The Boys of Artifakt: Wanting Nothing More and Nothing Less than Everything
Rob Ripley and Jake Wagoner, the cofounders of Artifakt, are embarrassed. They keep apologizing for the low turnout at tonight’s party. They’re worried I’ll think they’re unpopular.
We’re at Lo-Fi in South Lake Union for an Artifakt event, part of a regular series of happenings that invite you to “come for the art and stay for the show.” Tonight’s entertainment includes electronic music DJs Whiskey Pete and Computer Club, in town from L.A., and a diverse display of visual art on bright blue walls. A temporary code issue forced them to cut the usual two-hundred-person guest list down to about forty. The music is bumping anyway.
Photos by Rob Ripley
The guys love what Jake calls the “robotic, futuristic noise” of drum and bass. They admit the packed dance party can steal focus from the artwork. But they’re not turning down the volume. Artwork hung in the background of a party pulls a mixed art/dance crowd, and the mix is what they’re all about.
Looking around Lo-Fi, I see the mix clearly: Latinos, Asians, blacks, whites; flannel shirts; caps and T-shirts splashed with elaborate designs; stiletto heels. Fleece sweatshirts. A ’90s UW letterman jacket. Facial piercings. Mohawks and skinny jeans. It’s a playlist of “types,” shuffling around each other. Soon the crowd forms a fan shape around the DJ’s turntables — that’s the focus, until another DJ grabs a microphone and begins freestyling. The mix is the only consistent thing here.
It’s an aesthetic found in the art they show, too. Artifakt invents and reinvents ways to attract as many artists and art forms as possible by establishing offbeat themes: females-only, custom skateboards, body painting, shoe painting, graffiti, Dark Arts, 3-D; Ryan Molenkamp’s abstract landscapes, John Osgood’s pop portraits and Chris Sheridan’s renaissance skate decks have all been featured.
The mix is in the music, too. “If you can play it on vinyl, we bring it in,” says Jake. Artifakt has hosted blues nights, rock, hip-hop, spoken word — even bringing in Mad Rad, a hip-hop crew banned from most nightclubs on Capitol Hill.
The spaces they take over for their parties are just as varied. At Robert Daniel Gallery in Tacoma, you’re enveloped in a completely different environment in each room: you move from bright gallery to busy bar to dark, thrumming dance floor. As they take on new venues — Kristos in Eastlake, Jazzbones in Tacoma, Nectar Lounge in Fremont — they explore even more new vibes.
Jake, a guy so quiet he could be intimidating (if you don’t know how friendly he is), disagrees when I call Artifakt “experimental.”
“We’re not trying to figure ourselves out,” he says. “We know what we do. We’re pushing the boundaries because we want to add to the core elements of what we do.” Artifakt generates the excitement of rubbing the familiar and unfamiliar together. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s like a DJ hunting for obscure records to reinvent popular tracks; there’s pleasure in the search.
Since its launch in September 2006, Artifakt has become a promotion machine that has put much of its founders’ personal creative work on hold. Having started with monthly parties in Seattle, they’ve amped up Artifakt’s activities to biweekly (sometimes weekly) events in both Seattle and Tacoma — and they’re exploring Olympia and Portland.
“We need a thirty-two hour day,” Jake jokes. But it’s obvious how focused they are; they invest themselves in Artifakt as if their lives depend on it.
Friends since middle school, Jake and Rob are both thirty, with day jobs doing graphic design for the classifieds weekly Little Nickel and art careers as well. Rob is a photographer and Jake DJs and spray paints.
Painting by Marianne Maksirisombat
A native of the Tacoma suburb University Place, Jake grew up tagging and painting with a graffiti crew. “We always kept each other striving to one-up the competition — to not settle for anything.” Rob, who grew up in north Tacoma, credits his mentor, PLU graphic-design professor J. P. Avila with firing up his early ambition.
Travel is another influence; years ago Jake followed a former girlfriend to Germany, while Rob joined the military fresh out of high school, traveling to Sarajevo, Budapest and Rome, always with a disposable camera in his pocket. Both men eventually found themselves back in the Northwest, with the certainty that they are in the right place now.
Despite the atypically low head count at Lo-Fi, the guys stay busy chatting with DJs, greeting Artifakt regulars and trading business cards with newcomers. It’s a mixed crowd, but everyone seems friendly.
“We’ve never had a fight, never had to deal with drunk people that need to be kicked out — top-forty club stuff. People come to Artifakt to enjoy themselves.”
“I went to the Bacon Salt company’s Baconnaise launch party, where they filled a wrestling pool with two hundred gallons of mayonnaise,” says Rob. “It stank. When drunk people started throwing other drunk people in, I left.” Jake adds, “It’s hard for me to think of myself just hanging out at a dive bar.”
My vodka tonic kicks in as Computer Club, a DJ wearing gloves with skeleton hands, spins “emo-tronic” music, combining clips of ’80s hits with heavier electronic beats. It’s fun to dance to — but frustrating. As soon as you get into one song, it morphs into something else. Welcome to the mix.