I've been thinking about another side to the story on Seattle's current crop of small venue spaces in this month's Reverb Monthly ("Little Big Rooms"), and it's this: Small rooms are for snobs.
I was reminded of this at last week's sold-out Grimes show at the Sunset Tavern. On my way in, one of the resident DJ/promoters of Second Sight (the goth rave monthly that opens the small venues piece) was on his way out; apparently, a promised guest list spot hadn't come through. (He was gracious about it, of course, in the way that anyone who benefits from the occasional guest list spot has to be gracious when things don't work out). A minute later, inside, I met another Cold Cave fan who hadn't been able to get into that Second Sight, because it too had sold-out. That's the thing about small rooms: not everyone can fit in them all at once.Which is not to say that the appeal of these basements, lofts, side-bars, and storefronts isn't their intimacy. When Neumos' Steven Severin talks about not wanting to be "miles from your favorite artist," about wanting to "feel their sweat coming off them," any concert-goer will know what he means. But it's also about exclusivity. I was at that Diplo/Justice after-party he's talking about, and it was legitimately nuts, but part of what made it cool was knowing that only 100 or however many people would be able to, years from then, say "I was there!" (/James Murphy)
So how do you make a crop of small rooms work as "the next big thing" or whatever? Well, think of Seattle's venues like an ecosystem: you can support only so many large predators, several more mid-sized omnivores, and tons of tiny specialized herbiviores (not to apply vegan values to AEG/Livenation or whatever). All these small rooms are the sort of long-tail of Seattle music and nightlife, best suited to catering to a multitude of niches. If you're into niche enough a sound or a scene--goth raves, say, or noisy DIY punk, then it all works out. But if you're into more broadly palatable stuff--say, hip hop or indie rock--you have to either stay ahead of the curve or start digging into some obscure (and/or just not as good) peripheries to keep yourself in smaller shows. Or you're occasionally gonna get left out in the cold. (Unless you actually enjoy the populist communalism of seeing Deadmau5 with 3,000+ of your closest friends/awful strangers.)
This all works out fine for me, of course, because I happen to be a dedicated obscurantist, a fickle dilettante, and/or a gigantic snob. Also, I should be on that guest list...