Throwaway Style is a monthly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, the first Thursday of every new month on KEXP.org.
This month, in celebration of the long-running Freakout Festival — emanating November 10th through November 14th from various posts in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood — columnist Martin Douglas speaks to the festival’s principal organizers about what it really takes to keep a music festival going.
I sloshed through the soggy streets of Ballard, hopping from venue to venue. I allowed scorching guitars to melt my face in the depths of a Pacific Northwest autumn, one of the bleakest seasons an American can survive year after year. Plenty haven’t survived them, but this is not about our fallen friends and heroes. This is about the ones who have, who have stretched well past 4pm sunsets and spent their nights packed into rock clubs too small for the noise bouncing around its walls. Who shared cigarettes, small talk, and scene gossip outside of Salmon Bay Eagles Club and looked at the projections reflecting off of musicians with dazed, bleary eyes inside. The people who jumped into their tight jeans, slipped into miniskirts over their thickest leggings, and gained five pounds of muscle putting on their Doc Martens night after night. All of us who headbanged in agreement to Acid Tongue’s “The World’s Gonna Fuck You.”
Such is the legacy of Freakout Festival; the weird, loud, dirty rock and roll music festival for people who love weird, loud, dirty rock and roll and hate music festivals. It’s a setting where psych-/garage-/punk-/straight-up rock fans converge on Ballard from all over the world, where the bands — also from far-flung points in the Western Hemisphere and beyond — are fans too, where everyone shakes their rain-soaked jackets off on each other as their eardrums split like a constellation of atoms.
Every year for the past near-decade (with obvious exclusion to 2020), Freakout has grown from a two-night affair on Capitol Hill to the behemoth it has become. Taking place this year from Nov. 10-13, not only is Freakout 10 spread over four nights (five if you include Wednesday night’s kickoff festivities), the festival has spread into a multifaceted affair. We’re talking satellite bills (like the recent Halloween Freakout, featuring your — and my — favorite art-punks No Age and punk legends the Melvins), the incredibly well-received Freakout Weekender that took over the Crocodile in April (featuring Armand Hammer, the most intellectually and aesthetically daring group in hip-hop today), and a record label specializing in releases from some of the Pacific Northwest’s most promising bands.
Freakout (the festival) and Freakout (the label) work in conjoining purposes, as the festival itself has long been a spotlight for Seattle’s remarkable rock scene. There’s not enough space here to write about all of the great Seattle bands who have rocked Freakout stages over the years, lest I receive more gentle criticism about how Longreads.com should erect a section solely comprised of my work. But if you’ve read about a Seattle band in the main feature or the “New, News, and Notable” section of this column, chances are they’ve played or will play Freakout at some point.
Additionally, the fest gathers south of mainstream rock royalty along with the sizable array of Pacific Northwestern up-and-comers; last year garage legends the Seeds graced the festival, while one of the best bands to ever come out of Brazil, Os Mutantes, serves as this year’s headlining act. (Similarly “holy shit” inducing is the top-of-bill inclusion of influential Mexican rockers Los Dug Dug’s.)
Who would have the guts to put on such an event in the festival dead zone of November, a time of year that is absolutely treacherous weather-wise in Seattle? Alongside a dedicated team, Guy Keltner (also of Acid Tongue; for all intents and purposes, Freakout’s official house band) and Skyler Locatelli (also of the business support department here at KEXP) have made it their purpose to keep the increasingly world-renowned endeavor of Freakout alive, even though Keltner doesn’t pocket any money from his yearlong efforts and Locatelli sometimes has trouble sleeping thinking about all its organization entails.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to Keltner and Locatelli about building Freakout up from the below-freezing December event it started as, the slow migration from Capitol Hill to Ballard, what it really takes to keep an internationally renowned festival going after all these years, and whether or not they’ll still be up for the task in ten years.
KEXP: Guy, tell me about the origins of Freakout. We talked a great deal about this when I interviewed you for the Acid Tongue feature on Throwaway Style.
