By Roy Kasten
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Along with making their new space work, Brubeck and Sult had to navigate a city and the attendant codes and unwritten rules that normally accompany art and music scenes. As musicians who have worked and found success in bigger, more competitive musical markets than St. Louis, they have a unique view on the workings of the various musical communities.
"St. Louis seems like it has tons of musicians with tons of skills, and my impression is that it's a really undisciplined scene," explains Sult. "The rules that help bands and clubs and poster makers and producers and studios and publications — the rules that have helped those things make sense and build on each other have broken down in St. Louis."
For Brubeck and Sult, it's not an issue of talent or even local support. (Sult calls community radio station KDHX (88.1 FM) "a holistically good force.") "In Chicago, you cannot play more than once a month or a booker will call you, get pissed off and tell you to cancel one show or the other," Sult says. "And if you even list future shows in town before your show has run, they will call you and tell you to take it down. At the time I didn't understand why that was so rigorous in Chicago, and now I do. A band can't draw three times a month indefinitely in the same city. A club can't draw to the same band indefinitely. The rules I didn't even know to question or trust, they are starting to make sense."
While Sult and Brubeck don't pretend to have a solution to an oft-cited problem — namely, why so many good local bands never make waves outside of St. Louis — they feel lucky to be part of a city and a community more concerned with substance over style. "St. Louis is like an art and music dorm, where you can instigate conversations, and bands can talk to each other, and artists can talk to each other, and bands can talk to artists and vice versa."
"Not everybody understands that this city, whether it realizes it or not, is in the coolest phase of being a city," Sult theorizes. "Musicians are working together like crazy, and there's not a lot of outside eyeballs on the space. We can talk to any venue in this town, and it wouldn't be ridiculous, and we can talk to any band in this town, and it wouldn't be out of hand for us to do it. In Chicago that's not true — and in Seattle that's not true.
"Right now the hierarchies are really mixed up and kind of absent. I believe in hierarchies — I believe in reaching up the ladder towards better and better things — but we're in a weird golden zone where the city has been passed over by the blight of the forward edge of modern culture," he continues. "But what we have instead is people who still relate to each other as people — KDHX being a prime example, and Cherokee Street being a prime example of human beings talking to human beings and broadcasting to one another."
For Sleepy Kitty, there is more joy in being part of a developing community than trying to shoehorn into an existing one. And it's that joy the spins out in the couple's infectious pop songs and candy-colored show posters.
"When I lived Seattle in the '90s, everybody said, 'You should have seen it in the '80s,'" Sult says. "When I moved to Chicago in the aughties, everybody said, 'You should have seen it in the '80s and '90s.' We got here, and no one was saying, 'Man, you really should have seen Cherokee Street in 2000.'" He laughs. "It's coming along."