There were signs of life late on a recent Wednesday night in Discovery Hall as more than 50 students trickled into a basement lecture hall for The Underground Foundation’s first meeting of the semester. As the assembled crowd gradually gained mass in the 15 minutes leading up to the meeting, the air grew warmer and the hum of conversation got louder.
Two strangers connected over having worn the same Ramones shirt. Several girls talked excitedly about seeing The Strokes at FYF in Los Angeles the Sunday before. Four fixed gear bikes were left along the west wall of the hall. Several people sat in silence, glancing nervously around the room — a sure sign of a newcomer.
Seven minutes after 9 p.m., TUF President and history and secondary education junior Jonathan Novak addressed the crowd, introducing himself and the TUF board. He then turned the audience’s attention to a video clip of a house show featuring the bands Red Tank!, Snake! Snake! Snakes!, Hometown Heroes and one very dedicated audience to depict a more visceral explanation of the club — which showcases local music acts, poets and visual artists to audiences that might not otherwise have a place to go.
“That’s an accurate representation of what we do every weekend,” Novak said of the video. What this is exactly, according to TUF’s Facebook page, is driven by a dedication to solidify and improve an independent music and art scene in our community.
Novak then turned the presentation over to chief of staff, Damon Dominguez, a physics junior, to present TUF’s “Complete Compendium of Places to Eat and Chill in Tempe and Phoenix,” which highlighted local haunts like Cartel Coffee Lab and Double Nickels Collective.
The meeting also went on to highlight what perks come with $50 for official membership dues: free entry to all house shows, two t-shirts over the year, buttons and stickers (oh my!) before everyone broke into smaller groups to introduce themselves.
This meeting was part of a welcome week that sampled the sort of events the club will host throughout the year — which included a free pizza night in the Secret Garden, a film showing and culminated in a free house show featuring Playboy Manbaby, Pale and Mouse Powell.
TUF, while first and foremost a group dedicated to cultivating an independent music scene in Tempe, often becomes more than that for its members, said women and gender studies junior India Loiselle, TUF’s secretary.
“It’s a little second family, because we all really care about and like each other,” she said. “We support each other in our creative endeavors.”
For TUF’s treasurer and biomedical engineering junior Michael Smith, the club culture puts a premium on diversity.
“I feel like we get a lot of the people who don’t fit in in a lot of places,” he said. “People who otherwise wouldn’t have a place to be have a hub to go to.”
TUF got its start back in 2010, Novak said.
“Some of the founding members, Khayree Billingslea and Nick McKee, noticed there was an absence of a student organization to get involved with the music they were into,” he said. “It started off as a hardcore club, so the focus was on hardcore music.”
Since then, the group has grown in size and has embraced other genres of music. The element of the house show, however, has always been an essential element of the club.
“That’s how it got launched,” Novak said. “It’s a tradition of TUF, so we stick with that today.”
For Novak, the magic of TUF lies in the sweaty, sometimes scary experience of the house show, and he’s quick to point out the equalizing element between the band and audience present in such an intimate setting.
“It’s people who are equal to you — who are no better, no higher, no more important than you deciding to make music on the same level as you. When you’re in a living room, no one is higher than anybody else — everyone’s on the same level,” he said. “Just understand it’s a human experience. Everyone’s there for the music. They’re not there for pageantry or to show off and make people not feel welcome.”
As for those thinking about joining TUF, Smith has a few words of advice.
“Don’t be afraid to really go into it,” he said. “Some people come to their first show and sit on the outskirts, or they come to TUF meetings and don’t talk to people. It’s a really big thing to get out of that shell, and it took me a while, but when you do, everyone welcomes you.”
Psychology freshman Hayley Hilborn — who found out about TUF through Facebook before coming to ASU — immediately felt welcome.
“I was walking in and every girl had winged eyeliner — now I feel at home,” she said. “Everybody’s really friendly, too, which I really like. It makes me feel less threatened as a freshman.”
The new TUF board hopes to make new members feel more welcome this year because those on the board are relatively new themselves.
“No one on the officer board here has been in TUF for more than two or three years,” Novak said. “Nobody is from the founders or was serving with the founders, so it’s the big transition year for TUF.”
Part of this transition includes righting its reputation with ASU, which suffered after allegations of underage drinking at one event last year, Novak said. This year, all of TUF is working to hold stricter accountability for those that go to their shows, reminding everyone that there is no alcohol allowed at all.
Novak is dedicated to making sure TUF is safe place for ASU students. “At the front of shows, we’re going to make sure that people don’t bring in anything that could endanger people or TUF’s stance as an organization,” he said.
As TUF turns to face the new school year with all of its challenges, including recruiting new members and dealing with the closing of local venues like Parliament, the new board is excited.
“The fact that it’s a little more difficult to track down houses for shows and with so many venues closing in Tempe, I feel like the importance of house shows and DIY is really going to go up. I think more people are going to be looking to us for being able to make bands and shows accessible,” Novak said.
They’re doing just that. On a recent Friday, TUF hosted the first of many shows. The turnout was quite large, said Novak, who hosted the show at his home. It was “a return to form for Tempe house shows,” he said. “It was a great feeling to see so many people show up especially after all the recent venue closings in Tempe. I guess it’s a sign that the scene isn’t dead.”
On Sept. 5, TUF is hosting a showcase at Bodega 420 during the First Friday art walk downtown. On Sept. 12, it’s sponsoring Instruction’s EP release. To learn more about these and other upcoming events as ways to get involved in TUF, you can like it on Facebook.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @zachariahkaylar
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article misstated the day of the week the reporter attended a TUF meeting. TUF meetings are held on Wednesdays.