Guy Keltner: I am substantially more lucid than the last time we saw you, as I'm not hammered on my couch. [laughter]
Speaking of being hammered on a couch, that's sort of how we came up with this event. I was working in the music industry for several years and was employed over on Capitol Hill, at Neumos, working with them and Capitol Hill Block Party. And I saw a bit of a void in the scene, [in terms of] the rock and roll festival, that focuses on punk rock and noise music and all that stuff. Because given that Seattle is such a city steeped in grunge history and rock history, there's nothing really going on in town that [signifies] the way other people see Seattle.
And the more I've gone, you know, touring the world with Acid Tongue and with my other projects, it's become really apparent that that's how other people see us, that's how they view Seattle, and they kind of look to it to be a tastemaker in those things. And I felt the need to start representing my city accordingly.
So the original Freakout Festival was based in wanting to convey this rock vibe that we've got going on in town. And I just got together with a few friends and we pulled up our bootstraps and made this very janky DIY event happen and pulled it off barely the first year. We were barely able to afford paying people the first year. It was very difficult to do a festival when you have no experience doing that. And yet it has become such a popular event in town and grown into this behemoth that it sort of is now. At least on a DIY level, it has become a behemoth.
What venues were you at the first year of Freakout?
Guy Keltner: The first year was so funky. We were supposed to have the original Comet Tavern be our centerpiece venue. And a few months out, the owner stopped paying the rent and just took off. And left his employees and staff hanging, and us hanging, and the place got shut down and bought out and turned into a restaurant. So we sort of divided things up that first year, and our main venues were a gay club, Neighbors. We used the metal vegan bar, the Highline, and we use a dance studio called Velocity Dance Studio up on 12th.
All legendary spots in Capitol Hill. Especially Neighbors; special shout out to Neighbors.
Guy Keltner: It was eight degrees Fahrenheit the first year.
Oh my god.
Guy Keltner: If you use Celsius, that is negative degrees, whatever that comes out to. And people were walking many blocks between those venues to come out and party. There was a lot of heavy drinking and near hypothermia and frostbite in that weather. And it was awesome. We enjoyed that.
Was it still in November back in the day? Was it in December?
Guy Keltner: It was in December originally. It was that first weekend of December we used to hit. And it just felt like a time where there's no competition. We eventually shifted — I think it was year three or four — where we moved it to November because the previous year it had snowed. [We said to ourselves,] "We cannot do this." It was about halfway through the event and suddenly people just stopped showing up when it was snowing outside. It was a disaster that year. We first shifted it in November, and that's been kind of where things were at when Skyler got involved.
Skyler Locatelli: It's important to note that from year one to being on Capitol Hill to year two — which actually before I even met Guy, I went to the to the second annual Psychedelic Holiday Freakout, which was in Ballard at Sunset [Tavern], Salmon Bay Eagles Club, and Conor Byrne [Pub]. And it was the first time I saw Salmon Bay and I was like, "What the hell is this place? This is so cool." I just felt like I was in some, you know, elementary school auditorium, but way funkier, way scarier. [laughter]
Just to kind of fast forward a little bit in terms of when I joined the clan: Guy and I met through a couple of mutual Seattle music staples, Steven Severin and Brent Amiker, both independently telling Guy and I, "You guys need to know each other." Which was very strange, but we ended up meeting and Guy had already booked the 2015 fest that took place at Neumos and Barboza and Highline maybe that year. And I came on that year. And then moving forward, we started the label and then I was involved in the festival.
After going to Ballard, you went back to Capitol Hill. And I was wondering what was it like, in those ensuing years to go back to Capitol Hill? And what finally made you station in Ballard and be firm about [saying] "Freakout is a Ballard thing now."
Guy Keltner: Capitol Hill was just the center of the universe in Seattle for so many years, and given that I was working for an organization based there, it made a lot of sense in the beginning. It's where I lived. It's where all my friends were. It's where we hung out all the time. And, as many people in Seattle know, it's slowly been eaten away by the tech industry and these squeaky clean micro-apartments; folks are complaining about the noise in their neighborhood; there is a very aggro, bro attitude at the clubs now that's extremely uncomfortable; you've got situations with drinks getting spiked; there's fistfights all the time. It's not a great environment anymore.
