Editor’s note: First names will be used in this article to refer to those running The Toilet Bowl, in service of privacy.
Flooding your basement usually spells the end of a well-furnished subterranean hangout spot, but for Lawrence’s DIY concert venue, The Toilet Bowl, it was just the flush they needed to cement their legacy as one of the grooviest underground locales within the music community.
With worldwide ever-rising wait lines, general admission costs, and Ticketmaster consternations, the larger KC area has seen a resurgence of DIY concert venues within the past few years.
DIY revivalism this time around marks a notable underground scene compared to previous pre-pandemic concerts. With rising rents and the pandemic closing local platforms, circumstances have morphed these venues into a much more behind-the-scenes affair, taking a little bit more of a Google search to get in.
The Toilet Bowl’s traffic and word-of-mouth reputation was birthed within the community and on their Instagram page, where they would drop impromptu show dates and share their location—no narcs allowed. The page says their venue is for “big stinky turds,” but don’t be fooled, The Toilet Bowl was created as a “Fem/Queer safe space” for anyone looking for a jukebox plunge, asking for $10-20 at the door, depending on how generous you feel.
With the music industry’s current reality of suffocating, male-dominated mosh-pits and lingering pickpockets, coordinator Emma champions The Toilet Bowl as a safe community for Lawrence attendees.
“I want people to know there’s a fem behind this because it’s important, it’s not something that a lot of spaces have,” says Emma.
Operations Specialists Austin and Emma had been sitting on the idea of a basement venue for years, wondering where to start. But they were inspired to dive in head-first after seeing the band Midwestern perform in Kansas City.
“[Midwestern] deserves a little credit because they were the first [basement] show I’ve ever gone to. And that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, we just have to do it,’” says Emma.
Before they could start, though, their mission was clogged due to a lack of a name… and some plumbing issues.
When they first obtained the basement in Aug. 2021, it was unusable for a month because the pipes had flooded the place with sewage, covering the ground with an inch of toilet-papered water. After some refurbishing and gallons of bleach later, they designated the basement as The Toilet Bowl.
“We wanted to use something with the name ‘toilet’ because it’s edgy, and it’s part of some Toilet Bowl lore we like to share,” says Emma.
The Toilet Bowl, at first glance, embodies the typical punk-core bravado expected of a basement venue with a stone rock foundation circumnavigating a claustrophobic concrete extravaganza of scattered incandescent lighting. But the stripped-down presentation is also representative of the coordinator’s caution-thrown-to-the-wind commitment to live performance.
Austin and Emma made The Toilet Bowl a reality by borrowing equipment from the University of Kansas’s radio station, KJHK 90.7 FM. Through the help of contributions by attendees and donations from neighboring DIY venues, The Toilet Bowl was pieced together by the community with full equipment by the summer of 2022.
Even with all the ground-up raunchy atmospheric elements in place, the real significance that The Toilet Bowl has implemented within the Lawrence DIY community has been its ability to garner a safe space for music lovers under a fem-operated atmosphere.
“The Toilet Bowl was the most inviting and comfortable venue I had ever been to,” says frequenter Jed Morrison, “I could always count on a fun and friendly space for Queers and punks to hang out and rock.”
From headliners to DIY in Lawrence, the music industry has been a male-dominated scene with little to no designated space or maneuverability for Queer/Fem young adults. But The Toilet Bowl set out to shake the status quo from the start.
“A part of why we wanted to do [concerts] here was to create a space that was safe for everyone,” says Emma. “It’s really important for me to protect women and fem-read people in my space.”
The Toilet Bowl began revolutionizing the path for inclusive venues and set the scene for the emergence of new types of bands and music.
The most notable of these has been the up-and-coming all-women band Cat F!ght.
“We knew we wanted to play The Toilet Bowl ever since we started being a band,” says Cat F!ght’s guitarist Chloe Frazier. “We only want to support spaces that are pro-Queer/safe spaces, and The Toilet Bowl is the perfect place for that. They gave us a good opportunity to perform and get our name out there.”
In contrast to the high-energy mosh-pits and cat clawing that occurs in the venue from performances like Cat F!ght, JackOffs, and Sewing Circle, the proximity of the DIY scene allows for all kinds of energies to fill the space.
Miles Luce, now joined with his band, the Cowtippers, was able to saddle The Toilet Bowl with a Kansas cowboy twang that proved the space to be a champion of all kinds of music and themes. But while the headliners may change from time to time, Luce elaborates that the scene does more for the artist’s sound than the audience.
“The difference between a DIY and a venue, for example, is the more personal, intimate feel. You can really connect with the people you’re playing for, and they can, equally, with you,” says Luce. “I think if we weren’t playing to crowds at The Toilet Bowl, our thinking would be much different as songwriters.”
Luce describes one of his shows with a stripped-down sing-along, inviting everyone down to sit on the floor while cookies were passed around in campfire solidarity.
“The important thing about The Toilet Bowl didn’t have anything to do with the place but with the people,” says Luce. “People like Emma are invaluable to the Lawrence scene and make it a better place. I’m excited to see what’s next.”
The Toilet Bowl, while leaving us, remains a relative newcomer to the DIY scene. With more established venues like The Haunted Kitchen and Farewell, The Toilet Bowl’s inspiration and significance to the LFK community still remain alive and intact.
“There are still newer DIY venues. People coming in here and seeing what we have done with what little we have, have been able to make it happen for themselves,” says Emma.
Post-pandemic pop-up DIY venues now in Lawrence include names such as the BauHaus, The Hobbit Hole, and The Dungeon.
While the scene’s closing marks a bittersweet end to a niche era of the local DIY scene, the final moments of The Toilet Bowl strike a considerable concern for the safety of LGBTQIA+ communities on the whole.
Both the penultimate and final house shows were shut down by Lawrence Police officers called in by noise complaints. Emma explains that while these might seem like minor incidents on the surface level, they characterize a growing barrier against the growth of Queer mobility and spaces.
“People in the community just don’t communicate with us, and if they did, they would understand the importance of this space for Queer and non-binary persons,” says Emma.
While headliners of these previous shows were unable to produce their set, The Toilet Bowl was able to send out the basement with one final flush. On Aug. 31, headliners Hildy, Snotgirl, Digidream, N1N4 Frequency, and Lilith Leyva set the stage at the Bottleneck through the coordination and booking from the team at The Toilet Bowl to give the venue an ultimate farewell.
“It is so important for the mental health of young Queer adults that we have a place to socialize and enjoy music and people we love without having to fear for our safety, and I am so happy that Emma and Austin were able to provide that to Lawrence for so long,” says Morrison.
Emma will continue to regale folks with the spirit of The Toilet Bowl with her new freelance production company Idolatry Production.
“Fuck old white fart men. Lawrence and KC to the Top,” says Emma.
Rest in Pe(e)ace The Toilet Bowl. The hype may be drained, but the filthy flow will be missed.