The Dutchman (Seattle)

  • By Shin Yu Pai
  • Posted 1/07/2024
  • Essay 22889
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In the early morning of January 9, 2009, a raging fire burned down The Dutchman rehearsal and recording studio in the SoDo neighborhood. The rundown industrial warehouse had been a vibrant center of Seattle music that existed on the fringes, making space for grunge bands such as Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, and Nirvana while also supporting hip-hop artists such as the DI-RA Boys and providing space to Northwest Electronic Musicians throughout the studio’s long existence. Out of that fire, The Dutchman’s owner, Gary Mula – a gifted musician and record producer – rebuilt his vision of community through his subsequent work with the Columbia City Theater and The Rabbit Box Theatre.

The Dutchman’s Origins

In 1982, Seattle musician Gary Mula first came across an industrial warehouse at 101 S Spokane Street that would become The Dutchman, a rehearsal and recording studio which served hundreds of musicians each year for nearly three decades. In the decades since it was built, the dilapidated building had housed an electrical component factory, a restaurant, an audio and lighting equipment business, and an underground dance hall. 

Mula and his friend Shane Clayton rented practice space for their experimental band at the warehouse. When an opportunity to take over the building’s lease came up in 1984, the two partnered to take over the 5,000-square-foot space for $270 a month. The Dutchman would give them a cheap place to play and work on their music. And though the building was infested with rats, lacked central heat, and the roof leaked, they saw tremendous potential in it. They pictured renting out affordable practice rooms to other bands ranging in cost from $200 to $400 to cover their expenses. Mula and Clayton tore out everything in the warehouse that wasn’t essential until only the load-bearing walls remained. To save money, Mula spent hours pulling nails out of wood and straightening them for reuse. After a month of construction, they secured their first two tenants: Ministry of Love, a dreamy, dark wave shoegaze group; and speed metal band Upper Echelon.

A Musician's Dream for a 'Musical Castle'

Though Mula and Clayton took over The Dutchman space together, significant work was needed to make the building usable. Solid walls needed to be built to create separate rooms and hallways. Mula had grown up in a family where he learned construction skills and was excited to build out the space with his own two hands. He moved into the warehouse under the premise of being a live-in security guard for the space and began infusing his home with new life. Later, he bought out Clayton’s share in the business for $1,200. In the Dutchman, Mula saw an opportunity to build a studio space of his own and take his engineering and producing skills to another level.

Mula developed a passion for music at an early age. A gifted musician who picked up the guitar at the age of 10, he began taking private lessons at Kennelly Keys under Roger Jensen when he was 12. Mula started playing in rock bands during his teenage years. By the time Mula was 15, his cover band Total Eclipse was regularly booking shows using its own contracts and playing junior high dances and the social club circuit throughout the Northwest. They even owned their own sound and light system for their shows. When Mula was 16, Total Eclipse did a recording session with engineer Fred Zeufeldt of Big Horn at Joos Music Center in Lynnwood.

After high school, Mula formed Thrust, a progressive art rock band. When he was 17, the band made two studio recordings at Holden, Hamilton, and Roberts in Green Lake. Mula was dissatisfied with those recording experiences and out of those studio sessions, he became inspired to learn more about engineering and experiment with recording his own work.

In 1976, Thrust beat out 20 other bands to make it to the finals of the Battle of the Bands competition sponsored by KJR Radio. On the final day of the competition at the Seattle Center, one of Thrust’s band members failed to show up to play. Thrust decided to perform without him. Upon taking the stage, Mula’s amp popped a fuse, and one of the judges loaned him his amp. Despite these setbacks, Thrust won Battle of the Bands, taking home a $500 gift certificate from Guitar Center that the band split five ways. They also signed with manager Karen Wald.

Through Thrust’s association with Wald, Mula met a group of more experienced musicians who had enjoyed international success and were active on the Seattle club scene. Mula was mentored by David Surkamp of Pavlov’s Dog, who helped to deepen his appreciation for the role of engineer producers. Thrust eventually broke up and Mula joined Rocks, a touring cover band, to develop his abilities as a singer. Later, he started an experimental music band with Shane Clayton and dove into drum machines, synthesizers, and turned his focus away from rock music.

