Rejoicing in Sound
Wooden Octopus Skull Musick Pfestival Honors Avant-Garde Adventurers
Wooden Octopus Skull Experimental Musick
Sept 8–11, various venues, www.electricheavyland.com for more info.
From behind the counter of his Wallingford record store, Electric Heavyland, there is more than a hint of a true fan's excitement when talking to William Rage about the upcoming Wooden Octopus Skull Experimental Musick Pfestival. Rage, along with Stan Reed of the Edmonds-based PsychForm Records label, is curating a multi-venue event September 8 to 11, showcasing an array of experimental acts from around the world.
Originally an extension of last year's Seattle Noise Festival, Octopus's organizers are including a wider variety of sub-underground acts beyond what the previous moniker implied. This includes bringing out such nationally known artists as Aaron Dilloway of noise-kings Wolf Eyes, laptop surgeon and part-time member of avant metal band SUNN0))) John Wiese, and guest DJ Steven Stapleton of longtime industrial-dada experimentalists Nurse With Wound. Alongside these mini-marquee names, the fest showcases the Northwest's own rich tradition of out-there musicians. Generally speaking, the name of the game is sound by any means necessary—cheap synthesizers, mysterious boxes of hand-wired electronics, damaged guitars, amplified bicycle parts. If the weekend's performers can be grouped in any way, it's a shared attitude of musical artistry without the limitations of popularly accepted taste, tradition, or structure.
For Rage, who recently relocated from the Bay Area with his wife, the concept is perfectly logical, "We just got up here in September and the first thing we noticed was a treasure trove of bands that are doing their own thing," says Rage. "And across the board, nobody knows about them. They just slug away in anonymity. A big part of [Octopus] is just trying to bring more attention to [these acts]." In this sense, the festival can be seen as a fusion of Rage's excitement about a continually fresh and vital genre of music with a DIY attitude cribbed from punk rock's playbook.
Local experimental musicians welcome the festival as a chance to perform and celebrate their art at home. "Events like this are few and far between," notes Rob Millis of Climax Golden Twins. "This is not New York City or San Francisco, and it can be frustrating, especially after visiting other cities where the experimental scene is vibrant and crowded. The reason I live in Seattle is that it has a great community here and all sorts of interesting art and music and people to discover."
Along with other regionally based improvised, abstract electronic, or avant-rock leaning groups like Smegma and Noggin, Climax Golden Twins have been creating their music in obscurity for more than a decade. They've only recently been publicly recognized by newer left-field groups—Wolf Eyes, Six Organs of Admittance, Animal Collective, and others antagonizing the stagnation of "indie" music—as major influences and inspirations.
"Personally, I am excited that a fairly big event like this [is coming] together," says Noggin member Eric Ostrowski. "It's always so hard to get people out for music like this, and I expect some people to turn out that wouldn't ordinarily go to an 'out' music show."
To this end, truly world-class experimental artists are converging here for a weekend of sonic oddity and mutual appreciation. Among these quietly legendary acts is the loose collective of Bay Area musicians known as Caroliner. Caroliner's numerous releases and side projects over the last 20 years litter Rage's shop—records nearly all wrapped in paper dripping with indecipherable drawings and neon ink with music that is equally disquieting and psychedelic.
The festival organizers have put together an event on par with similar exhibits of musical renegades such as Minneapolis's Freedom From Festival, Chicago's Adventures in Modern Music, and the granddaddy gathering of all things noise, Brooklyn's No Fun Fest, while maintaining a distinct identity. With this year's event fueled by ambition and scope, Reed and Rage plan for future annual festivals to expand into avant metal, modern punk, and performers from Japan's vastly productive psychedelic underground. In some ways, though, Wooden Octopus Skull has the greatest potential to finally launch the Northwest avant-garde scene into a much broader audience. And why not? Seattle's own have been influencing folks in out-music epicenters like Northampton, Massachusetts; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Brooklyn, New York, for years. It's about time they got their due on their home firstname.lastname@example.org