This DAM Haus

Posted on August 5, 2011 – 9:20 PM | by Admin
  • Share

By Dennis Yudt Photo courtesy of Todd Urick
Standing in the middle of a pair of adjoining rooms in the DAM Haus, the legendary Davis, CA non-venue that has hosted performances by hundreds of touring and local bands over the past 22 years,

the mind boggles. How did 150 people, plus bands and equipment, manage to fit into this roughly 15 X 30 foot space?

“A little bit hard to imagine, but if you take out some of the big furniture…”
Sean Johannessen smiles at the memory of an infamous Lightning Bolt/Pink & Brown/Total Shutdown/Hella show from about a decade ago. Johannessen, a four year Haus resident and current KDVS disc jockey (aka DJ Mucky) and his roommate, KDVS Events Coordinator Shiva Shahmir, are reminiscing as we walk from room to room in the understated house on a corner a few blocks from downtown Davis. There’s a hint of finality to the proceedings: the DAM Haus recently received notice that their lease would not be renewed, and after a couple of farewell shows, will close up shop at the end of August for renovations.

The DAM Haus – the acronym stands for ‘The Davis Anti-Music Haus’ – was at one time the residence of a former Davis mayor. Now it is an area institution. It has been occupied for over two decades by a succession of KDVS DJs and staff, who have held roughly six house shows a year that were not just shows, but events, shows that are still talked about in awe.

“The first show I came to here was October or November of 2004,” Johannessen recalls, “Everyone was dressed in red, all the food was red, all the lights were red and the entire house…was red. And coming from a small suburban town, I thought, ‘Wow, this is an interesting party!’” Stories abound: bands being fed multi-course gourmet meals, pizzas FedEx’ed from Chicago, or the infamous pyramid of grilled cheese sandwiches.

But the DAM Haus was always more than just a performance space; it was a think-tank for all things music-related, and a place where all things art and community-related could thrive. How did a house in a residential neighborhood – across the street from the local fire station, no less – put on shows with, say, the cochlea-rupturing Mayyors (who played their first and last shows here) stay active for so long?

“People know and kind of respect it at this point.” Shahmir says. “We’re good friends with our neighbors,” added Johannssen. “We’ve never had any problems. They’ve been really good [about] letting us know if were encroaching upon their space.” But 22 years, in terms of a venue’s lifetime, is impressive no matter what. What did DAM Haus do right that everyone else doing house shows didn’t?

“We had Todd Urick.” Shahmir answers without hesitation.

Todd Urick is one of the most-loved figures in the Davis music scene. He is an integral and long-time member of KDVS as their in-house engineer and DJ, a rabid supporter of the local music scene and an esteemed elder at DAM Haus. Urick, through his longevity, passed down his wisdom and knowledge to each successive generation that lived at the Haus, and according to all, was the main impetus and reason that the DAM Haus has been such a success.

Rick Ele, Urick’s best friend “from the first day I met him” is a fellow KDVS-er and hosts the must-hear “Art For Spastics” show, which has also spun off into one of the best music blogs around. Ele’s tireless efforts are responsible for some of the best shows to ever come through the Davis/Sacramento area. Chances are if you ever saw a great show at DAM Haus, Fools Foundation, Luigi’s Fun Garden or Hub Collective, you have Ele to thank.

Ele is proud of the accomplishments that have come out of the DAM Haus, and points to Urick’s latest project, Common Frequency, a non-profit organization that he runs out of the Haus.

Common Frequency began when Todd found out a five-day application window had opened up where the FCC [was] accepting applications… for full powered FM non-commercial educational licenses… His concern was that the religious broadcasters, particularly the evangelicals popping up all over the non-commercial dial throughout the 1990s and 2000s and they were the only force organized enough to mobilize and take advantage of this opportunity. His idea was to bring news of this to any interested parties.”
Urick’s idea worked. “[O]ne group has successfully gotten a radio station off the ground, applications approved, and a few of them are on the air already!” Ele says. “Once you get your permit, you basically have five years to build a station and use it.”

Ele points to the DAM Haus as an example of how a dedicated group of people can succeed and thrive doing the same thing that its residents did for more than two decades.

“The sustainability model is what we were trying to do at the DAM Haus for 20-some odd years…as long as you don’t do too many shows and as long as you remain friendly on a daily basis with your neighbors and try to be part of the fabric of the neighborhood then you stand a much better chance of not having the cops show up. And if anyone has a complaint, then they’ll just come up and knock on your door. We tried to make the place decent and not be the college ‘party house’.”

Asked about a difference between house shows here in Midtown and in Davis, Ele carefully weighs the question.
“In Sacramento, it’s weird. Once you have a group of 19-year-old kids all sharing a house it’s like “let’s do as many shows as possible until we can’t stand it anymore or we get kicked out. That gives you six months to a year if you’re lucky. That’s why I like talking about how the DAM Haus has this sustainable model.”

At the time of this writing, there are only six weeks left for the inhabitants of The DAM Haus. A look around the place shows that no effort is being placed on getting the place ready for departure; flyers from Haus shows past are still stapled akimbo on walls; junk culture that has accumulated seemingly since junk culture began occupies every inch of shelves, tables and mantles; a cupboard bursts asunder with a wicked array of thrift-store glasses. A Herculean task awaits, but for now Johannessen and Shahmir are busy trying to get in touch with every former member of The DAM Haus for the final show. Johannssen, for one, can’t wait.
“I think it would be nice to have a gathering and hear all the stories. I think it will also give us a sense of the full scope of history here.” When asked, Ele said that he wasn’t sure who will be playing the last show, saying that Shiva was “holding her cards pretty close.” Pressed for more information, she gives up an enigmatic smile, the proverbial ‘cat-who-ate-the-canary’ grin.

“Yeah. We got a final show…kinda…brewing…up.” She’s beaming now and no amount of sweet-talk is going to get her to reveal anything more. Guess you’ll have to go out there and see for yourself.

  1. 4 Responses to “This DAM Haus”

  2. avatar

    By viquena on Aug 10, 2011 | Reply

    oh man, how can say glowing things about Toddles without mentioning that he has an awesome show (Hometown Atrocities) on KDVS every other Tuesday from 2:30 to 4:30? Which, by the way, alternates with the equally awesome ‘lectronic Mail.

  3. avatar

    By Rick Ele on Aug 12, 2011 | Reply

    Thanks again, Dennis, for covering this. The only disputable fact is how Sean could possibly remember the Lightning Bolt show because that happened three years before his first show experience there. But otherwise, this article seems to be hitting the spot for everyone concerned…or recently made aware.

    I hope we see the place packed again on Saturday for Wounded Lion, Charles Albright, and Godspeed 209! I’ll have a vat of mac n’ cheese ready.

  4. avatar

    By dennis yudt on Aug 13, 2011 | Reply


    I’m still nodding my head ‘nooooo!’ and wondering how I let that one slip by. It was very poorly worded and I meant to convey that even though he wasn’t there, the stories and recollections he had heard made him smile. None of that essence was in there.

    My apologies to Sean and those involved in the Haus for my mistake.


  5. avatar

    By mark kaiser on Aug 14, 2011 | Reply

    saw the very first Tiger Trap show here the summer before i started college in the early 90’s. Dam Haus must be in the record books for the longest run as a punk house.

Post a Comment