In every major city, it can become all too easy to get lost in the shuffle, unless of course you go the extra mile to get to know your neighbors. For our new week-long series, “Know Your Neighbors,” we’d like to introduce several people in each major borough of Boston that are working to help create strong communities.
Some of these strangers are up to radical work in the non-profit, arts, and music world as well as just being wonderful human beings. By looking around, asking questions, and working to get to know the people we pass by each day, Boston will hopefully begin to feel stronger and more connected.
We start this series off with Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. Our next subjects: Ben Katzman and Chris Collins, founders of local label BUFU Records.
CC: I moved here a year and a half ago after living in the North End. I was involved with the Boston Hassle for the past two years and realized it would make more sense to move into JP with all of the activity I was already a part of here in JP.
BK: I’ve been here for a few years. When I first moved to Boston, a lot of my friends in Miami had moved to JP and were talking it up. In Allston the sun never feels like it’s shining, but in JP, even in the winter, it looks like a 90’s Nickelodeon summer. Everyone’s smiling and having a great time here. JP seemed like a happy place for a happy person. The touring bands in JP, DIY spaces, and house shows definitely drew me in.
Q: So are you afraid to cross the river toward Cambridge?
BK: Well, Felipe’s is there so you have to make the trek.
BK: Growing up, I always watched rock docs on Vh1 and always read the liner notes to Minor Threat records. I was always reading about DIY culture and thought it was sick that the bands that are huge now made their start in places like supermarket basements and house shows.
CC: Don’t forget Van Halen! He was all about DIY.
BK: Once I moved to New England I thought it would be a good idea to start a record label with the musicians that I was already supporting.
CC: There needs to be a BUFU limo. Or a taco truck! We need to have an all vegan taco truck for our label. It was a joke we had for a while. We used to throw a lot of taco parties but it could potentially be more…
BK: Things have been a little calmer recently after BUFUfest, but once the summer comes around we’re going to be booking more alternative space shows.
BK: Any basement that Free Pizza is playing at, I get very stoked about. When every crew comes out to watch shows and bands from all corners of Boston get together, it’s pretty sweet.
HC: Do you see many of the same folks at each show or are there lots of newbies as well?
CC: Lately it’s been a lot of newer folks coming to the shows. We’ve been seeing a lot of BU and Northeastern kids coming to our shows. We’re glad that they are experiencing show culture, but it can be hard when there’s a lot of them. They aren’t all acculturated to what’s appropriate in terms of pay, noise level, etc.
Q: Have your shows ever become unmanageable with too many people?
BK: There have been times on tour when we’ve been in other cities like Providence and we’ve had to turn people away. Even at the JP Drive-In, it becomes nuts with so many people, but you need to just have the YOLO mindset and relax.
BK: Happy Jawbone Family Band played our Christmas party. We had everyone dress up and post their awkward prom photos. It was a party and a show, which pushed things a bit. BUFUfest was definitely our biggest achievement as of late, but it’s still too soon to think about it.
Q: What made it so successful?
CC: Every band was interested in the other bands playing. We had people really listening and getting involved in the show. We went from punk, to metal, to folk, and it all just flowed. BUFUfest broke the barrier of genres as far as most shows go. It’s funny because we don’t listen to bands based on genres. We listen to them based on how sick they are.
CC: The Hassle and BUFUFest both stitch together disparate groups that are in isolation and are able to find ways that open up people’s ears.
BK: We’re just trying to bring our friends together to listen to music and have fun. We just want to give people a place to rock out.
CC: We want to do this globally as a thriving business. We’re doing well locally and we’re right where we should be. The ideas and opportunities are slowly peaking, more so than usual. All of our bands are gaining followers and we’re able to sell merchandise and create hype. We get Internet hype, but it’s not super crazy. One time, we were in Arkansas at a show and everyone there bought a Free Pizza tape. It makes you think that you can’t base your calculations on what you see on the Internet. In the modern day, with the way people operate on facebook, there’s another system of likes and shares that give people a very skewed reward system. It’s nice to know it can happen naturally.
BK: We’re doing it the old school way. We bring the music right to your doorstep. We don’t expect others to tell you about it. We’re going to tell you about it. And that’s what rocks.
BK: My honest goal is to have BUFU help me pay rent to be able to do the things I love and have my side projects succeed. That way, I can give BUFU my 100 % all the time. I give it two years…
Q: Is there any major change you’d like to see made here within the community in Jamaica Plain?
BK: We need a DIY all ages venue that could foster a community rather than have us run around to all of these alternative venues. If it wasn’t just a basement but an all ages place designed for bands or workshops – music, art, anything – similar to the Democracy Center or a YMCA.
CC: That’s a goal for Boston Hassle as well. That would be a life-changing drastic move for our neighborhood. These houses and house shows happen quickly and disappear quickly because it’s illegal. There’s a lot of energy and desire for these types of spaces. JP is changing drastically. They’re building condos all over Washington Street.
CC: Anyone I befriend that doesn’t live in JP – I just proselytize to them.
BK: JP is paradise. It’s a community of friends, friendly strangers, people are all very welcoming. There’s one guy at Tedeschi’s who is super friendly. He always supports the bands here and comes to our shows.
BK: Eating tacos and chillin’ mad hard.
Q: What are you up to in the future?
BK: Well, who knows but it’s time to take over America. It’s BUFU baby. Kiss.
BK: Hopefully people will check out BUFU records and know we want to be there for people. We want to keep throwing shows and giving people a place to hang.