In the interstice between two rooms in a tiny Back Bay apartment, Altitude weaves together ethereal beats on an Akai controller for an audience of about sixty. Beneath the exposed pipes and electrical meters that blanket the ceiling, psychedelic visuals from a Miyazaki film are projected onto the wall. The crowd is a mix of college students, mostly from Berklee or Emerson. The music is mellow, but everyone is dancing.
Steady Grounds has been hosting artists in their apartment for less than a year, yet they have already amassed a loyal following of regular attendees. The intimate, filmed shows they throw every other week represent a union between Berklee and Emerson, two arts powerhouses with rarely overlapping social spheres. By tapping into Berklee’s deep pool of musical connections while sourcing visual artists and cinematographers from Emerson, Steady Grounds fills a void in the education offered by either school. Developing musicians need spaces to perform, and sometimes those spaces simply can’t be created or sanctioned by the school, like a basement apartment. Artists have a welcoming venue to play small shows, while Emerson videographers create short, deftly executed videos capturing the event. Nobody makes money from Steady Grounds, but the event is rewarding for all.
The Berklee duo hosting Steady Grounds—Elijah Marrett-Hitch and Tony Tirador—had a strong vision of the kind of event they wanted to throw. With a perfect space for small shows, they started talking to friends about playing in the apartment. Emerson students Jon Denton and Greg Ports jumped on the opportunity to film the events and craft visuals. Soon their first show, featuring electronic producer Jay Moth, set the ball rolling. Though the initial artists Steady Grounds hosted were electronic, it was never intended to be limited to one genre. Currently, the shows alternate between live bands and electronic sets. Even for their electronic shows, live performance is emphasized. Projected in one of the side rooms, guests can watch a top-down view of the artist.
It’s hard to talk about Steady Grounds without making inevitable parallels to Boiler Room. After all, the two brands share the same raw ingredients: relatively unknown artists, a small venue, videographers, and a concept that hinges on exclusivity. Upon my mention of the brand, Tony chuckled and said, “We don’t like to use the B-R word around here.” The product Steady Grounds produces is much different than the livestreams of questionable quality that Boiler Room posts to its website. After the event, the Emerson videographers compile their footage into a neat, well-polished video over an original track from the artist. The artists who play Steady Grounds benefit from the publicity the video brings them, and the videographers have excellent subjects for honing their art. The crowd, too, is much more lively than many of the famously inert Boiler Room crowds. Though Steady Grounds sits on the tipping point between concert and house party, the crowd responds much better to the artist’s original music, even if they are completely unfamiliar with it.
For the artists who play it, Steady Grounds offers valuable connections that last far beyond the context of the show. Since playing his Steady Grounds set, Altitude has released his debut album complete with matching visuals from Jon. In the case of a developing musician, coherent graphic design lends much needed legitimacy to their musical work.
In the overlap between Emerson and Berklee, a small community is flourishing with Steady Grounds as the catalyst. Despite rapidly gaining recognition off-campus, their concept and core team has remained the same throughout. This summer, Steady Grounds is planning their first show in Vancouver, Elijah’s hometown. Whether or not they can change locations without changing their unique atmosphere will determine their success beyond Boston. Regardless of their endeavors beyond the city, Steady Grounds remains a name to look out for in the underground Boston music scene.