March 1st, 2013. After pre-funking at the Owl and Thistle on Basil Hayden’s and Bud lights, we made our way to Pioneer Square, the final bastion of the Wild West in Seattle proper. As we crossed Occidental Park, like Moses parting the Red Sea, we parted a sea of homeless men passing glass pipes and paper bags.
“You see that disco ball and those lights?” said my friend Dave. “That’s where we’re going…
“Hey – how do we get in?” he called up to two attractive girls in the second floor window.
“Around front,” they replied in unison, limbs swaying to the sounds emanating from inside.
As we rounded the corner of S. Washington St. onto 1st Ave. S, we found a large, official-looking man at a doorway. “Is this Karass Creative?” Dave asked.
“Yup. Come on in.”
We followed his directions and made our way up the stairs of the once industrial, now modern work lofts. As if honing in on a beacon, we were pulled toward the source from which the muted 70s funk pulsated. Opening the door labeled “Karass Creative,” we walked straight into a scene out of Seattle-topia, the soon to be Portlandia spin-off.
Through a lingering haze of smoke, my small party made our way for the keg while glowing orbs and Christmas lights backlit an eclectic mix of artists, designers, filmmakers, video editors, creative directors, writers, musicians, UX specialists, and graphic designers.
Standing tall outside the northeast corner of the loft—like an old sentry keeping watch over the south entrance of the city—Smith Tower loomed above us as it has since 1914, eyeing the happenings of the original city center that once housed saloons, whore houses, gold prospectors, and the dreams of those who sought a better life in the west. A century later it’s home to creative agencies, art galleries, stadiums, coffee shops, and construction projects.
On the south wall of the loft hung a dour image of the Godfather, Vito Corleone, but closer scrutiny revealed the impressionist piece to be hundreds, if not thousands, of bottle caps nailed to a piece of wood the size of a Pontiac hood. In the opposite corner, a spotlight lit the undercarriage of a large ficus tree, casting ficus shadows crawling on caterpillar’s feet across the ceiling.
Beside the tree spread a table full of delectable, lightly infused marijuana treats ranging from Chex Mix, fudge, and cookies, to a savory and spicy Chimichurri dip that was so intoxicatingly delicious, it was no doubt the Achilles heel of several people’s evenings. This free cannabis cornucopia was the brainchild of “Sebastian,” aka “The Baker,” an talented epicure who’s other hobbies included brewing and distilling. Looking to improve his art and capitalize on the new soon-to-become marijuana economy, “Sebastian” is hoping to eventually open a private dinner club with a ganja lounge instead of a cigar den.
The event was BakeFeast 3D, the third such gathering created and hosted by Karass Creative, a small creative agency that helps brands, arts organizations, and nonprofits tell better stories. “Karass,” a Vonnegut construct, roughly means “a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial linkages are not evident.”
When the evening’s band Haute f’Aurts took stage, “Bob” stepped behind an L-shaped stack of organs and keyboards, nodded at his rhythmic coconspirator “Jeff” on percussion, and spread his fingers across the Hammond B3. Like a puppet master he guided the peaking crowd on a roller coaster of up, down, and off-beat tempos, holding down the bass with one hand while laying melodies over the top with his other. Light particles spun and ricocheted off a disco ball while syncopated media projected on $20 art frames displayed real-time images of partygoers taken by a wandering GoPro camera. The crowd rode the wave of jams that ranged from suspended ethereal dazes to dirty, muddy grooves shaped by mind-melting synth.
A wave. An awesome wave.
We were all riding it to the best of our abilities and in proportion to the treats in which we had imbibed, all the while trusting Bob to chart our course like an air traffic controller trying to land a rocking and rolling 747 on a stormy night.
As the music pulsed off the exposed brick wall to our backs, my friend and I looked out the windows at the enveloping 270-degree view of downtown Seattle. We were feeling the night coming on and didn’t need to speak anything; rather we shared a singular, unspoken moment of awareness—how the fuck did we get so lucky to live in such an amazing city, in such a beautiful corner of the world?
After getting passed up for two jobs in the World Trade Center in May 2001, two month later I moved to Seattle. I’ve lived here for close to twelve years with the exception of April 2011 – July 2012, when I threw my life in storage and took off to travel India and Southeast Asia, eventually residing in Berlin for the final three months. The length of travel afforded me the opportunity to know cities more intimately than I otherwise would have as a tourist, as well as meet local people and fall in with different crowds and scenes.
In Bangkok I was hanging out with French expats, which lead me to brush shoulders with artists, models, writers, rock stars, an heiress to a French champagne fortune, and an owner of one of Bangkok’s top clubs. In Ho Chi Minh City, Shanghai, and Beijing I hung out with expat educators who lived like kings and partied like royalty while teaching children of executives and diplomats at exclusive international schools. In Berlin I was in the heart of the start-up tech scene, clinking glasses with entrepreneurs, an executive of a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company, a French actress, fashion designers, painters, an ex-professional soccer player who was a star on Denmark’s national team, and developers who were artists and rock stars in their own binary rights.
When I got back to the states 15-months later on July 4th, 2012, while it was nice to be greeted with fireworks, I wondered if I was done with Seattle or if it had anything left to offer me. In the process I started exploring Portland and Boulder, looking for a quick and easy transition, but opportunity happened first in Seattle.
