Press Clips


May 13, 1983: The Metropolis

What Seattle then needed most was a place for the wild kids.
In the spring of 1983, the civic environment here was hostile towards teenagers. Seattle had then acquired a reputation as a progressive city welcoming to adults and small children, but teenagers — especially those with countercultural tendencies — had a rather rough time here. Our local underground music scene then catered overwhelmingly to 21-and-over patrons — leaving teenagers shut out of the scene.
Enter Hughes Piottin, also known as “Hugo.” Piottin is best known in Seattle today as the founder and guiding spirit of the Metropolis, the legendary all-ages music venue that helped foment Seattle’s underground music scene from May 1983 to March 1984. The Metropolis was crucially much more than a mere music club: it was conceived not as a business, but rather as a community hub where Seattle’s creative youth could not only congregate as an audience, but also learn how to harness their own nascent creativity.
Born in Lyon, France, Piottin came to Seattle in 1982 with the intention of creating just such a place. That dream would reach fruition on the date in focus here, when the Metropolis held its first official concert. Located in Pioneer Square at 207 Second Avenue South, the Metropolis — despite its brief existence — had a major impact on Seattle’s music scene, mainly because it was all-ages and collectively run, in contrast to the city’s typical music clubs of the time. It was also a magnet for many of the young local musicians and scenesters who would later go on to become major scene players during the grunge era — including Mark Arm, Steve Turner, and Jeff Ament, who would later form Green River, which would later splinter into Mudhoney and Pearl Jam.
Using money he’d earned from fishing in Alaska, Piottin opened the Metropolis with the partnership of Gordon Doucette, a local musician who was then the singer and guitarist for the band Red Masque. Doucette was largely responsible for booking acts, while Piottin oversaw the operation of the venue. Other bookers there included Maire Masco and Susan Silver, two women who would later play major roles behind-the-scenes in Seattle during the grunge era. Piottin would later explain his vision to Clark Humphrey, author of the definitive local music history book Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story:
“The Metropolis was my first creative venture. I was 23 at the time. I came from the background of a frustrated artist without knowing it. I was studying math and physics in Europe; I quit, and became a commercial fisherman in Alaska. In the winter I was teaching skiing in the Alps. I moved to Seattle and really decided to create something to bring people together. I had ideas but they were really fuzzy ones. The space came together out of my control in a way. It had a life of its own, very strong. I loved the shows, getting together in a club. I wanted a non-oppressive environment, a non-alcoholic environment. The kids needed a place to go and be safe and not be exploited. I never had a show that cost more than $4 (except for touring acts). I had a strong desire to give, in a creative place where people could meet friends, and maybe get exposed to ideas in art and music that inspired them. I think it worked.”
Hugo at the Metropolis, circa February 1984
The Rocket, March 1984 issue
Hugo at the Metropolis, circa February 1984
The Rocket, March 1984 issue
Touring acts who played at the Metropolis included Hüsker Dü, Violent Femmes, the Replacements, Gun Club, D.O.A., John Cale, Shockabilly, and Bad Brains. Local talent featured there included Red Dress, Student Nurse (in their final incarnation as the Nurse), the U-Men, the Accüsed, Spluii Numa, 10 Minute Warning, Life in General, Beat Pagodas, Room Nine, Mr. Epp and the Calculations, Colour Twigs, Red Masque, and Cinema 90. Among the regulars was future Sub Pop Records co-founder Bruce Pavitt, who DJ’d at the Metropolis when Sub Pop was still a column in Seattle’s monthly music newspaper The Rocket, and not yet a record label. Pavitt later reminisced for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about what made the Metropolis such a special place:
“[The Metropolis] was an amazing opportunity for young people to perform in front of their peers. And I DJ’d there, which was a lot of fun, spinning Minor Threat and Run-D.M.C. records. I remember Mark Arm came down, Steve Turner — Mudhoney guys, Green River crew, they came down. Mr. Epp I believe was performing at that time, that was Mark’s band at the time, so anyhow a lot of younger people, 17, 18, who later went on to really help blow up the Seattle scene, got their start at the Metropolis. Having all-ages venues is crucial, I think, for cultivating any scene. Getting young people involved with art and creativity, and giving them a chance, is really important.”
Most crucial to the uniqueness of the Metropolis was the collective nature of its day-to-day operations. Many of its young patrons helped organize and run concerts there — typically receiving free admission in exchange for their work. By helping with cash-handling, serving non-alcoholic refreshments, and loading bands’ gear, teenage music fans learned at the Metropolis how to be not only spectators, but also participants in creative entertainment — which was Hugo’s intention from the beginning. In late 1983, at the peak of the venue’s local popularity and influence, Piottin told The Rocket about his long-term goals for the Metropolis, which he then hoped would thrive for several more years.
“What I want,” Piottin said, “is a fusion of ideas, and [an] inspiration ground, people being exposed to [other] people’s ideas. We want to stimulate this crowd toward a smarter world.”
Despite Piottin’s plans for expansion of the venue (which would have included its daytime use as a coffeehouse and meeting place for political groups), the Metropolis closed abruptly when the developers of a condominium next door pressured its landlord to evict it. The final show (featuring English goth-rock act Alien Sex Fiend) took place on March 6, 1984. After that show, Hugo and Silver would stage several more concerts at several different venues in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, B.C., under the name Metropolis Productions through mid-1985. Piottin would eventually abandon music promotion for other creative pursuits. He currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he participates in community urban farming.

