DIY Venue OTHERFEELS Delivers a New Type of Concert Experience to D.C. Music Lovers
Interview by Jordan Snowden/Photos courtesy of Peter Bravemen, Matt Wolek, Mark Gorman, Kurt Heyde, and Ben Droz.
Live music isn’t just about the sound, but the entire experience–the ambience, mood, feel and emotion. That’s what new DIY venue OTHERFEELS aims to do–curate shows that captivate more than just the ears.
OTHERFEELS came about the same way the Rolling Stones began: with an idea and three guys crammed into a one bedroom apartment. The concept grew into a cozy venue where shows defy musical boundaries and encourage experimentation. You might be sitting in a room full of strangers, but OTHERFEELS gives off a warm, intimate vibe that makes you feel like you’re watching a private show with a bunch of close friends.
DCMD spoke with Ryan Ulbrich and James Scott, two of the three OTHERFEELS founders, about the creation of the DIY venue, the importance of artist-venue relationships and what makes OTHERFEELS unique.
What drove you to create OTHERFEELS?
Ryan Ulbrich and James Scott: OTHERFEELS is the brainchild of Ryan Ulbrich, Ted Wetterau, and James Scott, and is inspired by all the humble and motivated people and groups in this city participating in the arts, specifically elevating forms of live music. We were all doing something to help foster ongoing expression of musical artists from, and passing through, this city–albeit in unique and alternative ways. We admire collectives like DCMD, Nu Androids, Mousai House, Paperhaus, Closed Sessions, All Things Go, Babe City, Above the Bayou, CVMPVTR CLVB, Bathtub Republic, and more that have taken steps forward in “rising the tide of all boats.”
How did OTHERFEELS come to life?
RU & JS: Everything has sort of been driven by a shared vision among close friends — whatever its manifestation — to both celebrate, and create refuge, for artists and the emerging creative community in D.C.
What was the creation/start up process like and what did it entail?
JS: It was actually quite serendipitous. Two of us were near dead broke, both having quit jobs, and one moving down from New York City after traveling in Central and South America for months. Ryan had a spare sunroom in a creaky, cozy one bedroom apartment. Last winter season was hilarious, tough and beautiful, as we spent months cramped up in this apartment; three guys and a dog trying to make our way. In our long search for the next chapter, we finally came across our current home in Mount Pleasant, espousing the concept OTHERFEELS, with a big, empty, white-bricked basement and thought “we could do some weird shit down here.”
Did you have musical or venue management experience before OTHERFEELS?
RU: James had booked shows for a time at Songbyrd, started working for Sofar Sounds, and is now learning the ropes of venue ops work through IMP. He’s also managing a few bands, and just came back as tour manager for SHAED’s first national tour. I think all of us, and especially James, have learned here is that managing a “venue” – whatever its form – can really distill to the notion of artist hospitality. Without music, our space serves no purpose, so building and nurturing relationships with artists, making them feel as warmly welcomed and comfortable as any other [is extremely important]. If that is achieved, the guests feel it when they walk through the door, and the feeling permeates on itself.
Where did the name, OTHERFEELS, come from?
RU & JS: The name OTHERFEELS comes from a quote from Paul Klee “One eye sees, the other feels.” It speaks to the idea that people can interpret a variety of emotions in a variety of ways, and that’s a beautiful thing.
How do you choose acts to play at the venue?
RU & JS: All types of ways. At first, we reached out as fans to groups around town, and artists started giving us really good feedback. Then we started hosting Sofar shows (we’ve done about 10 since April, and we’re the first residential space to open its doors here in the city), and we’ve also collaborated with other like-minded promotion groups like DCDIT to co-curate bills. We’re feeling a very interesting and exciting inflection point, with bands from various cities reaching out to see about a show as they pass through on their tour run.
What do you feel is most unique about OTHERFEELS?
RU & JS: Beyond the venue space, which is outfitted nicely for bands (a few of which have commented that it’s the best they’ve ever sounded), it offers varied perspectives which we like, so everyone can see the “stage” if they want. It can be a seated venue, which is unique from what we’ve seen at other house venues. We also allow bands to stay the night with a kind of full-service Airbnb vibe. Hospitality and making people feel comfortable is our top priority, so if bands need a place to stay they can stay without stress.
With D.C. in need of spaces like OTHERFEELS, what does having a place for underground artists to play mean to you?
RU & JS: It’s not even something we really think about. We feel like it’s a civic service and are humbled to give people a canvas for their art. Music and art — it’s appreciation and it’s preservation– mean everything to us. It’s almost like conservation work. We also feel obliged to help incubate an artist’s switch to full-time musician(s) because we feel like they deserve the right to do it. We’ve got our part to play in this ecosystem, and we’re fully committed.
What do you enjoy most about the venue?
RU: I enjoy when bands and people feel comfortable and when the music hits people. If that “other,” often transcending feeling, is produced in the room, then that’s a win.
There’s also this holistic authenticity that exists when you let people into your home. Already, you’re showing a strong sign of trust and gratitude for their attendance. When our guests feel that, they’re able to display their rawest form of themselves and create this dwelling inside that shows authenticity and realness and allows them to be most receptive (and respectful) of the music.
It’s also got an Airbnb vibe downstairs, with couches and pull outs for the artists to stay for free if they’re on the road traveling. The conversations are so fruitful for us, hearing about their work, tour and where they come from (Madrid, NYC, Columbus, Richmond, etc.) We enjoy the full accommodation of what the venue provides, and think of artist support and hospitality as going above and beyond set times, so to speak.
What are your future plans for the venue?
RU & JS: Full steam ahead booking shows, and potentially open a commercial space for musicians, painters, visual, and other artists that need a vital outlet for their work.
How do you plan to keep the venue going when more DIY spaces in D.C. have been closing?
We’re going to try our best, and control what we can control. We have a good relationship with our neighbors and the community too. That rapport is the glue.
Anything else you would like readers to know?
RU & JS: Hopefully this is a step in the process of opening a full-branded space somewhere in the city. If anyone out is looking to collaborate on this vision, let’s rap.
OTHERFEELS will present its next show with April+VISTA, Benjamin Boeldt, Gobby, and Black Lodge & em.g on Friday, Dec. 2.