In 1991, Mula applied to and was offered a spot in a showcase event sponsored by the Northwest Area Music Association (NAMA). NAMA held an annual music industry event that attracted producers, musical artists, and people from different parts of the music business to Seattle. At the time, Mula had been working as a solo artist and didn’t want to go through the trouble of assembling a band that might or might not get to play at a NAMA showcase. So he made up an imaginary band on paper that proposed to play. When he was suddenly invited to play at WREX, Mula had to quickly put together a band with a drummer and bass player, which was backed up by a computer. At the NAMA showcase, the newly formed band Bel Canto opened for The Gits.

Over the past few decades, Mula has performed in several other musically diverse bands, including G-Mula (1997), Amateur Boyfriend (2002), Muckner (2005), and Dumb Thumbs (2021-present).

Mula’s dream for The Dutchman was of a "musical castle" – an all-encompassing space in which musicians of all styles could explore whatever they wanted to play, in the same building and community. Ben Nechanicky, from Seattle doom band Sun Crow, played in a speed metal band called Rawhead that rented rehearsal space at The Dutchman in the 1990s. He remembered a broad group of musicians who came through the community. "The space that Gary created was this kind of embassy for musicians to just come in and out [of] ... and be connected from all these various places," said Nechanicky. "It was always social and open. All the parties that were there – all the people kind of crosswalked into each other’s rooms and hung out. It was always a dynamically changing community, and it was constant for 25 years" (Nechanicky interview with author). 

A Center for Seattle Music

By the end of 1986, Mula had built nine practice rooms in the main part of the warehouse and a loft living space for himself. Later (1990), he added an additional two spaces to The Dutchman’s footprint – a rehearsal room and a space for showcasing bands. In the beginning, Mula observed that the type of music that was really happening was something called Death Dirge. "Big throbby washes of guitar, slower unending grooves, moaning and drony vocals full of pain and despair that were a precursor to grunge," he said. "Grunge just took the tempo up, made the grooves more blunt, pulling the punk back in with its raunch and theatrics" (Mula interview with author). 

The Dutchman’s main "Sub Pop/grunge room" (Mula interview) featured a rotating roster of bands that included Mudhoney, Bundle of Hiss, Feast (of Friends) TAD, Faster Tiger, A/C Autolux, Jodie Watts, Malfunction, Screaming Trees, and Nirvana. Several punk-inspired musicians associated with the music scene around Antioch College had moved to Seattle from Ohio, including members of The Gits, Alcohol Funnycar, Steel Wool, and Seven Year Bitch, who all practiced at The Dutchman.

Ben London from Alcohol Funnycar saw his move to The Dutchman as a significant step up from practicing in somebody’s basement. His memories of The Dutchman depict an industrial space with battleship-gray paint and off-white rooms that weren’t officially turned or refreshed. "It just had graffiti and some posters and stickers on the wall," said London. "It was probably just dumpster carpet on the floor ... But how can completely shitty space seem completely fancy at the same time?" (London interview with author). Surrounded by musicians and a culture of music, London appreciated the communal environment and connection points created by The Dutchman. It was a place "where people that were doing similar things came together," he said (London interview).

As a peer musician to Mula who has also carved out an enduring career in the music industry, London reflected that, "You learn as much by just pure, rubbing up against each other. And seeing what other people are doing. Or hearing what other people are doing, as you do focusing on your own stuff. Art that’s created in isolation can sometimes reflect that isolation. Sometimes, it’s not as vibrant as art that’s created around other people making art, because of the information that that brings into context" (London interview). 

Char Easter, singer of the all-female industrial ethereal band Common Language, described The Dutchman as a unique incubator for bands, at a musically fertile time in Seattle’s history. Easter formed her group in resistance to popular stereotypes about all-female bands. "There always seemed to be a sexual reference to being a woman," she said. "Either you’re The Go-Gos and depicted as having pillow fights in videos, or you’re angry and a riot girl. I wanted an all-female band that played great music and who did not call attention to our gender like the popular women in rock genres of the time" (Easter interview with author).

