Local artists, like Eddie Sumlin and Future Bass, are reclaiming the wasteland behind the Tacoma Dome for innovative parties
A few months ago there was a party in a commercial space, where a turn of the century factory was refurbished between the armpit of Pacific Ave and the freeway above. Loud music was played until four in the morning. No one complained.
The “Dome District” is neutral territory dominated by the transit hub, at the doorstep of East Tacoma. It is here that Eddie Sumlin, a former social worker realizing his dream as a progressive DJ, wants to build a new scene for Tacoma.
“East Tacoma is on an island,” Sumlin explains. “They’ve got kids that have never, in their life, taken a bus 10 minutes downtown to see the Tacoma Art Museum.”
On our way to a walking tour of the industrial dead zone we drive by a pack of kids making a skate video and stopping traffic in the street one block away from county jail. Tacoma is wide open, damn near anything goes in this blue collar town littered with history.
At the New Frontier Lounge, with it’s salty regular crowd and tiny pine-box apartments above the bar, every month features a party called “Future Bass.” These parties turn this watering hole into an avant-garde showcase of new music from every continent on the planet. Sumlin partners with his close friends Mr. Melanin, Delicious Brown, Ninjamonik, Bobby Galaxy and DJ Broam to kick-start a vision for Tacoma that they all share.
“We’re five DJs playing for each other, and the last thing we worry about is being ahead of the curve too much,” Sumlin says emphatically.
These kinds of genre-bending parties have traditionally had a home in the house party format. At least in Seattle they do.
“Every gun I’ve ever seen pulled has been at a house party in Tacoma,” Sumlin mentions as his tone becomes serious. “We can’t do it like the DIY scene in the Seattle U-District. We have to keep our parties in legitimate venues or it’s too dangerous. No one does parties like this in the South Sound, most parties cater to meatheads and G.I. crowds. We’re mixing it up, focusing on diversity. There’s a lot of old Tacoma kids that grew up with waterfront views and they frown on progressive behavior initiated by the middle class.”
Leaving the old prejudices behind requires a neutral homebase. Young people in the region need a reason to stay, rather than gravitate to bigger cities with more job opportunities on the I-5 corridor. Sumlin hopes the “Dome District” will eventually go residential, and with that density more businesses will occupy the void between Commencement Bay and the freeway.
“If the Dome District was zoned for residential I’d be one of the first to move in,” Sumlin states without batting an eye.
Memories can be made down here, no one owns these blocks and the rules of engagement are as of yet unwritten. Sumlin recalls an event that materialized out of thin air earlier this year which shows the Tacoma appetite for a new kind of night out.
“A few months back we had a last second opportunity to do a show with one of our favorite party bands, the French Horn Revolution,” Sumlin recounts. “They played a show in Seattle and stayed an extra night to do something off the grid. We had 12 hours to promote it, the only place we could book was a dive bar, and we had to set-up our own PA system. More than 200 people showed up. It felt like I was at SXSW.”
For now they focus on “Future Bass,” the proof of concept for the nightlife they felt was missing. Like most great changes in the creative arts, they identified a void that was bugging them and took it upon themselves to do something about it
“Now we’re trying to book an alto saxophone player to accompany the night,” Sumlin says with a wry smile.