Sonny Chelf is the orneriest house party producer I know who hails from Tacoma. In fact, he’s the only such producer I know from Tacoma. Most of those kinds of guys hang about the Seattle area, drifting back and forth in their musical skeins and ongoing search for monetary angles.
Jason Alley’s from Issaquah. They both operate forklifts in warehouses for their real livings. And I met them over coffee awhile ago at Starbucks on Broadway for a happy, peppy interview with two of the greater Seattle area’s own warehouse party producers.
Sonny, casual, relaxed and vivacious, wore “Portuguese” golden earrings; Jason, soft-spoken and shy, wore a diamond-blue ball cap over his sweet blue eyes and blond hair. Sonny is fair and Black, but doesn’t sound that way until you press him, and then a trickle of southern Blacklish begins to filter in, conversationally speaking.
How long have you been involved in the warehouse game, I suddenly asked.
Sonny: The first part of this took place in 1981. That was in Germany. Parties in Germany used more hype. Parties here seem to be more about money and competition.
Jason: I joined TUF Productions for the last party. I joined with another party than oursÃ¢Â?Â¦some producers have a different agenda than othersÃ¢Â?Â¦(indicating Sonny, giggling.)
What is your agenda? I asked the cute black dude.
Sonny: First we sit there and have a headache. Nah, usually I like to find a space first. That’s kind of a last minute thing you have to do.
Jason: There’s been a lot of problems with the city. The city is pushing hard to shut the shows down.
Sonny: There was a battle over permits being in order.
Jason: The city would threaten to take the house over.
Jason: The city would intimate that a party would be through. The owners of the building would refuse to rent to those who produced shows, for fear their properties would have police action taken against them.
These statements led to general murmurings amongst us.
So, whatever is your “agenda” now, I softly inquired.
Sonny: (About) the agenda? Line up the DJs!!! They come from everywhere, basically. When we produce a flyer, we try to promote it (the party) day in and day out. During that time, we finish producing the rest of the show. Lights, sound, security, permits, “etcetera.” And then it’s showtime! I like to get in a building at noon, but it never happens. Just to fine-tune the building! (He laughed, sliding slowly backwards in his seat.)
Jason: If we have decorations, some people put up fences. (I never found out what “fences” are.) It needs all completed. The sound system usually arrives in the middle of things.
We joked around about the house movementÃ¢Â?Â¦.”Yeah, the houses are moving!!!” as I’m not much of a raver m’self, yet. The joints do indeed jump.
What message to others, anyway, do you guys have to impart?
Jason: Positive energy.
Sonny: Peace, love, joining one another together. But after the party comes the teardown. I hate it, but it has to be done.
I asked Sonny if that’s his real name. Yes, it is. He was wearing a hunting cap, Polynesian earrings, and he vaguely resembled a certain letter of the alphabet due to his glasses.
Jason’s blue ball cap was fastidiously reversed. Two more either-bread and mayonnaise guys could not be found, but they were definitely having to skirt the law.
I finally found out what happened last spring, which had been the current House Party Mystery Scenario.
Sonny: A dividing of the whole scene here occurred. There were occurrences of two parties being thrown on the same night. Something had to stop. Seattle’s not that big. It’s not that good here, we need more party room. Evolution (back in October, and partially run by a close relative of mine named Joachim, incidentally) just had 1500 people. It was over 15 (hundred), really.
Jason: We had over 1200. But Seattle is not really a good indicator. In LA (what doesn’t begin, end, and stall out in LA?) they have BIG huge parties, with a couple hundred thousand people, easily.
A coupleÃ¢Â?Â¦what? I stupifiedly intoned, slurping my Starbucks. That couldn’t be real, I thought, they’d need a football stadiumÃ¢Â?Â¦which they have, somewhere.
I dreamed to myself, the party interview vortex has been reentered. I’ve been being told that everyone and no one ever interviews these warehouse party guys. Now I see why. No one ever believes them when they talk about the party sizes.
Sonny then said he begged in on things with Jason through a mutual friend of theirs named Tim. On Tim, Sonny said, “we’ve talked to Tim. How’re you?” This, referring to my earlier interview more on the Seattle end of things, with Joachim. Tim, there, is not a part of the company anymore. I guess that’s the party vortex for you.
Sonny next managed to imitate the world’s blandest, meekest expression, which was already on Jason’s wan, pink face.
Jason: All I have to say is we hope people keep supporting the shows.
Sonny: I’m the quiet person of all this. I like to come in like the wind and leaveÃ¢Â?Â¦likeÃ¢Â?Â¦the windÃ¢Â?Â¦
Jason: I like to be around the people. I like to be around the friends. (I always got the impression this is a tightly-knit, hard-to-enter crowd. But I asked them about making a living at it.)
Sonny: I like to be around this for the money. If I didn’t do this for the money, I wouldn’t do it.
It feels like I’ve learned, after several interviews with Seattle/Tacoma’s warehouse partying folks, that there’s no money in this, really. Off the last shows, they don’t seem to have made a dime.
PeaceFrog’s Civilization party in November barely broke even, in fact losing at least $200. One of the PeaceFrog producers told me only about half the people coming in even paid. I don’t think Joachim got his cut at all. But their group is still plugging away at making the lively, eventful, and appreciably loud parties continue to happen.
Sonny said, the way I feelÃ¢Â?Â¦it might make the WRONG moneyÃ¢Â?Â¦(I think he meant the probably drug revenues from hangers-on selling at the parties.) Me, I broke in with: But, what if you were, say, normal?
Jason: Good point.
Sonny: What if everybody else was like what’s on the street, already there. (Recall that Sonny’s Black, please.) You’re gonna get ’em “thowed in jay-al.” I’ve done two (parties) in Tacoma (an infamously Black establishment, in some ways.) There’s a problem with that. Seattle people don’t travel. The Dome is too commercial. This isn’tÃ¢Â?Â¦a commercial event…that I do.
Go to shows, Sonny said. I have a real job. I work, in a warehouse, driving forklifts. I’m a laborer. Saturday nights are my date. That’s the party date. (He pretty much implied this is his social life. I am forced to think both Sonny and Jason are house-devoted, maximally.)
After this pleasant, caring interview time was spent, one happy writer left those two fine, unrude, music-bestrewed dudes to hit their next appointment in town. The memory lingers, but the music is fortunately elsewhere, waiting for the next party to begin. From the sound of things, I would suggest checking out LA, if I were you.
About an entire local music industry that’s rarely heard from, briefly navigated by a remote being that coalesces, rarely, around music scenes and their absurd atrocities; published by “The Stranger” weekly newspaper of Seattle, WA.