Documenting Oakland’s House Shows For Posterity — and Peace of Mind

Nicholas Taplin (far right) filming an Oakland DIY show. (Courtesy Adam Neal Gochnauer)

Despite being a regular fixture at Oakland house shows, Nicholas Taplin still stands out. Known to many as Post-Consumer, the 36-year-old freelance audio engineer towers above the mosh pit in thick blue jeans and a zip-up fleece, clutching a camera with expertly steady hands. He’s punctual, polite, sober, and rarely engages in conversation — but he always shows up. And people appreciate that.

For Taplin, documenting Oakland’s contemporary underground music scene is a healthy obsession. He speaks about its bands, venues, and culture with encyclopedic knowledge and anthropological observations — part active fan, part fly on the wall.

In late 2015, he started filming DIY shows under the moniker Post-Consumer and publishing them on Facebook. Now, he maintains an extensive archive of videos at Post-Consumer.TV, where performances from over four dozen bands can be watched on an endless loop. Nearly every one features an Oakland band playing at a house or DIY venue in the East Bay. And, to Taplin, they prove that the current scene in Oakland is exceptional.

“This is the best music scene I’ve ever been a part of,” says Taplin, who has lived in Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, Portland, Austin and Olympia. “Not everything is great, but great things happen with such frequency. All I want to do with this project is give undeniable evidence that amazing things happen here all the time.”

Taplin first began documenting live music as an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz. He arrived in 1998, after attending a Quaker boarding school on the East Coast, and immediately gravitated toward indie-rock house shows, but found himself hindered by severe social anxiety.

“I was completely unconditioned socially,” says Taplin. “I did not know how to have a conversation, literally, and I had basically never had a friend.”

As a way to take part in shows without having to socialize, Taplin decided to record live sets onto digital audio tapes. Gradually, as local musicians began to recognize the value of his work, he carved out a place for himself in the scene that fit his personality. (Taplin’s archive of early-aughts Santa Cruz indie rock now exists online as well.)

“[Recording] served two purposes,” he says. “One is that I thought it was useful, and two is that it gave me a reason not to talk to people.”

The next decade saw Taplin evolving as both a documentarian and show-goer. He moved around, chasing music scenes he admired, and built up the record label  that he started casually in college — also called Post-Consumer, a nod to his work “recycling” live music for later appreciation. While living in Portland, he opened a recording studio called the Silo where he would also occasionally host shows.

Nicholas Taplin. (Courtesy Kevin Brown)

After moving to Oakland in 2012, he didn’t immediately become part of the music scene, but began going to shows when he was depressed. In September 2015, a band called Tender Tantrum asked him to film them playing at the DIY space Sgraffito. They performed an unhinged cover of Katy Perry’s “Firework.”

“The footage was fantastic,” Taplin recalls.

He edited it down, color corrected, and mastered the audio — a process he’s now perfected. Then, he put the video online. “Immediately, people loved it,” he says. “I was like, ‘This is the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.”

The project snowballed from there. After about a year of filming consistently — but only editing and publishing the best footage — Taplin has documented more than 50 bands; some of his videos have racked up over 10,000 views.

What makes Taplin’s footage thrilling to watch is, in part, the same thing that separates it from slick concert videos filmed in mainstream venues — namely, that house shows are messy, exciting and visceral. Among Taplin’s collection, for example, is footage of Oakland electro body music band Diesel Dudes performing in their underwear in a West Oakland bedroom. Sweat seems to seep through the grainy footage as cramped singer Doug Du Fresne nearly swallows the mic. Then, mid-set, he drops to the floor to perform push-ups as he’s cheered on by the pulsing mob precariously packed around him, some joining in his workout.

“You can’t pay people to act like that audience,” says Taplin. “You couldn’t pay actors to come to a show and act like that.”

Beyond capturing the music, Taplin hopes to document the distinct energy of house shows and the wildly expressive characters who attend them. That environment, he says, is what has made him feel more at home in Oakland than anywhere else he’s lived.

“I will go to a show if I’m having an anxiety attack,” he says. “I will go to a show if I’m depressed. I will go to a show regardless of how I feel and basically, almost always, I feel better at the show than I did before.

“Even if I’m not talking to people, I like them,” he says. “That’s my community.”

And when Taplin talks about circulating evidence of Oakland’s house show culture, he’s not just interested in posterity. He also intends to inspire — and perhaps provide reassurance to people who haven’t yet found their scene.

“I really, really hope that maybe a 15-year-old from a town that has no scene and bad politics and mean people and just sh-ttiness all around — I really hope that person can see that Diesel Dudes video and be like, ‘Okay. It gets better.'”

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For more of Taplin’s videos, see either his Post-Consumer website or Facebook page.

Documenting Oakland’s House Shows For Posterity — and Peace of Mind 5 February,2017Sarah Burke

Author

Sarah Burke

Sarah Burke is a journalist, critic, and curator living and working in Oakland, California. She is a regular contributor to KQED’s Culture Cue, for which she writes about topics at the intersection of art, culture, and identity. Her work has been recognized with first place awards from the American Association of Alternative Newsmedia and The Society of Professional Journalists. Previously, she served as Managing Editor at the East Bay Express.  Find her on twitter at @sarahlubyburke. 

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