Scott McLean sits at a sidewalk table kitty corner from Holocene, a dance club he's opening the first weekend in June with two of his friends, Jarkko Cain and Charlie Hodge. For now, the space is teeming with workers and sawdust carpets the performance room, but in little over a week, he'll see it packed with dancing patrons, marking a fulfillment of his long-awaited aspirations.
"If you have a vision, you can really realize it here, much more so than in San Francisco or L.A.," he says.
And it's true; Portland's quickly developing into a mecca for young creative types, reflected in an increasing wealth of venues and progenitors of the arts. Latching on to that energy, Holocene hopes to carve out a niche that's both vital and unique.
"To me--and this is oversimplifying--there are two things happening in Portland," says Jarkko. "One is super low-brow, on this level like, 'We don't really give a shit, we're just fucking around doing our thing.' The other is kind of striving, miserable about our provincialism, trying to be the 'New York place' in Portland. We want to be our own thing, which has a lot to do with being in Portland, but also looks outward in a way that not enough places do."
Primarily, Holocene will be a space dedicated to electronic music and dancing. However, its multiple rooms give it the advantage of also being a place to simply drop in for a drink.
"We don't want to have the kind of place where you need to look at the calendar to see if you can go there," reassures Jarkko. "Like, 'Oh no, it's goth night,' and that's not your thing and you're just like, 'Oh god I can't handle this!'--It should never be like that."
LITTLE CITY, BIG PLANS
As far as what you can expect to see at Holocene, the three owners have a huge list of acts they personally love and would like to see live. Having dedicated a great deal of effort towards developing relationships in other West Coast cities, they hope to be able to collaborate tours and attract international acts that might otherwise visit Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, but skip over Portland. And in order to facilitate an increasingly relevant scene, the Holocene crew is working to make it easier to enjoy the more unknown acts by keeping the covers low. McLean even (jokingly?) mentioned having the door person equipped with a CD player and headphones to give you a sample before deciding whether or not to come in. Plus, in addition to hosting touring acts, Holocene will feature weekly events.
"We're going to have a Wednesday night that's jazz-oriented," says McLean, "an electro party that's happening first and third Saturdays, and a house night. The first couple months we're really going to wait and see how these first parties shape up before we institute them as weeklies or biweeklies. The first few months are going to be a lot of one-offs."
Inside, Halocene contains a spacious lounge and a slightly smaller performance room. The guys and gals bathrooms will be separated with a piece of glass that creates trippy shadow profiles, and a smoking room that features revolving art and design installations. The walls are left white, and will be used as screen canvases for projection art that the club intends to showcase alongside music and party events. One such party idea is a mini golf tournament, with golf holes created by local designers.
"We're looking at great little things that aren't too esoteric or boring; party things that are original," explains Jarkko. Also in cahoots with Seaplane, we can expect Holocene to become a frequent space for fashion shows.
WE HATE TROUBLE
Holocene may well fill a void that's existed in Portland's dance and electronic scene. Clubs that host similar genres, most notably the B-Complex, have run into trouble with neighborhood associations and the OLCC. To avoid these conflicts, the Holocene proprietors went to great lengths to talk with neighbors and pave the way for comfortable dialogue and attentiveness to problems, going as far as providing their neighbors with a security cell phone number in case anything occurs.
Jarkko even drafted a "good neighbor" agreement, promising neighborly actions like litter pickup in the area. It's obviously paid off, as Holocene's opening its doors with a crisp new liquor license--the fruits of which will be enjoyed amid the small pools of floating flowers and such that are carved into the lounge's bar.
It would appear Holocene isn't headed in a direction that many would find objectionable. It's classy but not expensive, party but not raucous. They've staffed the venue with friends, and will themselves be a constant presence, ensuring a close watch and control over the tone of the club's atmosphere.
"I'm not worried about our place being taken over by crazy-drunk, out-of-control cruisy dudes or ecstasy-addled 22-year-olds," says Jarkko. "For example, if anybody's had six drinks, and they're giving some girls a hard time, they're pretty much going to get talked to right away; it's going to be a nice place."
To celebrate the club's grand opening, Holocene is featuring a weekend full of events. Saturday marks the first night the club will open its doors to the public, and as McLean puts it, it's going to be "just an all-out dance party." RD ("a fucking amazing electro DJ") from Los Angeles will play alongside locals DJ Brokenwindow and Maxim Basa. Then on Sunday, Funkstörung, Solenoid, and Nudge will take the stage, and McLean says that Funkstörung is hoping to get a local MC to freestyle with them during their set.
With tasteful design and a "curated" lineup of performances and events, Holocene may well help push Portland over the edge, joining the ranks of internationally recognized cities with thriving, quality electronic scenes.
"National magazines always sort of have qualifications, like 'You'd never believe this was happening in Portland,'" explains McLean. "It's nothing to prove, but it'd be great to have people come from other countries, then go back and say 'There's some great stuff going on in Portland.'"
Jarkko echoes this, emphasizing the importance of care and effort that will be put into Holocene's environment.
"I'll know we're really successful if artists want to do things here because they know the audience is going to have high expectations--and that those expectations are going to be met."