I met Aaron Hamilton years ago at Cave 9. Then I actually talked to Aaron a few years after that when I got my first tattoo at Aerochild Tattoos here in Birmingham. It took me about two days to put the pieces together back then that Aaron was, in fact, THE Aaron who had owned and operated Cave 9 - Birmingham’s favorite DIY venue from 2003 to 2009 when its doors were closed. I’d seen some crazy fucking shows there, but even greater than the shows, quite honestly, was the atmosphere of the venue itself and the people who knew it best. Birmingham doesn’t get propped up a lot for being a hotbed of progression, and that’s unfortunate. Venues like Cave 9 and the hundreds of fans who were diehard enough to break down the doors every time Hamilton put on a show proved easily enough that the music makes the city and not vice versa. It wasn’t so much that Hamilton was creating just another venue for local punk and metal kids to pressure valve their angst. He did it differently and locals and people abroad took notice immediately. A little writeup in The New York Times, countless rumors, stories, and an upcoming anniversary show later, and here we are. Since first meeting, Aaron and I have always yacked back and forth about the nuances of our childhood and, more aptly, discussed the transcendence of growing up in the 80s. I wanted to get Aaron’s insight on running a DIY venue, and where he sees viable art in the 21st century. He’s a family man, an incredible artist, and perhaps the world’s only walking encyclopedia on all things Jean Claude Van Damme. He’s Aaron “The Horns” Hamilton.
What were your hopes for Cave 9 when you first came up with the concept for the venue?
I wanted it to be an important part of local independent music. I hoped that we would connect to people and bands in a way that most venues couldn’t. Or at the very least I hoped we would be a good spot for music.
Did you expect the venue to be as well received as it was?
Not at all. Punk/metal/indie music didnt have a lot of options at that time. So I knew that we would at least be accepted. But to have so many kids tell me that it was a second home still blows my mind. I still have people thank me for doing it. It feels good and makes me feel like we did something important.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as a venue operator/owner?
I think the constant challenge with any venue is money. Operating as a non profit was tough. We had benefit shows all the time just to buy new speakers or whatever equipment we needed. But I never felt right about that. I always felt like I was taking advantage of people in some weird way.
What Cave 9 show are you most proud of?
I was always very proud of bringing bands in from other countries. The sold out shows were nice, but to get compliments from a band touring from japan, france or germany was always very cool.
I think the second time Bleach03 (Okinawa, Japan) played was a pretty awesome time. Hyping it and it paying off for every single person there was awesome.
Are there any crazy stories you can share about specific shows/events at Cave 9?
There are a few. One of my favorite shows was a band called Destroy Destroy Destroy. They got in touch and were super nice. very unassuming. described themselves as a metal band for fans of fantasy and 3inches of blood type stuff. I didnt expect much. When they came to play they were one of the nicer and appeciative bands coming through. when the show started the singer had disappeared. The band was playing and I spied a little movement from the balcony. When it came time for him to sing he leapt down to the stage wearing a loin cloth and holding a mace. They were an awesome band and put on a great show. There were a lot of awesome times.
What drew you (sorry for the pun) into the realm of being a tattoo artist?
I have always made art in some form. I grew up around bikers so I saw a lot of bad tattoos. Being a part of a strong music scene and being right next door to a tattoo shop with cave9 helped expose me to more of the art involved with tattoos. I got to know the guys at Aerochild. A spot opened up and justin offered to teach me. So I jumped on it. Like JCVD jumped on that timesled.
What’s been your personal journey as an artist and fan of heavy music?
I have learned a lot about music and art in the last several years. Creating something is more than just making something look or sound pleasing. Its about tapping into an idea or emotion then connecting the way you feel to other people. I can appreciate music in a whole new way. Heavy music isnt all about anger or aggression. It covers the whole spectrum of emotion. It just happens to be conveyed in a seemingly aggressive way.
What do you personally see as the biggest obstacle for an artist to be successful in the 21st century? What are the advantages, conversely?
Connectivity. With the internet giving you every image or song you want with such ease I think we lose something. Nothing is special if everyone can access it with no problem. I think connecting with people can change that.
Hearing a band you like is great. But seeing them live and feeling that energy they give off or the way they interact with their audience can make them your favorite band.
Getting a tattoo is cool. But finding an artist that can interpret what you want and make it special is important. As a tattooer i think its important for me to connect to my client to give them something more than a nice picture.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I read Jean-Claude Van Damme quotes.
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