Happy Birthday, Steak and Cake Records
Buffalo label celebrates fives years of local music
Hannah O’Rourke, a SUNY Buffalo State graphic design student, said she couldn’t believe how much talent was in one basement.
O’Rourke, along with other music lovers, friends and family of local musicians, filtered in and out of West Side basement venue Curly’s Saturday night to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Brandon Schlia’s Buffalo-based independent music label, Steak and Cake Records, as well as Schlia’s 31st birthday.
A SUNY Fredonia alumnus, Schlia used to produce and release his friends’ music on his Bandcamp page while avoiding studying for graduate school. A short while later, in February 2011, Steak and Cake Records was born.
In the five years since the label’s genesis, Schlia has gone from session player and casual collaborator to a more refined, professional producer with a discography of nearly 100 different indie, alternative, electronic and hip-hop projects as well as a concert venue in the basement of his own home.
Basement shows are an integral part of Buffalo’s underground music scene. Curly’s is one of many basement venues, which attract concertgoers of all kinds looking for a relaxed, self-policed, one-of-a-kind show.
People from all over the city of Buffalo huddled in the blue-lit venue in their coats and scarves, ate cookie bites baked by local musician and Schlia’s girlfriend, Jazmine Frazier, and nodded to the beats of local acts spanning genres.
The event started promptly at 4 p.m. with ping-pong and beer. Schlia and Frazier’s deaf puppy, Joanie, greeted guests at the bottom of the basement stairs, jumping up and licking everyone who tried to pet her.
The entry fee included a limited edition “Steak Book,” a pamphlet containing Steak and Cake’s discography, reviews, memorable quotes and photos and a list of every gig at Curly’s since 2011.
Live music began at 6 p.m. with local indie group Shelly the Cat. With Geneseo students Maggie Maloney on ukulele and vocals and Noah Sider on bass as well as LaSalle junior Jacob Smolinski on drums and backup vocals, the trio returned to Buffalo to open the night’s festivities with warm, upbeat twee pop in the chilly basement venue.
Up next were emo-alternative duo Anthony DelPlato and Bradley Kujawski who delivered a powerful mix of dry humor, original songs and covers of Dr. Dog and Brand New with just two electric guitars and their own voices.
Adam Randall, better known as Mal.a.mute, then took the floor to slow things down, rapping over electric guitar and homemade beats.
Following Mal.a.mute, Smolinski performed solo, leaving his main band Local Onlys in Philadelphia to play as his moniker, Wylie Something.
With his guitar in hand, Shawn Lewis of Lesionread to his left performing interpretive dance, and Schlia joining him on the drums for his final song, Smolinski gave a stripped-down version of his usual surf punk vibes. He jokingly told the audience to move closer because his contract requires them to be three feet away from him at all times.
Smolinski, a friend and collaborator of Schlia’s, stuck around for the whole show – almost a full nine hours – after taking a Megabus from Philadelphia to celebrate Steak and Cake’s fifth anniversary in his hometown.
“Steak and Cake feels like a real community. No matter who’s playing, its positive across the board,” Smolinski said. “And traveling in from Philly always feels better when you know that everyone who's involved with Steak and Cake is psyched to see you too.”
Schlia took to the drums again with guitarist Nick Randall and bassist Ben Randall to back rapper and singer Jazmine Frazier in her hip-hop project, Hop Hop and The Noize.
Frazier’s clever rhymes and delicate vocals mingled with the alternative sounds of her backing band to deliver a performance unlike any other.
After Hop Hop, Schlia handed the drumsticks to Jordan Jones and poised himself in front of the microphone with his bass and “Bernie 2016” hat as his band Red Heat began to play a handful of brief punk songs.
Employing fuzzy guitar, bass and alternating time signatures, the band stunned the crowd with its punk rock vibes.
“I haven’t felt my toes for four hours,” said Nick Randall before starting the set to celebrate the fifth anniversary as well as the release of Red Heat’s latest album, which came out Saturday night.
The last few hours of the event included intimate performances from '60s rock-inspired outfit La Times, indietronica artist Lesionread and funky techno dance project Laube’s Old Spain.
The local acts had the audience in a trance as Saturday night turned into Sunday morning.
On Sunday, Schlia posted on the event page, “Thank you thank you thank you thank you everyone,” in addition to the fifty-odd “Thank you’s” uttered throughout the night.
The celebration embodied the passion, gratitude and raw talent of the Buffalo music community, and for that, it was a clear success.
Grace Trimper is a contributing arts writer. Arts desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.