Conventional booking wisdom dictates that stacking a bill with musicians from the same genre will likely boost ticket sales. It’s the rock 'n' roll equivalent of playing to your base, even if it doesn’t make for the most interesting show.
Sean Jewell loves surprises. The longtime music fan and writer has been going to Seattle shows for 20-plus years. After traveling across the country over the past decade, he’s convinced “there’s no place like Seattle” in terms of our rich arts and music community, offering disparate entertainment options nightly.
But lately, Jewell’s been bugged by the “homogenization” of concert lineups — local venues booking shows on any given night with artists who all sound the same. Conventional booking wisdom dictates that stacking a bill with musicians from the same genre will likely boost ticket sales. It’s the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of playing to your base, even if it doesn’t make for the most interesting show.
“When I started going to shows in Seattle when I was 18 … I was really shocked by how I would go out somewhere to see a band and discover something that was completely unbeknownst to me that I loved,” he says. “There’s still a lot of room for that in Seattle.”
In honor of his 40th birthday, Jewell hopes to create a weekend of genre-crossing surprises when his Genreless Abomination showcase takes over Substation on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 9-10. Jewell’s eyebrow-raising lineup is a pastiche of hip-hop, rock, alt-country, vocal-looping experimentalists and didgeridoo-laced psychedelia from Guadalajara. (Jewell also put together a compilation featuring some of the artists.) The Ballard venue, which has a track record of diverse bills and hosting sonic weirdos, was immediately receptive.
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“It’s really tough as a music goer to walk into a show and be bludgeoned with the same genre,” says Tim Basaraba, the club’s booker. “For two bands it’s awesome. But if you do a four-band bill, by the end you can’t make sense … of who was who and what was what.”
While local artists like ethereal rapper Taylar Elizza Beth, who closes Friday night, credit mixed bills with growing their fan base, it’s not without risks. Basaraba, who also performs as genre-blurring artist TBASA, concedes that without a special event like Genreless Abomination or the annual NadaFest the club hosts, mixed bills can hurt turnout — part of the reason he doesn’t think Seattle clubs are ready to fully embrace them. Instead, the more eclectic shows are often relegated to DIY venues unburdened by a bottom line.
Though she’s not playing this weekend, experimental hip-hopper DoNormaal (Christy Karefa-Johnson) has been at the vanguard of pushing mixed bills with Raven “Hollywood” Matthews, her partner and co-founder of their 69/50 collective. Similarly to Elizza Beth, DoNormaal’s unconventional style and rising popularity has made her an in-demand artist across Seattle’s expansive but segmented music community, regularly playing with electronic artists, jazz musicians and even noise-punks like So Pitted. As she sees it, the increased co-mingling of scenes is fueled by artists making inclusive, hard-to-classify music.
“It all makes sense now and it’s exciting,” she says. “That cross-pollination is starting to do wonders for opening up these little pockets to each other. That’s really fruitful. A lot of cool collaboration and sound is going to come out of that.”
Still, there are the occasional bumps. After playing a “great” mostly hip-hop show at the W Hotel, Elizza Beth returned a few months later to open for an indie-rock band. “The second time I played it was hoooorrrrrible,” she laments. “There was a bunch of old, rich white people in there and they didn’t want to hear anything I had to say.”
But there are pleasant surprises, too.
They’re still not sure how it happened, but a few years ago melodic rockers the Salt Riot landed on a “hard-core metal” show in Bremerton. Despite some trepidation about playing to a notoriously heavier-than-thou metal crowd, the trio — performing Saturday at the Genreless Abomination — made the trek from Seattle. “We get out there and the metal bands are just the nicest people,” recalls frontwoman Julia Vidal.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions, not only about music, but also the fans of music,” adds bassist Jack Machin, “so you have a preconceived notion about metal fans and people who expect a certain type of music. But they were the nicest, most open people and one of the hardest-cheering crowds I’ve played for because they just like music.”
The jury’s split as to just how much these across-the-board bills will catch on. While Jewell views it as more of a trend toward “festivaling,” Matthews believes it’s the start of a movement that values diversity and experimentation.
“We need to come together more as people in general at this time,” Matthews says, “and music is a powerful tool to bring community together.”
7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 9-10, Substation, 645 N.W. 45th St., Seattle; $10 per night, (substationseattle.com)