"FUCK GAY APATHY," reads a rad-looking button promoting the first year of 'Mo-Wave, Seattle's queer music and arts festival—a statement that has helped propel this festival from the beginning. I'm having a drink with the four founders and organizers of 'Mo-Wave, and we're discussing corporate lifestyle- mongering and mainstream assimilation. And the Indigo Girls.
"'Mo-Wave is a music and arts festival meant to highlight the transcendent aspect of queer culture," says Seth Garrison, "and to take the focus away from the televised, popularized notions of gayness and dykeness—to broaden the spectrum and bring focus to the revolutionaries." Garrison, along with Marcus Wilson, Jodi Ecklund, and Barret Anspach, have been working nonstop since October to create a festival that puts the "pride" back in gay pride. Or maybe just takes the "gay" out of it... the mainstream gay, that is. Wilson says, "I feel there is a need to represent that there is more to gay culture than RuPaul's Drag Race—to show that there are gay men who are interested in music outside of Rihanna and shitty house music. And that not all lesbians listen to only Top 40 hiphop or the Indigo Girls."
Wilson continues on the subject. "There is a problem with just settling—people not expecting better art or better music in our community. Mainstream gay pride parties pretty much offend every sense and sensibility I have. They're just shameless corporate-branding opportunities," he says, referring to the gay pride celebrations nationally and in downtown Seattle. "And I feel like gays do want acceptance so much; it is really easy for a big company or performer to offer this olive branch and then be seen as an ally, and it doesn't seem to matter—specifically with musicians—if that person is even any good. I feel like my opinion of Lady Gaga is a perfect example of that—everybody thinks she's this savior of the gays, but it's totally calculated and manufactured. I think she knows that, she knows that gays love that style of pop music and they love drag queens and they love ridiculous outfits—she knew who her market was going to be, or her label did." Garrison adds, "I also think about 'FUCK GAY APATHY' as a resistance to assimilation into straight culture—resistance to fitting in and being normal. We actually are weird, and we are creative and different, and that's in our queerness."
It all sounds refreshing, and the DIY, punk aspect of the festival is about showcasing the weird and wild and wonderful. Wilson explains, "'Mo-Wave is very intentionally a queer festival, as opposed to a gay festival, because these days, gay means more like yes I'm a homosexual, but there's nothing else about me that's different from mainstream society, whereas queers are more in touch with, and more accepting of, the fact that there's something different about them. And that's a good thing—uniqueness or difference is what makes life interesting and what causes great art to happen. It is outsiders who make positive social change happen, not the people who want to be part of whatever the dominant paradigm is at the time."
The foundation for 'Mo-Wave was laid at the Funhouse about five years ago, when Ecklund, with help from Wilson, was asked to take over the annual gay pride party at the Funhouse, when owner Brian Foss recognized that it could be more than just a DJ night. "It turned out to be the most fun pride event that I had ever been to or been a part of—there were all these awesome punk bands and fun DJs. It was funny and kind of dirty—like one year, Hunx played and made out with everybody in the audience," Wilson remembers. "Last year, we were having such an awesome time, and—it sounds kinda silly—really feeling some actual gay pride. We were all sitting in the greenroom when it hit us—this was the last year it could happen, because we'd just found out that the Funhouse was closing. That's when we decided we had to keep it going, to keep the spirit alive."
'Mo-Wave's offerings this year include visual art, dance, music, and comedy. "I wasn't even hip to queer comedy; I was like we have that?" Ecklund laughs. The comedy portion, called 'Mo-Wave Campness, will take place at Wildrose on Sunday, April 14. The dance portion of the event took place already, on Sunday, April 7, and the visual art exhibit, called Polari, takes place on April 11 at True Love Gallery. Garrison points out, "The comedy, visual art, and dance are all satellites of 'Mo-Wave at this point—in the future, I think we'd like to have it all more consolidated, but we're glad these disciplines could be included this year."
Three days of music—taking place at venues Pony, Chop Suey, and Wildrose—make up the biggest component of 'Mo-Wave 2013, and the lineup is killer. "We've got 33 bands playing in three days," says Ecklund, "and we handpicked everything. We made a big list of all the bands we wanted, and we got almost everyone," Ecklund says. "We were really fortunate, even with the long shots." Wilson adds, "Two of the bands to get back to us with an immediate, emphatic YES were the Need and Team Dresch—two of our headliners. It's amazing that they were so willing to do it. It's huge."
