GREETINGS, NOOBS! You’ve probably heard that Portland’s got a music scene, and it’s true—this city is somewhat notorious for attracting moody brooders with acoustic guitars. We’ve got a rich history of being home to prolific bands like Wipers and Dead Moon (Fred and Toody Cole still play all the time). Heck, you might even see Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock around town—though hopefully not rear-ending your Subaru. (It happened once, so watch your butts out there.) You’ve entered Portland at a time when the sands are shifting in its music scenes, as rents rise and longstanding venues shutter. But it’s not all doomy gloominess—this time of change has been incredibly dynamic. In place of traditional venues, Portland musicians have created a booming house show scene, and the city’s hip-hop community (yes, it exists) is finally getting the attention it deserves. We’re experiencing some major growing pains as Portland swells with new people, but it’s also an undeniably exciting time for local music. Here’s a brief introduction to two of the coolest things happening right now:
Over the past few years, rent hikes have pushed out all-ages venues like Backspace, Laughing Horse, Slabtown, and many more. These names probably mean nothing to you, but they were wonderful places where anyone of any age could go to enjoy music together. We don’t have as many of those anymore, and it sucks, because everyone should have access to art. Anyway, all of these closures have resulted in a thriving DIY house show culture. Older Portland homes often have basements (if you’re from California like me, this will probably be a shocking revelation), which become pungent dungeons of black mold, sweat, and foam soundproofing cushioning the low ceilings.
The first time I saw up-and-coming post-punks Strange Ranger (formerly known as Sioux Falls)—who are, full disclosure, now good friends of mine—it was in one such disgusting basement. I can’t reveal names or addresses of venues since house shows are at private residences, but if you’re interested they won’t be too hard to find.
It’s usually good form to only attend a house show where you know one of the residents, or at least go with someone who is more familiar with the community. And be sure to follow the golden rule of good house-show etiquette (and any show etiquette, really): Respect the people and the space you’re in, and don’t be an asshole. Don’t be predatory or racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic. Just stay home, or you will be dropkicked right back to where you came from.
House shows are an imperfect solution to a larger problem—spaces for all-ages music are difficult to sustain in a climate where a venue’s success is often dependent on alcohol sales and rents are increasing at an unprecedented rate—but they do reflect the spirit and perseverance of Portland’s DIY communities.
If you’re moving here, you should know that Portland’s population is currently six percent black, and the city (the entire state of Oregon, really) has a deeply racist history that you should research.
Ann-Derrick Gaillot recently had a fantastic piece in the Fader that interviewed several Portland hip-hop artists about growing up here: “I hate walking down the street that I grew up on with all of my friends, my uncles, all the stuff that made me who I am, and then looking around and seeing that none of that’s there except maybe a few houses and all these white people looking at me like I don’t belong here,” local musician/producer Michael Fountaine says in article. “And it’s funny because a lot of the shit that Portland has built upon started from African American-owned businesses and things that we set as seeds in the soil to grow.”
Despite the huge lack of venues for shows (the Alhambra, Blue Monk, and LV’s Twelve-22 have also recently closed), the hip-hop community in Portland is thriving and bursting with talent. Check out monthly showcases like the Thesis and Mic Check, and keep an eye out for bills with up-and-coming names like Blossom, Mic Capes, Maze Koroma, Karma Rivera, and so many more, as well as veterans like Cool Nutz and Mic Crenshaw. There’s also YGB (Young, Gifted, and Black/Brown), a community that hosts regular dance nights at venues like Killingsworth Dynasty and Holocene, as well as DUG’s (Deep Under Ground) events at Disjecta that blend performance with visual art.