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Don’t Tread On Me House: DIY From The Start.

March 21, 2014

DTOMonline03Text and images by Darragh Dandurand.

“No one ever really thinks that there would be a house venue in East Falls,” says Jake Detwiler, founder of the Don’t Tread On Me House and one of the three people that live in it. “It’s kind of like uncharted territory.”

The 19-year-old music producer from Willow Grove alternates between playing with his nose ring and tugging the strings of his gray hoodie as he talks about the DIY venue, which he started in May. It’s the only house venue he knows of bringing shows to East Falls.

“None of this was planned,” Detwiler confesses. “My roommates and I were just looking for a place in a decent location that was cheap. We have a relatively cool basement, neighbors that don’t care about the noise and there’s a recreation center across the street where people can park. Everything was just kind of serendipitous about the situation.”

The Don’t Tread On Me House looks like a normal, run-of-the-mill, 20-something’s townhome on the first floor. There are a couple hand-me-down couches in the living room and some posters tacked to the walls.

Downstairs, next to a washer and dryer, there’s a collection of band stickers and beer labels that are beginning to take over the air vents. One of the side walls has blue, green and purple paint splashes that draw your eyes toward a drum kit at the end of the room. Behind that, there’s a wall-sized canvas drop with a hand-painted version of the Don’t Tread On Me flag. Twinkling, multi-colored little lights are woven through the rafters of the gritty, unfinished ceiling like kaleidoscope constellations.

“When there are shows on, it’s super crazy,” Detwiler says. “We never expected as many people as we’ve gotten. We must be doing something right because it seems like a lot of people like what we’re doing.”

As he pushes his sleeves up and uncrosses his legs, Detwiler reveals a tattoo  of a keyboard running up his left forearm. He has been into music most of his life, coming to Philly for shows for years now.

“I still can’t believe that I am lucky enough to have fallen in with a group that are consistently good people,” he remarks. “In Philly, people network. But they network because they like each other. I figured that all you really have to do is not be a dick. If you are a good person, people will keep wanting to work with you.”

After meeting Kyle Graham, the sound engineer at The Fire and manager of the venue’s upstairs studio space, Fresh Produce Studios, Detwiler started assisting with production and engineering tracks in the studio last year.

“Jake introduced himself to me at a show when I was doing sound,” Graham remembers. “He was looking to intern or something. I wasn’t able to offer him a job  but I gave him a tour of the studio and he’s been consistently bringing in freelance.”

Since then, Detwiler has been booking bands, live recordings, rehearsals, producing and various other projects at the studio.

“I can’t help but get involved with the process of songwriting and what the artists are doing when I work with them,” Detwiler says. “It’s their life, their music, their art. But if there is anything I can do to amplify that, then I feel like I have to. I love getting up close and personal with the art I’m helping to produce.”

Though he is a musician at heart, Detwiler also appreciates the process of cutting his teeth in the business end of the industry by bringing bands through the front door of his home.

“It’s all about balancing those different aspects,” Detwiler reflects. “As a producer, I get off on taking someone’s art and helping them get a little push that they couldn’t have had themselves. But it’s also weird walking the line of running a house venue, which is really underground. It’s not that legit but we want it to be.”

“There’s a personal-ness to house shows just by virtue of being in someone’s home that you can’t get in any other setting,” Graham adds. “It just takes a lot of pressure off the performers when you’re not up on a stage, under lights. It’s usually a little easier to get people to come out.”

They have brought in acts all the way from California and Vancouver.

“We started out like most of these venues start out – we would book our friends,” Detwiler says, adding that only a few days after the first show, he started to receive emails from managers of bigger bands asking about booking Philadelphia gigs.

While no one is pretending that the house venues of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods can compete with the TLA or Union Transfer, or even shows in the next neighborhood over, Manayunk , Detwiler is trying to make an experience that anyone can enjoy.

“The Don’t Tread On Me House is offering a place in the area to see bands and shows that everybody can come to,” Detwiler says. “People come out just to see a band that they’ve been watching for a long time or to have a beer and spend some time with their friends in a cool place.”

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