Edgy, Experimental Art & Music Meet Up In St. Pete

Colorful murals, cartoon sketches and edgy contemporary art cover the walls at The Venture Compound, a showcase for all kinds of eclectic music -- electronic, avant-garde, noise, free-jazz, neo-minimalist and experimental bands.

Part musical showcase and part art gallery, The Venture Compound, is a big, open industrial space off the beaten path in St. Petersburg's gritty Warehouse Arts District, where art is made, not just sold.

It's a place for non-traditional musicians who don't want to play in a smoky bar and millennials who enjoy shaking things up, a sort of a counter-culture 2013 version of the '60s, without the rock 'n roll and drugs.

There's an "underground'' feel to the place, somewhere you can go to experience something new and original, where the music and art might be jarring or edgy, but always creative.

"There's a zany, almost science experiment vibe going on at all times with lots of wires and crazy electronic boxes all over the place,'' says David Morris, a researcher in the communications department at the University of South Florida and The Venture Compound's communications director.

That's because the venue's name was inspired by the TV show, The Venture Brothers, a cartoon about two brothers who live with their father Doctor Venture at the Venture Compound and go off  on wild adventures chasing "megalomaniacs, zombies and suspicious ninjas.''

"The show really captures the spirit of what we're trying to do,'' says Morris.  "It's how we envision ourselves, a kind of zany place where science and art meet.  We have a super-science-type fortress going on here. We're pretty focused on experimental music and have lots of wires and crazy electronic boxes everywhere.''

Jammin' And Jivin'

Co-founders Jesse Vance, 27, an electronic music artist, and Brad Kokay, 34, a visual artist, launched The Venture Compound in 2011, renting a vacant warehouse on Fairfield Avenue, not far from other Warehouse District artists like glass artists Duncan McClellan, Zen Glass Studio and U562 Art Studio.

Vance had been staging electronic concerts through his Pangaea Project, which performed regularly at St. Petersburg's Cafe Bohemia until it closed. Now the Panagea project, which just celebrated its third anniversary, is part of The Venture Compound.

The Venture Compound hosts open jazz jams that give emerging artists an opportunity to perform and regular shows featuring well-known bands coming from all over Florida and the U.S.

"Jesse has a big presence in the experimental, avant-garde music scene,'' says Morris.

The Venture Compound's art gallery is open concurrent with concerts. The art, like the music, is geared more toward expression and less toward commercial sales.

"It's an opportunity for young artists to show their work and for people on a modest budget who come to our events to find something affordable they can buy and take home,'' says Morris.

Warning: Strong Content

This is art you wouldn't find on display at most galleries in town.

"In the recent past, we've had a sex-themed show and a 9-11 show, both with some pretty aggressive content,'' says Morris. "These are themes most galleries don't want to touch.''

The group has applied for nonprofit status and will soon be launching a public fundraising campaign to secure funds to upgrade the venue space. They have also launched a series of workshops to teach emerging artists the business skills they need to help market themselves and be successful. "We've come a long way since we first opened,'' says Morris. 

This week, on Friday, April 19, at 8 p.m., The Venture Compound and Hunter Payne will present, "The Most Positive Night in the World,'' an evening of sharing stories about the Internet, tweets and cyberspace. Local band Young Egypt and Texas band SNCKPCK will perform.

Want to stay tuned to the Venture Compound's musical line-up? Follow them on twitter at @ventureistruth. Want to see what goes on there? Take a look here.

Janan Talafer is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, FL, who shares a home office with her dog Bear and two cats Milo and Nigel. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.
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