And we were trying to make it work. The second year, we only moved it to Ballard because of money. And we were just so broke that it made more sense to give it a shot in Ballard. At the time, it felt isolated, doing it in Ballard. But I think after a couple more years taking a stab on Capitol Hill, we realized that Ballard isolation was sort of the charm of everything, because it kept out a lot of the b.s. that was really diminishing the experience in the beginning, and it's really resulted in this very unique event.
I think when you put together all these international artists and a lot of these bands that are coming in from all over the United States into this environment that's so uniquely both Seattle, but also just bizarrely like a fishing town that Ballard is — it's always an interesting experience. It's so cool hearing folk speaking Portuguese and Spanish and French walking down these cobblestone roads outside of these country bars. And it's really added to the overall like mythical experience that Freakout is starting to become.
Skyler Locatelli: The 2016 festival, we did it at Chop Suey, Love City Love, Bar Sue, and we even had a night at Pony, too. And that was really what we liked about ... that was the year that it snowed. So after that, we said, "We're not doing this in December again." But besides the hindrance of attendance because of the snow, we felt a proximity [between venue spots] and that was something that we really liked, and a huge reason why we went to Ballard. Because there is this ... You've got Ballard Avenue, which is just this long street, and even though from the Sunset to Conor Byrne, it's a walk, there's this sense of neighborhood connectivity there that you can't really find anywhere else in Seattle. And then we just expanding to more venues in Ballard to [where] it was like, "This is our spot. This makes the most sense. We'll just build it and people will come."
What is that process like, starting to expand from a small handful of venues in Ballard to, you know, basically having a whole city block?
Skyler Locatelli: It's basically Guy doesn't stop booking bands [laughter], and we need a place to put them.
Guy Keltner: I'm trying to be as inclusive, as inclusive as possible as I can at this festival. In a very genuine way. I'm not doing the thing where I get my arm twisted into, including every demographic in Seattle. It's impossible to do. Everyone's always upset with us that, you know, they don't feel represented. I have a diverse taste in music, and I also travel, you know, 3 to 6 months out of the year on the road, so I'm constantly seeing interesting music and wanting to bring it back home. And I think these relationships have only solidified over the years. We've gotten especially tight with folks down in Mexico and South America, and it's become imperative that we kind of really bring that into the fold with what we do, because it's become a defining feature of what Freakout Fest is all about.
And I don't… I'm not trying to be that fest that has, you know, 150 bands in it [just] to have a ton of bands. I'm trying to really create a very unique experience. And it's just become more complicated. You know, the more diverse it's gotten, the more we've added in some of these venues, the more I'm able to curate this very special feeling when you walk around. And it's so difficult for us to describe right now what it feels like to watch some of these bands. But, you know, when you step into the Tractor and there's that giant bull's skull with the horns sticking out and there's some Mexican punk band screaming in your face and liquid lights flashing everywhere, you suddenly know where you are, you know?
Skyler Locatelli: Every year we seem to want to refine and hone things in. And I think any festival that just stays stagnant or whatever — and that's fine. But I think for us, we're constantly trying to make the experience better. How can we make the experience better and more streamlined? And then we find new spaces. This year we're super excited to have the Sunset Tavern back after not being there in 2021. And last year we added Hotel Albatross, which ended up being the ... I've got so many compliments from everybody saying it was the best sounding venue and it's a restaurant. I mean, they do music there, but to have that be this packed out situation where these bands that would not normally be in that spot is another thing that we try to do. To go out of the norm and have you know, have a band that just you wouldn't expect to be there. And then the Eagles Club, we just keep finding ways to improve that building. And we added a stage there last year in the lower floor and this year we're adding a full outdoor component to it, which we can chat about now or later.
