Photo by Dusty Henry

The Washington State History Museum Lets You Experience the Origins of DIY IRL

‘A Revolution You Can Dance To’ Revisits Olympia’s ’90s Underground Music Explosion

Amuseum can feel stuffy sometimes—but one way to spice it up is with footage of K Records founder Calvin Johnson sashaying. The Washington State History Museum’s latest exhibit, A Revolution You Can Dance To: Indie Music in the Northwest, does just that. The exhibit, which runs through next April 23, tells the story of the DIY music and arts movement that came out of Olympia in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

“We’re focused on anything that’s involved in the history of Washington state, whether it be 200 years ago or 20 years ago,” says Erich Ebel, marketing and communications director for the Washington State Historical Society. “This was something that was unique to the Washington state area—all of these local bands and this underground indie-music scene spontaneously starting in the Olympia area.”

Sponsored by Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, the exhibit features a breadth of artists ranging from Beat Happening and Witchiepoo to riot-grrrl staples Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. The artists themselves were crucial in providing photos and show posters. However awesome it is to see archives from this landmark era for underground music, it’s the interactive portions of A Revolution You Can Dance To that immerse people in what it really was like to be a part of the scene. “We really don’t want to put on an exhibit that’s sterile,” Ebel says. “We want people to interact with an exhibit. We want people to get their hands dirty and feel like they’re a part of the piece of history that we’re trying to highlight.”

They do this in three ways. One is by virtually placing you into ’90s Olympia with a green-screen booth that superimposes your photo into a variety of locales: in line to see a show at the Capitol Theater, in the middle of the Yoyo-A-Go-Go parade, or front row at a Witchiepoo show. The “listening booth” takes the form of a messy apartment, complete with empty pizza boxes. Visitors are encouraged to sit in the raggedy chairs and listen to a playlist of local artists, including Dub Narcotic Sound System, Mirah, the Melvins, and more recent acts like the Microphones. Most exciting is a zine-making station. Humble in appearance, the tabletop area provides prestapled booklets with pencils, tape, and magazines to cut out. Everyone is encouraged to make their own zine and fill it with whatever they like.

“The takeaway is that any one of us with a dream can do something similar,” Ebel says. “Any one of us can have an impact in the smallest of places that can have a ripple effect and affect, really, the whole world. And that’s really the takeaway that I’m hoping visitors leave with—that positive feeling of encouragement.” Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, washingtonhistory.org. $8–$12.

More in Music

Alvvays brings its dreamy Canadian indie pop to the Capitol Hill Block Party Main Stage. Photo by Arden Wray
Capitol Hill Block Party 2018 Picks

Who to see at this year’s edition of Seattle’s urban music fest.

Wimps isn’t trash. Photo by Kelly O
Wimps’ Renewable Punk Energy

The Seattle trio isn’t afraid to get dirty on its new album, ‘Garbage People.’

Can Upstream Fest Be Fixed?

In it’s current form, the Pioneer Square music festival lacks energy and identity. (Plus, a photo recap of last weekend’s action.)

The sun shines on Sasquatch!.
Sasquatch! Music Festival 2018 Photo Recap

From big bands to casual hangs, we take a look back at all the action over Memorial Day weekend at The Gorge.

Curtis Harding
The Faces of Sasquatch! Music Festival 2018

Behind-the-scenes portraits with the some the fest’s best acts.

David Byrne
The Attention-Grabbers of Sasquatch! Music Festival 2018

A look back on the weekend’s musical festivities in terms of captivation.

Vince Staples returns to Sasquatch! Festival this year. Photo by Seth Sommerfeld
Sasquatch! Festival 2018 Preview

Plan your trip to The Gorge with our picks for the weekend’s can’t-miss acts.

How Pedro the Lion’s Religious Roots Set the Stage for a Relevant Return

Two decades before #MeToo, a young David Bazan was singing about the problems with patriarchy.

Forging the Cultural Future of Northwest Folklife Festival

New Folklife managing director Reese Tanimura chats about the present and future of the annual Seattle Center celebration.

The 5 Must-See Local Acts of the Summer

Don’t miss these rising Seattle artists during festival season.

Seattle Summer Outdoor Concert Guide

Our picks for the essential open air music experiences of the season.

Album Premiere: Ruler’s ‘Winning Star Champion’

Seattle music scene utility player Matt Batey steps into the spotlight with his new indie rock album for Barsuk Records.