Ruben Mendez of flamboyant electro-punk group DYED and Abigail Swanson (poet and member of the band Belva) have organized Depression Fest, a multimedia happening that occurs December 12 at Fred Wildlife Refuge. The goal is to raise funds for the American Federation of Suicide Prevention—and to lift the spirits of those in Seattle's arts community who are struggling with the ordeal of living in America in 2019.
Talking about the impetus to create Depression Fest, Mendez says, "It was around last year at this time that friends of mine and friends of friends were having a hard time. The days were getting darker faster, the holidays were coming, Trump and social media were making lives horrible. I thought about people that I’ve lost and friends have lost or almost lost to suicide and how it affects the whole world around them. I was feeling incredibly low and I know others were and still are, too. I basically wanted something to look forward to during the following autumn.
"Music and writing helps me when I’m feeling low," Mendez continues. "Going to shows, art shows, music, or whatever... seeing others being creative is a big boost. It almost didn’t happen, though. I was about to give up, and that’s when Abigail Swanson came into the picture and saved the day. Abigail was originally one of the poets I wanted performing. Her band Belva is part of the event, as is mine."
Swanson says, "I offered to help Ruben because the subject of mental health and mental difference is very important to me. The conversation about differently abled, adaptable folks in our society is opening up, but it is unfortunately still stigmatized. I am bipolar and one thing that really helps to ground me is to be open about my experience and to help others with theirs. When Ruben told me about his genius idea for Depression Fest, I jumped at the opportunity to help out!"
Mendez says that the musical acts, writers, and artists on the bill were chosen "because of their brilliance and because they are all 'the real deal.'" The lineup includes enigmatic synth punks ONONOS, neo-R&B diva Archie, wry art-rockers Tissue, respected fiction author of King of Joy Richard Chiem, the reclusive avant-rock iconoclasts Children’s Hospital (featuring Erin Sullivan of A Frames and Laura Cassidy), former Stranger freelancer and hilarious poet Sarah Galvin, visual artist Tara Thomas, and more.
Depression Fest's tagline—"For the best people having the worst time"—is a great mission statement. Do Mendez and Swanson find that depression is common in Seattle's music scene? "There are so many musicians, writers, painters, actors, and artists who suffer from depression, and for various reasons," Mendez says. "I can only speak for myself: It’s already in my DNA, and when the weather is like this, I can’t bring myself to want to do anything. Drinking and drugging and nightlife could be another. Being broke definitely bums me out. My friends leaving because they are being priced out bums me out. The way things are looking for the world, etc.
"When I was a teenager, I heard or maybe saw in a documentary, that Seattle had a great music scene because during the dark, cold, and rainy months people hunkered down in their basements and played/wrote music. I don’t know if that’s true."
Swanson observes, "Robin Williams once said, 'I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.' I couldn’t agree more. Most of my favorite humans—including my favorite artists—are sensitive souls.
"An artist’s perspective is like a litmus test for the state of a society. This means feeling and responding to both the good parts and the bad parts. Ultimately, this makes artists more understanding of the human experience and thereby, more accepting of the shadows within themselves and others."