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Sound Factory Splits the Difference Between DIY Grit and Professional Clubs

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The phrase "DIY" has very specific connotations, and none of them apply to Cary's affluent MacGregor Downs. But across Edinburgh Drive from the neighborhood's lush entrance, in the unassuming MacGregor Village shopping center, is Sound Factory. The venue is just a few weeks old, but if all goes according to plan, it will combine the best aspects of the underdog spirit of house shows and the professional execution of nightclubs.

Anthony Williams, who grew up in Raleigh, books and manages Sound Factory, which falls under the umbrella of Bass Music Enterprises, a store in the same shopping center that sells PA equipment and offers live sound services. Williams started working for the shop's owner, Steve Bass, as a teenager, and Bass brought him on to run the venue that the two had long discussed.

Williams, who has played in bands since high school, was frustrated not only by unstable and insufficient house show offerings in the area, but also age restrictions at regular venues. He found a kindred spirit in Bass. Nothing in Raleigh fit what they wanted in terms of rent or mission, and Williams knew that plenty of folks in the Triangle will drive to Saxapahaw, or even Greensboro, for a weeknight show. So why not Cary?

"We had always talked about getting an all-ages, DIY-type venue going on," Williams says. "I was telling [Bass], 'Just find any building—it doesn't matter what it looks like, how big. Find a building and we'll make something happen.'"

Before Sound Factory could open its doors, the space needed a lot of work. Its most recent tenant, a Medlin Davis dry-cleaner, left two years ago. It took Williams and Bass more than six months to clean up the space, from getting the bathrooms in respectable shape to removing two floor-to-ceiling vents that had been part of the dry-cleaning operation's infrastructure.

Now the venue is clean and sparse, its gray walls almost entirely unadorned. Heavy curtains hang on the walls of the main room to absorb sound and prevent echo, slightly muting the cavernous space. The soundboard sits in a raised nook at the back of the room, and there's also video equipment. Williams says he's gotten feedback about the room being "a little too much for punk," but that's a mind-set he's quick to dismiss.

"I'm tired of going to a house show and the only thing that's miked is the vocals, and the amps are cranked so loud I can't hear the drums," he says. "I want to have a space where you can at least use the bathroom, and you don't feel like you're going to die of heat exhaustion."

Sound Factory also differs from most clubs in its lack of alcohol sales. Where many clubs make significant money from their bars, Sound Factory is able to pad itself through its Bass Music connection, though Williams hopes that the venue can eventually become self-sufficient. And, he points out, there's a bar a few doors down—if you really want a drink, it's easy to slip over to Hot Shots Billiards & Sports Bar between sets. He's doubling down on a mission to create a welcoming space for younger people who are excited about music, but who aren't old enough to get into most clubs.

It's a struggle Williams knows personally. Not quite twenty-two, he isn't far removed from the hassle of being denied entry to shows for being underage. When he was sixteen, he says, local punk heroes Double Negative tapped his band for an opening slot at a Raleigh club, but because Williams and his bandmates were all under eighteen, the club wouldn't put them on the bill. It was a major disappointment that Williams doesn't want to inflict on someone else.

"Kids under the age of twenty-one, under the age of eighteen—not only do I want them to be coming to shows, I also want them to be playing in bands. It's all about passing the torch," Williams says, adding that he wanted to create an outlet for high school kids who, like him, weren't interested in school-spirited athletics or social engagements.

Sound Factory's first few offerings have been punk- and hardcore-oriented bills stocked with bands like Firing Squad and Iron Cages, mostly through the convenience of Williams's own connections. But he wants to broaden his booking to include other musical styles, and even to expand into stand-up comedy and independent movie nights. The vision is ambitious, but if the endgame is passing the torch, Sound Factory has already sparked a respectable little flame.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Scrappy Medium"

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