopened later that year only to close again in 2015. It permanently reopened under the management of Brittney Dixon on September 4, 2015 and remains open to this day, hosting an open mic night on Wednesday's, live bands of multiple genre's Thursday - Saturday nights, and acoustic music and comedy on Sundays.
The Melody Bar - Hosted listening parties, alternative dance nights and had bands upstairs during its run from 1981 to 2001. When Oasis was in town they would come hang out with their favorite DJ Matt Pinfield who often spun records every week there. They also had "hardcore" matinees on Sundays which hosted bands on Dischord, Jade Tree and local punks and indie rockers. When there weren't bands playing for free upstairs on the weekends the smoke machine was always pumping.
The Roxy - industrial dance and alternative rock club closed in the early 1990s. Was on French Street and right across the street from The Melody.
Budapest - Small venue with lots of local shows and the occasional out of town band.
Patrixx - One of the original alternative rock clubs in town.
Punk, garage bands and basement shows
Many of the most notable contemporary bands to emerge from New Brunswick begin by playing punk rock on a circuit of residential basements.
Some of these bands include The Bouncing Souls, Lifetime, Screaming Females, and The Ergs!. Emo bands Thursday and Midtown also began their careers in the New Brunswick punk community. These bands play a variety of punk styles while sharing a "do it yourself" punk ethic. The Bouncing Souls' song "Party at 174" refers to the band's old house at 174 Commercial Avenue, and Lifetime's "Theme Song for a New Brunswick Basement Show" memorializes their city of origin. New Brunswick is also the home of independent labels Ferret Records and Don Giovanni Records.
Semi-legal shows continue to occur in basements beneath the homes of local bands, residents, and students of local Rutgers University. Shows often include a lineup of both local and touring bands. House addresses and show information are distributed privately in order to deter interest from the New Brunswick Police Department. Shows are scheduled to end before 10:00pm in order to avoid breaching local noise ordinances. In addition, sound is reduced by resting mattresses on walls and muting bass drums with objects such as pillows.
- Lingel, Namaan, Sanchez, and Trammell. "Practices of information and secrecy in a punk rock subculture" http://sm.rutgers.edu/pubs/lingel-secercy-socialmedia-cscw2012.pdf
- Kauffman, Ronen. "New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye". Hopeless Records, 2007. http://www.amazon.com/New-Brunswick-Jersey-Goodbye-Basements/dp/0967728746
- Robert Palmer. New York Times March 4, 1987.
- Jovanovic, Rob (2004). Perfect Sound Forever: The Story of Pavement. Justin, Charles & Co. ISBN 1-932112-07-3.
- "Legendary Court Tavern Reopens With New Manager". Retrieved 2016-09-08.
- Ensign (band)