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Bellingham
Thursday, July 2, 2020

New venue aims to change house show inclusivity and safety

By Jon Foster

As you walk down the sidewalk, the venue entrance looks unassuming: a two-story house with a balcony tucked into a small parking lot. The trees alongside the property give some privacy for those waiting in line and a place to smoke while waiting for the next band.

The Bellingham house show scene is known to many college students as a fun way to jam out to local artists and bands. But for some, the scene can be uncomfortable and feel unsafe. Luigi’s Mansion, a new house show venue on south campus, is looking to change that.

Once inside Luigi’s Mansion, showgoers stand around a cozy, dimly-lit room right next to the makeshift stage. The venue aims to provide an intimate setting that allows people to experience the music in a safe and comfortable environment.

“The place is dense and hella sweaty, the dancing is always good when nobody gets hurt, and the lights are nice,” said junior Charles Schmitt, Luigi Mansion’s sound engineer. “We are always scrambling like chickens with our heads cut off. We didn’t start preparing for the show until the day of, but they always work out.”

Schmitt said that Luigi’s Mansion has the virtue of the space being smaller than other venues.

“People are way less drunk here, so we can actually see what’s going on instead of it being just a party,” he said.

The venue is managed by junior James Bonaci. Meg Hall is the booking agent and a junior at Whatcom Community College.

Luigi’s Mansion was originally just a name for the house when Bonaci moved there in early March 2018. Soon after, Bonaci and Schmitt started working on a studio in the basement called Playalong Studio. The group started organizing house shows to bring in extra revenue.

Joey Schmitt, Meg Hall and James Bonaci at Luigi’s Mansion on July 6. // Photo by Jon Foster

Cam Alvarez, Shuggy Sugarman, and DJ are members of Period BOMB, a Miami band that played their noise rock set at Luigi’s Mansion on July 1.

Alvarez said that this was Period BOMB’s second time coming to Bellingham to play. Last time was worth it, but after playing at Luigi’s Mansion the band made $10 total. This was because many people did not pay the $5 cover charge, they said.

“It reminded me a lot of our warehouse-venue situation back in South Florida, except bigger and nicer,” Alvarez said. “The sound was actually pretty loud and clear there, so at least we got a good phone recording.”

Bonaci added they will post updates about future shows and releases on their Facebook page.

“We have summer shows in the works but nothing rigid, nothing confirmed,” Schmitt said.

Importance of Safety and Representation

When Bonaci was a freshman, he felt the house show scene wasn’t safe.

“I just got tired of it and said ‘Oh, I can either not participate in the community or we can all come together and make something better,’” he said.

Hall echoed this same sentiment, saying when they went to a house show, there would be, “A lot of drunk, older male college students.”

They said that the older guys would get really drunk while being around a lot of younger women and would end up shoving people around or hitting on them.

“I always had my friends around me to keep me safe, but if you’re a really young girl in college, you are going into the house show scene and you drink a little too much, really unsafe things can happen,” Hall said. “If the people who are living in those houses aren’t accountable for that, it makes it much less safe.”

The group realized from their experiences at venues during their freshman that without safety the shows are impacted. With the creation of Luigi’s Mansion, they could work to create a community that values safety and representation.

Hall had those values in mind when writing Luigi’s Mansion’s mission statement. They said that the venue will provide a safe and inclusive space for local and touring bands with a focus on providing a stage for disenfranchised groups.

Hall has also put their focus on looking for more underrepresented groups. They said Luigi’s Mansion will still have a good amount of the normal garage rock dudes.

“I’ll definitely be looking out more for groups that have women or queer people, or people of color,” Hall said. “Those groups don’t have as much representation in this music scene as they should.”

Bonaci said the music scene in Bellingham has become an echo chamber by not providing for other communities.

“The scene develops around those ideas and then, obviously, there’s not going to be as many minority groups,” Bonaci said.

By pushing for  minority representation within their space, Luigi’s Mansion hopes people feel like they still have a place in the Bellingham music scene.

A penny organ at Luigi’s Mansion, a house show venue on south campus. // Photo by Jon Foster

Schmitt said one of the beautiful things about the Bellingham house show scene is that people could create a four-band bill where nobody sounds even remotely similar, and people would still be into it. People come to listen to music and enjoy the bill even if they don’t care for the genre, Schmitt said.

