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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Bellingham institution What’s Up! magazine closes after two decades

The front page of What’s Up’s final issue from March 2020
The front page of What’s Up’s final issue, March 2020.

Musicians, showgoers, community members mourn loss of comprehensive, enthusiastic guide to the local music scene.

By Nick Peters

After serving the Bellingham community for 22 years, music magazine What’s Up! has shut down. 

Brent Cole founded the Bellingham publication in March 1998 and produced a comprehensive monthly guide to Bellingham’s music scene until March 2020. From local shows to new bands and album releases, What’s Up! thoroughly covered the Bellingham music community.  

“In 1997, at some point I sort of had the idea of wanting to have a music magazine because local bands weren’t being covered … at all,” Cole said.

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Cole said that Bellingham had only small weekly publications, and those contained little to no information on the local music scene. He was inspired by Seattle-based music publication The Rocket, and wanted Bellingham to have a similar publication.

Cole did just that, all the while presenting opportunities to reporters and photographers alike.

Chris Butcher, co-editor and photographer of What’s Up!, told me that he found his way to the publication due to a classmate of his. He was looking to get into writing and photography, and What’s Up! gave him that opportunity.

Despite the fact that What’s Up! wasn’t looking for a photographer at the time, Butcher said he decided to send in photos he took at shows he was already covering. The publication saw merit in his work and he was hired on as a photographer.

Cole said he wants people to learn what it is like to work at a publication in college that is off-campus. His parents were in education, and he stressed that helping these young reporters is something that excited him most.

Artists and members of the Bellingham music community attest to opportunities in and around the music scene as well, from show promotion to artist spotlights. 

Bella Cole-Preciado, local musician, show-runner and What’s Up! writer, highlighted some of these opportunities. She said that being able to write about bands she liked, while seeing people write about her band and venue was very valuable.  

Kyle McAllister, member of local alternative rock group Apology Wars, said that you need a press package to show you have credibility moving forward in a music career. A press package is a collection of information about your group. A longstanding music magazine writing about you is a great addition to one. 

Cole and What’s Up! did not only present working opportunities to community members, but also moral support.  

“[What’s Up! played] the role of support, the role of affirmation, the role of validation, always,” Amanda Hodgins of local group LipStitch said. 

Hodgins said she would occasionally feel down on herself or her group, but seeing an article from What’s Up! talking about her music, whether it was an album review or a live show write up, would always quell any worries.

“That kept me going in ways that I don’t think I could put into words. Especially as a woman in music, and somebody whose love language is words of affirmation,” Hodgins said.

Benjamin Waight, venue runner at The Mind Palace from 2015-2018, and member of The Dawn Bombs, attested to What’s Up!’s impact as a monthly reader. Spending many years under the drinking age in a music community prominently centered around bar culture, What’s Up! was a necessity for him to be able to find all-ages shows and build a community of fellow musicians and showgoers, Waight said.

Jordan Moss, local hip-hop artist The Rhetorician, said the publication made him feel like he was a part of a bigger community filled with talented people.

In 22 years, Bellingham’s music scene as well as music scenes worldwide have changed immensely due to the explosion of the internet and the ability to share music across the globe, but the idea of keeping the magazine particular to Bellingham’s unique community stayed, said Cole.

Music scenes were significantly more regionalized in the early days of What’s Up! due to the lack of social media or internet to promote with, Cole said. Having a local publication that catered to an individual scene was huge; what was happening in any local scene was what was most exciting to readers.

Over two decades Cole has seen some extraordinary things happen for Bellingham music. Most notably he has witnessed Death Cab For Cutie and Odesza perform massive stages, from Saturday Night Live to Civic Stadium.

“I mean, that kind of stuff is really amazing, to know that the magazine got to play a role in those bands starting out and kind of gaining some confidence,” Cole said.

With What’s Up!’s closure, McAllister said he hopes another music publication will take its place. 

“If What’s Up! is gone, we need to replace it,” McAllister said. “We need someone within the community who either has the means or the time to start another music publication, because Bellingham and our music scene will suffer without it.”

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