On the final night of spinning records, not only did patrons and artists lament the end of a brief era at Jezebel's, but many pointed out the decision to cancel hiphop at the club is part of a cultural battle the community is fighting against the OLCC--one that musicians are decidedly losing.
For two years, Jezebel's owner Mike Nichols explained, he has been dealing with the OLCC's unfounded accusations of noise law violations. Initially, neighbors complained that the music kept them awake at night. "I recently spent twelve grand giving this place new padding, making it soundproof," he explained. But even after the makeover, neighbors allegedly still complained of patrons making too much noise going to their cars late at night. The Neighborhood Association complained to the police; police in turn notified the OLCC.
"No one will touch hiphop in this town," says Gainon, who's been the promoter and organizer at Jezebel's for the last two years. "It's really such a misunderstanding though. The OLCC has this idea that hiphop equals trouble, yet in two years we've had almost no problems."
Promoters and club owners around town echo Gainon's concerns that the OLCC is particularly prejudiced when it comes to hiphop; yet, because they feared the OLCC would punish specific clubs for speaking out, no one was willing to go on the record with the Mercury. "I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do with the place now," said Nichols. "I think I'll give it a rest for awhile, and then maybe turn it into a sports bar."
Moreover, quality hiphop clubs are few and far between in Portland. Without a place to play, DJs like DJ Wicked, who, until last week, spun regularly Wednesday nights, feel like they have no place to go. "There really is no other place in town like Jezebel's," Wicked explained. "It's one of the only places where you can hear underground hiphop regularly, so the crowd is really diverse. I'm not sure where I'll spin after this, if I will at all."
The suspicion that the OLCC is prejudiced against hiphop is coupled with a feeling that the OLCC's power to terminate clubs is out of hand. Though Jezebel's employees acknowledge their location in a primarily residential neighborhood--Ladd's Addition--is a challenge for any club, they say Jezebel's never went through a fair disciplinary process. "We've never had a single ticket, a single written warning," said Erika Gose, a cook and waitress at Jezebel's. "It's just the complaints of a few neighbors, and bam, we're all out of jobs."
Indeed, state law does not specify that the OLCC must honor any kind of democratic process before imposing a fine or revoking the liquor license of a particular club. It simply specifies grounds for cancellation as "a history of serious and persistent problems involving disturbances." Without a democratic system, say employees, the OLCC was given free reign to blame any and all neighborhood problems on Jezebel's. "If there's a fight, someone yelling, someone doing heroin in the alley two blocks away, it automatically became our fault," said Gainon.
Ken Palke, spokesperson for the OLCC, pointed out that the OLCC never actually order Jezebel's to quit hosting DJs, nor did they threaten to pull their liquor license. Rather, "the OLCC had some consistent concerns about Jezebel's," he explained. These concerns brought Nichols to the understanding that if he didn't "change his format," there was no way around the impending schedule of fines.
Hiphop's Last Gasp
The Liquor Commission's Chokehold on Hiphop Clubs by Katia Dunn