Katie Bashista, Spectrum Editor
After nearly a decade of being the hub of all things underground, alternative and hardcore, Strange Matter is dead. Well, not yet, but the venue announced it will shut down in a Facebook post Nov. 10 and scheduled a final celebration of life planned for Dec. 15 in the form of Punks for Presents.
This isn’t an obituary, this is a tribute to all things strange and special about the hole in the wall Richmonders and out-of-towners alike have danced, sang, moshed, drank, possibly fought in, and definitely partied in, for the past nine years.
The Richmond music scene is coping with the loss of this venue, which was unlike any other in the area. It gave independent labels and underground bands a platform to showcase their work. It didn’t prioritize revenue, instead aiming to give as many people as possible the opportunity to perform and was an ideal venue for hardcore shows.
Mark Osborne is the head booker at Strange Matter. He began booking shows in his hometown in southwest Virginia, primarily in restaurants and house shows. When he moved to Richmond in 2004, he started booking the same kind of shows within a year and then began working with the booker at Strange Matter at the time, Eric Smith. Osborne took over around eight or nine years ago.
“Now that I’ve been doing it for so long, a lot of agents just know my taste and know the sort of thing that would work right in the room,” Osborne said. “So more often than not, I’m getting hit up when people are routing tours. But I also definitely still reach out if it’s a band I really like that hasn’t played town yet or whatever, then I’ll do some seeking out.”
When Osborne is booking shows, he’s not concerned about any specific genre. He attempts to plan a variety of shows that will put people in the room and give everyone a chance to see performers they want to see.
“Even though it’s not a community space, it’s a business, but at least it has that feel of the community space,” Osborne said. “You don’t know if you’re going to go in and get a queer dance night, or you’re going to get a death metal band.”
Osborne has pulled off several notable shows including a Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees lineup, Kurt Vile, Alvvays, Real Estate and even Mac DeMarco.
DeMarco came to Strange Matter in 2012 and Osborne said there were about 30 people in attendance.
“That first record, ‘Rock and Roll Nightclub,’ had just come out or something like that so [he] hadn’t blown [up] yet,” he said.
Part of Strange Matter’s charm was that it was small and performers often hung out at the bar or smoking outside before and after shows. Osborne doesn’t typically hang out with the bands he books, but he sat at the bar with DeMarco for a period of time.
“We sat around bullshitting with him and a month later you see his face is all over the place,” he said. “Some stories of him say otherwise, but that night they were totally real people just sitting at the bar.”
Manny Lemus owns an independent record label, Citrus City Records, with René Franco. It started in Richmond and is now based both here and in Brooklyn, where Lemus lives. The label seeks out new, unknown bands and boasts on its bandcamp that it’s a label “for friends, by friends.”
Lemus’ first interactions with Strange Matter began the summer after his senior year of high school before moving to Richmond. He attended several shows, including Mac DeMarco’s six years ago. He got more involved with the venue as he formed his label.
“The reason why I have a big attachment to them is because as I really started getting interested in other music related stuff, like booking shows, a lot of the other venues weren’t getting back to me and were being really condescending,” Lemus said. “Strange Matter was pretty much accepting of my silly little indie shows and they really helped me out and brought me in.”
The first show Lemus booked there was Tall Juan, Ben Katzman, Lance Bangs and Camp Howard, but he’s booked several memorable shows there since.
“The one that will always nail it would be the first Citrus City anniversary show because it was still during a time where it was like I was not really fully integrated in the Richmond scene,” he said.
The lineup was Vundabar, Yung Scum, Lance Bangs and Camp Howard. The show sold out and the crowd consisted of friends from his hometown of Stafford and Richmond supporters.
Strange Matter has also made an impact on bands that frequented there and got their first chance to perform in that room, including local band Doll Baby.
“It was in the late spring of 2015 with The You Go Girls and The Cigarette Bums,” said Dan Kelly, drummer of Doll Baby. “It was a great show. We played first, but we replayed our first song at the end of our set so Julie’s mom, who showed up late, could hear us play.”
Ryan Wolfe is the drummer of Winhand, a Richmond-based band that started small in venues like Strange Matter, but has grown to play in 500-1000 cap venues. They played Strange Matter at least five times.
“I have personal and professional relationships with the people who own and ran the bar and I’m very good friends with a lot of the bartenders,” he said. “It was very comfortable to go there. It was like hanging out at someone’s house and instead of a loud jukebox playing, it was a band.”
Wolfe said Strange Matter closing is “a bump in the road, not the end of the world,” noting this happened with the venue’s previous owners in recent decades.
“Who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and somebody will turn it into a venue,” Wolfe said. “But we need to figure this out, not run from it.”
Doll Baby said Strange Matter was “the last true ‘punk’ venue in Richmond.” The group feels although there are other good music venues in Richmond, the music scene here wouldn’t be what it is without it.
“They catered to every kind of genre, and were a haven to the underground and alternative,” said Julie Storey, vocals and guitar for Doll Baby.
Local band White Laces formed in 2010 and performed at Strange Matter several times, including with Mac Demarco, Diiv and Wild Nothing. The last show they played in Richmond was in 2016 — they broke up later that year. But the group is getting back together one last time, for Strange Matter’s final show.
Landis Wine sings and plays guitar in the band and he says the band has several connections to the venue beyond just performing there: Wine was involved during the venue’s transition from Bagel Czar, the drummer worked there and another member hosted his wedding reception there.
“We never had an official farewell show,” he said. “So we talked and decided it made a lot of sense to try and put something together for the occasion.”
Wine says he’s not sure if the music scene will change without Strange Matter, but that it feels like the end of an era.
“Richmond definitely has a much more robust set of venues now than it did when Strange Matter first opened its doors, which is fantastic,” he said. “But that spot will always hold a special place in our hearts and collective memory.”
Osborne hopes people got what they wanted out of their experiences with Strange Matter. It pivoted him into his career and he hopes the networking and connections this space provided has helped people, too.
This space gave a platform for every kind of musician and it set the Richmond music scene apart from other cities. It created a community unlike any other, and regardless of what happens to the venue, its mark on this city is plastered here forever.
“It’s just a place that cultivated a bunch of weirdos and people that felt like they didn’t fit in anywhere,” Lemus said. “There was always a show for someone.”
Strange Matter has several shows planned for the next few weeks. Their previous website URL is down, but all information can be found on their Facebook page or at their new URL, shitanddie.com.