Smile Politely

Making space: The odyssey of Casa de Sasha

For the next feature as a part of our exploration of C-U’s house venue scene, I spoke with Vince Aguilar of Casa de Sasha. A prominent member of the DIY community, Vince has recently started booking bands at this space, and I spoke with Aguilar about his past experiences with house shows, different music scenes, and the catalyst behind starting a new venue.

SP: Before we talk about the space itself, I want to ask about your background. What has your involvement been like with other music scenes?

Aguilar: Before I moved here, I was in Chicago for four years. Prior to that, I went to college at Illinois State. While I was there, I started booking shows, and it kind of naturally expanded to here. I started booking bands from Champaign there, and then my bands started playing here. At some point, I think like 2010, I joined this band called Horrible Things that was based out of C-U, so I was here like every weekend, or every other weekend, for practice or a show. Back then, I met everybody in Kowabunga! Kid, Brian [Galecki, of Springfield’s Dumb Records], and a lot of the people doing DIY shows, all that stuff. Most of them are somewhere else now.

SP: After that you moved up to Chicago for four years, and now you’re back in the area. What drew you back to C-U?

Aguilar: The main thing that brought me back was my ex wanting to pursue grad school and deciding on U of I. I was also really tired of Chicago; it was getting really stagnant, and I was feeling kind of discouraged. Not only just living there, but also being involved with music there was really wearing on me. The city itself, just living in that city, it wasn’t what I wanted or what I was really happy with. So when an opportunity came to move, especially somewhere where I was already really familiar with the area, it was like “OK, I could try that.” I’d never lived in Champaign, despite having been here a lot, but I appreciated my time here, and it was a city where I felt really comfortable.

SP: Were there particular things that made Chicago feel stagnant?

Aguilar: When I moved, I was really excited to be there and get involved with more punk and hardcore shows. I was able to join a few bands & was decently active, but in my time there, without sounding disparaging, I found there to be a lot of politics. I felt pretty comfortable with the people, but at the same time it was really strange how scenes in Chicago were so segmented. The way people interacted with each other was really strange to me, and it was kind of uncomfortable in some ways. I wasn’t booking shows, but I was in a few bands, took part in a few band lottos, and lived at some show houses. It just felt like I kept trying to be involved in something that wasn’t working, for lack of a better word. I kept trying and trying and trying to start a band, but it was never really working; what I really wanted to do was start a punk or a hardcore band, but it never materialized. So, that was really discouraging.

Also seeing how people had a hard time dealing with “grey area” things, like abusive people, and people with shitty beliefs. You have one side that wants to completely exile the person, and another side ignoring their friends’ bad behavior or saying they’re holding them accountable (when they’re totally not). So the end result was nothing ever really got done about those kinds of incidents, and things would fall to the wayside. That, to me, felt really unsatisfactory.

SP: Those are the kinds of issues that seem to plague every music scene, unfortunately. How do you feel the local scene is able to handle these sorts of incidents?

Aguilar: Right before I moved here, there were a lot of people that were exposed as “bad.” I don’t really know how that played out; most of the people I know that were involved with that moved away or don’t come around any more. Whether that was a satisfactory result for the people they hurt or not is hard to say. There’s been a couple of frustrating, weird things, that I’ve been on the periphery of. Nothing quite like what I mentioned above, though. So I haven’t really experienced it yet.

SP: Do you feel there’s less of that clique-y aspect here?

Aguilar: To some degree; some people still only go to certain kinds of things, certain people who go to certain shows, etc. But it doesn’t feel intentional, in a way. People seem way more willing to interact with other people, outside of individual preferences like being less extroverted, or not knowing a lot of people. Everyone seems more friendly to each other in general. There’s still a little bit of separation, in some ways, but it doesn’t feel like people only go to their friends’ shows. It feels like there’s more intersection.

SP: Being in a place with a smaller population definitely helps with that.

Aguilar: The pool is definitely smaller.

SP: So after moving here, what was it that motivated you to start your own venue?

Aguilar: It wasn’t something I was entirely thinking about when I found the place; when I looked at it initially, the basement space was more of a “cool, we can have this for band practice and stuff.” But when my living situation changed, the option of using it for shows presented itself. It all sort of fell into place, and it was very much a “well, why not?” sentiment. There’s always room for more stuff and room for more people to do things. I’d been booking shows already, but booking shows at another house is a lot different from booking shows at your own place. I did feel in complete control booking shows at other places, but there’s still a different dynamic.

SP: Having a space to call your own is a really unique feeling.

