Back to School
A Guide to Local Politics, Music, the Arts, and Pho
Back to School
By the Stranger Election Control Board
How Politics Work Round These Parts
If you're reading this at the University of Washington—a campus that proudly features a Red Square—it is easy to imagine Washington State as some sort of lefty paradise. Don't be fooled! Washington's political landscape is filled with a dizzying array of Republicans, not to mention Democrats who religiously vote with those Republicans.
Much of the problem stems from our state constitution, which defines three branches of government, each more ineffective than the last: the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the Seattle Times editorial board. Or so you'd think from reading the Seattle Times editorial board. Rule number one: Don't read the Seattle Times editorials. At least not if you're looking for even the slightest clue as to the true ideological leanings of a candidate or ballot measure.
How the state works: It's divided, politically and by a mountain range. The progressives rule the western side, and because there are more of us, progressives generally hold a majority of the legislature. That drives the conservatives over in the eastern hinterlands fucking crazy. (And all elected officials from Eastern Washington are fucking crazy.) But thanks to a so-called Roadkill Caucus of moderate Democrats, our legislature annually guts health care, the social safety net, and money for public universities. As if that's not bad enough, an initiative promoter named Tim Eyman routinely runs campaigns that seem appetizing—to cut taxes!—that end up fucking over the poor, the old, and students even more.
How the county works: This is King County, which used to have a crown for its logo but now is named after the late Martin Luther King Jr. The county runs the Metro bus system, the court and jail system, and a damn fine health department. The county council is duller than a warm turd.
How the city works: Republicans can't get elected in Seattle, which means the liberals on our spectrum are really liberal. Case in point: Mayor Mike McGinn, an über-left-wing, sometimes-brash redhead who wants to put a bicycle on every road and drive the light rail directly into your garage. The city council members—while being Democrats, technically—are a mostly feckless band of suck-ups who do the bidding of downtown money. The council loves freeways and hates the mayor, and so does the Seattle Times, which, again, you should always ignore.
Know What You're Talking About
You probably have friends who are faggots and pot smokers—or perhaps you are a pot-smoking faggot. So we'll start there. The fall ballot is studded with an initiative to legalize same-sex marriage and another initiative to legalize the possession of marijuana (while licensing growers and sellers). Unless you're a bigot or a moron, you support both of them. There's also an initiative to permit charter schools, which use public money for private schools, which wealthy folks like Bill Gates adore. But studies show charter schools aren't any better than regular schools, so fuck 'em. Meanwhile, fuck the latest Tim Eyman initiative, I-1185. Also on the fall ballot is a race for governor that you'll hear a lot about. There's a Democrat who's dumb and handsome, Jay Inslee, and a Republican who's smart and wan, Rob McKenna. Vote for McKenna—if you oppose women's choice, want to repeal Obamacare, and think unions should be gutted.
Why You Should Register to Vote Here
Yes, yes, your ancestral homelands of Idaho, Utah, and California are all very special. Truly. But you live in Washington State now, which means you'll soon be complaining about things in Washington State. Things like the exorbitant price of liquor, the way some of our state's "pregnancy centers" are actually religious brainwashing centers, the way tuition seems to get hiked beyond reason at public universities every goddamn year. Which means you'll need to be backing up your complaints about Washington State by voting in Washington State, or you'll need to be shutting your yap.
Seriously. Change your voter registration to Washington State right now, with your ballot mailed to your dorm or squat or car or wherever it is you live at the moment. (Go to www.registerinwa.org for details on how to do this.) That is, UNLESS you just moved here from Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada, or any of the other swing states that could decide the November presidential election. If that's your story, you have a higher calling that puts your registration change on pause for a few months. Wait until November, vote absentee in your swingy home state, vote for President Barack Obama (duh), and then change your registration to Washington so that you can join all the rest of your classmates in bitching about the mess here.
How do you figure out who to vote for in a state full of never-heard-of-'em politicians with weird names like Pettigrew, Sawant, and Siegfriedt? We humbly suggest following the advice of the Stranger Election Control Board—which, even though it does tend to make its picks by either spinning an empty liquor bottle or throwing darts at a Ouija board, is at least more thoughtful and honest than the jokers over at the Seattle Times.
