From the outside, it isn’t much to look at – a small cinder block building on a scruffy lot in West Columbia.
But the inside is a place for strange and intriguing sounds. A place where you can hear experimental improv jazz one night and Celtic fiddling the next.
For the past four years, Conundrum Music Hall has made a name for itself as one of the most eclectic music venues around.
It’s a place for the curious – where else will you find German rock-noise and caterwauling guitars, or an act that includes a trombone, several subwoofers and a belly dancer?
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It’s also a place for local performers. The 99-capacity space makes for an intimate listening experience. Without any TVs or much decoration, there is nothing to distract from the music.
So when owner Tom Law announced three weeks ago that Conundrum would be closing its doors at the end of October, Columbia’s music fans were reasonably upset.
“Playing here as a performer gives you the comfort of knowing that whoever attends your show is there to hear your music,” said musician Rich Owensby, whose band Drieberg had its first gig at Conundrum two years ago.
It was one of his favorite venues to play, and it was where the band released its latest album back in April.
“It’s always a shame to see a venue go, but given the wealth of musical talent our city has, losing one of the best local places to cut your teeth on is a pretty big hit,” Owensby said.
Conundrum holds a special place in Susanne Kappler’s heart. It is where she proposed to her girlfriend, Cassie Premo Steele. Kappler, a singer-songwriter, was in the middle of a performance in January when she decided, rather spontaneously, to call Steele onstage and pop the question. The two were married in June.
“That night will never be topped as my most memorable gig,” Kappler said. “When I heard Conundrum was going to close, I was very sad, not only because the place where I proposed would no longer be, but also because it has been a wonderful environment for local and out-of-town performers of many genres.”
Conundrum wasn’t just for music performances, either. Poetry sessions, circus performances and documentary screenings all happened there.
Sumter resident Frederick Ingram attended a George Harrison documentary screening that inspired him to learn how to play ukulele, he said. Ingram later performed a song on it at a Tiki-themed show at Conundrum.
Despite its positive impact on the music scene, the venue had financial problems.
For the first few years, Conundrum wasn’t turning any profit, Law said, but that’s not unusual for a new business. There was certainly risk in bringing in such far-out acts. Some shows didn’t have a single person in the audience.
By July of this year, Law had to admit that expenses exceeded income. He made some changes, and revenue increased significantly, he said, but by that point, it was too little, too late.
Saturday, Oct. 31 will be Conundrum’s final show. Local artists Cole Smoak and Vanisher will play a Halloween show of “bass-heavy electronic hip-hop” with support from Default Universe, Wuzabi, and DJ Bruce.
Smoak said on Facebook that in his set, he will “throw some colors around, push a button or two, and dance.”
For some, this might sound like a bunch of musical jibberish.
For the initiated Conundrumers, it’s a fitting swan song.
If you go
Conundrum’s two final shows
Thursday, Oct. 29: Flood benefit show. Post-Timey String Band, Autocorrect, Ritual Abjects, Daddy Lion and Alex Davis will play 8 p.m. to midnight will all donations going to Harvest Hope Food Bank. Happiness Bomb Boiled Pnuts will serve you tasty foodstuffs. $5 or canned goods/hygiene products.
Saturday, Oct. 31: This Halloween Monster Mash-Up includes performances by Cole Smoak, Vanisher, Default Universe, Wuzabi, and DJ Bruce. 8 p.m. to midnight, $10.
626 Meeting St., West Columbia. http://conundrum.us