Where the music matters

Pressing play on his iSchool education, KEXP librarian Dylan Flesch, ’08, ’14, is combining his love for music and information science to preserve decades of Seattle history.

Passion never rests

Forty-plus years ago, four University of Washington students launched KCMU from the humblest of beginnings. In a tiny space in the basement of the Communications Building — with an even tinier budget — the radio station’s first broadcast just barely reached The Ave.

KEXP live room

KEXP’s 400+ in-studio performances each year will be open to the public for the first time at its new Seattle Center location. (SkB Architects)

That was in 1972. Fast-forward to 2015, and KEXP (renamed after a gift from Seattle’s Experience Music Project) is widely regarded as one of the best independent radio stations in the nation — and around the world. It was KEXP, after all, that first played Nirvana’s debut album Bleach on the air. In fact, Kurt Cobain dropped off the demo for the grunge band’s premiere single, “Love Buzz,” himself.

And not much has changed since Cobain knocked on the station’s door back in 1988. KEXP continues to champion the underground sounds they truly care about, helping catapult the careers of up-and-coming musicians, and artists and labels continue to deliver physical copies of their work — most of which eventually land in KEXP’s music library, dubbed “the heart of the station” by iSchool graduate and KEXP librarian Dylan Flesch, ’08, ’14.

The curated library houses more than 40,000 CDs and 10,000 LPs across rows and rows of shelves, and as the station’s first official keeper of them, Flesch is charged with a daunting task: keeping up with the ever-growing collection that’s at risk due to the simple nature of format — and playback equipment — obsolescence.

Take Pinwheel (Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard’s 90s punk project), for example, who did a live performance for KEXP 20 years ago that was captured on a digital audio tape. If digital audio tape recordings like that — which only exist in physical form — aren’t ripped to a hard drive soon, they could be lost history.

KEXP studio exterior view

New partnerships and education opportunities await with Seattle Center neighbors like Vera Project, EMP, and Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). (SkB Architects)

Flesch’s love for analog media traces back to his youth — he spent every Tuesday of his teenage years browsing new releases at the local record store in his hometown of Tukwila, Washington, and stocked the shelves as a bookseller at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Company. For the self-proclaimed “organization nerd,” who earned his bachelor’s in business administration from UW Tacoma, the decision to combine his two passions — music and information — was an easy one.

He got a gig at KEXP as an information intern, and started a masters program in library and information science at the UW’s iSchool.

“The iSchool was definitely the best educational experience I’ve ever had,” says Flesch. “I was able to combine a lot of my personal and professional interests with the classes I was taking. I could approach my professors and say ‘Instead of this exact project outline you want us to follow, could I tweak it in a way that works better for this project I’m working on at KEXP?’ and get that real-world problem-solving experience, and they were more than open to that.”

It was that real-world problem-solving experience that led him to his job. Before his iSchool capstone project — an outline of how information would be organized in the station’s new media asset management system — was even over, he’d been hired on by KEXP to do the work as a contract employee. Nearly two years and a handful of job titles later — production volunteer, DJ assistant, licensing and podcasting coordinator — he’s found his sweet spot as librarian.

KEXP gathering space

The 4,500 square-foot Gathering Space offers a centrally-located venue for educational programs and an expanded library will host KEXP’s one-of-a-kind local music collection. (SkB Architects)

“Being able to deal with changing technology is something I got out of my education at the UW, and has really given me the capacity and toolkit to deal with whatever comes my way,” says Flesch. “That made me a great fit here at KEXP, and knowing I have a tiny part in preserving KEXP history and sharing it with people all over the world is one of the most exciting and rewarding things about my job.”

A new home

A new chapter in the station’s storied history starts in December, when the listener-powered KEXP moves just down the street to its new Seattle Center location. The state-of-the-art space boasts a 75-person audience viewing area where the public can watch KEXP’s famed in-studio sessions, the “Gathering Space” for community classes and lectures, and an artist lounge with amenities for musicians making in-studio pit stops on tour.