If Austin and Nicole Stone—perhaps Seattle's only son-and-mother nightclub partnership—have their way, Kremwerk will help shift Seattle's epicenter of cool from Capitol Hill to the Denny Triangle. The small basement space on Minor Avenue has been open only since February, but it's already establishing itself as a crucial cog in the city's electronic-music scene.
Kremwerk hit the ground running. In its first week, Austin—the venue's booker—scored future-bass star L-Vis 1990, and since then, he's brought in an excellent array of local and international talent, including Silent Servant, Santiago Salazar, Dreamweapon, Jimi Jaxon, and Raica. When Electric Tea Garden closed, it left an opening for another entity to host the sort of edgy electronic music most venues consider too risky to embrace. Kremwerk—which now has a capacity of 160 with its newly installed patio—appeared at an opportune time to help champion the scene's underground action.
Kremwerk's interior fuses an industrial, bunkerlike atmosphere (exposed, rusted pipes and sprinkler, much concrete, steel, and wood, etc.) with a chic after-hours spot. It's dimly lit and low-ceilinged and sports excellent feng shui, with plenty of nooks and seating away from the dance floor. Several shellacked and sanded tree stumps serve as tables. (Nicole's neighbor had just cut down a tree, so she asked if she could use the wood for Kremwerk.) Shortly after you enter, you encounter a display case holding dozens of bottles of what looks like milk ("Kremwerk" is German for "cream factory"). The Stones say the liquid is "space milk, a special formula we came up with that doesn't spoil."
Nicole explains further: "The bottles are art. We spent so much time lining up all the bottles, making perfect spacing. The second night we said, 'Oh my god, the bass is making the bottles move. What do we do?' But they kept on dancing around, and we thought it was cool." Nicole's brother Chris Stone came up with the milk-bottle idea. "This building was originally a creamery," she says. "It used to be a bonbon factory, and there was a train track in front of the building, and cows out there. This was a big walk-in freezer above us."
While it's cute that a mother and son are running one of Seattle's most adventurous clubs (along with Nicole's fiancé, Henry Waltke, who handles the books and inventory), the Stones form a formidable creative team born out of serious work in the field. Owner of Vio Design Build, Nicole conceived the floor plan and constructed Kremwerk, digging out the basement by hand, pouring concrete around the original footings, and putting acid stain on the floor. "She was spraying, and I was rubbing. It was great to have your mother spray acid at you," Austin says, laughing. "There was a lot of trust involved."
As for Austin, he studied audio engineering at Berklee College of Music and recently spent a year in Berlin absorbing that city's world-class electronic-music environment, becoming involved with the forward-looking artists and promoters of the FEED crew, who now run Kunstwerke. His musical tastes range from Monolake to Bronski Beat and Os Mutantes. He moved to Seattle last May when Nicole told him about the building she was working on and how it could be turned into a club they could call their own.
Austin didn't know anybody in the Seattle scene, but soon after arriving here, he met KEXP DJ and Audioasis producer Sharlese Metcalf at Pony, where she was doing her Audiodrome night with DJ Kate. Metcalf was generous with her extensive connections, which led to Austin contacting Sweatbox techno DJ/promoters Chris Aldrich and Jesse Farmer, who helped Kremwerk get some momentum with their heady, hard-driving events. Sharlese and Kate ended up getting a monthly showcase for industrial, coldwave, and minimal-synth music called False Prophet.
"Kate and I were dreaming of bigger DJs and a louder sound system, and Austin came to our aid," Metcalf says. "He offered us every fourth Sunday at Kremwerk and support. I'm not sure False Prophet would work anywhere else. We are able to do a lot of things that we couldn't have done at a small bar. Kate and I are hoping to be part of a scene where this style of music can be supported, and Kremwerk has been a great help and influence with all of this."
Aldrich says with Electric Tea Garden gone, "the techno/house scene is definitely looking for another centrally located staple venue where we can cut loose. It took ETG years to get to that point, and I think if Kremwerk is patient and builds up their loyal regulars, it will be the best club in town."
Why is he so excited about Kremwerk? It is "one of the few clubs in the city built specifically with the DJ in mind, as opposed to the many multipurpose venues we have in Seattle. Its basement location... is perfect for keeping sound contained. I also love how dark they keep the place—techno as fuck. The open floor plan allows them to consistently tweak the layout depending on the size and scale of the night, and they have a lot of different lighting options to give a different mood for the various nights, as well." Aldrich also praises the "chest-rattling" sound system, especially the three-corner setup at a recent secondnature show with Israel Vines.
Another promoter who's worked with Kremwerk, High & Tight's Cody Morrison, thinks its "capacity is just right for Seattle. In general, smaller parties are almost always better, and I've found the capacity sweet spot in Seattle is usually between 100 and 200, which matches Kremwerk's capacity. I speak to a lot of artists from all over the world, and they almost universally agree that smaller/tighter parties full of heads trump a room full of a thousand punters in cologne/perfume looking to get laid."
Morrison acknowledges that "Austin was in a tough spot because Kremwerk is filling an important role in the fabric of the Seattle nightlife. Kremwerk is uniquely positioned, basically being in the basement of Re-bar, so that would be a logical collaborative environment. My wish is one day those venues work in concert and become a destination for the city's best parties."
Morrison and Metcalf brought in LA minimal-techno star Silent Servant over Memorial Day weekend, nights that Austin considers Kremwerk's pinnacle so far. "That proved we could get a higher-budget artist and get people to come out on a difficult weekend and make it work and make the artist happy. Silent Servant was so happy with it that he wants to book people like Sharlese and Kate for an industrial set in LA."
While it's mostly known as a haven for douchebag-repelling electronic music, Kremwerk is expanding into burlesque, comedy, and live music. Austin says the Cathedral burlesque night was spectacular. He also plans to increase the club's multimedia aspects, hang art on the walls of the patio, and start a record label. Oh, and air conditioning is coming soon, Nicole promises.
With two 40-story towers scheduled to go up soon next to Kremwerk and Re-bar, Nicole speculates that "we're going to have an alley connecting the two clubs, which I think could create quite the little scene." But will these new tenants dig what Kremwerk is offering? The Stones obviously hope so, but don't expect them to water down their content.
"If you don't take a risk, you look like you're not throwing weight around," Austin says. "We took a risk our first weekend: We booked this sort of new future-bass artist, L-Vis 1990. It was amazing. We booked him on a Sunday because we wanted to make a statement that we want to book serious artists. And it paid off tremendously, because that hooked us up with the High & Tight crew and got us respect from a lot of other well-established people. That night we got generous donations for gear and everything.
"We're going to continue to take risks," Austin says. "Now that we've figured out all of the inner workings of the machine. I'm so excited to bring out all these wonderful people. We want people to walk through the door and just be dropping their jaws in surprise at what they see and hear. The goal is to make Kremwerk the most intimate and cool thing you can see in Seattle right now."