Easter both rehearsed and recorded at The Dutchman, which leased space to many bands that played very loud. Sound bleed was a frequent issue. "When we needed to record a part at practice ... my band would send me down the hall to ask TAD to stop playing for a few minutes. So I’d knock on their door. And they’d let me in their studio," she said. "It was very small and packed with guys and gear and seemed really disheveled. They would always kindly agree and I would hang out there for a few awkward minutes. Just gazing at the girly poster and all the other paraphernalia that was packed in there and try to make small talk" (Easter voice memo).

In 1991, Mudhoney filmed its video for "Let It Slide" off its LP Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, at The Dutchman. And for a short time, a large rehearsal room with its own private access door off of 1st Avenue was transformed into a performance venue that Mula called The Ocean, where he produced hip hop shows before being shut down by Seattle police and the fire marshal.

From 1988 to 1991, Northwest Electronic Musicians (NEMUS) met monthly at The Dutchman. NEMUS was a users group that helped inform and educate artists interested in making music with synths, sampling, and computers. About 20 people gathered together on a monthly basis for gear demonstrations and conversations around new and changing technologies.

Field recording artist and Seattle Phonographers Union member Doug Haire described NEMUS as a listening opportunity at a time when electronic music was starting to enter the mainstream of modern music. "Some of us wanted to make music for wide audiences while others of us, like myself, wanted to know where the limits were. And, of course, it was about gear" (Doug Haire email). Haire recalled performing live and improvising with electronics and field recordings alongside musicians Marc Barreca and Jeff Grienke on the loading dock behind the building. The industrial ambience of The Dutchman and SoDo at night gave Haire an uncommon opportunity to merge his love of location recordings and electronics, with a unique sonic environment.

In 1991, Steve Turnidge, who rented practice space at The Dutchman with his band The Ultraviolet Catastrophe, evolved NEMUS into Northwest CyberArtists, a group that moved forward with a focus on technology and art.

Supporting Seattle Hip Hop Artists

By 1988, Mula had built out an early version of The Dutchman’s recording studio, Calleye Productions. He renovated one of the rehearsal spaces that had formerly been a banquet room from The Dutchman’s restaurant days and transformed it into a combined control room and live room in the same space. Mula’s friend Keith McGee loaned equipment – an Otari 8-track and 2-track recording system with a Sound Workshop console – that Mula combined with his computer, synthesizers, samplers, and guitars.

Mula placed an ad in The Rocket to advertise The Dutchman’s recording services. The alternative newspaper circulated in both Portland and Seattle and devoted editorial space to a regular column on hip hop. Mula was interested in opening up his studio to hip hop artists and supporting young Black artists in their musical aspirations. "I wanted the interesting work, like hip hop and I knew that larger studios didn’t want that work," Mula said. "It wasn’t people with their amps and their guitars. These are kids showing up with their turntables and their records. And it was still very, very new. Studios learned to love that work. But in the very beginning, it was like a strange animal. They didn’t know how to deal with samples and loops" (Mula interview). 

The ad in The Rocket attracted the attention of Roni Madison, a young hip hop artist who’d come up in Portland. Roni made his way to Seattle and performed as X-Kid in groups like NSP, The Feds, and POW (Players on Wax). "In those days, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of support for hip hop," he says. "Right then, the grunge thing was crazy and that was Seattle’s main thing. The people in the street were just selling your CDs out of the trunk of your car. Going up to the barbershop and selling it. Doing a lot of battles and stuff like that in the street" (Madison interview with author). 

At The Dutchman, Madison worked closely with Mula to develop more deeply as a musician. In the studio, he learned keyboard and recording techniques, experimented with his voice, and expanded his sampling skills. Though he would go on to record at other studios like Iron Wood (now Avast), he cites his time with Mula at The Dutchman as an important moment in his artistic development.

