Metal and more, on players’ terms: New arts co-op looks to be a home for heavy music and independent artists

Members of the Easthampton metal band Problem with Dragons are part of The Heavy Culture Cooperative (THCC), a new music and arts collective in the Valley.

Members of the Easthampton metal band Problem with Dragons are part of The Heavy Culture Cooperative (THCC), a new music and arts collective in the Valley. Image courtesy Northampton Arts Council

The Heavy Culture Cooperative (THCC), a new music and arts collective in the Valley, is looking for a venue to host a variety of music, though the emphasis will be on metal. punk, hardcore and other “heavy” sounds.

The Heavy Culture Cooperative (THCC), a new music and arts collective in the Valley, is looking for a venue to host a variety of music, though the emphasis will be on metal. punk, hardcore and other “heavy” sounds.

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 11-03-2023 10:12 AM

In the last few years, a number of music and performing venues in the Valley have embraced the nonprofit model to support the arts, from The Drake in Amherst to the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence to The Parlor Room in Northampton.

Now another group of area musicians and fans who are part of the heavy metal scene have taken things a step further: forming a musical and artistic co-op that will be collectively owned and operated.

The Heavy Culture Cooperative, or THCC (or simply “thick”), is designed to be a forum for metal, punk, and other “heavy music,” but it won’t be limited to that, organizers say. Visual art is also expected to be a key part of the co-op, and other creative expression, such as theater, could be featured as well.

Timothy Brault, president of THCC and a co-founder of the group, says the primary goal is to build a member-based arts organization “that everyone can have a stake in, that’s fair to everyone — to employees, to musicians, to our members.”

“I really like the co-op model,” said Brault. “It allows the profits to be shared, and we expect to be profitable. But I’m not asking people to enrich me.”

THCC is currently looking to lease or buy a space, quite possibly in Easthampton, as a performance venue. At the moment the co-op is seeking members and other donations and investors; meantime, they’re spreading the word about their goals.

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Brault said the co-op currently has 50 members but envisions increasing that number considerably once they’ve secured a place to stage concerts and exhibit artwork: “We’re already getting a few more each week.”

Membership, which has a one-time cost of $150, is based on a three-tiered system, as it’s open to the general public, people who will work at the future venue, and artists who will perform or exhibit work there, or help produce shows.

“Membership is a form of ownership,” said Brault, a musician himself who’s played with various metal bands in the region for years. “Every member gets to vote on how we govern, on who sits on our board, and on other decisions.”

Member/owners will also be entitled to “potential profit sharing, potential employment opportunities, and additional members-only benefits,” the THCC website says.

Brault said he and his fellow THCC co-founders — all have been involved in the regional music scene as players, promoters, sound technicians, or as artists — had been thinking for some time about creating a music-arts co-op.

Part of the impetus came from watching how for-profit music clubs like Northampton’s Iron Horse Music Hall and Pearl Street Nightclub operated — and how they struggled to come back after being shut down during the pandemic.

And, Brault noted, any number of musicians have had past experiences playing in clubs where they felt they’d been taken advantage of financially. Either that or they’d build up a dedicated fan following at a venue that would then suddenly shut down.

“It really seemed like a new model was needed, where the goal is not just profit but everyone having a good experience and musicians and artists being paid decently,” Brault said.

He also says the co-op wants to work with people who would like to to become members but can’t immediately afford to join THCC. “We won’t turn people away. The idea is to kind of spread the wealth and find a way to help someone become a member.”

Another factor for THCC is simply the dearth of places in the immediate area where heavy metal bands and other hardcore groups can play.

“Typically you have to go up to Brattleboro or down to Connecticut or somewhere else,” Brault said, though he noted that the Marigold Theater in Easthampton is now booking some heavier bands. In Florence, the 13th Floor Music Lounge — the second floor of JJ’s Tavern — has also hosted some metal and punk bands.

That said, whatever venue THCC establishes will not be limited to heavy metal or other underground music, Brault added. Members will be able to produce events they’d like to see — maybe puppet theater or burlesque shows or other performances not usually seen in area venues.

Brault says the collective will also look to book music in other area venues if they can’t accommodate certain bands in whatever venue they end up establishing themselves.

“There are a lot of possibilities,” he said, noting that THCC hopes to be up and running in 2024. “And the concept we’re talking about, I think it’s taking off all around the country. This could be the model for the future.”

More information about THCC can be found at theheavyculture.coop.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.