Sources: Ann Powers, “All Ages,” The Rocket, December 1983, p. 18; Clark Humphrey, “Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story” (Feral House, 1995; MiscMedia, 1999, 2016); Leah Greenblatt and James Bush, “In Memoriam: 20 Clubs That Came and Went,” Seattle Weekly, May 3, 2001; Jacob McMurray, “The Metropolis: Birthplace of Grunge?”, November 19, 2009; Stephen Tow, “The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge” (Sasquatch Books, 2011); Mark Yarm, “Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge” (Crown Archetype, 2011); Keith Cameron, “Mudhoney: The Sound and the Fury from Seattle” (Omnibus Press, 2013).

City Bright

The Metropolis: Birthplace of Grunge?

In the last few years I've been conducting filmed oral history interviews with people involved in the development of the underground music infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest from the late 1970s to today. All of this material adds to our existing Oral History Program archive, of which we currently have nearly 800 filmed interviews, and as many hours and more of amazing footage. It's been one of the most enjoyable parts of my job to sit down with folks and listen to them reminisce about when they were teenagers listening and creating music that was by and large ignored by mainstream culture (but would later indelibly affect and influence mainstream culture).

Seattle in the early 1980s was definitely not friendly towards punk rock and youth – very unlike the situation we have today where I work at a museum dedicated to music, the city actively promotes its rich musical history and we have all-ages venues like the VERA Project that are heavily supported by the community. In many of the recent oral histories that I've been conducting, something that nearly everyone that was around at that time talks about is a small all-ages club called the Metropolis. It was started by Hugo Piottin, an eclectic, artist-friendly, jack-of-all-trades, and even though it was only open for two years, the Metropolis had a huge impact and enduring legacy on music in Seattle, mainly because it was all-ages and it was a stable venue. Because of this access and stability, the teens that were interested in alternative music and culture had a regular destination to go see local and national punk bands and hang out with their peers, all within a city that at the time generally ignored the cultural needs of youth. In retrospect, the Metropolis was a creative epicenter for many of the musicians and scenesters that would go on to be major players in the Grunge era. Here are some oral history snippets:

Bruce Pavitt (founder of Sub Pop) - "The Metropolis opened up in the late spring of '83 I believe, opened by a gentleman named Hugo, who was helped by Susan Silver who later went on to manage Soundgarden. And it was an amazing opportunity for young people to perform in front of their peers. And I DJ'd there, which was a lot of fun, spinning Minor Threat and Run DMC records. I remember Mark Arm came down, Steve Turner - Mudhoney guys, Green River crew, they came down. Mr. Epp I believe was performing at that time, that was Mark's band at the time, so anyhow a lot of younger people, 17, 18, who later went on to really help blow up the Seattle scene, got their start at the Metropolis. Having all-ages venues is crucial I think for cultivating any scene. Getting young people involved with art and creativity, and giving them a chance is really important."

