You won’t find posters advertising shows at Hoan Kiem stapled to telephone poles around the city, nor will you see thoughtfully-designed ads taking up column inches in the city’s alt-weekly. In fact, unless you have a teenager clued into Portland’s underground music scene in your life–or, like me, do a potentially inadvisable amount of digging around online–this is probably the first you’re hearing of a DIY all-ages venue on SE 101st and Division.
This isn’t by design. It’s simply the way things are done in this world of below-the-radar gigs held in shared houses, basements, and other uncommon locales that have been the proving ground for generations of punk, metal, experimental, and hip-hop artists.
Spaces like Hoan Kiem are a far cry from the tightly-controlled, OLCC-anointed clubs like Mississippi Studios and Doug Fir Lounge, but they are often the most exciting places to see music in the city. And the community being cultivated at these homegrown venues is, like the artists that haunt them, inclusive, politically-charged, and compassionate.
“The bands are the first people, if there’s a creep or something, to be like, ‘Get the creep out,’” says Kiid, one member of the team that books events at Hoan Kiem. “They give back to the community. When the strikes were happening at Kroger, I got contacted about doing something to stand in solidarity with the workers. We’ve been able to get a good show out simply for the fact that we like to show up for everyone else.”
That level of solidarity was really the catalyst behind the start of Hoan Kiem. The venue — really just a large open air space protected by a roof structure, but with a sturdy stage and an array of colorful lights — belonged to family friends who invited Kiid to come perform for them after he returned to Portland from Los Angeles. Already inspired by the sounds he was hearing from his friends like electronic artist H3artdrive and metal band Yuki, he decided to do them one better. “I was like, ‘Why just me when there’s so many talented people out there?’ Kiid says.
Since that initial show last September, word spread fast about what was happening at Hoan Kiem, mostly through social media. Subsequent shows have brought over 300 people, some driving in from Southern Oregon, and touring bands from far-flung parts of the U.S. The venue halted its momentum last month only because they felt they had to: they canceled all shows to minimize the community’s exposure to omicron.
Anticipation is high for Hoan Kiem’s return to action this Saturday. On tap is Assid Queens, a regular event that features sets by bands and performances by drag artists. On the bill this time around: melodic rockers Rawt and emo/punk ensemble Swiss Army Wife, as well as drag performers Lucy Lavey and Kurrency Banks.
What is always impressive about DIY venues is that they continue to operate even though they are often surrounded by neighbors and businesses. Surprisingly for Hoan Kiem, the space has run into few issues. It helps that they’re right next to a fairly busy stretch of SE Division and they wrap up shows at a reasonable hour.
As for the folks who complained about the noise and bustle, forcing a couple of gigs to wrap up even sooner than planned, Kiid suspects there’s some ulterior motives at play. “I don’t know how much those complaints are about noise,” he says, “or the fact that they see people that they’re not used to seeing in skirts.”
Assid Queens, with performances by Father’s Milk, Rawt, Lunatik Hex, and Darylin Monstone, is at Hoan Kiem (10140 SE Division, Portland) on Saturday February 12 at 7pm. All ages. Masks and proof of vaccination required for entry.
Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!