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Temperature check: Bellingham’s growing hip-hop scene

Enthusiasm is peaking in the new wave of Bellingham music

Artist CHRVNS performs at the Bellingham Arts and Music Festival in Bellingham, Wash on Aug. 21, 2022. CHRVNS is a local hip hop artist who has performed in various Bellingham venues such as the popular Wild Buffalo. // Photo and edit by Scott Starvovich

With Bellingham's beloved music scene back in full swing, musicians and fans are looking for more ways to get involved. 

“I think it's more vibrant than ever,” said Patrick Roulete, department chair of the Western Washington University music department. 

Roulete explained how spirits in the music department have been reignited over the past year since the start of the pandemic.

“They are as excited, but there's something different about it. I'm not sure if I can pinpoint exactly what it is," Roulete said, referring to students of the music department. "There seems to be a spirit of cooperation and community that I don't think was there before the pandemic.”

According to an online poll created by The Front titled “How do you feel about the Bellingham music scene?” the most popular genres in Bellingham are rock, which received 36% of votes, along with hip-hop, which received 13.6% of the votes.

 A poll was also posted in the Ridgeway dining hall at Western Washington University and the Stateside apartments in Bellingham. They found that hip hop was significantly more popular in comparison to the online community, receiving 39% of the votes. 

Kristen Nelson, freelance booking agent in Bellingham, has been an active member in the music scene for years. She mentioned how the local hip-hop community doesn’t seem to get the love and attention it deserves.

“I know, traditionally, a lot of venues are hesitant to book bigger hip-hop shows because there's a lot of stereotypes that go behind it,” Nelson said. 

Online polls also suggested that people believe there is a shortage of venues for college students. 

“A lot of the groups that come in are under 21 and in high school, and we needed a space to celebrate that for everyone,” said Martjin Wall, co-founder of the Blueroom, a newly built all ages music venue. “We are in a college town, there is no established venue for all ages.”

Wall’s hope was to create more opportunities for aspiring artists with the Blueroom.

“We are trying to be as open as we can. We have seen many independent artists have their first show,” Wall said. 

Magenta Wave, a local rock band that recently played at the Blueroom, explained how Bellingham holds a very inclusive music community which has helped them get their start as a new band, but wishes there were more spaces to perform.

 “It would be cool if the town had a couple more venues. There are a lot of bands here, people are interested in hearing music,” they said messaging from their band Instagram account.

According to Wall, rock is the most commonly booked genre of music at the Blueroom along with other venues in Bellingham. He noted that he is very interested in making his venue as diverse as possible in order to keep things interesting for music fans. 

“We have had success with local hip-hop shows as well,” Wall said. 

Nelson said the hip-hop scene in Bellingham is under-appreciated due to a lack of exposure. 

“I think the hip-hop scene locally could really use a boost. There's so many talented people in our hip-hop community, but people often don't show up to those shows, and I don't know why,” Nelson said. 

Nico Sanchez, owner of Black Noise Records in Bellingham located on Bay street, said his goal with his record shop, which opened two years ago, was to help tie the hip-hop scene together. 

“I definitely think there's a lot of people that appreciate hip-hop in the community, but there's definitely not a solidified scene. That's kind of been the whole mission statement of our label’s store,” Sanchez said. “I always felt like there was a scene, but I also felt that it was pre-established and I didn't really fit into any of those facets. So create your own.”

The underrepresentation of the local hip-hop community was a motivation for opening his record shop and label over the past few years.

According to Nelson, there isn’t a solidified platform for people to find out about upcoming hip-hop shows. 

“I would love to see people engaging more with the local hip hop scene and not just going to see big touring acts, Nelson said. "There's so many excellent artists out here I think people would love it if they just knew where to find them.” 

Sanchez explained that there aren’t many avenues for discovering upcoming hip-hop shows in Bellingham. 

“Not really many options in town, if at all,” Sanchez said.

“I think the hip-hop scene is growing heavily in Bellingham and is starting to blend more into the music scene as a whole, especially in the last year,” said Morgan Kramer, manager and primary DJ for local hip-hop artist CHRVNS. “You'll definitely be seeing more and more hip-hop artists.”

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