Bloomington is home to every genre of music you can think of. Hardcore, power pop, queercore, indie rock, funk, shoegaze and acoustic folk all have a space in this college town. I’ve never met a person who plays music here and hates it. What makes Bloomington so special?
I talked to three older musicians who still play in and around the Bloomington music scene, as well as three younger yet established bands well-versed in the college rock scene. I sat down at my desk last Wednesday, preparing for my interviews with a notebook at the ready. With a pen in my hand, I started my interviews.
Tadas Paegle, now an employee at IU, originally transferred here from Wisconsin in 1985. There was always music here, he reminisced, from bands playing in Dunn Meadow to show posters lining the streets.
“At the time, Bloomington was sort of this small music mecca,” Paegle said. “People compared (the music scene) to Austin, Texas.”
Once he started classes again, Paegle joined a funk band called Flattus. Their singers wore the classic candy-striped pants, often pictured dancing and crowd-surfing. At the height of their local popularity, they decided to enter Conan O’Brien’s College Search Band Contest in 1997 and won second place.
There’s no shortage of wild stories from past decades of Bloomington music. Jeff Day, a former college musician in the band Stone Carnival and current acoustic performer, recalls Bloomington’s years during a transitional phase that music venues experienced in the late ‘90s.
“A lot of the clubs were kind of going away from having... live music and (instead) having a DJ night,” Day said. “There was also this retro (moment) where ‘80s rock was coming back... I think we were the last hurrah of the... rock and roll scene in Bloomington that was lucrative and still popular.”
The big difference now is that live music is still popular, just not quite as lucrative as it once was. Opportunities to play at fraternity and sorority houses have declined in recent years. House show venues are not quite as plentiful as they used to be, as Paegle recalls walking the streets of Bloomington and finding them based on sound alone.
Milligan, a local indie funk band, loves their time playing local house shows.
“When the weather is hot, they can be one of the coolest places to be. When the weather is cold, prepare to get cozy in a crowded basement,” Isaac Taylor, their guitarist, said. “House shows are a fun place for musicians specifically, because jamming and ‘sitting in’ are more accepted.”
That doesn’t mean that local music doesn’t have the same star power as it used to. Local all-femme indie rock band The Matriarch seems to have a cult following behind them. With dozens of shows and a recently-released EP under their belt, there’s nothing that can stop them.
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“Not everything is perfect, but a great thing about being in the Bloomington music scene is... the amount of opportunities to play,” Jo Hockemeyer, their bassist, said.
It’s not just house shows that they play, either. The Bloomington scene has endless places to play, from galleries to bars to, well — house shows.
“When I was in undergrad at IU, I kind of thought the... music scene was just house shows or The Bluebird,” Mal Babcock, one of their guitarists, said. “Once we started playing live shows and making those connections, we kind of realized that was not the case at all.”
Indifferent Society, another local indie rock group, hasn’t had a bad experience so far, according to their keyboardist Lee Dawson. The band plays countless shows, not affected by the decline in house show venues.
“Bloomington has such a unique scene... and the festivals we’ve been a part of have had [a] great turnout,” Emery Vickers, their guitarist, said.
Hardcore in particular has the hearts of college students, especially with local grunge metal band Fox Body. From their vocal distortion to their shredding guitar solos, they have made a name for themselves in such a short span of time.
“Our most recent show at the Arcadia was probably the most fun,” the band said. “We like house shows where the audience wants to jump around and dance as much as we do.”
No matter what the genre of music is, there are sure to be people in Bloomington who enjoy it. The essence of being a “music mecca” won’t go away. As long as there are musicians who love what they do, there will be an undeniably incredible local music scene surrounding IU’s campus.