Other hip hop recording clients during the late 1980s to early 1990s included Michael "Specs Wizard" Hall, Dorian "Solo Doe" Dinish, PD2, D. Rogale, DURACELL Crew, and DI-RA (Devastating Interesting Rap Alliance) Boys – a group that was known for weaving social issues into their lyrics. These artists came from hip-hop scenes in both the Central Area and lesser-known South End. They were often teenage kids who didn’t have big budgets from record companies to record their work. So they paid by the hour to record demos. Three or four hours later, they’d cruise down the street in their cars, blasting their newly minted music out of their stereo systems.

Mula enlarged the Dutchman’s recording studio in 2000. It marked a turning point for the rehearsal studio, as he began to phase out several practice spaces. He wanted fewer outside noise issues in his recordings and had shifted his energies toward recording. The practice room that had once hosted a who’s who of grunge bands in its heyday became Mula’s storage room. By 2009, only two rooms were still being rented out for practice space. Mula had shifted his focus to being a music producer.

The Fire

On the morning of January 9, 2009, Mula woke up to a series of urgent phone calls from his friend Ben Nechanicky. Mula had spent the night away from The Dutchman, helping his mother clean up a flood in her home in Sedro-Woolley. Nechanicky heard about the fire from a bandmate who learned about it from the morning news. The fire had shut down the West Seattle Bridge. When Nechanicky finally reached Mula by phone, he broke the news to his friend and told him to get to the building. Nechanicky reached The Dutchman first. Four fire trucks and a dozen firefighters were on the scene trying to put out the fire. "We were looking through a window. And there was a kayak sticking out of the roof where Gary’s bedroom was," said Nechanicky. "The loft was visible from the streets. The destruction ... I was so glad he hadn’t slept there that night" (Nechanicky interview).

When Mula arrived at The Dutchman, he and Nechanicky waited for several hours while the firemen continued to contain the fire. Eventually, they went to Hooverville, a nearby bar that would later hold a fundraiser to help Mula recover after the fire. Mula lost his business and most of his belongings in the blaze, though he was able to retrieve several computer hard drives with masters and studio recordings from clients. Salvaging those files allowed him to continue working while figuring out his next steps. Mula’s community rallied around him to make sure that he had a place to sleep and warm clothes. Additional fundraisers were held at The Funhouse and The Tractor, raising approximately $6,000 to support Mula.

Damage from the fire to the larger building was reported at $4.2 million. Mula, who was not insured, lost nearly $175,000 in gear, while several musicians renting practice rooms also lost instruments and equipment. Nechanicky had stored music gear and artwork at The Dutchman but was able to recover some of his loss through insurance. Investigators determined that the fire started in the engine compartment of a diesel truck that had been parked for two weeks in the Pacific Sheet Metal side of the building. The truck sat adjacent to piles of highly flammable tar roofing materials that quickly caught fire once the truck combusted.

After the Fire

Mula was able to resume working with his recording clients a few months after the fire. He continued mixing and producing a record for Luc and The Lovingtons, while looking for a new warehouse space where he could rebuild his business.

In 2010, Kevin Sur, who produced music festivals through his company Artist Home, offered Mula an opportunity to join him in revitalizing The Columbia City Theater. The venue had a storied history of "hosting legendary artists like Jimi Hendrix, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Fats Waller" ("Rocket Queen …"). Mula ran the theater’s recording studio, where he used the theater as a giant live room. Columbia City Theatre had built a professional control room with a Quad Eight Pacifica mixing console. "It was wired so that the entire building was a recording studio. Even in the bathroom you had audio wall boxes. You could have 50 people out there in the theater. All mics on their instruments. And all playing," said Mula. "When I got there, I had big goals to capture big, big sounds. I wanted to really use that space. It was a very powerful setup" (Mula interview).

During his six years at Columbia City Theater, Mula produced records for Youth Rescue Mission, Kris Orlowski, The Maldives, and The Loathsome Couple. Naomi Wachira, Shelby Earl, Tekla Waterfield, and Damien Jurado also recorded with Mula. One of his final projects was with Travis Gore, a bass player with the Seattle Symphony who has performed on recording projects with Hey Marseilles and Bryan John Appleby. Sur also brought in Mula to engineer live sound for several annual Northwest festivals including Timber! Outdoor Music Festival. And from 2010 to 2019, Mula acted as sound engineer for The Doe Bay Festival on Orcas Island.

