As the sound of guitar riffs and crashing symbols come and go, a seemingly out-of-place noise can be heard amidst the jamming — retro pinball machines clinking and whistling.
Welcome to The Machine Shop in Langley, a pinball arcade that houses antique machines from the ’60s and ’70s. But this isn’t your average arcade. It’s also Langley’s newest venue for rock music and a rising favorite among young people.
For many bands on the louder end of the spectrum, it’s the only place to play on South Whidbey.
“This is probably the only place in Langley where we can play,” Alex Duccini, guitarist and vocalist for local act The Furries, said. “We’re too loud and have gotten a lot of noise complaints in the past from people in town. It’s a pretty ideal space for what we want as a band right now.”
The Machine Shop has been hosting concerts on the first Saturday of every month as part of the Langley Art Walk since it opened its doors back in July. Concerts at the arcade are a total sensory overload. Neon lights constantly flicker across the mirror-covered room and illuminate performers, fresh-baked smells emanate from the neighboring Sundance Bakery, and an art installment that reads “Be amazing” flashes behind the performers. Concerts are always free, and donations are encouraged to help pay the bands.
Unusual as it may be, it’s already starting to feel like home for a few young South Whidbey acts.
“I think the space is super fun and inviting,” Nicole Ledgerwood, lead vocalist and guitarist for Freeland-based Dirty Minds said. “I like the lighting, the art installments and I like the location. I like everything about it, really.”
Many South Whidbey musicians like Ledgerwood and Duccini say South Whidbey has been lacking a venue that regularly has live music. While businesses like Ott and Murphy Wines and Kalakala Mercantile Co. also host concerts, they say those venues aren’t meant for noisier bands that use amplifiers. Kalakala has hosted both bands before, but Duccini says the store takes a risk by playing amplified music with neighbors nearby.
Tim Leonard, owner of The Machine Shop, says South Whidbey’s music scene is too talented not to have a place to regularly show their skills. Growing up in Baltimore as a punk music fan, Leonard remembers the local arcade offering its space for bands to perform and for the younger crowd to hang out in the evenings. Once Leonard got his hands on the storefront for the arcade, he knew he wanted to provide that sort of space for South Whidbey’s musicians and music lovers.
“There’s definitely a venue needed for the younger crowd,” Leonard said. “After going to so many shows here, I realized there is a lot of talent here that doesn’t have a place to play regularly that is easy, affordable and safe. I’m trying to create that place.”
Without a venue that can house South Whidbey’s young bands, they often turn to Seattle for gigs that are often sparsely attended or halls they have to pay to book. But financing those performances can be difficult for up-and-coming bands. Duccini said before The Machine Shop opened, he and The Furries had to play exclusively off-island. He says playing in Seattle was a hassle for the band — travel expenses could add up to $50 without including the gas expenses from the two cars required to carry their equipment to venues.
“A 30-minute set and a smaller turnout than you would have on Whidbey doesn’t add up with the travel expenses,” Duccini said. “We’re just super grateful there is a space that is so open to us on the island now.”
As it stands, there are two ordinances in the way of making The Machine Shop a regular home for live music. Concerts must end before 10 p.m. due to a noise ordinance, but the handful of shows already played have ended before then. The larger issue is an ordinance that comes from past squabbles between the former Mo’s Pub and Eatery and surrounding neighbors. The rule established that venues like Leonard’s can only host six amplified events a year.
Leonard plans on attending city council meetings in the coming months to see if the city can make adjustments to the ordinance. He’s confident the city can work something out that wouldn’t rub neighbors the wrong way since he has mostly received positive feedback from neighbors about the activities at the arcade.
“I’ve gotten so much more positive feedback than anything else from neighbors and people in the community,” Leonard said. “Noise hasn’t been much of an issue because we’ve been closing the door since the weather cooled down. It only sounds like the stereo is on in a house.”
Although The Machine Shop only recently opened, musicians say it can provide a great opportunity for bands in South Whidbey’s music scene. Duccini said there are numerous young musicians these days trying to form bands to play live, and it’s a necessity for them to have a space to display their talents. For Ledgerwood, the venue not only offers a way to jam in front of an audience, but a way to mingle with other musicians in the area.
“I think it’ll open up a space for artists to discover each other,” Ledgerwood said. “It could be a way for musicians to connect and collaborate, and I think that’s great.”