Mohawks and leather spilled onto the sidewalks of the upscale Warehouse District on Friday night where Agent Orange and One Way System baptized Infest as Austin’s newest music venue. With a relocated stage and entrance, Infest barely resembles the grounds of past tenant, Antone’s, and the crowd they drew offered even more of a distinction.
By no means is Infest’s calendar strictly punk. Night two brought in panty-dropping bad boy rapper Machine Gun Kelly, and – on Sunday – Infest hosted its first weekly Shop N Bop, where local merchants pedal wares while bands play, artists paint, and patrons slam Bloody Marys.
I caught up with Infest founders Ben and Chelsea Riseman, siblings hailing from my home state of Michigan, outside the club at 2am on Friday to discuss their transition from running an off-the-grid show space in Los Angeles to a bona fide venue in Austin.
Playback: Does it feel like you’re official now?
Chelsea Riseman: Bottom line is we’re trying to do things the way we did them back when we had an “illegal” warehouse. It’s still gonna be our group pulling together to make things happen and doing things DIY.
PB: How’s running a legit club different from putting on renegade events in a South Central Los Angeles warehouse?
CR: It’s the same in spirit, but now we have to worry about hitting numbers because we have rent to pay. We didn’t really have to think about that in L.A., because it was a fifth of what it is here. It’s important for it to have the same feel, though.
PB: There’s some major differences from the way Antone’s was set up. How long were you working on getting the club ready?
Ben Riseman: Ten days, but it felt like 10 years. We’ve been working around the clock.
CR: We got it turned around because people came in and volunteered their time. They just rolled up their sleeves and painted and cleaned and helped us move things around. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without all the people who contributed.
BR: That was the best part for me. At our old spot, everybody was all in because they didn’t have any other place to go. Out here, there are plenty of show spaces, so for people to come together and do work here meant a lot more because they believe it in it. People really feel like this can be their home and they’ve been acting like it. I’m proud.
PB: In the Nineties, “DIY” was a term you only heard in punk ’zines and now it’s something my aunt says when she’s doing crafts. The public’s connection to the word has really changed. What does “DIY” mean to you as a business?
BR: Well, “do it yourself” can mean many things, and it’s hard in the business world, but it’s about an ethic. For us, it’s making decisions that support our cause and mission, which is to be a home for independent and underground art and music and act as a platform for people to get exposure so they can continue to do their thing. We don’t want to help corporate people make money off artists.
CR: And we don’t want to take money out of the scene. The way we’re going to do it is to have the EDM nights and the big hip-hop nights, which are moneymakers, and then use that money to support underground artists with the rest of the stuff we do. We just want to Robin Hood it pretty much.