May 13, 1983: The Metropolis

Spluii Numa play at the Metropolis, circa 1983Mike Leach
Spluii Numa play at the Metropolis, circa 1983
Mike Leach

What Seattle then needed most was a place for the wild kids.

Circa spring 1983, the civic environment here was hostile towards teenagers. Seattle had then acquired a reputation as a progressive city welcoming to adults and small children, but teenagers — especially those with countercultural tendencies — had a rather tough time thriving here. Our local underground music scene then catered overwhelmingly to 21-and-over patrons — leaving teenagers feeling sadly shut out of the scene.

Enter Hughes Piottin, also known as Hugo. Piottin is best known in Seattle today as the founder and guiding spirit of the Metropolis, the legendary all-ages music venue that helped foment Seattle’s underground music scene from May 1983 to March 1984. The Metropolis was crucially much more than a mere music club since it was conceived not as a business, but rather as a community hub where Seattle’s creative youth could not only congregate as an audience, but also learn how to harness their own nascent creativity.

Born in Lyon, France, on March 7, 1958, Piottin came to Seattle in 1982 with the intention of creating just such a place. That dream would reach fruition on the date in focus here, when the Metropolis held its first official concert. Located in Pioneer Square at 207 Second Avenue South in the 1890-built building previously hosting the 1911-founded Tivoli Movie Theatre and the 1961-founded gay bar the Golden Horseshoe, the Metropolis — despite its brief existence — had a major impact on Seattle’s music scene, mainly because it was all-ages and collectively run, in contrast to the city’s typical music clubs of the time. It was also a magnet for many of the young local musicians and scenesters who would later go on to become major scene players during the grunge era — including and especially Mark Arm, Steve Turner, and Jeff Ament, who would later form Green River, which would later splinter into Mudhoney and Pearl Jam.

Using money he’d earned from fishing in Alaska, Piottin opened the Metropolis with the partnership of Gordon Doucette, a local musician who was then the singer and guitarist for the Seattle post-punk band Red Masque. Doucette was largely responsible for booking acts, while Piottin oversaw the operation of the venue. Other bookers there included Maire Masco and Susan Silver, two women who would later play major roles behind-the-scenes in Seattle during the grunge era. Piottin would later explain his vision to Clark Humphrey, author of the definitive local music history book Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story:

“The Metropolis was my first creative venture. I was 23 at the time. I came from the background of a frustrated artist without knowing it. I was studying math and physics in Europe; I quit, and became a commercial fisherman in Alaska. In the winter I was teaching skiing in the Alps. I moved to Seattle and really decided to create something to bring people together. I had ideas but they were really fuzzy ones. The space came together out of my control in a way. It had a life of its own, very strong. I loved the shows, getting together in a club. I wanted a non-oppressive environment, a non-alcoholic environment. The kids needed a place to go and be safe and not be exploited. I never had a show that cost more than $4 (except for touring acts). I had a strong desire to give, in a creative place where people could meet friends, and maybe get exposed to ideas in art and music that inspired them. I think it worked.”

Hugo at the Metropolis, circa February 1984The Rocket, March 1984 issue
Hugo at the Metropolis, circa February 1984
The Rocket, March 1984 issue

Touring acts who played at the Metropolis included Bad Brains, John Cale, D.O.A., the Gun Club, Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, Shockabilly, and Violent Femmes. Local talent featured there included the Accüsed, Beat Pagodas, Cinema 90, Colour Twigs, Mr. Epp and the Calculations, Life in General, Red Dress, Red Masque, Room Nine, Spluii Numa, Student Nurse (in their final incarnation as the Nurse), 10 Minute Warning, and the U-Men. Among the regulars was future Sub Pop Records co-founder Bruce Pavitt, who DJ’d at the Metropolis when Sub Pop remained a column in Seattle’s monthly music newspaper The Rocket and was not yet a record label. Pavitt would reminisce later for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about what made the Metropolis a truly special place:

“[The Metropolis] was an amazing opportunity for young people to perform in front of their peers. And I DJ’d there, which was a lot of fun, spinning Minor Threat and Run-D.M.C. records. I remember Mark Arm came down, Steve Turner — Mudhoney guys, Green River crew, they came down. Mr. Epp I believe was performing at that time, that was Mark’s band at the time, so anyhow a lot of younger people, 17, 18, who later went on to really help blow up the Seattle scene, got their start at the Metropolis. Having all-ages venues is crucial, I think, for cultivating any scene. Getting young people involved with art and creativity, and giving them a chance, is really important.”

Most crucial to the uniqueness of the Metropolis was the collective nature of its day-to-day operations. Many of its young patrons helped organize and run concerts there, typically receiving free admission in exchange for their work. By helping with cash-handling, serving non-alcoholic refreshments, and loading bands’ gear, teenage music fans learned at the Metropolis how to be not only spectators, but also participants in creative entertainment — which was Hugo’s intention from the beginning. In late 1983, at the peak of the venue’s local popularity and influence, Piottin told The Rocket about his long-term goals for the Metropolis, which he then hoped would thrive for several more years.

“What I want,” Piottin said, “is a fusion of ideas, and [an] inspiration ground, people being exposed to [other] people’s ideas. We want to stimulate this crowd toward a smarter world.”

Despite Piottin’s plans for expansion of the venue (which would have included its daytime use as a coffeehouse and meeting place for political groups), the Metropolis closed abruptly when the developers of a condominium building next door successfully pressured the landlord to evict the club. The final show (featuring English goth-rock act Alien Sex Fiend) took place on March 6, 1984. After that show, Hugo and Silver would stage several more concerts at several different venues in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, B.C., under the name Metropolis Productions through mid-1985. Piottin would eventually abandon music promotion for other creative pursuits. As of 2021, he lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he participated in community urban farming.

Sources: Ann Powers, “All Ages,” The Rocket, December 1983, p. 18; Clark Humphrey, Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story (Feral House, 1995; MiscMedia, 1999, 2016); Leah Greenblatt and James Bush, “In Memoriam: 20 Clubs That Came and Went,” Seattle Weekly, May 3, 2001, p. 44; Jacob McMurray, “The Metropolis: Birthplace of Grunge?”, November 19, 2009; Stephen Tow, The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge (Sasquatch Books, 2011); Mark Yarm, Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge (Crown Archetype, 2011); Keith Cameron, Mudhoney: The Sound and the Fury from Seattle (Omnibus Press, 2013).

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