Pass that hat

Friends lean around a new record, fawning over stacks of vinyl and discs. A loud rock band blares from speakers. In soft focus, this scene could be a circle of friends in a living room, ripping through the spoils of a recent purchase.

But this is Bull City Records, an independent record store in Durham, a store sporting used vinyl, indie albums and a healthy live music series that’s skirting bigger clubs and their baggage. Owner Chaz Martinstein’s wide-eyed approach–as much an avid fan of the music as he is the organizer–manages the store and the series, which sometimes runs up to four nights a week.

“I love going to see shows. I love throwing and organizing parties. I have a space that I don’t have to ask anyone but myself if I can borrow,” says Martinstein, who moved here from Colorado last October. “I realized how absolutely easy it was to throw something together and book a show. The band wants to play as much as you want them to play.”

A record store that regularly hosts live music fills a niche comparable to the DIY house- party circuit, an underground staple of low-to-no overhead, communal beer and eye contact with bands in living rooms, basements and backyards. It also circumvents the mandatory door charges of rock clubs, but supports the most basic rock show tenet: the spectator-performer relationship, broken down, juicing the whole room.

“I stick firmly to pass-the-hat as opposed to charging at the door because I don’t want to turn people away. If you’re passing by in the street and you hear something happening, by all means, come on up. The band will be happy that they have a new listener,” says Martinstein, adding that those who like the music should donate.

Most of Bull City’s concerts focus on punk and hardcore simply because those scenes also thrive on the house circuit. The shows and the store provide positive word of mouth for one another. Martinstein does no real advertising, and the shows are booked and promoted through friends and electronic equivalents like MySpace. On a good night, he might have between 20 and 50 people, though he says the turnout can be slim at times. That’s fine with him and most of the bands, too.

“I think not having to deal with clubs is a bit more enticing to some smaller touring bands,” Martinstein says. “They’ll opt to not make more money in favor of playing a pass-the-hat gig that they think they’ll have a better time at.”

Just putting some gas in the car and some grub in the belly suffices for many young and hungry bands, especially if they also happen to be local. Martinstein adds that doing it yourself sometimes pays the best, too.

“We had a show a week ago or so that one of my buddies organized, Daniel Lupton, and we had a great turnout, an amazing show,” says Martinstein, excited. “We made the band more money through pass-the-hat than any venue in any city besides Boston, which was actually in another record store.”

Spinns break up

Chapel Hill garage rockers The Spinns have spun for the last time. But guitarist Todd Colberg says the change comes from being in a rut, and we haven’t seen the last of them as musicians.

“Most of us were tired of playing the old material,” he says. “We played the same stuff so much we were getting worse at playing it. We just became uninterested in it.”

Colberg is planning a new group, possibly with Spinn-mate Josh Johnson and Katie O’Brien from The Young Idea, but things are still early.

“I’m writing all new material, and I think it’s the best stuff I’ve ever written,” says Colberg. “Our new stuff so far is more experimental. It is ’60s-like, but more musical I think than The Spinns.”

For a band that fetishized the crackle of old amp fuzz, Colberg’s forecast for fresh music might seem askew. But a gear-change was past due.

“I would describe it as a mostly mutual decision. That’s why all three of us are going our separate ways, I guess,” he says. “We were just bored with the old material. Especially me. I love new songs.”

“I won’t even go to Chapel Hill”

If you haven’t seen the video for “It’s Carrboro,” the new song by Bill McCormick (alias Billy Sugarfix) and Brian Risk, go do it at The video premiered after a Flicker film night earlier this month and has been spread far and wide ever since. Look for your favorite local denizens or spots in the mix. The over-the-top rap fest includes lyrical zingers like “Every fall it’s got a mackin’ music fest/ It’s the Paris of the Piedmont it’s been confessed/ It passed the test, it’s passed the rest/ Like Ron Jeremy, Carrboro’s been blessed!”

Contact Chris Toenes at