Farewell to Hive Mind — and hello to its legacy

by Kyle Cochrun

Hive Mind, the tucked-away cinder block bunker at 375 W. Exchange St. that has hosted countless shows for a diverse range of Akron artists and musicians, is closing after four years. 

On Jan. 2, the community art space/concert venue’s Facebook page posted a goodbye letter of sorts to its followers, ending with a statement that does well to characterize the kind of place it is: “And come get your shit if you’ve left anything here!” This is the kind of venue where you forget a flannel jacket or guitar tuner and expect it to still be there, safely kept, the next time you visit.

Hive Mind has the bare essentials for a DIY concert venue — an ad hoc stage, sizable speaker towers, floor space for a standing audience — but more so resembles a neighborhood hangout spot. Throughout the years, the venue clung to its DIY ethos and its goal of fostering inclusivity for Akron’s art community.

“The mission was to use what little power a room and a PA system allowed to amplify diverse and often unheard voices,” says co-founder Seth Troyer. 

When I stopped in for a show on Jan. 14, the guy sitting at the donations desk beside the door ushered me in with a smile after I opened my wallet to show him I was skint for cash. Resting on the desk was a glass jar filled with bills and a piece of printer paper advertising, in black pen scribbles, $1 La Croix and 50¢ bags of chips and pretzels. Between sets — which are immersively loud and guarantee you walk home with ringing ears thanks to the room’s lack of soundproofing — the crowd split into a few conversation clusters, with no discernable loners left awkwardly loitering the outskirts. A few people in the back corner sat on the concrete floor, and another guy lounged on a couch set against the wall as if he was kicking back in his living room. 

One of the venue’s most endearing traits is that it looks to have gone through little renovation since its previous life as a print shop. The minimal, industrial layout – cinder block walls painted white and draped on one side with felt blackout curtains, a single stage light propped on a tripod, a glass block window, paint-splattered tires stacked behind the stage – feels natural to the space. In this sense, Hive Mind is unequivocally an Akron venue, exuding post-industrial flavor in a way that doesn’t feel like (and probably wasn’t) an aesthetic decision but rather a natural step in the process of repurposing one of the city’s dejected buildings. 

But Hive Mind’s most important quality — what will keep it alive in the memories of Akronites long after the speakers have been wheeled off — is its ideology. Co-founders Seth Troyer and Maggie Duff established the venue on the belief that Akron needed a space for a wider variety of underrepresented artists to be seen and heard. The founding members aspired to fill this void. 

“We’ve done our best to support up-and-coming artists who are female, queer, racial or ethnic minorities, even if they currently don’t have a huge crowd draw,” says co-founder Maggie Duff. “As marginalized people, those artists also struggle financially and can’t often play every show or afford great gear. We should all be their support system.”

The venue upheld this mission throughout its four-year run, booking events that helped exhibit the gamut of often untapped perspectives and genres within the community, all for a suggested donation of $5 to $10 per patron. 

“One great method of including a more diverse range of people is to blend visual art, poetry and other types of expression into the mix,” Duff says. “We’ve hosted open house events where we field questions from queer folks and people of color from our community about how we can commit to our promise of diversity. We’ve hosted educational events, in conjunction with local partners, on combating racism, understanding sexual consent and fighting the opioid epidemic.”

Some highlights from the venue’s run include: the Providence-based brass band What Cheer? Brigade rolling up in a school bus and blasting a tear-inducing cover of Brian Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets;” Australian noise musician Phantom Chips urging audience members to play her squishy handmade synthesizers; the first-ever show by Akron prog-thrashers Actual Form, which purportedly sent musicians running home to practice their instruments in order to squash sudden pangs of inadequacy; a Y2K-themed dance party; an event where people with emotional support animals shared their stories; and a 4th of July Drone Music for Meditation night as an alternative to the incessant clamor of firework displays. 

The venue’s last hurrah, Hive Mind Final Fest, will be held on Feb. 8, with music starting at 4:20 pm and raging ‘til who knows when. Thirteen acts are slated to play, including Akron-based bands Red Rose Panic, Emotional Support Pigs, Fringe Candidate and Valley Girls. Audience members are welcome to bring their own drinks and snacks.

A prediction: Because Hive Mind was a space powered by values instead of profit, because it was grounded in beliefs about what a venue owes to its community and put those beliefs into practice despite apparent financial limitations, its impact on the arts in Akron will persist with an energy greater than that of other liquidated venues. 

Simply put, Hive Mind is deserving of a legacy. Hopefully that legacy is a continued realization of the changes it aspired to catalyze.

Kyle Cochrun is a writer from Akron, Ohio. Contact him at kylecochrun@gmail.com.