An essay about DAM house in Davis, by Elisa Hough … Elisa Hough
February 4, 2012
DAM Haus RIP
Within a sweltering hell of overheated bodies, synthetic smoke and deafening avalanches of noise, exists one of the coziest homes I’ll ever know.
The DAM Haus is a quaint single-family-sized bungalow in Davis, California’s oldest residential neighborhood. Since 1989, the lease has passed through a series of DJs from KDVS, the UC Davis student radio station, who gradually partiedthe house into a state of disrepair, caking the interior with grime and local history.
Crammed full of the most delightful clutter, like antique telephones and a plug-in Burger King sign, this home was the site of a thousand band practices, experimental nacho Super Bowl parties, a legendary DIY karaoke party and my 23rd birthday party. But most importantly, the DAM Haus – shortened from Davis Anti-Music – hosted hundreds of punk, rock and free-jazz shows in its 21-year history as a makeshift music venue.
Bands from all over the world plus countless local groups played in the house’s tiny dining room, marking the first performances of Sacramento area stars Tiger Trap in the ’90s and Hella in the ’00s. The evidence is on the walls, lined floor to ceiling with handmade show fliers, a faded and torn timeline of live music in Davis.
If you got there early, you could come in through the front door before they locked it, keeping partiers out of view of cruising cops. The worn wooden floors of the living room would be mostly empty – these shows notoriously started hours later than advertised – except maybe Cough-Cagh the calico cat. You would have first pick of the themed cuisine residents provided for each show: hand-formed burger patties, a churro cart, a vat of macaroni and cheese, pizza with homemade dough and homemade mozzarella, pizza FedExed from Chicago on dry ice.
To get a drink, you would go through the dining room, where the first band is probably setting up their gear in an impossibly small corner, to the linoleum kitchen. There would probably be beers in the fridge, and an impressive selection of novelty mugs, but watch out for loose grocery items two years past their expiration. On your way out to the back patio, you could see the white wild mushrooms growing out of the wall.
The patio would soon fill up with other KDVS DJs, Sacramento music scenesters and clouds of cigarette and pot smoke. If you settled into one of the decaying chairs, overlooking overgrown bushes and a discarded canoe, you would probably get sucked into a discussion with a townie about the best burrito in town or the university administration’s latest foul move. Your only way out would be joining the rush back inside when the first band’s intro rings through the house.
The best and worst part about live music at the DAM Haus was that the boundary between artist and audience was nonexistent. You could dance and shout side by side with the bands, but at any moment you would have to be prepared to get hit in the face with the head of a guitar or be showered in the singer’s spit. It was a sticky intimacy lost in real concert venues.
You would be jostled around by a rowdy crowd, packed to the maximum and slowly suffocating from the house’s smoke machine. There would be no ventilation, of course, because sound would escape into the quiet streets, alerting the aging neighbors and the Davis Police Department. No need to worry about health or fire hazards though, because right across the street is the Davis Fire Department, whose wailing sirens could sometimes just barely be heard over waves of reverb.
By the end of the night, you would be soaked in sweat, yours and your friends’, and you would be loving it.
In 2011, the DAM Haus’ negligent landlord terminated the lease for its four residents. Rumors of it being condemned or demolished were justifiable, but the owner did a major remodeling instead. Now it’s home to a former KDVS general manager, who fought to continue the station’s legacy in the house. The catch: If he hosts even just one show, the new lease specifically states he will be evicted.
Even though I always got dizzy and dyspeptic at DAM Haus shows, and even though I rarely lasted through a whole bill before biking home just to be able to breathe again, I mourn the loss of a small-scale community institution. I wouldn’t have to make arrangements with my friends to meet there or worry about going alone, because everyone I wanted to see would already be there – a built-in hangout, a social safe haven.
I can’t remember my first DAM Haus show, and I can’t remember my last, but that’s because they weren’t about the music for me. The DAM Haus was the home of best friendships, sparked relationships and the essence of quirky college-town charm. Even though the clutter is now gone and the walls are freshly painted, the DAM Haus will always be filled with a smokey, nostalgic haze, hiding the ghosts of punk rock gods and shadows of our younger, reckless selves.