Aguilar: Yeah, feeling like I have a space to create more of the vibe that I want to. Beyond that, it was a thought that I had been entertaining for a while, so when it fell in my lap it was kind of like “cool, let’s do this!”

SP: You’ve run other house venues, then?

Aguilar: When I lived in Bloomington, I was booking out of houses for the majority of my time there. I was in bands the entire time, and I lived in two separate show houses my junior and senior year. They had shows there all the time, and I was the one doing most of the booking. And when I lived in Chicago, two of the places I was living at were booking shows regularly; one was an already-established place, and another started when I moved there. I wasn’t doing any outward booking there, but people would occasionally come to me & ask about shows. So I guess I was more of a point person there.

SP: You talk about Casa de Sasha as being another option for shows. Is there a particular niche you’re leaning towards, in terms of the kinds of bands & shows you want to book there?

Aguilar: Any space can have any show. But there are spaces in town that have a similar-ish theme to the kind of shows that happen. So it’s kind of cool to say “this house does this kind of stuff, that house does that kind of stuff.” Ghost Planet has been doing shows for like five or six years, and they tended to lean more towards punk and hardcore. But as people that were more interested in that stuff moved away, there wasn’t someone specifically bringing in those kinds of bands. So that’s kind of where I’m at; I like a variety of stuff, but that’s the kind of music I like to interact with the most in DIY spaces. That’s more what I’ve been leaning towards booking at my house. If I get another show that’s a little different, I’ll try and book somewhere else. My house, I kind of like having the punk bands play there. But I’ve had a couple of different shows there, just to keep variety up. I’m not strictly about one thing, but I like to lean more towards hardcore & punk, just because that’s what I like.

SP: That kind of goes back to having control over your own space; you book the things that make you happiest. And that’s a really nice luxury to have.

Aguilar: I think it also helps other people too. Like “I want to go to this house, but I don’t know what the show is, but I kind of know based on past experiences.”

SP: The first show was in October 2017?

Aguilar: I think so. I think I said September the other day, but October sounds right. I moved in there last August, so October was probably the first show.

SP: Even though it’s a relatively new venue, have there been any shows that really stood out to you?

Aguilar: Every show has been really good! The standout to me was probably the first show because I wasn’t really sure how it would go over. It was the first specifically punk & hardcore show I’d booked in town, and every band was a punk band. So I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know how people would respond, but I tried to promote it as best I could. Beyond Peace came in from Iowa; they’re a band I really like & had played with a couple times on tour. I was really excited to get them in town, show them a good time, and show them Champaign can do this kind of stuff. And then the show happened, a lot of people turned out, and it was really really affirming.

SP: Having things work out that well after so much uncertainty is pretty fantastic.

Aguilar: Yeah, exactly! Like, cool, this kind of thing CAN happen here. Even if there’s not people that only listen to this kind of stuff, there’s still people that would go to these kinds of shows. Totally awesome.

SP: Any big shows in the works?

Aguilar: Nothing huge. At this point I’m not getting a lot of requests, so I’ve been asking friends’ bands from Chicago to come down and play. Just kind of taking it day by day. Right now the biggest thing I’m working on is the upcoming band lotto.

SP: So if a band wanted to contact you about booking, what would be the best way to do that?

Aguilar: Either messaging on Facebook or via email. I put my booking email address on every flyer; it’s [email protected]. I also keep an eye on the Champaign-Urbana DIY Facebook group, so if I see someone’s posting something there & I’m really into their music, I’ll hit them up. I’m picky only in the sense that I don’t have a ton of free time, so I don’t have a lot of time to book shows. So when I do book shows, I need to feel like I really want to do it. But even if I can’t put something together for whatever reason, I’m happy to point someone in the right direction. I also want to mention the work my friend Abby’s been doing with these shows; because of my schedule, there’s a lot of times where I need extra help with settings things up, letting bands in, that kind of thing. Abby’s been super helpful, and I’d be really screwed without her.

SP: Last question: what’s the story behind the name Casa de Sasha?

Aguilar: It’s what I jokingly called my last apartment, just to make a wifi network name. I thought it was funny; Sasha is my dog. I’m also really bad at naming things, and I already had a name from the previous place…

SP: And you still have the same wifi network.

Aguilar: Yeah, and my dog still lives there.

SP: So it’s still an accurate name.

Aguilar: And it amuses me, and that’s all I care about. Whenever I’ve picked names for houses, that’s how it’s happened.

SP: A joke that’s funny only to you.

Aguilar: Exactly.

Casa de Sasha’s next show will be on February 24th featuring Shazu, RASH, netochka, and EX CATHEDRA.

Photos courtesy of Veronica Mullen.

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