Kremwerk, the club that has found a niche in the heart of a changing Denny Triangle as a queer-centric safe space that specializes in progressive dance music and drag shows, is hosting Kremfest Sept. 20-23, showcasing local artists and hard-to-catch headliners from out of town.
Rainbow crosswalks and talk of safe spaces is not uncommon for Seattle’s nightlife scene; it’s spaces that actually walk the walk that are harder to come by. For that reason, Kremwerk, the underground electronic-music club nestled between towering high-rises and construction cranes downtown, is quite literally a diamond in the rough.
Since its opening in 2014, the club has found a niche in the heart of a changing Denny Triangle as a queer-centric safe space that specializes in progressive dance music and drag shows. Kremwerk’s commitment to this brand inspires club regulars to tout it as a dance-music and queer-community haven. It’s also what makes its events, like Kremfest happening Sept. 20-23, so notably fun and musically immersive.
Kremfest is a four-night dance-music festival hosted at Kremwerk and in its upstairs space, Timbre Room, that showcases a combination of local artists and hard-to-catch headliners from out of town. Kremwerk’s talent buyer, Nick Carroll, primarily books Kremfest, now in its second year.
“We want to create something that resonates with our Kremwerk regulars and something that they’d be interested in, and at the same time, it’s a good opportunity for us to get people interested who may not know what to check out. It’s a pretty clear entry point,” Carroll said.
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On Sept. 21, for example, Carroll brings in local mainstays Noise Complaint as well as the cosmos-inspired techno crew from Stockholm, Pleasurekraft, and the L.A.-based DJ, Doc Martin, whose beats often take a creepy, futuristic turn. Carroll’s also booked artists that showcase a range of emotions. For instance, Leon Vynehall, who plays the festival Sept. 22, is super lush and triumphant, while Thursday night’s Robert Hood creates dance music that is more intense and hard.
“The word ‘dance,’ there’s a functionality to it, and people are like ‘oh, it’s only positive, so let’s just have a good time,’ ” Carroll said. “But in a lot of the music (in general) there’s a hint of melancholy. It captures the full spectrum of emotions and what, as people, we’re capable of feeling.”
There’s something for everyone, especially for those who’d like to dig a bit deeper, and Carroll hopes that through experiencing artists like these, new patrons will understand the range of emotion and diversity of listenership that lives within electronic dance music. It’s more than “unce-unce” music for cis-white males, he says, and it has cultural value.
“I think people have a really linear interpretation of what electronic music is and what dance music is. And, you know, technology right now is ever-evolving and becoming such a central part of this city’s landscape particularly,” Carroll said. “That translates to the arts, too. The music that is coming out is using the tools that are available in the present, and doing what I think all of art does, trying to create something timeless out of it.”
There’s something else that gives the Kremfest experience a leg up: Carroll and the rest of Kremwerk’s staff understand that patrons won’t explore the music or venue unless they feel physically safe in the space. That’s why safety, inclusion and talking with patrons about their experiences are paramount to the staff at Kremwerk.
“It blows my mind that (safety) isn’t more at the forefront more with places — you want to ensure that everyone is having a good time and is taken care of,” Carroll said. “Like, dance music came from marginalized communities, and it’s a shame that people’s perception of nightclub and nightlife is so linear — it’s not just that we’re trying to make as much money as possible.”
They even plaster the walls and entryway of Kremwerk and Timbre Room with this statement: “Kremwerk strives to be a safe space. The following actions or display of behavior will not be tolerated: bigotry, racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, ableism, as well as the disrespect of the rules of consent. Our staff is here to support you.”
This message was crafted by Kremwerk’s Associate Manager and Queer Programming Director Jeanne-Marie Joubert, who studied Gender and Queer Studies at University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. She began working for Kremwerk in 2015.
It is rare that “people that are gender non-conforming, and people of color … have a place where they feel safe. Because going to a club (can be) an already very unsafe experience for marginalized groups,” she said.
Additionally, Joubert and the Kremwerk staff do regular safe-space training sessions to make this mission statement a reality. These trainings are crafted by Joubert from her schooling and from studying other spaces that succeed at making patrons feel safe. Joubert also communicates directly with the people and performers that come to Kremwerk to better understand how they can improve the club.
“The safe-space training is super important — it’s about making sure that staff uses gender-neutral language with all patrons, making sure staff doesn’t make comments about what patrons look like, and ultimately, enacting a zero-tolerance policy on bad behavior. So, as soon as we get a report of someone making people feel uncomfortable, they’re out the door,” Joubert said.
This “zero-tolerance policy” and the commitment to booking artists who acknowledge and exemplify the history of dance music has helped Kremwerk develop a rich community of regular patrons who love the venue.
“There’s a concerted effort there to create a safe, welcoming, inclusive environment that allows for truly celebratory moments on the dance floor,” said Kremwerk regular Rachel Hug, who is also a member of local band Grand Arson.
Carroll and the crew at Kremwerk hope more people will experience that safe, celebratory atmosphere when they come for Kremfest 2018, which this year is offering a new $36 all-weekend pass, cool virtual-reality installments and a diverse, accessible bill of artists that Carroll asserts “are doing thoughtful, inspired and creative music.”
Kremfest, Thursday, Sept. 20, through Sunday, Sept. 23; Kremwerk and Timbre Room, 1809 Minor Ave., #10, Seattle; $16-$36; kremfest.com