Luigi’s Mansion isn’t just about bands playing music. Bonaci said his favorite thing that has happened in their studio was his neighbor bringing over their younger son.

“He just came over and played drums for a little while,” Bonaci said. “He was just hanging out.”

Bonaci said interactions like this are examples of how Luigi’s Mansion wants to engage with the community.

“People will support you if you have something good to show and that you are going about it kindly,” Bonaci said.

 

Updated on July 19, 2018 to include Period Bomb’s experience at Luigi’s Mansion. 

1 COMMENT

  1. Wow way to edit out the real story. We, Period Bomb, we’re as far away from our home of Miami FL as possible and we got paid less than we EVER have in 4 years here: $10. They don’t care about keeping touring culture alive and not just for kids with trustfunds at ALL. Here’s the real interview:
    What is your full name and what are your pronouns?
    Cam Alvarez, they

    What made you decide to play at Luigi’s Mansion?
    Well, most the places we would usually play were closed for the summer
    so we are lucky they were willing to accommodate us for that short
    performance. Last time Bellingham was totally worth going out of the
    way for, especially because our friend who hosts us there rules so
    hard.

    How was your experience there?
    It reminded me a lot of our warehouse/venue situation back in South
    Florida except bigger and nicer and the sound was actually pretty loud
    and clear there, so at least we got a good phone recording. We tend to
    punish our audience pretty hard during our pre-set extended sound
    checks that usually turn into elaborate little plays and this audience
    had 0 SURVIVORS. A nice couple did walk in after it and though and
    enjoyed the rest of it. The guy running the place, the bands that
    played, and our friend who booked it also watched and seemed to really
    enjoyed it. All of those nice people who watched us at least put some
    donations towards merch, except for the dude running the space. We
    kept hearing him apologize for not making us any money that night
    since we first met him and before the first person had arrived. I
    guess he did not have a lot of faith in his community, or maybe it was
    his community that does not have faith in him to bring acts that
    deserve and perhaps even depend on $5 per person at the show. We even
    overheard someone saying they were not paying for the show because
    they’ve lived in Bellingham their whole lives. They all seemed like
    really nice people though. But funny enough, the next day when we were
    busking in downtown to actually get enough cash to get to Spokane from
    there, the host dude also passed right by us twice, smiling, and still
    did not feel it necessary to donate any money to us. I feel it is
    really important to enable artists to tour that don’t have huge
    savings they can tap into at any moment, even the furthest most polar
    opposite tip of the country like Bellingham is to us from Miami. I
    would thinking especially if you live in a small town that is totally
    out of the way for touring bands and care at all about hearing people
    who might actually have something to say rather than just sell. There
    were a whooole lot of robots that passed us while we were playing on
    that corner with our battery powered power-electronics, flutes and
    analog echo-chamber plastic mic from Burger King circa 2011. One more
    round of last minute begging at a gas station outside of Bellingham
    with a primarily Arab population and we made just enough to get to our
    show in Spokane which thankfully, was bangin.
    Overall I’ve gotta give Bellingham a 7 in the school season and a hard
    1 during the summer time (at least for touring bands) Jon.

    What is your full name and what are your pronouns?
    Shuggy Sugarman, she

    What made you decide to play at Luigi’s Mansion?
    I’m on tour with Period Bomb.

    What stuck out to you when you played at the venue?
    A lot of the audience was fake and we got paid in the corners of bitten weed
    brownies. I literally grabbed someone and said “kill me kill me” and
    they just walked away, I mean that’s an intimate moment ya know? How
    could they just walk away? The people who hung around our horrible
    musical experiments on the street the next day seemed way more genuine
    than some of the people at the show. I really liked the kids who were dancing to our music there but not their parents who pulled them away
    and went to go make them stare at the human statue and give it money
    instead.

    What is your full name and what are your pronouns?
    DJ, they

    What made you decide to play at Luigi’s Mansion?
    Cam made me do it!

    What stuck out to you when you played at the venue?
    The big, thick, soft carpet stood out to me.

    How was your experience there?
    It was fun. Two people moshed.

    How’d you like Bellingham?
    I love Bellingham.

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