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Buffalo’s Soundlab: Cut From a Different Cloth

When
compared to other venues in downtown Buffalo, or anywhere in the city for that
matter, Soundlab is clearly cut from a different cloth.  It’s evident the second you walk down
the stairs and into the basement space. The low, stylized lighting and brick
walls give the club an upscale, streamlined-yet-simple vibe, demonstrating
right away just how different this club aims to be.

Craig
Reynolds has been the director of Soundlab since “the late 90s,” and has spent
considerable time building the venue into the space it is, with the help of his
partner Michael Baumann.  What was
once an on-site offshoot of Big Orbit Gallery has become a reputable art space
onto itself, hosting as many as 6 events each week.

Reynolds
feels that Soundlab’s unique selection of acts adds something of value to the
Buffalo music and performance scene. “In general, the audience expects us to
put on shows that are gonna be a little different from most other places,” said
Reynolds.  “Hopefully, ideally, it
should be different in some way. 
We don’t stick to a certain genre. 
We have all different types of music, whether it’s jazz music or indie
rock, or whatever.  We just hope
that whatever we put on is the most engaged or progressive front for that
stream of music.  We’ve done all
kinds of shows that are not necessarily 100 percent challenging, but that’s
okay too, because I think there’s always been an element of fun that is built
into what we do, and I don’t think we need to apologize for that.”

The
list of bands that have played and events that have occurred at Soundlab are
wide-ranging and diverse;  bands
such as Animal Collective, The Most Serene Republic, The Books, and Thee Silver
Mt. Zion have all taken the stage there. 
There have also been events sponsored by Hallwalls and Squeaky Wheel,
and other various community groups. 
There is even the occasional performance poetry event. 

While
these events may seem disjointed at a glance, they are firmly rooted in the
audience’s desire to experience something new, whatever that may be.  “We put on shows essentially for our
friends, and our friends’ friends. 
Whatever the audience wants at the moment, we sort of try to provide,
but our audience is, in general, an audience that wants to hear new
things.  I think we’re a valuable
vehicle for the people who gravitate toward us.  I think we’re able to provide that service better than a
commercial bar or club because we don’t have any financial incentives.  We just have to pay the bills, and
that’s it.”

Those
who work at Soundlab are volunteers. 
Reynolds believes this gives them a different attitude than other
venues.  “None of us get paid, and
none of us have ever been paid. 
It’s purely a labor of love situation.  We do it because we’re passionate about music and seeing
things happen in Buffalo in general. 
That’s not to say that people who are getting paid don’t have that same
enthusiasm–but it just becomes a part of who we are essentially.  We consider ourselves an art space, as
opposed to a club.  We never choose
artists to put on stage for commercial reasons.”

One
of the most important qualities Soundlab has is its unique content, something
they’ve done a good job adhering to despite loosening up in recent times.  “We’re not as hardcore about being
pretentious anymore.  We never
really wanted to step on the toes of things that could happen at the other
clubs, either.  If there was
something that could happen at Mohawk Place, we would sorta just try to push
the people over there, or if something would be better suited for Nietzsche’s,
we wouldn’t try and take it.  And
that was our rule.  If it could
happen anywhere else in town, then we weren’t interested.  We were trying to focus solely on
things that just didn’t exist in Buffalo otherwise.

“Since
that time, that’s softened up a little bit.  Plenty of shows we do nowadays violate that rule.  There have been shows that happened
here that could have happened at Mohawk, and shows that happened at Mohawk that
could have happened here.  [But]
we’re picking the shows we think are relevant to what we do and to the
evolution of music in general.”

The
original Soundlab was a converted warehouse, but was shut down when their
landlord decided renting a venue was a liability after The Station nightclub
fire in Rhode Island in 2003. 
Soundlab’s current décor is partially inspired by Reynolds’ travels to
New York City and Toronto around the same time they were looking for the
current space.   “We weren’t
gonna go back to that rough art space ambiance.   So we went ahead in a different direction which was to
do a simple, clean, somewhat stylized kind of space, when compared to all the
other music venues in town, which are basically bars.”

They
checked out several available spaces before landing on the current
location.  They knew immediately
that it was the one.  “It used to
be a Chinese food restaurant and, when we walked in, it was still sort of
decorated for [that].  We knew
instantly.  It was smaller than
what we wanted, more intimate, but that was a good thing.  We could do the smaller shows without
the space dwarfing what was happening on the stage, and we also knew that when
we did bigger shows it would fill up, and it would feel super dense.”

Soundlab’s
focus on performance means a lot to an audience focused on the artistic side of
going to shows, rather than the social aspect.  “We have never tried to be a part of the nightlife
industry.  We don’t really function
as a part of the alcohol driven nightlife world.  Even though we sell that stuff and are plenty happy to drink,
our bar situation is super limited – just beer and wine.  That aspect of going out for the
purpose of drinking, that becomes secondary to the music, or to the experience
of whatever’s happening on stage.”

 

Soundlab

110
Pearl St

Rear
Door

Buffalo,
NY 14213

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