In the summer of 2016, 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history, and as a result, Reno band Fine Motor resolved to help out the local LGBTQ community and began planning a benefit concert for the then recently-opened OUR Center.
Earlier this month, a ski-masked vandal threw rocks into the front windows and door of OUR Center, shattering the glass. After the concert had dwelled in limbo for a year and a half, Fine Motor finally held their benefit on Jan. 27, at the Holland Project, raising over $1,500 for the organization.
Tickets cost $5 and 100 percent of the proceeds went to OUR Center. Nom Eats provided burritos. Other local independent bands Boys, Pry and Surly performed.
Fine Motor consists entirely of UNR faculty. English professor Dan Morse plays guitar and sings, English professor Chris Mays plays guitar, creative writing grad student Casey Bell drums and sings and journalism professor Ben Birkinbine plays bass. Morse and Bell primarily write the songs.
Since opening its doors, OUR Center has supported the Reno LGBTQ community with resources, education, advice, counseling, meetings and a safe space.They also assist in orchestrating such events as the Northern Nevada Pride Parade & Festival, the Harvey Milk Day annual event, National Coming Out Day, the Outwest Film Fest and the Guerilla Queer Bar Reno.
“The fact that this place was just vandalized shows that there are people who still don’t want to see this center exist,” Birkinbine said.
According to the 2018 Point in Time survey, 51 percent of the homeless youth ages 18 to 24 report losing their housing over sexuality or gender identity.
“Some of these people have been kicked out of their homes for who they are,” Birkinbine said. “Some of the families don’t agree with who they are. This just reinforces the point that there needs to be a place for these people to go to be cared for, to get advice, to get help and whatever they need to navigate the difficulties they are facing.”
It makes sense that this benefit would take place at the Holland Project, a nonprofit music venue.
“We like to play the Holland Project because it’s an all ages, independent venue, which will support local artists and musicians,” Birkinbine said. “It’s basically run by volunteers. The reason we like that is because [we] grew up in cities or towns where that was an important part of our youth. We would go to shows and see bands and get exposed to different kinds of messages.”
Morse shares this love of the Holland Project.
“It continues to amaze me that it exists, that it’s so well-run,” Morse said. “There are always DIY spots throughout the country popping up and then closing down. The Holland Project is the best-run, best-organized DIY spot I’ve ever seen in my life. And it has good sound too which is incredibly rare. So for us, it’s this magical place where we don’t have to compromise.”
As an incentive to get people to come, Fine Motor handed out free vinyl records of their self-titled album to the first 50 people who showed up.
“I still enjoy the sound that comes off a vinyl record instead of streaming or anything else,” Birkinbine said. “It may sound cliche, but I think it’s just a warmer sound. It just sort of fills up a room more than other stuff.”
Fine Motor mixes dream pop, surf rock and shoegaze, taking inspiration from bands like Yo La Tengo, the Velvet Underground and My Bloody Valentine.
On his process of songwriting, Morse said, “It weirdly starts out as singer-songwriter type stuff. A lot of times me and Casey will sit on the couch with acoustics and come up with something. Then after that, we make a point of trying to mess it up somehow…Just trying to do something strange to the song structure or just added some sort of dissonant element. That comes from our love of 90s music, where on the one hand, bands were sort of accessible, but also kept the audience at an arm’s length. We perhaps foolishly and totally outmodedly try to retain that. We’re operating within a pop vernacular, but at the same time trying to challenge the audience rather than just give them what they want.”
Erin Miller, better known as Surly, kicked off the night by strumming and serenading the crowd with some low-fi tunes. Next, Pry came out with their post-punk rage. Then, Boys had everyone dancing with infectious jams like “I Hate Boys.” Finally, Fine Motor took the stage, performing a few new songs as well as a cover of “In Heaven” from the film “Eraserhead.”
When asked about the connection between performing music and lecturing as a professor, Morse laughed. “I think it’s very, very, very tenuous…I suppose for large lecture classes, it’s easier to think of it as a performance. This isn’t really me, it’s sort of me, but it’s me playing this role. Just creating that kind of distance is helpful…It’s like 50 minutes. You have to get in the right mind space beforehand, and then you perform, and then you leave.”
With over 130 attendees, it was a full house. Cameron Beck, UNR student, Music Director of Wolf Pack Radio, and bass player with Pry said it was one of the biggest crowds he has performed for.
“Music transcends a lot of barriers and a lot of people are able to connect through music,” Beck said. “Music is able to bring people together for a common cause. When we’re all able to unite under a certain cause then have some fun in the process, that’s always an important thing.”
Morse isn’t as quick to equate music with social awareness. “To be honest I think it’s potentially a fraught thing,” Morse said. “I think there’s this too easy assumption that music is necessarily politically progressive and that’s not always the case…It’s uncomfortable because if your music is just a political statement then it ceases to be music. We prefer to operate in a community-based scenario. Part of the community will necessarily involve raising money for other people in the community.”
As for the future of independent music and DIY culture, the future is unclear. “It’s hard to say,” Morse said. “After a show like this at the Holland Project, I feel really optimistic. At other times, I feel really pessimistic. There’s this saying in punk: ‘Your band is not a brand.’ But it feels to me often times that people do feel that their band is a brand. They’re very open to partnering with companies and doing commercials and trying to monetize what they’re doing. I can totally understand the instinct of wanting to make a living from your art and your craft. But, at the same time, I think there’s a big argument to be made for amateurism, precisely because it frees you from these market restraints.”
One thing appears certain, though, nights like Jan. 26 are worth cherishing.
“Before we did this, we were worried if anyone would come,” Morse said “We were so amazed, not just by the number of people, but the vibe at the show. The way everyone was pulling together for this cause. It really made us appreciate how special the Holland Project is and how special Reno is, at least in this moment.”
For those who were unable to make it to the concert but would still like to help, check out the OUR Center website for other opportunities.