Over the last seven years, Freakout Festival has become one of the highlights of Seattle’s music calendar. Like a miniature South by Southwest, Freakout takes over a portion of a city—in this case, Ballard—to create a hub of intense, fascinating musical activity across several venues. Freakout is also a record label that mainly focuses on the psychedelic and garagey ends of the rock spectrum, and FF’s lineup generally follows in those veins, with bands from the United States, Canada, Mexico, France, and Colombia on the bill.
Freakout Festival cofounder Skyler Locatelli says that they strive to “provide a stage for emerging local and international touring bands to perform to an engaged audience who may or may not be discovering the artist for the first time. Our ultimate goal is that people choose to attend Freakout not because of a marquee lineup, but rather because they know they will have a great experience, discover new bands, and share space among other like-minded individuals in venues no larger than 400 capacity.” Toward that end, you can use the new Freakout 7 app to build your own schedule, listen to artists’ tracks, and buy merch and tickets. Below, we turn you on to the must-see acts.
Always pay attention to any band that covers a Rain Parade song and collaborates with a member of Kaleidoscope (the UK one). The Asteroid #4 do a splendid version of those Paisley Underground giants’ “I Look Around,” which displays AN4’s penchant for sublime melodies and gorgeously layered vocals. Over the last 24 years, this group has traipsed through the gentler and more pastorally spaced-out end of the psychedelia spectrum, building an impressive discography. They may have peaked on 1997’s soaring, sitar-laced “What a Sorry Way to Go,” but AN4 continued to produce sumptuous, melodious psych-rock on 2018’s Collide. DAVE SEGAL
Montreal indie-rock band Elephant Stone caught my ears in 2014 with third album The Three Poisons. It stood out thanks to frontman Rishi Dhir’s way of incorporating traditional Indian instrumentation (primarily sitar, on which he’s adept, but also tabla and dilruba) into jangly, driving psychedelic rock that takes many groovy turns. The result makes you want to get down, although there are plenty of swaying, swirling, otherworldly moments, too. New single “Land of Dead” finds the trio taking a heavier, more concise, stoner-meets-tronic turn. Dhir told Brooklyn Vegan it’s “the dark centerpiece of a song suite” about a world “devoid of empathy and burning skies… It’s tragic how life imitates art.” LEILANI POLK
Possessor of the most impressive sideburns in rock, Brian Jonestown Massacre percussionist Joel Gion is very clever with maracas, to quote Brian Eno’s “Baby’s on Fire.” As leader of his own band, Gion struts on similar sonic ground as BJM: 1960s-inspired psych-rock beholden to the golden guidelines set by the Beatles, the Chocolate Watchband, and the Rolling Stones (Brian Jones–era, of course). Gion has a knack for penning instantly catchy melodies, conveying a nonchalant brilliance that perfectly mirrors his onstage demeanor. He may look like he’s out of his gourd while slapping tambourines with Anton Newcombe & co., but Gion has been paying attention to psychedelia’s masters and creating his own savvy interpretations of it over three solid albums. DAVE SEGAL
Headed up by Tlingit bassist/vocalist (and lauded glass artist) Preston Singletary, Khu.éex’ (pronounced Koo-eex) are a supergroup composed largely of indigenous poets and musicians. Beginning as a chance meeting between Singletary and legendary funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell (of Parliament-Funkadelic and Talking Heads fame), Khu.éex’ combine far-out funk and jazz with spoken word, utilizing Great Native Northwest storytelling to present a contemporary interpretation of their culture to the world. Their most recent EP—2019’s Héen, (“water” in Tlingit)—deals with the importance of water to indigenous communities across the country. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Mexican Panamanian multi-instrumentalist (guitar, bass, drums, keys, synths) singer-songwriter Michelle Blades has a songbird, dulcet quality to her vocals, while her music culls elements of 1970s folk and psychedelia, krautrock, garage pop, synth rock, Talking Heads–style post-punk, and off-beat experimentalism (see “Politic” and “Kiss Me on the Mouth” off this year’s Visitor for a sample of her irrepressible charm). She grew up on a steady diet of cumbia, salsa, dembow, and son (she comes from a family of salsa musicians), but her style is more informed by the time she spent in Phoenix’s underground DIY scene and after that, in and around Paris, France, home to her label Midnight Special and where she eventually settled. Los Machetes is her transatlantic band, which will back her at Freakout. LEILANI POLK
Naked Giants encapsulate a lot about your early 20s—that goopy, postadolescent period where the tension between taking things seriously, but not too seriously, is at an all-time high. The trio balances these extremes with great ease. From naming their debut album SLUFF (a made-up filler word that sounds punk and has taken on a variety of meanings) to dealing with dreams of wanting to be a star on “TV,” their music is raucous, good-natured fun that’s particularly moshable. I just want to run into other people’s sweaty bodies while banging to the anthemic “Slow Dance II” or the swirling punk track “That’s Who’s Really Pointing at Me.” JASMYNE KEIMIG
Named after the mollusk that makes its home on the Pacific Northwest’s sandy beaches, Seattle quintet Razor Clam bring grit, glamour, and goth-pop to the stage. The all-femme band centers queerness in both their music and their live performances, fostering a space where everyone feels safe and free to be themselves. Their 2018 EP Vicious Sea Cows is packed with a mix of salty and sweet tracks that recall goth-rock bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees: “ITB” is a buoyant and synthy bop, perfect for bouncing around the dance floor, while the spooky, drum-driven “There” is made to conjure spells to. JASMYNE KEIMIG
This torrid San Diego trio are my pick for most exciting prospect of Freakout Festival. You can’t help hearing MC5-like revolutionary fervor in the Schizophonics’ raunchy ramalama and those gruff, Rob Tyner–esque vocals, and anyone who can’t get with that is not someone you want to know, brothers and sisters. The jams that Pat and Lety Beers and a rotating cast of bassists kick out fill you with emergency-room energy and the kind of invincible feelings needed to resist the corrupt administration currently desecrating democracy. Or you could channel all that kundalini the Schizophonics are generating to fuck all night. Whatever the case, you can’t lose with these rock-and-roll warriors. DAVE SEGAL
Recording for respected labels such as K and Burger, Portland’s the Shivas write easy-rolling, reverb-laden rock tunes that adhere to traditional psych- and garage-rock moves with the devotion of an Ugly Things magazine writer. True, there’s no innovation going on in a Shivas song, but the compositional panache is so strong and the instrumentation so tantalizing that the music’s familiarity leads to “yeahs” not yawns. Shiva is the Hindu deity of destruction, but the Shivas are more apt to pacify you than prod you into a violent rampage. And that’s quite all right with me. DAVE SEGAL
Bear witness to one of Seattle’s most interesting bands. They bill themselves as “digital folklore,” and Terror/Cactus definitely make music that embodies the paradoxical tension between modernity and tradition. With roots in Argentina, multi-instrumentalist Martín Selasco and his mask-wearing bandmates ingeniously mix cumbia, exploratory electronic music, and surf rock on their debut LP, Impulsos. These danceable hybrids sound like futuristic party music to which you drink cocktails made with ingredients you’ve never heard of. Every time I’ve seen Terror/Cactus play live, they’ve won over the crowd within two songs, which proves that weird music sometimes can efficiently cut through people’s apathy. DAVE SEGAL