Let's chat about the outdoor component now. I do want to add that I think the ways in which y'all have expanded as far as venues go has been incredible. I went last year and Hotel Albatross was great and knowing that the Sunset Tavern's back, and that [remodeled] space that they have that was built right before the pandemic, it's a really good space. I've probably been to more shows at the Sunset than any other venue in town since shows started coming back in.
Skyler Locatelli: I'm very excited. I'm very excited about the Sunset coming back because it's always been a venue during Freakout that's just packed, and the energy inside there is really incomparable to even some of the other venues. Guy can speak to the program but he's very specific about what goes into the Sunset.
Guy Keltner: I'm also very specific about what growth means for our festival. I think I want to just elaborate that as we've been expanding and growing, it doesn't — I don't want to condescend [to] our audience. We're not one of those organizations that's taking a ton of corporate money and offering day spa experiences or pedicures and things. I was at Pickathon and there's all these cute little outdoor showers and you can go and get massages and stuff; that's not Freakout. We are trying to do something very much like "the people's festival." So [what we're into is] about creating this really unique [experience], but also like a huge feeling of equality where the musicians are in the crowd the same as any other patron, and we're all hanging out together, and everybody's soaking wet from the rain because it's November. It's absolutely pouring rain every time we're doing this. So you have to be comfortable with the discomforts of these places; and you're walking around this cute little neighborhood and just having the time of your life.
So when we are bringing in these extra rooms, we're utilizing them in such a way that it's very interesting, but it's still very much a product of being in the streets, you know what I mean? You're walking from space to space and it feels edgy and it feels rough around the edges. There's not like this clean, you know, organized thing. Like when you go to Coachella and there's a special little ride next to you and, "Oh, there's a Ferris wheel over there. Oh, my God." Like, "Oh, I spent $8,000 to be here." Like, that's not Freakout. That's not what we do. It's like 25 bucks a day when you buy your tickets early, and you show up and you're one of us, you know? And that's the feeling I want to create. Music shouldn't be something that's totally unattainable. I'm not trying to not lionize our rock stars. I love when the rock stars are at our event. But I do want this to feel like something accessible to the youngest of the young and the oldest to the old at the same time.
Skyler Locatelli: This level of programming is very meticulous. So if you look at the schedule, you can trace the trajectory of venues and see the music that you want to see. Don't get me wrong, Os Mutantes might be playing the Tractor while Los Dug Dugs are at Albatross and you got to pick and choose. But we also try to get second shows for a lot of artists so that you can see them if you really want to see somebody else.
In my column, I've joked about it. I've mentioned it in jest a few times about the scheduling conflicts. But that's part of the festival experience, right? Picking which band you'd rather see because there's only a finite amount of time.
Guy Keltner: I think I'm trying to make people uncomfortable. I like when people have to pick like that. And that's very much the purpose. I know it's difficult, but that's the whole point of bringing in these second sets. I'm personally really excited about — this is just a segway into the outdoor stage [discussion] — but that outdoor stage gives us a huge opportunity to showcase bands new to the general public. So if their appetite is sort of piqued, they can come in and feel like, "Oh, maybe I'll buy a ticket to go see this." This is a free outdoor event with a lot of second-chance sets going on at it. So we'll have essentially a thousand-capacity, closed-off area [where] people can come in and drink beer, eat. Right out of the Salmon Bay Eagles Club, which is essentially our centerpiece venue. It's our main stage. And it had rooms inside of there playing music.
So if they're loving the outdoor event, if they see one of these bands, they're catching just the end of a set, it's like, they're playing next day in this building or over at the Tractor, and we can get you in there. And I see it as an opportunity for us to show the city what we are because a big part of our following doesn't even come from Seattle. And this outdoor stage is so important because there's so many people oblivious to what we are, what we're doing.
