Late last month, a packed crowd stood in Capitol Hill’s Spin Cycle and watched local harsh noise duo #TITS elicit face-numbing waves of death from their guitar amps.
The five people immediately in front of me were all grinning with their fingers jammed as deep inside their ear canals as they could get them. The band was immediately followed by a recent New York-to-Seattle transplant, Ben Von Wildenhaus, who sang bizarre antagonistic lounge exotica into a microphone duct-taped onto a truck dolly. When he accidentally knocked over the fragile rig for the second time, he screamed into the reverb-drenched mic, “What kind of fucking establishment are you running here, Danny?!”
All eyes shifted to Danny Noonan, Spin Cycle’s most veteran store clerk, who shrugged from the front counter he was standing atop. It wasn’t his fault; the rig was probably Wildenhaus’ own contraption, since every weirdo local band who scores one of the monthly in-stores at Spin Cycle has to bring its own PA.
To those who decry the downfall of Capitol Hill’s outsider culture, Spin Cycle stands as a counterargument. When the tiny little vinyl/video game/DVD store opens at 5 a.m. this Record Store Day, it will also mark its fourth anniversary; the store opened on Record Store Day 2011 with a completely unalphabetized stock that owner Jason Grimes says was “severely underpriced.” In those four years, Spin Cycle has grown from a ramshackle hole in the wall many people initially mistook for a pop-up shop into a full-fledged cultural incubator for emerging local bands and the rabid vinyl collectors who worship them. And it all started with a Boris record.
Noonan and Spin Cycle founder Grimes, both avid vinyl collectors, had worked together for seven years at the now-defunct used-CD and -DVD store Gruv, which started carrying vinyl only because the two pushed the owner to. “I was doing the bookkeeping at Gruv, and you could see how CD sales were dropping as the years went by, but the owner at the time thought CDs were it and didn’t want to deal with vinyl records,” Grimes says. “We were buying records, lots of bad records, because we had a cap on what we could pay. And one day, the pink vinyl of Boris’ Pink came in, and it’s a great record, a $40 record. I talked to the boss and said, ‘Look, we can’t pay $5 for a $40 record.’ ”
When the record resold only a week later, acording to Noonan, the boss asked to see the receipt in disbelief that vinyl could go for such a high price. Noonan says she assumed someone had stolen it from the store. Grimes began hatching a plan to buy the store and fulfill his vinyl fantasies.
When Gruv unexpectedly closed on New Year’s Eve 2010, Grimes saw an opportunity to open his own record shop and bring Noonan along. Paying for almost everything with his own savings, liquidated chunks of his own record collection, and things he found digging around at estate sales, Grimes was able to secure a location and a sizable stock for what would become Spin Cycle.
The lease he scored on a small space at 321 Broadway E. started on April 1, so he and Noonan decided they were obligated to pull a prank. “We were trying to figure out, what’s the last thing people would want to open on Capitol Hill?” Noonan says, “so we put a giant sign that said BROADWAY’S BEST ONLY KOREAN THAI PHO!! YES!! on the worst-looking printout we could get, and taped it on a huge piece of paper in the window.”
Even though the duo got a slap on the wrist from local news outlets, Grimes and Noonan’s “Whatever!” ethos take with the store is what has made Spin Cycle into the neighborhood staple it has become.
“I think a community has formed at Spin Cycle because there’s not a lot of rules at Spin Cycle,” Noonan says. “It’s like, you know what needs to get done by the end of the night, and as long as you make sure that happens . . . whatever. You can say hello and sit and chat with whoever comes in for however long you want, but at other stores, you can’t just be standing around chatting with your friends. People use our store like their living room.”
It’s something Kennedy Carda, the deranged frontman of SSDD (which is playing the shop’s anniversary show this weekend)—whom Grimes calls Spin Cycle’s “best and most frequent customer”—also backs up. “It’s way more punk than the other record stores; the way they do in-store shows and how they just hang out,” Carda says. “I once spent 10 minutes in line watching Danny convince this kid not to buy a record because it sucked. I was like, ‘This place is cool.’ Plus, they, over any other record store, support the local music scene a lot more.”
Indeed, Spin Cycle’s amazing monthly in-stores have quickly become cultural assets thanks to Grimes and Noonan’s local, community-minded booking ethos. Since the two are avid local showgoers, they often invite bands they naturally cross paths with at DIY venues like Cairo and Black Lodge, so that “in the end . . . community happens on its own,” Grimes says. “More or less, we only do in-stores for people we’ve become friends with or gotten to know or want to get to know—bands we see and just really like. We hosted [local experimental electronic band] Newaxeyes’ first show before they’d released anything. When people ask how they can play an in-store, we say ‘Well, just keep showing up. Let’s get to know each other.’ ”
Part of the shows’ success also comes from the shop’s intimacy—it’s quite a bit smaller than your average record store, roughly the size of a studio apartment (albeit with nice vaulted ceilings). Based on the smaller curated stocking model of fellow Capitol Hill record store Wall of Sound, Spin Cycle carries a very manageably sized, rapidly rotating stock of records selected according to Noonan’s and Grimes’ personal interests—a mission that has sent them all over western Washington treasure-hunting at estate sales and exploring the personal collections of strangers.
“My Zipcar bills the first year were crazy,” Grimes says. “I’d drive way past Olympia, take ferries to Bainbridge and Bremerton, borrow cars and fill them up with records, just doing so much hunting for stock. We affectionately nicknamed one of our sellers ‘DJ Korean GI.’ He was a DJ in Korea post-Korean War for the U.S. Armed Forces. He would only sell a portion of his collection at a time—a ‘portion’ being like 1,000 records at a time. He had rooms and rooms of stuff. It was beautiful—we managed to buy his whole collection after about a half a year.”
This Indiana Jones approach means Spin Cycle’s selection ebbs and flows with its discoveries, sometimes comically. “One great collection changes sales for a week,” Noonan says. “If someone sells us a metal collection on Thursday, it’s almost all gone on Monday. That shit sells in two seconds. Metalheads come in, buy it all, and then immediately tell all their friends. Or, one day we’ll have no Neil Young; the next day we’ll have literally every single Neil Young record because we went to an insane estate sale and totally scored.”
Four years later, having built a healthy, steady stock of interesting records and a dedicated community of regulars, Grimes and Noonan promise Spin Cycle will be here for many years to come. Grimes just renewed the lease—and thanks to the building’s lack of ventilation, it’s not properly zoned for any would-be cookie-cutter restaurants or bars who might try to take it over.
“Honestly, with our anniversary coming up, it feels like we’re just starting to do it right,” Grimes says; “we’re going to get more life out of Broadway. This is still a residential neighborhood. It’s a community.”
“As lame as some parts of Capitol Hill have gotten, it’s still full of freakers, crazies, weirdos—just all sorts of awesome, interesting people,” Noonan says. “I’m happy our store is where they come to hang out, play shows, and smoke cigarettes out front.” E
Spin Cycle will open at 5 a.m. on Sat., April 18 for Record Store Day and offer numerous RSD exclusive releases for sale.
Spin Cycle FOURTH ANNIVERSARY SHOW With Newaxeyes, Scriptures, Ubu Roi, SSDD. The Highline, 210 Broadway E., 328-7837, highlineseattle.com. $4. 21 and up. 9 p.m. Sun., April 19.