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Phonic Seattle Explores Our Less Typical Music Venues

The new documentary looks into spaces that don’t fit the standard mold.

By Stefan Milne August 15, 2019

Alaia D'Alessandro interviews Shaina Shepherd from band Bear Axe. 

In the arts, what is more important than space? Where can artists practice, perform, live? It’s an old struggle (see Virginia Woolf), but particularly vital in Seattle right now. The tangle of land and money sits at the center of Phonic Seattle, a new documentary from Alaia D’Alessandro, a videographer at KEXP, who plays in post-punk band Tres Leches and as a solo artist (AIAIA). It premieres Friday, August 16 at Northwest Film Forum (free, but sold out) and goes up online afterward.

Especially since D’Alessandro is musician (a disinterested look this is not), the film could come off as a polemic. Instead, it plays as an exploration of spaces around the city that are doing it right—paying performers enough and highlight fledgling artists—especially those that don’t fit into the typical venue form. D’Alessandro along with a few others, like Northwest Folklife managing director Reese Tanimura, travel the city. They pop up at places that unexpectedly host live music like Mosé Auto (an auto shop) and Concuss (a radio station/screen-printing shop). They interview musicians like Bear Axe vocalist Shaina Shepherd and talk with CarLarans and Thadayus Wilson about creating shows for queer performers (The Beat and Proud at Julia's on Broadway) that don’t fall under the drag mantle, about paying performers enough to get by on.

Most interesting to me were interviews with Jodi Ecklund, who runs the Clock-Out Lounge on Beacon Hill, and Diana Adams, who runs Capitol Hill’s Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar. Both have fused standard business models together. Clock-Out is a neighborhood bar and pizza restaurant, and one of the better venues in the city for small bands. Vermillion is at once an art gallery, a bar, and a music venue. Those models not only support each other, but find transformative power in the convergence. Adams says plenty of bar bros come into the space, but often a few break off from their groups and get drawn in by the art on the walls: “To win over someone like that, when you thought they were the enemy, is super challenging and exciting to me.”

The film is more topical overview than plunge—and decently DIY itself—but it serves as a good reminder that a network of spaces still work outside the mainstream systems, and here, a lot of the city’s most exciting art takes hold.

Phonic Seattle
Aug 16, Northwest Film Forum, Sold Out

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