Skyler Locatelli: One of the things that we've struggled with over the years is having the right space for a box office, having a good artist lounge, having a good VIP zone, having access to food that isn't Ballard restaurant prices, and things like that. We had different miscellaneous satellite posts and hospitality, running around rooms. We've always talked about closing down a street, and they've done it before [for] Macefield Fest. We're obviously concerned with the weather component but Salmon Bay Eagles Club has pretty much been our de facto headquarters. It's a community effort with the stage being open to the public. We've worked with the city for the last several years, working with a partner, Oliver Little who listens to KEXP, who most recently [worked with] West Seattle Summer Fest; somebody who's got extensive experience with working with the city and closing down streets. Most recently, we've been working with King County Creative Economy to incorporate a whole component just announced this week called Cloudbreak Music Festival, which is happening throughout November and working with venues and Freakout to help support artist guarantees for artists living in Seattle. And so our outdoor stage — free, open to the public — will include [around] 90% Seattle-based artists, which we're stoked to highlight part of that program and just sort of enter the community further. Although we draw internationally, we are a Seattle festival.
One thing I do want to touch on is the international flavor of Freakout. When did y'all notice that this was happening? That there was a big audience, a big international audience either coming to Freakout or really wanting to see these bands?
Guy Keltner: I think we've had little signs all over the place. I know, for example, the guy I founded the fest with Nathan Casey, who just left last year to move to Portland and work with Lose Your Mind Festival. He handles a lot of our back end, you know, looking at where ticket sales are coming from. And he'll print a map every year when we're done and show how many people bought tickets from abroad and from other parts of the United States. And this thing got more and more interesting. Every single year he's done that. And last year was just incredible to look at these points all over the world, these little blips of [ticket buyers] from as far as like Russia and Asia and places from all over South America and Mexico.
We get a huge sense of pride from that.
I also get to physically feel it when I'm on the road. When I'm out there playing in Europe, in parts of Italy and France, it's so cool to have people come over and they're looking at Acid Tongue and all, "Oh, are you in Freakout Festival?" And that is a very gratifying question to be asked whenever I'm out of the country. And I think that's been a huge sign of growth. And part of that has grown out of this increase of — how do I put it? It's come from this really tight knit relationship I've been having in Mexico City specifically. There's a crew down there run by a couple named Yasmina and Miguel. They run Monkey Bee Festival and are essentially the king and queen of the punk scene in Mexico City. And we've been collaborating and working together on different projects for about seven years now. And the more and more we start trading music and bring into the fold with Freakout, the bigger what we do gets on and on an international scale. So this just further cemented how much our reach goes. It was very intentional to book Os Mutantes, Dugs, and Los Saicos together this year. It wasn't very much a bill I would have put together for the Seattle audience. That was a bill so that everybody abroad goes, "Oh my God, the craziest festival I've ever seen."
There's something really cool that comes out of that, and I'm able to start doing that with a bit more intent now that I'm aware of the effects it can have. But for example, last year we had Michael Imperioli, the actor from The Sopranos that plays Christopher Moltisanti.
Oh, yeah, bro. I was freaking out when I saw that he was there. I was sick and didn't go that day, and I was so mad.
Guy Keltner: It was amazing. And Skyler and I found out because we listened to his podcast about The Sopranos [Talking Sopranos]. So we were spending our COVID days together a lot and depressed and listening to this podcast and rewatching The Sopranos. And Skyler and I talk about The Sopranos all the time. And every time we listened to the podcast, Imperioli would plug his band ZOPA and say, "ZOPA is going to be doing this thing or putting out this record." And so I went on Instagram, and I was like, "Okay, which member has the smallest Instagram [following]; let me DM the guy." He gave me an email to hit up and he was like, "We'd love to do this."
And it was great for them, because they saw this as a way of legitimizing their music because, you know, they don't want to be one of those bands with an actor that's viewed like Dennis Quaid's band or Johnny Depp's terrible blues band, you know. And when they came out, they saw the Mystery Lights for the first time, which is a band they should know because they live in New York City and so does Michael Imperioli and his crew. But they hadn't seen them. They hadn't hung out with them. And this was an opportunity for those bands to get tight. And now they're working with the same management, the same agent, and they're doing tour dates together. And I'm seeing that it's really resulted in this beautiful relationship between artists.
