“Don’t Stop” Collaborating to Keep Olympia Weird

Published November 2011 in The Counter Point Journal

If you attend Evergreen or reside in Olympia, you’ve probably heard of Don’t Stop. They host parties featuring some of the city’s best up-and-coming rap and hip-hop talent. People selling local artists’ CDs or tickets to shows often sport the “DNTSTP” logo emblazoned on weird space-themed jumpsuits. If the name is affiliated with an event, you can count on it to be a good time. However, you may not know exactly what Don’t Stop is. Who are these party people, anyway?

The surprising short answer: a screenprinting company. Don’t Stop’s full name is Don’t Stop Printing, and it is at its heart a small business that was started in a garage two years ago. The business has expanded exponentially since then, in spirit as well as in size—so much so that it’s hard to follow all the developments that have turned it into something much bigger than a printing company. Here, Don’t Stop’s Robin Slootmaker and Jessie Hill share the details of how this small business has become a powerhouse for art and entertainment in Olympia.

I meet with Slootmaker and Hill on a weekday afternoon at popular downtown bar The Brotherhood. Although it’s a gray, cloudy day, we take our whiskey sours to an outside table. Both Don’t Stop members look as hip as the group they represent: Hill in all black, with a leather jacket that contrasts sharply against her bleached-blonde hair; Slootmaker sporting sneakers, skinny jeans, trendy sunglasses and a cigarette. Although they both look ready to party, they’re eager to answer my questions about what Don’t Stop has been up to lately.

Slootmaker began by telling the story of the organization’s modest origins. Mark Malsbary, the company’s founder, is an Evergreen alum who met Slootmaker in a business class as an undergraduate. “I was the second person on board, and I’m now in charge of the business end,” says Slootmaker. The third person to join, Henning Snell, now does most of the actual printing, while Malsbary still runs the business and does a great deal of its creative work. Don’t Stop does high quality, environmentally friendly screenprinting. They print for Evergreen’s RAD services, whose T-shirts and hoodies are ubiquitous on campus. They service the Oly Rollers and Wind Up Here, a downtown toy store, and recently did some work for GruB. Don’t Stop has printed for businesses and individuals everywhere from California to Chicago.

But Slootmaker describes Don’t Stop as a group of  “artists, not just printers.” While they will print anything for anyone, Don’t Stop is selective about who they choose to collaborate with creatively. The business is sincerely devoted to making quality products, so they deliberately choose to support groups that are valuable to the community and artists that have real talent. It’s this ethos that led to their heavy involvement in the Olympia hip-hop scene.

Don’t Stop was already printing CD covers and T-shirts, as well as doing design work, for local musicians when the members of the organization realized they wanted to help change Olympia’s music scene. This quickly led to collaboration with local artists, including rising rap star Jessie Hill, better known by her stage name, Heddie Leonne.

“In Olympia, people tend to jump on trends,” says Hill. “This is about more than just trends.” Olympia’s music scene can get stuck in a rut due to the demands of trend-followers, she says, but the Don’t Stop crew has injected new life and energy into the scene, supporting artists more talented and unique than most of those who had been dominating the stages at bars and all-ages clubs.

Don’t Stop handpicks the artists they work with. “We support people who have real talent,” says Slootmaker, “not just whoever comes first.  It’s about quality.” Both Slootmaker and Hill mention that part of the drive to form this collaboration was the need for better parties in Olympia. The Don’t Stop crew wants to lend new meaning to the words “going out,” which typically refer to a night involving lots of alcohol and some canned, recorded, popular mainstream music. They want to offer Olympia residents an alternative: the chance to have a good time while experiencing something truly artistic and local.

“Which experience do you remember more?” asks Hill. “Drinking and dancing to recorded music or seeing local artists you know on stage?” Don’t Stop is striving to create an experience, leave a mark, and make something important happen every time they put on a show. Their shows are not popularity contests, Slootmaker and Hill tell me, as many events in a town as small as Olympia sometimes seem to be. “It’s about actually doing something,” Hill says.

Hill describes Don’t Stop collaborator Emma Peterson as “the redheaded fire behind Don’t Stop’s planning and promotion.” Peterson is almost inevitably to be found at any Don’t Stop party, sporting one of those crazy jumpsuits and being nearly everywhere at once in order to ensure that everything goes right. This can be quite a task, as their shows have grown to include multi-media art forms, including dancing and filmmaking as well as music and lightshows. Peterson is one of the group’s most involved and influential members, though there are many other valuable individuals on the team who are bringing new life to Olympia’s parties.

The company recently opened a brand-new downtown location next to Last Word Books. This new spot is a collaboration between Last Word and Don’t Stop, and will be part printing press, part screenprinting business, and part retail store, as well as an occasional performance space. The location’s multiple uses reflect what Don’t Stop has become: so much more than just a screenprinting company. “Don’t Stop is both a name and a mantra for us,” says Hill.

Expect to find local music and zines among the offerings at the new location. No matter what else you find, you can count on it to be hip, interesting, and showcasing local talent. Rap artist Free Whiskey’s recently released new album is there, and Heddie Leonne’s first solo album is coming in the next few months. Internships and free screenprinting classes will be offered the new location, as well. While all-ages Don’t Stop shows have been a rarity in the past, they are expected to happen more frequently in the future. Hill and Slootmaker encourage Olympia residents to keep a lookout for shows bearing the DNTSTP brand, which, as this writer can personally attest, are invariably worth attending.

For more information, check out Don’t Stop’s recently updated website: dontstopprinting.com.

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