Crank Sturgeon

Bonnie Jones

I moved to Salem, Massachusetts in 2002 and I can say without any doubts  that I’ve been able to make as much music as I did during all these years, thanks to  the incredibly supportive and generous scene where, totally unexpectedly, I found  myself in. I came from an academic background and was not aware at all of the  depth and richness of the music created in the so called “underground”. I will be  grateful forever that my life led me to this place. 
Massachusetts is bitter cold during the winter and rent in Boston and around  is horribly expensive. But these factors don’t seem to deter its people who have (at  least for my eyes) a peculiar kind of devotional endurance. Even though keeping  non-lucrative spaces running is a challenge, the “scene” always finds a way to stay vibrant. Spaces come and go: lofts, basements, art centers, house-shows, record  stores, art galleries, museums, clubs, you name it… Organizers are in a constant  search of venues willing to host non-conventional music. Fortunately, many do, and  somehow the ball keeps always rolling. 

Needless to say, everything has been turned upside down with the pandemic,  But, even during these demanding times, the generous spirit that fuels the  community has never stopped being present. As in many other places, there has  been a boom of live streamed shows, outdoor concerts, collaborative recording  projects, etc. It’s been fascinating to observe how everybody tries to continue  contributing even under the challenging circumstances we have all been through. 
Boston is certainly an important hub, but not at all the only one. Cambridge,  Somerville, Lowell, Worcester, Tauton, Salem, Western Mass – with cities like  Northampton, Easthampton, Holyoke, Turner Falls, Greenfield, Belchertown – and  probably more towns, are all places which have hosted experimental music shows in  some capacity. I live in Massachusetts and therefore I am more familiar with what’s  happening here, but there are many things going on in other New England states:  Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut. Perhaps this is a  good moment for a disclaimer: I am not trying to be exhaustive at all. It’d just be  way beyond my scope. I’ll name venues and artists that I had some sort of personal  connection with. 

Top from left: Bonnie Kane, Angela Sawyer, Mary Staubitz & Russ Waterhouse | Mid from left: Gilmore Tamny, Brittany Carlson | Bottom from left: Heathen shame, Mary& Vic

I often say that I like all music. But, of course, some things touch me more  than others. I think I have a weakness for music that I don’t know how it was made,  music which I find original and when it is personal. The more personal the better.  Even if it’s just a simple kid’s song. If those three main qualities are combined:  personal, original, and sonically innovative then I am in heaven! 
I will first mention venues where shows happen/ed (some are gone now)  during my time here and later, artists who perform /ed regularly (also many don’t  live around here any more). 