Bands to Start Loving Right Now
By Emily Nokes and Dave Segal
Shabazz Palaces: Welcome to Seattle hiphop's molten-hot, Iceberg Slim–cool summit. Shabazz Palaces map out the future of the genre with glistening obelisks of bass-heavy sound and lyrically cryptic and illuminating lyrics redolent of streets and libraries. DS
Brain Fruit: This trio translates the wide-open spaces and economic rhythmic propulsion of the autobahn to the Northwest. Brain Fruit are meisters of kosmische kraut-rock jams you hate to hear fade out. DS
Master Musicians of Bukkake: What sort of hallucinogenic cult ritual will these costumed, world-music-savvy geniuses put you through this time? Hard to say, but rest assured that their mystical improvisations will transport you way out of your mundane routine. DS
Fungal Abyss: Doesn't take a PhD to realize that a band with a name like this is going to set you on the long, serpentine path to psychedelic-metal enlightenment. Don't fight it. DS
Truckasauras: The city's tightest electronic party band gets more exciting with each show, which comes standard with side-splitting, machismo-mocking videos. DS
Wimps: Wimps are real fun, real sharp, real rock 'n' roll punks who play songs that will be lodged in your noggin for ages. Watch them in a basement, watch them on a giant stage—you won't be disappointed either way. EN
Pony Time: This party-perfect duo plays all the ramshackley (and oh-so-catchy) garage-dipped punk hits you could ever dance to. Drink wine coolers to. Fall off a bar stool to. EN
King Dude: Seattle's haziest supernatural ghost-folk maker gets my vote for the most chilling and beautiful music around. Seemingly from a time when the devil and dying of cholera were real concerns, his music is spellbinding. EN
THEESatisfaction: Fall in love. These two fantastic ladies will wrap you in their melodic hiphop and lead you through a slow- motion whirlpool of jazzed soul and calm intelligence. EN
By Megan Seling
Seattle's music scene is fairly all-ages friendly—a decent number of our venues have a separate bar area, so you don't need an ID to get in the show room, and there's a variety of all-ages houses and art spaces hosting shows on the DL. But if your love for music runs a little deeper, you'd be wise to familiarize yourself with the Vera Project (www.theveraproject.org), a long-running all-ages space that not only hosts live music but is also an art gallery, silk-screen workshop, music studio, and more. Are you in a band? You can record your album there! Are you an artist or designer? They have a space for you to hang your work or silk-screen your posters! Want to learn how to run sound at a show or mix a record? They have workshops that will teach you! Plus, they're constantly looking for new volunteers and interns, which means free shows and valuable hands-on experience in the music industry.
By Charles Mudede
You are a spitter or a beatmaker or just a lover of the hiphop form. You're new to the town and want to know what's going down. Where are things cracking? Who is happening? Whose beats should you buy? Who should you sell your beats to? Who on Twitter should you follow? Here are some answers to those important questions.
At the moment, Seattle hiphop has four acts that are on a national level. A look at each of these crews will open the entire scene as it stands today.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are growing bigger by the hour. But don't hate on their success. The two have paid their local dues, particularly Macklemore. He is a part of the community and has released several solid, local classics, the best of which are "White Privilege" and "The Town."
Shabazz Palaces are Tendai Maraire and Ishmael Butler, a veteran who has had a spectacular career in rap—he pioneered hip-hop's jazz moment with Digable Planets and received a Grammy for best rap performance by a duo or group in 1994. Ish represents the South Seattle side of hiphop, which has rappers like GMK (check out his Songs for Bloggers), Spaceman, Black Stax, and the label Sportn' Life Records.
Like Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction are a duo—Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White—that's signed to Sub Pop. In the late '00s, they spearheaded Seattle's space futurism movement with Beacon Hill's Cloud Nice collective (Helladope, Kingdom Crumbs) and Pioneer Square's OC Notes. They are also connected with Capitol Hill, which is centered around Champagne Champagne and the Out for Stardom collective—Katie Kate, the former members of Mad Rad, Metal Chocolates, Fresh Espresso, and Don't Talk to the Cops! (Quick note: Larry Mizell, a member of DTTTC!, also writes the hiphop column for this paper and is the DJ for the longest-running hiphop show in Seattle, KEXP's Street Sounds.)
Blue Scholars, which is the rapper Geo and producer Sabzi, represent our town's international flavor (Geo is Filipino American and Sabzi is Iranian American). Along with white Americans and black Americans, Seattle has lots of black Africans and Asians. The Physics, for example, have two East African–born rappers (MCs Thig Nat and Monk Wordsmith) and a white American producer, Justo. Gabriel Teodros, a productive and much respected rapper and social activist, is half Ethiopian and half American. The producer 10-4 Rog is Filipino American. The quartet State of the Artist has every kind of color in it. If you want to see more of this kind of global variety, then visit the Station, a Mexican-owned cafe on Beacon Hill.
The other names you need to know are Jake One, who has made beats for 50 Cent and De La Soul, Vitamin D (the father of Seattle beats), and J.Pinder, who appears to have moved to LA but is still signed to Ballard-based label Fin Records.
So there you have it. Welcome to the town.
By Brendan Kiley
Maybe you're already a theater nerd and understand why you like to sit in a dark room watching people do stuff onstage. If so, proceed to paragraph two. Or maybe you don't think you like theater because you've been forced to sit through insipid, boring shit. If so, think about giving theater another shot. Great performance is happening all around this town, and when it's good, it can be odder, sexier, funnier, and all-around more awesome than you'd expect. There's lots of junk theater, too, but keep reading The Stranger's theater section, and we'll guide you toward the good stuff—we sit through the bullshit so that you don't have to. (A few good bets: On the Boards, Annex Theater, Strawberry Theater Workshop, Washington Ensemble Theater, and ACT Theater, which probably has the broadest spectrum of stuff, from quick 'n' dirty to grand and meticulous, of any theater in the city.)