It’s been a little more than six months since I returned to these emerald shores, and in addition to my life starting to feel familiar again, I am having a reinvigorated love affair with the city. Partly it’s because I keep finding myself at underground events like the one at Karass Creative; events that bring together an alchemical confluence of energies and an amalgam of creative individuals who are in the process of engendering something new—or at least a new take on something we thought we knew.
While disconnecting from the work day by dancing late into the evening on Friday night, it occurred to me in a moment of insight that one of the reasons I wanted to leave Seattle was that I thought it was static, but I realized it wasn’t the city that was static, but me. Within that insight I realized as the city is evolving, expressing new things in the form of restaurants, bars, services, and housing—so too is my expression evolving through the interactions with the people I bounce off of at these modern day salons.
Whether the patrons of BakeFest 3D realized it or not, we are all part of a cultural shift occurring in the zeitgeist. I’m not talking about the Mayan calendar or the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but a different kind of shift. This statement beckons the question, what is a shift and how is it created?
A shift is simply a change in thinking that occurs through individuals who possess a collective vision. Shifts occur through scenes and scenes are a collection of these thinkers and creators. What grounds a scene is a location—a place where like-minded people can gather, such as music venues, theaters, art galleries, or in this case, Karass Creative.
One of the three greatest gifts that travel afforded me (the other being the power of gratitude and intention) was seeing the familiar in new light. In seeing Seattle with fresh eyes, I feel as if something new is being born in our great city—or perhaps rebirthed. The fog of the 2008 financial crash is starting to burn off and what is becoming clear is that there’s an unspoken recognition that inept politicians in the highest levels of government aren’t the ones that lift our spirits or lift us out of recessions; it’s the resourceful, entrepreneurial, subversive, Creative Class.
The beauty about the Creative Class is that it’s not just limited to artists, but also the doctors who are pushing new discoveries in medicine, engineers who construct buildings that actually give back to the grid, developers who find new ways to help us communicate and work more efficiently, chefs that give us original culinary experiences and new places to converge, and entrepreneurs who create new jobs.
Entry to the creative class is not gained by financial resources (or lack thereof), but rather the quality of ones thoughts and actions. It’s that self-expression that brings together busking musicians, graffiti artists, creative directors, writers, video artists, painters, and all those who are called forth to share their insatiable curiosity and commitment to their vision. Maybe we in Seattle are also gaining an unconscious, creative lift by living in a state that is leading one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time—gay marriage. As a kicker, we also managed to roll back the absurd marijuana prohibition laws that have only served to fill our jails. In this light, Seattle is a litmus test for the rest of the nation.
Should anyone should read this outside of Seattle, I’m proud to report that the lifting of restrictions on our freedoms has not in fact caused our society to collapse, rather quite the opposite. We are experiencing a veritable gold rush of creativity that’s attracting talent to our city from all over the globe to work at world-class brands such as Starbucks, Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, The Gates Foundation, and PATH.
Luckily, we in Seattle also have mountains, we have a coast, and we have moody, brooding weather. We have the Puget Sound where Orcas and salmon swim freely. We have a solid and evolving transportation system. We have stunning natural beauty, lush landscapes, and vast green cityscapes that give us a heightened environmental awareness. We have SubPop Records and have given the world Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam, to name but a few. The Seattle Sounders were one of the most successful sports franchise launches ever; the Seahawks made a brave run at the Super Bowl and will likely be contenders next year. We have the Mariners (OK—maybe they have some work to do), and next year we’ll likely have our beloved Sonics back. We’re leaders in technology, innovation, gaming, music, entrepreneurship, aviation, medicine, research, philanthropy, and retail.
The question our success poses is: What is at the core of this boom? What is the fuel that powers the engine of Seattle’s success?
I argue it’s a healthy and thriving Creative Class, for it’s the Creative Class which breathes life, character, personality, and prosperity into a city. Fortunately for us inhabitants, Seattle is a city full of naturally passionate and curious people who explore their passions at night while pushing the boundaries of storytelling, design, and innovation at their day jobs.
An ancillary benefit of a healthy Creative Class is that it sets the vibe of a city, and this can in turn lead to an invigorated civic mind—which benefits us all—because only when we’re all participating in the creation of something better and positive do we move forward as individuals, a city, a culture, and a species.
The confluence of creative energies that happens in underground scenes throughout Seattle such as the one at Karass Creative creates currents and tides that ripple and slosh about the city, casting out molecules of creative ideas that come together to form various compounds in music, film, restaurants, start-ups, and every mode of human expression.
These artists I speak of and the shift they are helping steer, is ultimately subversive—it has to be if we’re going to successfully move forward as human beings. This shift we’re partaking in is one of human consciousness—one that is moving us away from a paradigm of fear, divisiveness, and individuality, to a paradigm of love, acceptance, compassion, and community.
We’ve got work to do though. I know I’m not the only one who’s tired of the bullshit. I’m not the only one who’s tired of unenlightened, ineffectual politicians who only look out for their own interests. This means we have to do it ourselves. The silver lining is that it only takes a ripple in one part of the world to create a tsunami.
That’s how we start a revolution in Seattle.
That’s how we become leaders in a new age of enlightenment.