    A Boston based series that has been active since 2001. Their work is just  invaluable. They have hosted hundreds of shows covering all aesthetics in  experimental music. Their website is simply an archival treasure.
  • WSAC
    A little venue in Somerville where shows have been  happening since 2012. Michael Rosenstein curates them at the moment.
    A record store in Jamaica Plain. Innumerable shows happened in their basement  which, by the way, they put into code to allow legal shows.
    They describe themselves as a “daily guide, strictly focusing on underrepresented,  independent & underground music / art / film scenes and communities in Greater  Boston and New England at large, and the often marginalized cultures that  comprise and support them.” The Hassle Fest was a major annual event for years  (hopefully it will continue after the pandemic).
    A community-driven art space in Boston. As per their  website, their mission is to serve artists in Dorchester and Greater Boston by  providing affordable studio, performance, gallery and community gathering space.  They started organizing shows in 2017. They are now on hold in a reorganization  period.
  • THE LILYPAD (former Zeitgeist Gallery)
    More oriented towards jazz, free jazz, etc. It has occasionally hosted experimental  music shows.  
  • OUTPOST 186
    A tiny space in Cambridge which has hosted shows for decades. Also, more  oriented towards jazz. Rob Chalfen runs it.  
    A house in Jamaica Plain, Boston. It was a collective. They shut down in 2013. A  typical DIY venue permeated by the most generous spirit. I personally believe their  openness and inclusiveness left a huge influence in the city.  
    Angela Sawyer’s record store in Cambridge. It closed in 2015 to the dismay of the  whole community. Angela is quite simply an institution. An incredible musician,  with abysmal knowledge and also a comedian!!! She ran a Monday series while the  store was open. Check this interview.
  • 119 GALLERY Walter Wright’s and Mary Ann Kearns’s gallery in Lowell. Closed. They organized  hundreds and hundreds of events for more than 15 years. The amazing  X-FEST (an improvisation festival) started there in 2009 and it’s still going on.   
    Mike Dailey’s gallery in Lowell. They were active for 11 years hosting lots of shows  and events.  
    A collective in Worcester. It’s literally an old firehouse where people live upstairs  and shows happen downstairs. They’ve hosted lots and lots of shows, most notably  the great Noise Brunch, a day long event on New Year’s Day which has become a  true tradition.  
    A series I run in Salem. There are usually four shows per year. It started at the  Gallows Hill Theatre in 2010. The series moved to the SATV in 2019 where it’s  still running.  
    An arts collective with a long history in Easthampton. Their mission statement  is to build community and provide artists with an environment in which creativity is  valued over profit, believing that art and information should be accessible and  affordable for everyone. It closed with the pandemic. Hopefully, it will come back! 
  • 10 FORWARD 
    Formerly The Root Cellar. Located in Greenfield. A performing arts venue and bar. According to their website: “they host a wide  array of cutting edge live performances and curated events including music, dance,  theater, film screenings, drag nights, dance parties, and much more”. It’s definitely  an important hub for shows in Western Massachusetts.  
    A house in Belchertown where artists live and host shows. Sam Hadge lives there  among others. A true generous spirit, Sam has a passion for documenting shows  and he’s always seen with his camera at shows. His archive of videos is jaw  dropping. He’s also a performer himself.  
    Bonnie Kane’s monthly music series focused on experimental and improvised music held at the Gateway City Arts in Holyoke. It  ran for three years before the pandemic as The Thursday Experiment.
    A venue in Pawtucket just outside Providence, Rhode Island. The space is also  a recording studio.  
  • AS220
    An arts organization with a very long history in  Providence. Their web page about their mission and values is definitely worth  reading. Their commitment to building community is outstanding.
    A record store  in Portland, Maine, where the one and only id m theft able hosted lots of shows  throughout the years. 
Top: Domestique | Bottom left: Andrea Pensado | Bottom right: Kate Village


As I mentioned in the introduction, this list is not exhaustive at all. I included  solo artists and groups. It’s worth noting that groups are in permanent motion.  There are constantly moving collaborations and new projects arising all the time.  Therefore, there can be names who appear in more than one configuration. Some  artists don’t live in New England anymore. I decided to include them anyhow  because I believe they have definitely left a mark in the scene. I just included a link  of each artist with the hope that it will serve as a pointer to find out more about  them. Their artistry and, more important, their deep humanity transpires in all  their works. 

Pic by Peter Gumaskas

Based in the US since 2002, Andrea Pensado uses voice and electronics to make her music.  She studied in Argentina and Poland where she graduated in Composition at the  Krakow Academy of Music. However, after an extensive composition practice, her  music started to gradually move away from conventional composition. Nowadays,  she mainly uses digital media and live interactive sound systems with her voice  constantly interwoven in the performances. The approach to both, programming  and performance is highly intuitive. The harsh cut up noise result, mixed with the  strong emotional component of her music, generates a deeply personal sonic  language. Occasionally, the combination of the performance situation, the often  abrasive sounds, the irrational use of the voice and the inherent uncertainty of  improvisations contributes to discoveries of unknown places in her mind. Pensado  performs extensively in the US and abroad. She also produces Sonorium, a series  of experimental music based in Salem, MA.