The young theatergoer's best friend in Seattle is an organization called Teen Tix: www.seattlecenter.com/teentix. (Full disclosure: I sometimes help teach one of their classes for young critics.) Anyone under 20 can join, and membership gets you into many Seattle theaters for just $5: underground fringe theaters, comedy and improv houses, and $100 per ticket operas. Teen Tix also has a blog with its own reviews (again, to help steer you toward the good stuff). You can also volunteer to usher at theaters, which is an easy job and will get you into stuff for free.
General rules for successful theatergoing: Don't be intimidated. You have as much right to be at any theater as anybody else. Go with a friend. If you don't like something, don't be afraid to leave at intermission, but know that you might be missing something. Try different things, especially if you've got that $5 pass. Maybe you're a ballet nut and you don't even know it yet. Maybe you're about to cultivate a deep love for standup comedy. Maybe you want to watch people get naked, cover themselves in gold leaf, and inhale a lot of nitrous oxide for two hours (I'm not kidding—that happened this year). Maybe you're going to go bananas for one actress in one performance of a Sophocles play. Don't deny yourself a new experience. You never know what's going to stick.
By Jen Graves
First off, do art alone; it's better that way. I spent hours and hours of my college years just wandering around the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art at my very own pace. Museums and galleries are like the spa—they will not ask you to leave, so soak. Or leave anytime, for any reason. The experience is yours.
Second, it is free to get into Seattle Art Museum. There is a "suggested donation." This is for people who have dollars. If you have dollars, use them. If not, don't worry about it. Same goes for the Henry Art Gallery (a museum, not a gallery) at the University of Washington and Seattle Asian Art Museum at Volunteer Park. The Frye Art Museum on First Hill is always free.
Don't worry that at this point you have no idea what art you like. You probably don't know the first thing about art, and who cares, go and look and see and figure it out for yourself. My only advice is to be open before closing in on preferences; it's more fun. You can love serious geometric abstraction and video installations involving dripping ketchup at the same time. Beware stereotypes about what you should and shouldn't like—the ketchup and the abstraction may have more in common than you know.
Commercial galleries, where other people buy expensive paintings and sculptures, are free to the rest of us. The people who run those galleries—called dealers or, if you want to be fancy, gallerists—want you to visit even if you aren't going to buy, and so do artists.
Seattle is full of art walks (www.seattleartwalks.org). First Thursday in Pioneer Square. Second Thursday on Capitol Hill. Second Saturday in Georgetown. Second Friday in Greenwood/Phinney. Those are the best; beware the ones that are little more than an excuse for your local cupcake shop to get you to ingest artisanal frosting.
My list of don't-miss contemporary galleries? James Harris, Greg Kucera, SOIL, Platform, PUNCH, 4Culture, G. Gibson, Bherd, ArtXchange, Blindfold, Cullom, M.I.A., Prole Drift, Season, Suyama Space, and a few more you can discover for yourself.
Note: If somebody is offering you free wine at one of these galleries, take it.
By Paul Constant
Pho—pronounced "fuh," and known among the lame and the intensely literal alike as Vietnamese rice noodle soup—is a wonder food. If it's done right, it's affordable, simple, and healthful. It's the best thing to put in your body when you have a cold, and it's a great, cheap date food if you don't mind slurping up noodles in front of someone you want to hump.
You are now in the unofficial pho capital of the western hemisphere; there's no place in the United States that does pho better than Seattle. You can find some passable pho in San Francisco, but the pho in New York is so shitty, it's practically a hate crime. So take advantage of your surroundings and get acquainted with the new best soup that ever happened to you.
The problem is, there's bad pho in Seattle, too, and bad pho tastes like dirty feet. If you want to understand what good pho can be, you should get yourself to a Than Brothers. They're easy to find, with prominent locations on Broadway, Market Street, and in the U-District—and plenty of others, from Aurora to Queen Anne and out to the burbs of Everett, Federal Way, and beyond. The Than Brothers experience is uniformly good: You get a big, steaming bowl—even the small is huge—of clear broth, thin rice noodles, tofu, and the meat of your choice. (For vegetarians, there's tofu-only pho in a vegetable broth.) If you're feeling a cold coming on, get the chicken; if you're looking for deep-down satisfaction, go for the steak. If you're feeling adventurous, try the tripe or tendon.
The soup will come with a bunch of sides, including basil leaves, bean sprouts, lime, and green onion. Don't try to put everything on at once. In fact, you should have some sides left over when you're done; you don't want to overwhelm the taste of the soup. Add soy sauce, oyster sauce, plum sauce, or hot sauce to taste. Expect leftovers.
And expect a treat: At Than Brothers, they serve the pho with a small, fluffy cream puff for dessert. It's just enough sweetness to satisfy, without adding to the sensation of fullness. Now that you've established an understanding of what a good pho experience can be, start investigating other pho joints. It gets complicated: Pho Bac on Jackson Street is beloved by many, but others prefer Pho Bac on Rainier Avenue. You get the idea. Be adventurous, listen to recommendations, and check out new parts of town. You can afford it; with pho, the financial investment is low—you should never pay more than 10 bucks for a big bowl of pho and a drink—and the nutritional value is high. Pho will keep you alive for the next four years.