Where we pick up in the story is the closing of Drkmttr last year — a year ago,” Olivia Scibelli says, laughing and a bit shocked when she realizes the date’s significance. “Literally, a year ago, today.”
Scibelli and her business partner Kathyrn Edwards can be excused for losing track of the birth, death, and re-birth dates of Drkmttr Collective — Nashville’s most persistent DIY community space and all-ages music venue. Like the renowned cat in physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment, the current life or death status of Drkmttr has been in a constant state of flux throughout its existence.
The comparison to the nebulous and often logic-defying realm of quantum physics is an apt one for Drkmttr. The venue’s name was inspired by the theory of dark matter, which posits that the matter forming a large percentage of the universe hasn’t yet been directly observed or understood. It’s a fitting metaphor for the DIY music community, which operates on the fringes of the corporate-controlled music industry through a network of house parties, commandeered public spaces, and idiosyncratic all-ages venues.
The uncertainty has hopefully come to an end with the opening of Drkmttr’s new location at 1111 Dickerson Pike, just a stone’s throw from burgeoning new spots like Shugga Hi Bakery and Cafe and the growing Cleveland Park neighborhood.
“So it’s actually taken us about a year to find a place,” Scibelli continues. “Just doing that, logistically, has definitely been a journey and a passion project for both of us — and a few of our friends who are integral parts to this whole thing. Right now, we’re figuring out how to marry DIY and legitimacy. I think that’s kind of an interesting place, and a very 2019 place to be in, in my opinion.”
The saga of Drkmttr’s arrival on the East Side began with an earlier, similar space called The Other Basement, a Belmont-neighborhood gathering space that ceased operations in 2014. In the summer of 2015, Edwards, Scibelli, and the rest of their team reinvented the DIY venue as Drkmttr in a house on Third Avenue South. After that location was shuttered in late 2015, Drkmttr reappeared in a former barbershop on Indiana Avenue in The Nations. That incarnation lasted approximately two and half years until Edwards and Scibelli decided to close up shop again — largely due to logistical and financial reasons — with the goal of finding a more permanent home.
The team scoured local real estate for months before landing on Dickerson, taking into account the size of the space, cost of rent, safety of attendees, and proximity to other like-minded businesses. Although the search was far from easy, both Edwards and Scibelli believe they’ve found something special in their new Dickerson home.
“When it comes to the neighborhood, we looked at different ones based on general safety of our attendees, and also price,” Edwards says. “In Nashville, as it grows, those two things can be hard to marry. Somehow, we’ve managed to once again be down the street from [our former neighbor] Poverty and the Arts. It’s nice that we could find a neighborhood that was being revitalized at the moment more than it was being gentrified.”
In addition to the difficulties posed by finding a space that was both safe and economical, problems arose when Edwards and Scibelli realized how exclusionary much of the development in Nashville can be to relative “outsiders.” Navigating the members-only landscape of commercial real estate further delayed the team’s process of finding a space.
“When we were looking, we ran into so many challenges,” Scibelli says. “We learned so much about things neither of us thought we would ever learn, like commercial real-estate prices and shit like that where you really realize how deep the sort of, I think, club-like atmosphere development can be. There are a lot of gatekeepers, and it was really hard for us to be taken seriously and to be able to find people to support us in this vision.”
Fortunately, the team found allies in Mary Mancini and Donnie Kendall, former owners of Nashville’s premier DIY venue of the 1990s, Lucy’s Record Shop. Both understood Drkmttr’s mission and have years of experience running community-centered music spaces.
“[Donnie and Mary] are invested in our future,” Scibelli says. “The [Dickerson] building is actually owned by them, so they could help us with rent control and guidance on how to do this. They know a thing or two about starting a business, too.”
Part of the challenge in keeping this newest iteration of Drkmttr afloat will be developing and implementing a sound financial plan, one that will not only pay the rent but will also afford the team the ability to pay bands and artists who showcase at the space. One way they plan to do this is by aggressively expanding their content.
“A lot of what we’re focusing on now is opening up our programming offerings,” Edwards explains. “We originally started just having music all the time. We always wanted to have workshops and movies and things like that, but we were limited in space, resources — things of that nature. With this space, we’ve already gotten a lot of good connections with people who want to start doing workshops and movie nights, things that will open us up more to the community and people who are interested in more than just music.”
“Also, something we found to be really important is having a kitchen now,” Scibelli adds. “We’re going to be serving food once we get the permits, and we’ll have a bar with beer and sodas and things like that. We’re doing late-night vegan food and also renting out the kitchen during the day as a commissary for other predominantly female-owned companies. We want to cater to people who have limited resources like we do and are doing things more DIY or on a budget themselves, which is a huge part of what keeps people from growing businesses: the financial barriers.”
With this new space, the Drkmttr crew seems to have found a home that embodies the DIY ethos while, as Scibelli noted, edging closer to a kind of legitimacy that offers both financial security and opportunities to more deeply engage the Nashville arts community. But at its heart, Drkmttr is still an effort driven by an intense passion for music and musicians, and for serving as a platform for young and emerging artists to share their work with understanding audiences.
“Most of the people that are starting from the bottom are kids,” Scibelli says. “There will be no trickle-up if the younger crowd doesn’t have a voice to play. Of course, there will always be house shows, but there should also be a place like Drkmttr for these kids to go.”
“Drkmttr tries to bridge the gap of being on the stage and playing your music for people who are interested in your music without being able to draw in 250 people,” Edwards says.
“The bottom line is both of us really want to see Nashville thrive and grow and diversify musically,” Scibelli continues. “It’s really important. We just want to be able to be a platform for that.”