Mula left Columbia City Theater in 2016 to run sound for Damien Jurado on his European tour. When he returned to Seattle, he moved to a mixing room called The Birdhouse in Magnolia and focused his creative energies on mixing records. As he was finishing up a batch of projects in 2020, Mula got pulled into a live-streaming music series at Hotel Albatross that emerged as a result of the pandemic. Mula performed in the series in 2021 and stayed on for six months to run audio for the show, working alongside event producer Robynne Hawthorne and video streaming producer/engineer Dan Thornton.

The Rabbit Box Theatre

When the Hotel Albatross series began to wind down, Hawthorne invited Mula to be a part of a new project with former OK Hotel owner Tia Matthies. The two women were building a venue in the former Can Can dinner theater space at Pike Place Market. As an owning partner of The Rabbit Box Theatre, Mula contributed to designing and building the intimate and unique salon space, with a high-quality sound system. Opened during the pandemic in 2022, the venue has garnered a reputation for its intimate environment and range of artistic programs. The club offers live music and literary events several nights of the week and features both touring and local artists that have included Whiting Tennis, Tomo Nakayama, Evan Flory-Barnes, as well as various artists that Mula has worked with through The Dutchman and Columbia City Theatre.

Mula sees The Rabbit Box as an "uncompromisingly artistic place" that exists on a creative edge. The Rabbit Box harkens back to the vision of the musical castle that was The Dutchman – a place where musicians from a range of stylistic backgrounds performed in proximity to one another and were in community together. While The Rabbit Box is bigger, grander, grown-up version of The Ocean, Mula’s first showcase space at The Dutchman, it serves a similar purpose, but for a new generation of artists. Like The Dutchman, The Rabbit Box is a third space that was made specifically by an artist for other artists. Its theater is an artistic living room brought alive by musicians and music fans to co-exist in a community of care built by love.


Ben London interview with Shin Yu Pai and Gary Mula, November 10, 2023, transcript in possession of Shin Yu Pai, Seattle; Ben Nechanicky interview with Shin Yu Pai and Gary Mula, November 10, 2023, transcript in possession of Shin Yu Pai, Seattle; “Big fire near Spokane Street Viaduct diverts traffic from WS,” West Seattle blog,  January 8, 2009, accessed November 1, 2023 (; Char Easter interview with Shin Yu Pai, November 30, 2023, transcript in possession of Shin Yu Pai, Seattle; Char Easter voice memo, November 25, 2023, transcript in possession of Shin Yu Pai, Seattle; Daudi Abe, Emerald Street (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2022), 55-56; Doug Haire email, November 28, 2023; Gary Mula interview with Shin Yu Pai, October 29, 2023, transcript in possession of Shin Yu Pai, Seattle; Gary Mula interview with Shin Yu Pai, November 8, 2023, transcript in possession of Shin Yu Pai, Seattle; Hannah Levin, “Rocket Queen: Meet the New Columbia City Theater,” Seattle Weekly, May 4, 2010 (; “Investigators say 4 million Spokane Street fire was accidental,” West Seattle blog, January 16, 2009, accessed November 1, 2023 (; Peter Blecha, Stomp and Shout: R&B and the Origins of Northwest Rock and Roll (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2023); Roni Madison interview with Shin Yu Pai and Gary Mula, November 10, 2023, transcript in possession of Shin Yu Pai, Seattle; “Spokane Street fire followup: Fund set up for The Dutchman,” West Seattle blog, January 9, 2009, accessed November 1, 2023 (; “Spokane Street warehouse fire: Two updates,” West Seattle Blog, January 8, 2009, accessed November 1, 2023 (; HistoryLink Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “The Rocket appears on Seattle streets on October 31, 1979” (by David Wilma), (accessed November 15, 2023).


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