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The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Swamp House: A cozy student-run music venue in North Campus

Editor’s note: This podcast was originally published on Spotify on January 31, 2023. 

Swamp House is a cozy one-story house on a dead-end street in North Campus — it’s also a music venue, but the founder wants it to feel like you’re just in your friend’s backyard. Like you’re at home.

In this episode, Senior Audio Producer Lillian Vest chats with the founder, performers and attendees of the newly opened student-run music venue to learn what makes Swamp House so special.

Hosted and produced by Lillian Vest. Cover courtesy of Swamp House. Music recorded at Swamp House.


*music and cheering from the scene*


Lillian Vest: “A relatively small one-story home sits on the edge of a dead-end road.  The backyard is littered with potted plants, string lights from tree to tree and chairs.  Through the back door, then a room, then a hallway and into the dining room you’re met with the stage to the right of the kitchen. 


It’s The Swamp House, a student-run music venue in North Campus that mainly hosts student bands. The newly opened venue is run by five UT students who also live in the house, and they had their first show on August 26th of this year.”


*music and conversation from the band Hover*


Kyle Kistner: I remember how impactful it was seeing other local talent that I believe was like doing some really cool stuff that I hadn’t heard before. And I wanted to just sort of continue that and keep that going as best as I could.


Lillian: That was Kyle Kistner, the founder of Swamp House. He said he got the idea from a friend who also ran a house venue. 


Kyle: I just remember going to those shows had a pretty impactful experience on me saying like, particularly with the quality of acts that I was seeing, it was really, it felt really transformative.


Lillian: He said he wanted to create a space that fosters community and encourages new friendships.


Kyle: A creative space that these types of bonds could be formed because I feel like so these are the kinds of sort of spaces that do those kinds of things.


Lillian: But why “Swamp House?” The name was inspired by a movie and series, no, not Shrek, but M*A*S*H. 


Kyle: The name ‘Swamp’ came from the medical tent.


Lillian: The medical tent from the 60s and 70s TV show was called “The Swamp” and the symbols on the tent are also a part of the Swamp House’s logo.


*chatter from the scene*


Lillian: The house has a unique look…there are leaves tacked on the ceiling and grass at the foot of the stage. A projector of psychedelic graphics and colors illuminate the bands as they play. Kistner said he wants the space to be a place where people feel at home. He tries to bring people to the venue organically using what he calls a “guerilla marketing style.”


Kyle: We tried to be kinda creative and just put stuff in places where people will be like ‘What’s that?’ But not seem like we’re trying to draw too much attention to ourselves.


Lillian: This method has worked. Bands say they don’t have to advertise their gigs at Swamp House on social media because Swamp brings in the crowd. Let’s hear from “Hover,” a student-run band that has played at the Swamp House three times.


Matt Abajian: A lot of venues, kind of expect you to do their job for them in terms of like providing the entertainment and also bringing everyone and kind of packing a room by yourselves and then doing the performance. And here I remember the first time we played here, we were like, Oh, it’s a house show in North Campus, it’ll be pretty chill, pretty normal. And we came and they had a huge party going, everybody seemed to know what’s up. And everybody was nice, too.


Lillian: That was Matt Abajian, a fifth-year undergraduate student at UT majoring in music composition. He’s the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for Hover. Let’s hear from Casey Boyer, a fifth-year undergraduate at UT double majoring in music performance and journalism. She’s also the harmony vocalist, violist and electronics operator for Hover. 


Casey Boyer: I showed up with like, all the shit in our van and I was like, I showed up and literally like three people who lived here, like ran down the stairs are like, Oh my god, are you hover and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m 1/5 of hover,’ and they were like, let’s help you unload and I’ve never had that happen at a gig anywhere ever.


Lillian: The hospitality and the vibe of Swamp House are why Boyer and Abajian describe the venue as their favorite place to play.


Matt: The organizers here, obviously care. And they care about making it a good experience for the audience and for the artists. And usually, you kind of get one or the other, and it ends up not working out super well. But they’re able amongst themselves to present it as well to both of their artists and their audiences.


*cheering from the audience*


Lillian: The genre of Swamp House is many things. Some people describe it as psychedelic, while others describe it as rock, but the venue will give a platform to any genre and you never know who will be on the bill for that day. 


Casey: These guys are awesome, because every time we’ve played here, it’s been a totally new bill, aside from a few frequent bands, they’re always really excited to discover people and kind of give them a platform.


Lillian: Let’s hear from another Hover band member, Peter Vanbethuysen, a recent 2023 UT graduate with a degree in arts and entertainment technologies and the keyboardist and guitarist for the band. 


Peter Vanbenthuysen: It’s kind of this, this homegrown thing that’s really great at curating your shows, I always have a blast, when I hear that we’re gonna have a show here. It’s a great place to hang out afterward. And like I said, people are here for the music, really here because they like music and the people that are running Swamp House, do it because they love music. And you can definitely, it sets a vibe, which is really fun as a musician to play in a space like that.


Lillian: These bands don’t just come here for a good time and some publicity, but they get paid pretty well too.


Matt: Just based on the vibe that I got it being a house show and everything I thought I was just coming and playing and that would be it. And then we ended up getting like a bigger payout than we typically get at business-controlled venues


Lillian: The organizers of Swamp House seem to really care about the talent and their audience, but what makes the community so tight-knit?


Matt: It’s because a lot of the organizers are in the bands. It really is just an organic thing. It’s like they are putting on shows to amplify themselves, but also to amplify the people that they think are cool in the scene.


Lillian: Kistner, the founder of Swamp House you heard from earlier, is a musician himself and provides a lot of the equipment for the venue.


Matt: And beyond that the networking because you just meet great people here. And almost everybody is a musician or knows musicians and can help you kind of get in touch with other people.


Lillian: A visitor of Swamp House, Sam Wheeler, a third-year doctoral student at UT studying percussion performance, told me why he appreciated the space This was Wheeler’s second time visiting the venue, and he’s a musician himself.


Sam Wheeler: It’s just a cool spot like you just literally walk through someone’s like back room past the computer everything like you can tell it’s like a house.


Just like the smallness of the space I think makes it just feel like not cramped at all, but like cozy, somewhere between cozy and cramped.


*music from the scene*


Lillian: Swamp House has hit it off in the community. Kistner said he plans to expand in the future with bigger artists, partnerships and wackier genres, but the ultimate goal is to turn the small house venue into a separate venue in downtown Austin or West campus.


Kyle: We’ve spoken to other production companies about hosting some shows at our space and not at our space, just in conjunction. And so I guess we just want to grow our network.


Lillian: Kistner has some new artists coming in the spring and they plan to keep the atmosphere cozy while also experimenting with other genres. The cost is $10 and that money goes towards local bands and keeps the venue running.


Kyle: It feels like everyone’s at home a lot of time, like they’re just in the backyard of another friend’s place.


*music from the scene*


Lillian: This episode was a production of the Daily Texan’s audio department. If you liked this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to the Daily Texan on your streaming platform of choice, follow us on Twitter at @texanaudio. And check us out at the Daily Texan dot com. This is audio reporter Lillian Vest, thanks for listening.


*music and cheering from the scene*

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