And it's going to be excellent this year to stick these legends of Latin American music together in these rooms with guys like Kid Congo, who are not only fans but legends themselves, and they're all eager to meet each other and talk and share stories and get to know each other. I'm just excited to see what comes out of that. Because every single year we do this sort of thing, something crazy happens. And then for the months after I get to giggle while I'm on social media and I'm like, "Oh my God, those two bands that met in our thing are playing together," or "those two people are doing a record together." And that's the beauty of what this festival is all about. That just doesn't happen in every facet. You don't, you don't even have time to meet people at South By usually unless they're wearing a suit and they have money for you, you know? [laughter] So it's really interesting to put people together and get them, you know, maybe drunk, maybe a little high on psychedelics. And they get to do this really cool experiential thing and then go off and say, "Oh, my God, now we're best friends."
Skyler Locatelli: It's super gratifying and I love that too. Sometimes it is just a little bit of magic. It's a little bit of passion for something and just putting it out there and seeing what pops out. I mean, another example, too, is getting the UFO Club back together for a performance this year is exciting. It's the fun sort of like inner, you know you know inner makings of a bigger thing that make it really all worthwhile because, you know, sometimes the nuts and bolts are not always fun. But we have a fantastic team of amazing contributors from Jake Hanson, who has been really leading a lot of our marketing efforts and overall management things to Rosetta Lane who, who helps us from an operational standpoint, Ross Albrechtsen and Cameron Lavi-Jones and Jesse Rockey and Serafina Healey make up the festival team, and we're meeting every day. It's a lot of work.
Tell me more about that work, because you mentioned to Dave Segal at The Stranger that this is a year-round job for you now, Guy.
Guy Keltner: I'm not going to lie. Really tired of it. [laughter] But it's so gratifying to do all this. I'm already sending offers out for 2023. Up until the day before, in case there are scheduling changes and last-minute additions. This is a job. It is just difficult to go through the process. Always being aware of what going on is hard. I'm having to synthesize, you know, experience with casual observance of media, with what my friends are saying, with what you guys are playing on KEXP. There's so many factors that go into just staying in touch with what's happening so I don't feel my age staring me down. And I have to have my finger on the pulse to do this.
And then from there, I need to go out and say, "Okay, well, how do I spend money in a safe way that's going to help generate hype, but also not blow our bank?" And that's probably one of the most difficult parts of this whole thing, is having to sit and explain to agents like, "Yo, we're not a normal festival, we are on a shoestring budget." A lot of this is out of pocket. If we lose money that's Skyler and I who have to pay for that, you know what I mean? It's like I said before, there's not this huge corporate money coming into this. This is just us and our small crew of people that work with us. So the huge difficulty in, you know, sometimes there's a big band and agents going to want, you know, $20,000 or $30,000 for them, I just can't do that. It would be impossible. Let alone do we have space. I mean, we're putting people or 450-cap rooms tops.
And I unfortunately can't put them on every night at the fest. So there's a lot of work going into building out these small little events. You know, maybe they're going to go and play Tacoma or Everett. And I have to be the driving force between making those things happen so that everyone can come and see this beautiful band from Chile they've been wanting to see. There's a lot that goes into that one special performance, and it's an exhausting, tedious, very frustrating job, full of a lot of obstacles. There's many ups and downs.
But it's important and I believe in what we're doing and I see the effects it's starting to have. I mean, we really are the heartbeat of the rock scene in Seattle now because of this kind of work. I don't want to sit here and toot my own horn, but I want to find another person in this scene that is working 24/7 for something like this that's totally not just about them, you know what I mean? That's the difficult thing. Like there's no money in this for me. I'm not making a cent on it. You know, all this work year-round is to try and put on this thing that I find to be beautiful. And I really think it's so important to keep culture moving in this town. And every time I see a piece of culture die in this town, a piece of me dies with that. That's become the real tragedy of watching Seattle turn into what it is right now. And this is my silent way of protesting that — maybe not so silent with as noisy as this music is — but this is about protesting the degradation of my city.
