Take a Vacation from Mundane Sounds
Debacle Fest Is Experimental Music's Ultimate Spring Break
You gotta admire the steely nerve of a music festival whose biggest acts are Hieroglyphic Being, John Wiese (and his nasty alter ego, Sissy Spacek), and Wolf Eyes treblemaker Nate Young. Organizer Sam Melancon once again has gone deep into the underground to gather a lineup of national and local subversives who explore the extremities of drone, noise, minimalism, electronic music, and avant rock. Now in its sixth year, Debacle bestows three days of subterranean aural adventures in three venues. Think of it as a concentrated spring break for hardcore experimental-music heads. The Stranger asked Melancon—who also runs a simpatico label called Debacle—to shed more light on this important event.
Did you approach the curation of Debacle differently from previous years? It seems like there's more emphasis on dance music (albeit very strange dance music), judging by Sunday's bill, which reflects the influence of your MOTOR night.
I may have allowed myself to dream a little bigger and go harder for certain artists this year. Overall, the approach was the same as ever. These are artists that I enjoy and would love to see live. That's my only litmus test. I write down a huge list of people I would love to have, and I send out e-mails or ask friends to make connections, and I go from there. As always, what I set out to book and what the final lineup becomes are very divergent, but it's definitely more interesting than anything I could have come up with in a vacuum.
MOTOR is new to Debacle Fest this year. I wanted to go big with a whole night being a showcase of the local MOTOR crew, along with national-level artists that fit in to the vision of what MOTOR can be. I think that night is going to be phenomenal. Just Hieroglyphic Being alone is a huge thing, but I think it will be a historically good night—Moon Pool, Prostitutes, Strategy, GOODWIN, etc. You couldn't ask for a better lineup of mutant-dance heavies.
Have you received any outside help with funding the festival?
We have some awesome partners in Hollow Earth Radio, our venues, and some great local businesses like 2bar Spirits, Hilliard's, and Elysian, but the core of the fest is still bankrolled by Debacle. This year, we are doing things a little differently by partnering with Hollow Earth and having them be the sole beneficiary of all profits from the fest. They are a very important part of Seattle, and getting to support them after they've supported us for years is a good feeling.
What made you decide to hold two showcases at FRED Wildlife Refuge? What is it about this venue that appeals to you?
We were having a horrible time trying to get just the right venue as recently as January. Rachel LeBlanc, my assistant, actually suggested FRED, which I had never heard of. It's just a really nice room with a ton of space, a great location right in the heart of everything. It has two projector walls that will be manned by some of the best live-visual operators around. I think having the fest at a venue that isn't where we normally put on shows will also help to convey that this is an event and not something to be missed. I am sad to not be doing any of the shows this year at a DIY space, but I think we wanted to challenge ourselves to book a room that perfectly fit our needs, and each of the venues this year is perfect for the shows we have planned.
What was your favorite experience of the 2012 Debacle?
Last year was a real culmination of what I think of as the first era of Debacle—both the label and the fest. It was great to see how all these Debacle bands had grown into very powerful forces and could hold their own next to some of the best and brightest national artists.
My favorite moment probably has to be from what turned out to be one of the final shows from [Portland synth group] Operative. I remember halfway through their set, realizing how many people were just dancing and loving it. I really want to encourage moments like that to happen more often. Out of those initial thoughts sprung the idea for MOTOR a few months later.
Have you noticed a greater acceptance of unconventional music in Seattle over the last year? Any other positive developments in the underground entered your radar?
I always think there are more people interested in weird or out music than we ever will know, because a lot of these people are less hooked into the day in, day out of whatever our "scene" is. Overall, I would say, yes, people are opening up—at least to me and what I am trying to do—more than in the past. I don't think that is anything I have done as much as I am finally finding the right channels to connect with those people. I try not to assume things about other people's tastes. I think we have such a big range of talent at Debacle that I wouldn't want to tell people they aren't going to enjoy what we are doing. Who am I to say that?
If you had to define Debacle in a few words, what would they be?
Rachel just suggested "Sam's Eclectic Taste, Locally Distilled."
What was the biggest disappointment this year with regard to booking, i.e., the artist you most wanted to get but didn't? Seems like Wolf Eyes would've made for a natural headliner.
I do love that new Wolf Eyes album. It may be my new favorite of theirs.
Oh, there is always a long list of people I am bummed that I have yet to get on the fest. I just put them back on the list and try again next year. This year was a perfect example of just opening myself up to people and being ready to pivot to new plans when things changed. Some of the biggest artists this year came about because of trying to nail somebody else and having that discussion open doors and present awesome opportunities. Also, if you are hankering for Wolf Eyes, Nate Young is performing solo on Saturday, and don't miss his amazing project Moon Pool & Dead Band on Sunday.
What's the primary goal of Debacle this year?
Debacle Fest literally started as a party, my bachelor party. I never want to stray too far from that vibe. As much as a lot of this music could be seen as "beard-scratching music," I want to present it in the least pretentious way I can. I don't ever want it to feel closed off. This should be a once-in-a-lifetime lineup of fantastic performances surrounded by awesome fans having a great time.
This music tends toward the ecstatic, the primal, and the beautiful. These are universal feelings. You shouldn't ever need to be a musical academic to enjoy it. If Debacle Fest is the one time a year you step out of your norm and try some new stuff, then fantastic! If I can create a space where you feel safe trying it once a year, then I have done my job.
See the full Debacle Fest schedule at debaclefest.com.