Karaoke is a polarizing activity. For some, it quenches a thirst deep down in their egos, a desire to shine onstage in front of a bar full of people waiting their turn to do the same. For others, the thought of watching three separate people drunkenly wail along to “Don’t Stop Believing” in one night couldn’t sound worse. But what if there was a kind of karaoke everyone could enjoy? An opportunity to sing a song you care about, and that your audience can at least tolerate, if not enjoy? Enter: Karaoke Underground.
Kaleb Asplund and his wife Hannah started Karaoke Underground in 2004 in Austin, Texas as a way to bring the songs he liked liked and played as a 90s college radio DJ in Sioux Falls, S.D. Regular karaoke wouldn’t cut it. “[It’s] not for people who are into the kind of music I like,” said Asplund.
Photo courtesy of Karaoke Underground.
Over ten years later, KU is going stronger than ever, with a songlist of over 900 punk and indie songs. Iggy Pop, Wipers, Jawbreaker, Pavement, Television, Sonic Youth…there are songs both old and new, 7 Seconds to Elliot Smith. Some are Asplund’s favorites, some fall into a “canon” of popular punk and indie songs, and some are even requests. Asplund makes the tracks himself.
“One of the major ways adults share music with each other in our culture is karaoke,” he said. “[We’re] opening up a space where people can celebrate DIY underground rock culture in this way. It’s not something on big marquees, it’s just having a fun time singing along with your friends.“
Asplund mentioned he’s excited to visit Champaign—the hometown of The Poster Children, one of his favorite bands since he bought their record as a junior in high school. Several Poster Children songs can be found on the KU songlist including the recently added “Rain On Me.” “A Torch” by Sarge is also on the playlist. Asplund said he hopes someone picks out that one.
“I’ve only been to Champaign once before, and that was to see a Poster Children show at The Great Cover-Up,” Asplund said. “They were doing Talking Heads that year.”
That was back in 1998, but in a way, he’s returning for the same reason — to watch (and facilitate) people covering their favorite songs, their own way.
“There’s a mean edge to a lot of karaoke rooms where whether it comes from the host or whether it comes from the crowd, there’s a lot of people who just kind of go off edge and say, ‘Hey this is a ridiculous song and I’m going to make you sit through it while I make fun of it, and hopefully you think that’s funny too.’ When I first went out to karaoke and saw people doing that, I was like, this is not fun for me. I would like to sing music that I enjoy, and hopefully someone else does too,” Asplund said. “There are so many songs that mean so much to so many different people… you may not like the song that’s coming out but you’ll like the performer because they’re singing from whatever place inside of them, It’s coming out. It’s coming out really strong and genuine.”
Come ready to sing Karaoke Underground at Mike N Molly’s tonight.