Skyler Locatelli: I can't speak to every single band's experience with us in other places. But we certainly know there's a track record of what others pay. How we set a guarantee is a unique model. We've done our due diligence of being fair and equitable and how we pay artists for their performance. It's definitely a lot of work. We want to keep doing it. That's the thing. Every year, Guy and I and the team, we're always so freaking jazzed after the festival, during the festival, that it makes it all worthwhile. But sometimes we just want to be done. [laughter] I'll be honest. I turned 40 years old; I spend less time in Seattle than I used to. Luckily, working remotely is very easy in today's world, but [the festival is] just a ton of effort. And we do want to be profitable with it. And, you know, like, like sustain it. And we do think it's worth sustaining. And when we are building relationships and community partnerships that are helping with that, and that's super crucial. And, you know, I would love to keep doing it. But there is a point when... We say it every year: this is a very important year. So we want Freakout to have its most successful year this year so that we can do it again.
That's funny that we have gone to this line of conversation because my final question is, where do you see Freakout Festival in ten years? Do you see it happening? Is it one of those things where it's like, "Oh, I definitely hope we're not still doing this in ten years."
Guy Keltner: I'm not going to go that far, but I don't think Freakout could be Freakout without Skyler and I doing things the way we do it. So if there is a situation where one or both of us decides it's just become too much, maybe it evolves into something else and maybe it doesn't, and that's essentially it. I just don't see someone taking the time to do it the way we do it. And there's no one at the moment in town that is at this unique crossroads. Skyler is employed at your radio station, and he has a very good understanding of the back end of things, like how a business should be run, how finances need to be dealt with. So he has this great experience combining all these weird disciplines that make him so perfect for what he does for us.
On my end, I'm a musician that travels, but also has a background in advertising and a degree in economics. So I'm able to sort of see all these elements together and work with Skyler. We have this great working relationship. And anything that got in the way of that mean is, you know, it couldn't happen this way. It would be a different type of festival. I mean, I dare someone to try and do something this mental, you know, and again, not to toot our own horn, it's just so hard. I have to recognize how much work is going into this and how unique it is considering that. I have a hard time visualizing someone doing this with the same level of integrity, all these things. You know, it's so easy to do what we do and take corporate money. It's so easy to do what we do and overspend on the headliners. It's so easy to do what we do and just do local bands, you know what I mean? But can it be done in this very specific way by anyone else? I don't think so.
We are getting really exhausted and we're trying our best to really work with our team and show them how we do it, why we do it, every little aspect of the job. But we're holding on by a thread with everybody. And it's a very, very delicate process getting from Point A to Point B with this event. So in ten years' time, I'd love to still be doing this. I hope that in 10 years' time if we are still doing this, Skyler and I, our blood pressure is a lot lower than it is right now. I hope we're in better shape. I hope that we feel relaxed and are getting full nights of sleep. I hope we have sort of the budget behind it that we really love to have it without compromising our core values. But that's a that's a tall order. And it's really, again, tough for me to visualize it getting there.
I want that. I want all those things. And I just want it to be done right. I'm not going to do this if it's half-assed.
Skyler Locatelli: Pretty much like 99.9% on the same page with Guy. It's a really difficult endeavor that we've made this far. And we are super proud of what we've accomplished thus far and how every year it seems to change a little bit. It seems to get better, experientially. It's more and more attended every year. Just look at the trajectory of [the number of] artists. Guy, what did you have like 15 for the first year?
Guy Keltner: Like 15, 20.
Skyler Locatelli: We got to like 50 in Year Six and then and then it was 70 and then 2021, there were 105. And now we're going to be over 140 bands this year. So many people want to play. Our submissions went from maybe like, you know, ten bands eight years ago to now, we get submission emails that we don't even have the time to look at every year, because people want to play it and they're from all over the place and [we've] never heard of 90% of these bands, and that's a really cool feeling to have that.
But again, it is about the sustainability of us as individuals. You know, I think there's various business models to do the festival and it could be scaled back. But I would like to think that this year's model maybe becomes the model. You know, and I know I've said that before, having this like finally having this outdoor stage component and sort of, you know, getting more and more engaged from the community about it.