Browsing the artists on 'Mo-Wave's website, it's immediately apparent what an incendiary set of performers are involved, across all disciplines. Top-notch Northwest music acts fill the weekend: You can't miss the highly anticipated, reunited Olympia acts the Need and Team Dresch, but there's also the multitalented producer and musician Erik Blood, political-dance-punk band My Parade, angular art-punks Ononos, the heart-wrenching Tenderfoot, garage favorites Pony Time, and Night Cadet (about whom our own Adrian Ryan, in this very issue, squeals, "double swoon! All moody and Portishead-y, I just love them!"), just to name a few. Plus the amazing acts from all over the United States. There's Big Dipper, a tie-dyed bear of a rapper from Chicago, whose raunchy, funny, and smart lyrics (and fucking bananas music videos) make him a must-see act. There's also Dynasty Handbag, a wonderfully insane human being from New York, who performs, sings, acts, and scares the shit out of me in the best way possible. Genre/gender-transcending duo Double Duchess from San Francisco, Portland's catchy funk/rock-makers Magic Mouth, and lyrically sharp San Diego MC Addiquit. And that's not even half the lineup!
Of the festival's eclectic acts, Wilson says, "Not only is there a great variety of styles and genres, but we also have really young bands who've only played a few shows playing with super-established, legendary bands, and everything in between." This goes for the visual art as well. "Steven Miller, who helped us curate the visual arts exhibit, has done such a masterful job—not only in the variety of art and the quality of it, but the artists involved range from Cornish students who are just starting out to absolutely world-famous icons and, once again, everything in between."
Ecklund points out another aspect of 'Mo-Wave that the group hopes will set them apart. "We weren't just trying to book anything because it was gay—we were really particular about what we chose. We wanted a wide variety, but we also wanted some stuff that would push boundaries. Dynasty Handbag is going to do that, and Big Dipper. There is something for everyone for every day of the festival." On the subject of Dynasty, Anspach adds wryly, "Seriously, Seattle, prepare yourselves."
Wilson continues, "It was important to us that these acts actually had merit. With so many pride festivals, being gay is really the only barometer. It's like, as long as it has GAY or GAY-FRIENDLY stamped on it, it's in, but did anyone actually bother to listen to this?" Ecklund laughs. "We weren't trying to book Las Vegas's number one lesbian DJ." Wilson says, "That's another depressing thing about most pride parties—they always book some random pride-party-circuit DJ or some '90s one-hit wonder R&B diva."
So what's the criteria to play 'Mo-Wave? Ecklund explains: "That every performer, or every band, has at least one queer member—for this first year, we thought that aspect was important."
Garrison says, "Yeah, you have to have documentation [laughs], we need proof. Images on the internet, anything you want to send us." Ecklund giggles, "I'll have to tell you this story off the record... well, I'll tell you anyway. This person wrote in, asking about the criteria, and said, Well, I'm married, but my husband is 10 percent gay and I'm 90 percent... and I'm fucking one of the headliners of your festival." Anspach muses, "Well, I think 90 percent gets you in."
Despite the hard work the four have put into this year's festival, they're already planning "'Mo-Wave Presents" shows throughout the year and expansions to next year's festival. Wilson is hoping workshops and panels can become a part of the lineup: "From discussions to musicians telling stories to practical stuff—like basic car maintenance if your tour van breaks down, or workshops on how to put a PA together: how to do sound, how to use a Kaoss pad." Garrison adds, "Or how to record in your bedroom or kitchen or whatever." "Or how to give a blowjob," Ecklund chimes in. "And Dumpster Drag 101," laughs Wilson. "We want to have more venues involved," says Ecklund. "We also want to try and involve the all-ages aspect, which is something we couldn't do this year, but its something we're all passionate about. We just didn't have the revenue to make that happen this year, but hopefully next year." When I asked if expanding the festival would make it harder to maintain their mission statement, Anspach was adamant. "There's so much out there that fits the criteria that we have—it's not going to be a problem, when it gets bigger, to keep it selective and interesting."
"Oh, and every night at Chop Suey we have a different host and different DJs," Ecklund adds as the interview winds down. "And a different Dina Martina video shown in between sets," she continues. "And Sunday night at Pony, the after-party, we're going to have some special appearances that we're not going to announce..." Wilson leans in. "It's going to be Madonna. And Cher. And Lady Gaga."