Nils Bernstein (publicist for Sub Pop, Matador Records) – "I started high school in '82, by that time I had been going to shows. There was a club called The Metropolis, and that was my freshman year of high school, and we'd go there a lot. Violent Femmes, The Replacements, and this band Three Teens Kill Four, and they were from New York that I used to always say was my favorite band. I thought they were really huge because their show at The Metropolis was really big but they weren't."

Matt Cameron (Skin Yard, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam) – "I felt like the bands that were playing in Seattle at the time I moved up in'83 were really good, original, creative bands and there was a lot of really neat clubs to go to. There was some all-ages clubs which was kind of a new thing to me. I just saw it as a really vibrant interesting local scene. There was a club called the Metropolis that a lot of the early rock bands cut their teeth at. And it wasn't necessarily just all kind of rock bands, either. There was a lot of really interesting, trippy kind of experimental music bands as well. Going to the Metropolis, I saw just some killer bands – there's this one called Student Nurse that I just always loved. They were just really trippy and weird. Then there was The Accused. I always liked the Accused."

Jason Finn (Skin Yard, Love Battery, Presidents of the USA) – "In '83 there was a really cool burgeoning little punk club scene downtown – mostly the Metropolis was the main one that I was going to a lot. I'd go to these shows a couple times a week and you'd realize that there are a lot of the same people showing up to these shows. You start talking to them and maybe one of them plays guitar or something. I started a band called Bad Credit with some people I met at Metropolis, one of whom was Mike Wells who was later in the Walkabouts. I was in the eleventh grade and bands like the Sharing Patrol, D.O.A. used to come down from Vancouver all the time, four or five times a year, March of Crimes, Bundle Of Hiss, which is the old band that Kurt Danielson from TAD, that was his first band. Dan Peters was in that band too, from Mudhoney. The Altered, Silly Killers, Deranged Diction – which featured a very young and punk Jeff Ament."

Ben Shepherd (March of Crimes, Soundgarden) – "Most of the shows I ever went to were either at the Showbox, The Eagles or The Metropolis. The Metropolis was the main place. That seemed like the culminating point, with the music people were playing and the age of everyone at the time and what was going on."

Mark Arm (Mr. Epp, Green River, Mudhoney) – "I remember in the Metropolis days Krist Novoselic [who would late be in Nirvana] would come into town with the Melvins guys. I knew Buzz and Matt really well and every once in awhile they'd have this tall dude with them at a Metropolis show. And then later on it was like, "Oh, that tall dude who's the Melvins' friend is in a band."

Charles Peterson (photographer du Grunge) – "And actually, the Metropolis is now a Teriyaki joint that I go and eat lunch at occasionally. And it didn't dawn on me – I had been eating there forever – and then one day I was sitting there, and I looked at the brick wall, and I was like, "Oh my God, this is the Metropolis!" That's the wall that the bands played against, you know? The Replacements, the Violet Femmes, Really Red, I think I even saw Scream there, you know, Dave Grohl's band, and the U-Men and Gun Club."

And this is just a fraction of the stories that I've been collecting. I find it fascinating that huge cultural events that have impacted mainstream culture, like Grunge in the early 1990s, can stem in part from small, seemingly inconsequential things like a tiny, all-ages punk venue. It really gives you a sense of what can happen when you just decide to Do-It-Yourself.

Posted by Jacob McMurray at November 19, 2009 12:12 p.m.

Check out the Metropolis page on Facebook that was created by Alex Shumway (of Green River) – amazing photos!

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