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.
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.
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.