Tuesday, April 15, 2008

We Oppose the Noise Ordinance in Olympia!

The City of Olympia is trying to pass a noise ordinance that would set a sound limit of 60Db for downtown after 10PM. This would be measured from the property line of the person complaining, not from inside their home or business. 60 Db is not very loud and in all likely-hood this will ban shows downtown. Rumor has it that the council members behind this ordinance are trying to make downtown more "condo-friendly". Little do they know! Downtown is built on landfill and most buildings will not survive a major earthquake. Who wants to buy property with that risk? Anyhow, that's beside the point.

We are asking Kill Rock Stars Mail Order Freaks (and their allies) to write to the city council and ask them to hold a public hearing on the Noise Ordinance. Tell them that the downtown Olympia music scene is important and why! Tell them how much you love Nirvana, Beat Happening, Sleater-Kinney, Unwound, Bikini Kill, C-Average, the Old Haunts, Bangs, The Tight Bros from Way Back When, Mocket, the Punks and Witchy Pool! Tell them about the time you came to the International Pop Underground Festival or how it felt to meet your first girlfriend at Homo A Go-Go! Tell them how you found out about Riot Grrl and then volunteered at Ladyfest where you live! And find a way to connect this to the proposed Noise Ordinance, which will penalize musicians, concert goers and local businesses.

Send letters to:


Here's my letter (spun to appeal to the city's stated values of diversity, economic prosperity and patronage of the arts):

Tobi Vail
Kill Rock Stars
120 NE State Ave, PMB 418
Olympia, Washington 98507

April 14, 2008

Dear City Council Members,

As a self-employed musician, a long time downtown resident and a worker in the music industry I am writing in opposition of the noise ordinance. I first moved into the Martin Apartments in 1988. I was 18, a musician and active member of the local Olympia music scene. Nirvana, Calvin Johnson's Beat Happening and Melvins were just a few of the terrific local bands that played in downtown art galleries and all ages venues on a regular basis. One of those groups went on to become one of the most celebrated bands in the history of rock-n-roll. Had the noise ordinance existed then, Nirvana would not have been able to play live in Olympia.

A more recent example of a musician who came out of the local downtown music scene and has gone on to international fame is K recording artist Kimya Dawson, whose music is prominently featured in the Academy Award winning movie Juno. I strongly suggest you go see it and reconsider your decision to pass a noise ordinance that will hinder rather than foster the vital music community that has existed here since the early 1980's.

In the past few decades the local music community has gone through many changes and is now thriving, diverse and more tolerant of cultural differences. Not only are there a plethora of places to play and styles of live music for concertgoers to chose from, there are now live DJ nights at many dance clubs downtown, including Jakes on 4th, a local gay bar. The Brotherhood , le Voyeur and QB prioritize the safety of female, trans and/or gay clientele as a matter of policy. Ben Moore's has jazz nights and also features local blues artists, while the Mark, the Midnight Sun, the China Clipper, El Guanaco and the Vault often feature R&B, Hip Hop and all kinds of dance music, McCoy's and the 4th Ave are just two of the many downtown venues who throw alternative rock shows for the over 21 crowd. The Capitol Theater, the Eagles Hall, Traditions and the Washington Center host World Music events several times a year, while the Olympia Ballroom is regularly used for wedding receptions and teen dances. Irish Music can often be heard at Plenty, and Karoke happens at several bars weekly, offering amateur singers a place to practice. Everything from Electronic Music to Heavy Metal, to Avant Garde Experimental Noise music shows also happen regularly downtown. All-Ages Punk shows have occurred less often since Manium closed, but hopefully that will change, as providing misfit teens a space to be creative and see music (rather than to party and get in trouble) should be valued by all.

In addition to diversity at the local level, Olympia is culturally enriched by its international reputation: young people from Tokyo, Mexico City, Madrid, Berlin, Beijing, London and Tel Aviv make pilgrimages here, providing local musicians with an informal network of cultural exchange. Many students come to TESC from all over the U.S. to start bands. The city should recognize Olympia is a tourist attraction and destination for young people from all over the world because of the downtown music scene.

Local musicians not only have achieved notoriety and international prestige but work hard to build community and promote diversity and equality in the arts. In the 90's Olympia was the birthplace of the Riot Grrl movement, home to internationally known female-fronted bands such as Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney and my own group, Bikini Kill. This trend continues today with Scream Club, Twin and Spider and the Webs. Riot Grrl is not only a crucial political movement for female musicians, it is largely regarded at one of the starting points of Third Wave Feminism--a version of feminism that is arguably more diverse and inclusive than its 1970's predecessor.

Olympia has been the founding city for several well-attended independent culture, art and music festivals that draw a crowd from all over the world such as the International Pop Underground festival (IPU), Yo-Yo A Go-Go, Homo A Go-Go, the Experimental Music Festival and Ladyfest. Ladyfest started here in 2000 and has since happened in over 50 cities around the world. Several influential independent record labels started here, such as K Records, Chainsaw and Kill Rock Stars. K and Kill Rock Stars continue to do business here and represent Olympia in the Punk, Indie and Underground Music world.

There will be an economic impact to your decision as well as a cultural one. It was Sleater-Kinney that got Olympia mentioned in Time magazine as "the hippest city in the West". When I first started going to see live music downtown I was a young musician who went to Capital High School. Downtown was deserted because the mall had put the department stores out of business. Local artists and musicians were responsible for revitalizing downtown and this continues today, with local record labels, venues, and independently owned record stores being a part of the economy and downtown landscape.

At the very least, this needs to be addressed in a public forum. The survival of downtown Olympia as a vital, internationally known cultural mecca is dependent on the continual existence of live music venues and dance clubs for people of all ages. The cultural significance of the local music scene may not be visible to everyone but many people who live, do business, work and/or visit here treasure it. I can think of several music history books that cite Olympia as a vital part of music culture and imagine this will only grow over time. The City Council needs to recognize the Olympia music scene as a local resource that needs to be sustained, honored and protected-not penalized by an unnecessary noise ordinance that will prohibit live music events.


Tobi Vail
Kill Rock Stars


Anonymous said...

Tacoma just passed such thing :(


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