Steven Severin and Jason Lajeunesse, the booking staff at Neumo's, have taken over booking national acts at Chop Suey, according to a press release sent June 19. Neumo's—which the pair partly owns—and Chop Suey are both Capitol Hill music venues offering a similar mix of indie rock, electro, and hiphop; Neumo's can fit about 300 people more than Chop Suey's 550-person capacity. For several years now, the two clubs have been direct competitors. Chop Suey's previous booker, Colin Johnson, was let go for reasons that are still unclear and is now booking bands at Nectar in Fremont.
Severin says the new arrangement—a six-month trial period—calls for him and Lajeunesse to work as consultants to Chop Suey for a flat-rate salary and bonuses; there is no profit quota or stated expectations from the club. Shows will be billed as "Chop Suey and Neumo's presents." Neumo's will have no financial stake in the shows they book, nor will they be involved in promotion or production. Severin says that Neumo's will book around half of the total national acts at Chop Suey.
Before becoming a partner at Neumo's, Severin worked at Chop Suey for four years. As the club's booker, he was critical in elevating the club to the stature it currently enjoys. He says that a single entity booking two venues yields greater financial leverage for both. "There's just going to be more big shows that end up happening [at Chop Suey]," he says. "And that's not speculation, that's a fact."
Still, this is a significant consolidation of power in Seattle's entertainment industry. There are no other venues in the city that book similar-caliber bands and that have a 500- to 800-person capacity. Severin dismissed speculation that two venues booked by one company would mean less competition and variety.
"Even people who don't know me can't say that consolidating is a bad decision," he says. "The end result is what people want—and that's good shows. I'm gonna be able to provide that and I'm not gonna do it in any sort of evil way."
"They're two different rooms," says Chop Suey general manager Roy Atizado. "We're more conducive to smaller and more-intimate shows, and they're at like 700 or 800 people." But at the mention of a show that might draw 500, close to a sell-out for Chop Suey and a strong showing for Neumo's, Atizado was vague. "It depends," he says. "[Severin and Lajeunesse] are gonna put the best show in the best room, and I totally feel they're gonna do the best thing for each of the clubs."
It's hard to imagine that Severin and Lajeunesse won't bring the better shows to Neumo's since their partial ownership ensures a cut of bar profits. But a majority of the 30 or so commenters on Line Out, The Stranger's music blog, supported Severin—a nearly unified consensus arising predominantly from Seattle music-industry insiders. One anonymous commenter wrote, "You'll see what we mean as the months unfold."
Other music fans and industry insiders contacted by The Stranger—wary of going on the record (Severin and Lajeunesse now have more control over the Seattle music community than ever)—voiced their concern over the consolidation. One blog commenter going by the name "pete maravich's socks" asked, "Aren't Neumo's and Chop Suey competitors? Isn't this arrangement something like Dan Savage editing Seattle Weekly?"
There's a history of such consolidation on Capitol Hill. In the past, The Stranger has reported favorably about the "Pike/Pine Mafia," a euphemism for the entrepreneurial endeavors of Linda Derschang (current owner of Linda's and the brand-new Smith, and former owner of Chop Suey, Baltic Room, and others) and Jeff Ofelt and Wade Weigel (owners of Bimbo's, Cha Cha, and Rudy's).
"We sort of look up to them," Severin says. "For a while they owned Pike/Pine; they had all kinds of different businesses. But you know what? They're all great businesses because they did a great job and they did it with integrity. There are people who will say shit about 'em, but they go get their hair cut there, and they go get drinks there, and they used to go to shows there, and they eat at their places, and stay at their hotels."
There's more truth to the ostensibly humorous "mafia" tag than most would care to admit. Fewer business owners levying a stronger influence on the Pike/Pine corridor means less input and less variety. But—as Severin wonders—as long as the end result is a good show or a cheap haircut, as long as people are happy with what's offered, where's the problem with that? Do they care about who's calling the shots?
"They care that the bands show up, the beer is cold, and that it's a great show," Severin says. "They don't care about all the stuff that goes on in between, nor should they. That's our job to provide that. We're here to entertain people. It's not rocket science."