Owner Darwin Sampson says this time, it’s not about pressure from his landlord.
Editor's note: This post will be updated as the story evolves.
Update, March 5: Frequency co-owner Darwin Sampson posted Saturday morning on the venue's Facebook page and his personal page responding to the displeasure over his initial announcement. "It was an emotional response to seeing an employee injured. I shouldn't have put a 1 year moratorium on the genre. I reacted irrationally, I regret it and apologize," Sampson wrote, in part. He also reiterated his determination to keep the venue's employees safe, and addressed the context of racial disparities in Madison: "The fact of the matter is I am very hopeful that Madison, Wisconsin can start having the very real discussions about racism and discrimination that have plagued this city for a long time. It's time to talk about incarceration rates, employment opportunities, and everything else this 'liberal' city has failed to address in a meaningful way."
It isn't clear from this what decisions the venue will actually make about hip-hop shows over the next few months. But Sampson deserves credit here for offering a thoughtful and empathetic response after what must have been a very unpleasant few days.
Anyone need to set a clock? Because here goes another round of hip hop losing ground in local venues.
The Frequency will not be booking hip hop shows for one year starting Thursday, owner Darwin Sampson has announced in a post on the downtown venue’s Facebook page. The post has since been taken down; screenshot below. This isn’t the first time The Frequency has closed the door on hip hop, but this time the motivation is a bit different. Previously, Sampson has cited pressure from his landlord, Larry Lichte, who included a provision in the venue’s lease forbidding hip-hop shows, but has enforced that selectively—in fact, The Frequency has often hosted local and touring hip hop, from Open Mike Eagle shows to F. Stokes’ annual day-after-Christmas show.
But in Thursday’s Facebook post, Sampson wrote: "This is solely my decision, I am making it in the interest of my staff and the people I depend on to keep The Frequency alive and well.”
In a follow-up conversation Thursday, Sampson told me the venue has experienced three fights at hip-hop shows in the past two months. On Wednesday night, Sampson said, a sound engineer was assaulted while trying to break up a fight between patrons during a private party. “Three staples in his head from a bottle to the back of the head,” Sampson says. Sampson said a police report was filed in Wednesday night’s incident. Madison Police Department spokesperson Joel DeSpain said Thursday morning that he did not know of the incident, but said that might be because not all incident reports are typed up immediately.
On Friday, MPD shared a report, saying there was some initial confusion about it because it was filed using the address of the hospital the employee was taken to, not the club's address. "The staff member, a 31 year old Madison man, reported that he noticed a disturbance involving a large group of female patrons occurring near the bathrooms," the report reads. "He went to break up the disturbance and was between two involved groups. He reported that the groups began to separate as he came closer to the disturbance. He placed himself between the two sides while there was still some yelling between the two parties. The staff member said he suddenly felt a heavy impact to the back of his head. He fell to the floor and covered his head. He managed to crawl behind the bar and then to a hallway out of harm’s way. He discovered that he had sustained an injury to the back of his head. The gash required some stitches. There was no suspect information listed in the report."
Jessie Clements, The Frequency's marketing manager, says the employee who was attacked Wednesday night is "shaken, but will be OK."
The Facebook thread has inevitably blown up, with several commenters—including local hip-hop artists—criticising the venue for making the decision on the basis of something that happened as a private event, and pointing out that dozens of hip-hop shows there have gone off without a hitch.
Madison Rapper Sincere Life (real name Craig Smith), who recently played an album-release show at The Frequency, had this to say in the thread: "I say keep it permanent might as well if we gotta walk on eggshells and be worried that if something happen the Frequency wont work wit us then I dont want it." In other comments and in a conversation with me, Smith said the venue's decision amounts to putting an entire musical genre "on punishment."
Sampson says he will apply the ban consistently to all promoters who book at The Frequency, including Majestic Live, which often books touring acts there, including a fair number of hip-hop shows. The hip-hop shows already on the books at the venue will go on, he says, but with heightened security requirements.
"This is very very disheartening, especially with what the scene is doing right now,” says Madison-based rapper Charles Grant, who has played The Frequency several times over the past couple of years. "The Frequency was one of the only places where we could book actual local shows and generate a profit. Never have I had a negative experience or witnessed one there at a hip-hop show. We don't have many places where can actually throw legit shows. That was the one spot, really, besides local bars with no stage and bad sound.”
Sampson says he’s also dealt with “shortcomings” in the performance of security companies he’s hired to work at shows. "We're talking about licensed, bonded individuals that can't keep bottles of booze and weapons out of my venue,” he says.
"I'm not going to blame security lapses for people's overall behavior,” Sampson elaborates. "We have fights at all kinds of shows (acoustic shows too), but have never needed security beyond staff. Some of these hip hop shows become very perilous very quickly. Projectiles, tasers, we've seen it all."
Grant says that Samspon has “always been very nice and supportive," but he points out that the decision could be a loss for The Frequency. “We have made his establishment a lot of money,” Grant says. "Respect goes both ways."