Escalator Fest is gearing up for its third edition of consciousness raising through music and visuals. Organized by psychedelic-culture savants Aubrey Nehring and Emily Pothast of Portable Shrines, Escalator this year is tapping exclusively into the Northwest's deep vein of mind-expanding music makers, graphic artists, and DJs to bring Seattle two nights of extraordinary ear and eye stimuli.
Escalator has thrived "without any sponsors or external funding," says Pothast, who also plays in Midday Veil and runs the Translinguistic Other label. Consequently, the event is a labor of love done on a tight budget in the operatives' free time. "But our audience has been growing, and people are learning to trust our taste," she notes. "So we stopped asking ourselves, 'Who can we afford to bring here for Escalator that will have a huge draw?' and started asking, 'Who are the awesome, lesser-known bands that would love the opportunity to play this event and deserve a bigger audience in Seattle?'" (Nehring swears that much of Escalator's "booking, planning, and promoting was done while in a visionary trance state, though on quite a few occasions a Ouija board was consulted, as well.")
Previous years saw Escalator presenting Wooden Shjips, Prince Rama, and Lumerians, before they blew up nationwide. It's likely that this year's event will launch breakout acts, too. Thus, Escalator Fest III, a swarming mass of outward-bound sound and vision. Learn about the players.
AYAHUASCA TRAVELLERS (Saturday): Ayahuasca Travellers come from the confusion-is-best school of rock cosmology. If you've never taken ayahuasca, these Seattle psychonauts will whet your appetite for it. Their approach stems from Blue Cheer's: raucous power chords augmented by windstorm guitar filigreeing. The Travellers ruthlessly carry on that nothing-succeeds-like-excess attitude.
DIMINISHED MEN (Saturday): The bill's least overtly psychedelic unit, Diminished Men nevertheless will trip your shit out. The Seattle trio maneuver their way through giallo soundtrack shadows, surf-rock tubularities, and noir-jazz chiaroscuro with Morricone-esque verve. They may be the best pure players on the bill, too.
THE FRUITING BODIES (Friday): Formed in 2009, these ex-Detroiters/current Seattleites are making gallant strides in honing their brawny, rust-belt instrumentals, which soar with heroic post-rock majesty. Their debut six-song EP rampages like Don Caballero or Mogwai at their least dozy. Track titles "Mangled" and "Stellar Dimensions" stake out the Fruiting Bodies' aesthetic poles: They hit you so hard, you see stars.
FUNGAL ABYSS (Saturday): This side joint of local heavy-me(n)tal muthas Lesbian plunge you headlong into a mycological ordeal, from which you emerge smoldering and endarkened (it's like enlightenment, but tinged with evil). Fungal Abyss improvise a circuitous aural journey through the lush forests of their magic-mushroomed hive mind in order to blow yours.
LUNAR GRAVE (Friday): Based on the one Lunar Grave track ("Inti") I've heard, this Portland foursome favor the methodical approach to spacey disorientation—which is one of the finest approaches a psych-rock band can take. "Inti" features a liquid, ascending helix of upper-register guitar soaring over a forbiddingly plodding beat and a bass line that scans like a death sentence.
MACROCOSM (Saturday): Portland's Macrocosm play that familiar brand of churning, burning heavy rock that accrues a psychotropic wallop through sheer relentless reiteration—and via riffs that you want to hear indefinitely. But they also know when to jump in the getaway car of the rave-up and shift gears.
MIDDAY VEIL (Friday): The most songwriterly bunch at Escalator, Seattle's Midday Veil have been moving into more krautrockish modes lately while also nurturing mystical improv-drone impulses (see their Subterranean Ritual releases). Pothast's vast vocal range and charismatic stage presence and the band's mastery of many styles (plus killer visuals) lend Midday Veil the potential to bust out of the psych ghetto.
ROSE WINDOWS (Saturday): This flamboyant Seattle octet embellishes those fried-and-tested psych-rock maneuvers you may have heard in some of the best '60s/'70s bands from San Francisco to Santiago. Rose Windows erect a swelling, swirling sonic melodrama that provokes upturned expressions of bliss and raised fists. They're still relatively new and developing their stream-of-hyperconsciousness jams, but the ascent is often breathtaking to behold.
SWAHILI (Friday): Cavernous, quasi-tribal processionals featuring heavy tom-tom tattooing and reverbed female vocals prevail in Portland quintet Swahili's cathartic sound. They conjure an earthy hypnosis that's not unlike Prince Rama's, although it's not as lush as those Hare Krishnas' big-budget productions.
THIS BLINDING LIGHT (Friday): These mainstays of the local rock circuit grind it out with mantric intensity and tantric density. Loyal disciples of heavy hypno-rock's holy trinity (Stooges, Hawkwind, Spacemen 3), This Blinding Light imbue their will-to-flower riffage with a spiritual passion that's hard to resist.
(Also performing: DJs Explorateur, Gel-Sol, Adam Svenson, Mamma Casserole, Papa Yod, and Miss Clarita; visual artists David Golightly, Ellen Dicola, and Darlene Nordyke.)