It’s Saturday night at The Space. Marc of Marc and the Horsejerks is tuning before their set. “Can somebody get me a Redbull? I need my wings,” he says in his gravelly voice. Moments later, a Space staffer hands him an open Redbull, and soon the band starts to play the entirety of their new album, “Husbandry.” The audience is a mix of regulars, friends of the band, and those giving a record release party at their local music club a chance. The evening’s five acts are staples of the Salem’s music scene. Stage left stands Doug Hoffman, co owner and operator of The Space Concert Club. He’s sporting flannel, cut offs, and a feed cap to show his support to Salem’s preeminent farmcore band. A pretty look it ain’t, but supporting each and every band that passes through his venue is his mission, and tonight he’s pulling out all the stops.
Handing a singer a Redbull to get revved up is just one of many services The Space offers their performers. Services will keep the performers satisfied, and that’s how Hoffman is helping build the Salem music scene. A Sprague High School graduate, Hoffman, 40, has spent most of his life in Salem and has watched the music scene grow, shrink, and evolve in an ever rotating spiral of change. The Saturday show at The Space, which Hoffman co-owns and operates with his business partner Stan Keightley, is a slice of the Salem music scene. Venues and bands come and go, as well as which genres are popular. He sees Salem at a good spot right now with lots of venues, lots of bands, and a lot of people trying to pull their friends into shows to keep the scene alive.
The Space is right in the middle of that mix.
There may not be a “Salem sound,” he says. “There is no common thread, and that’s kind of cool. That means it’s limitless.” Salem bands are remarkably individual. “Some of it’s goofy, some is heavy and scary, some is beautiful,” he says. Hoffman says one of his own projects, City of Pieces, didn’t set out to be a particular sound, and instead became a mix of the member’s influences. He says the fun is how Salem gives a band an opportunity to create a culture around a band, he says. “So if you do something that is alter-ego based, or space-monkey based, or do something that is Salem-centric, or do something that has thematic elements, it gives people something to latch onto.” A great thing about the Salem music scene is everybody knows each other, supports each other, and gets along. “Everybody is standing on the shoulders of artists who came before them and are trying to do something different,” he says. “ You can tell the quality of their intentions by how hard they work. And it’s always been like that here. There’s always been great music that came from here,” he says.
All these people know each other, but Hoffman says they don’t devolve into cliques. As a promoter and venue operator, “I almost think of them as superhero groups, like the Guardians or the X-men,” he says. “But they are bands, they are genres, right? They have these different colors that make them different from each other…that’s a fun way to think about it.” Hoffman would describe Marc and the Horsejerks team as a “Very characterized, alter ego, art rock, experimental, thematic team” — words which could cover some of the evening’s other performers like Vortex Remover or Megathruster. If Hoffman is pulling the superheroes together, The Space’s West Salem Edgewater location could be his Hall of Justice, delivering top notch sound and service to local and traveling musicians.
Saturday’s lineup shows off the Space’s sound system, a source of pride for Hoffman as well as another example of his service to the musicians. “I’m so glad we can provide what we have sound wise,” Hoffman says. He makes it a regular practice to visit other clubs to get perspective, and holds The Space a cut above. Whether a two man combo like Vortex Remover is on the stage, or the six piece Horsejerks, who added a trumpet for the evening, every instrument and voice can be heard after it’s run through the club’s Allen & Heath Qu-16 digital mixing board. The Horsejerks set was a very active stage with 14 mics coming into the board. With the board’s capabilities, every nuance can be heard, Hoffman says. The Space also has a full monitor system for the musicians. Bands that have gone through the phase of playing bars with a basic PA and no sound support can appreciate what The Space offers. “I think that it’s really important as a band to have gone through that so you can recognize what it takes when you come to a place like this and that you are taken care of. You feel like you got a friend in the sound booth,” he says. Every show is recorded at The Space, archived on their website, and broadcast live on Facebook with the sound coming through the board in stereo. Soon they will add a second camera to spruce up the broadcasts with shot switching capabilities.
“They absolutely love it. Some bands will repost if you couldn’t catch it. Some bands will use it for promotional material,” he says. The shows are also on a hard drive which the bands may have. “We’ve had some live albums made here,” he says.
A simple amenity like an isolated green room can make a difference for a touring band. “Over and over again I hear about folks that when they are on tour they really like the fact that they can sit in their own office or lounge room and do laptop work, rehearse their parts, eat,” Hoffman said. “So they can be out of sight. They don’t have to be at the merch booth or dealing with the public all the time, because it gets fucking tiring on tour, man.”
The Space also has a vegan menu, the creation of Summer Keightley, which the touring bands really appreciate after eating greasy bar food night after night. Performers get a $15 stipend for food at The Space.
Happy performers. Happy audience. Put them together and you get a piece of the Salem music scene. “Feeling the energy of the give and take of live music is absolutely precious,” Hoffman says.
“This place is a story and if you come here you are putting yourself into the story. You are not watching anybody. You are interacting with the story, you are talking to the artist who is this far away from you, you are talking to the sound people and the barkeep and your friends and you have a memory,” he says. “What else is there?”
Ryan Somerville is a journalism teacher at McNary High School. He is also the lead singer and guitarist for local dad punk band, Wire Monkey Mama.