But Freakout isn't just a fall festival. That's the other thing. We're doing an event in L.A. for two nights with No Age and the Melvins; those types of things, we want to do more of that. It's not just Seattle, we've showcased all over the U.S. and outside of the U.S. as well. And a record label too, that has put out almost 40 records in the last six years. It's finding that balance with everything and making it sustainable is what we're trying to do.
I think if you’re a student or longtime admirer of Pacific Northwest music, the name Lori Goldston needs no introduction. For the rest of you: The immensely accomplished cellist has contributed to scores and scores and scores of incredible pieces of music, perhaps most notably experimental rock giants Earth and Nirvana’s legendary MTV Unplugged session (imagine its rendition of “Dumb” without Goldston’s stirring contribution). On her new album, the phenomenal High and Low, Goldston takes the possibilities of the instrument she’s been mastering since a child in fascinating new directions. She’s long been incorporating drone into her work, but she applies it to a wealth of styles here.
There are elements of punk rock with her embrace of “playing wrong” from a classical perspective; I hear what I can only describe as Screwed Up bluegrass at points in the album’s eight tracks. “Aloft” begins with the sort of violent distortion that assails your eardrums like peak Sonic Youth. “Moss on Rock” begins like a free jazz band tuning up and winds up a total shredder. The album in full is a testament to the wild, uncharted territory you can explore only through highly improvised, borderline psychically driven, music.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who keeps tabs on AJ Suede — through this column or otherwise — that the young Sith lord is not only a surefire rising star in the art of language manipulation, but he’s also dutifully been honing his craft as one of the more reliable beatmakers in hip-hop today. His crate-digging instincts are routinely lifted by other rap producers (both of lesser talent and greater notoriety, but we won’t name names), his natural talent for finding the most interesting corners of the music he samples has supremely augmented the lyrics of his solo work. If you’re a fan of the work of Montreal’s Nicholas Craven, you could do much worse than sliding a track with Suede’s production onto your playlist.
Leave it to an artist of his caliber to subvert the expectations of his audience by mostly stepping back from the mic on the latest installment of his remarkably good Darth Sueder series. Serving as executive (and sole) producer, Sueder 7 features an array of rising talent given their own spotlight track, with Suede God himself rocking verses on the lilting vocal sample of opener “Waterbed” and the glacial soul of “Good as Gold.” The decision to cede his beats to MCs hailing from all over the country — some hailing from needle-in-the-haystack rap scenes like Lincoln, Nebraska — was a creative risk that pays off with hair-raising bars from artists such as Portland’s Milc (“Pockets chippy like how the playoffs get,” “Your favorite rapper got 30 names in they liner notes”) and the Bronx’s Boo Azul (“My scare tactics rare like wearing bear jackets”).
Suede might need 18 points for his next joint, just sayin’.
Before the skyward highs of La Luz or the spectral otherworld of Shana Cleveland’s solo opus Night of the Worm Moon, there was the Curious Mystery. Before Cleveland’s work was featured through peak period Hardly Art and latter-day Suicide Squeeze, she had an album out on the formidable K Records and was recording with Calvin Johnson at Olympia’s Dub Narcotic Studio. Alongside co-songwriter Nicolas Gonzales, there are glimmers of Cleveland’s future brilliance on the Curious Mystery’s sole LP, Rotting Slowly. For instance, the glacial and twilit closer “The Community Bed,” the bluesy and foreboding opener “Preparations,” and the gorgeously woozy “Go Forth and Gather.” Rotting Slowly should not only be a must-have for La Luz completists or superfans of Cleveland’s solo debut Oh Man, Cover the Ground, but anyone who is into sprawling Northwest psych-rock dipped in ayahuasca.
For the first time in a decade, Martin Douglas journeys into the mouth of the beast that is Capitol Hill Block Party.
Martin Douglas catches a stunning set by the Mississippi blues artist as his Treefort coverage continues.