Next Friday the 15th, the inaugural Don’t Call it a Fest slams into the Motor City with all the impact of a severely downgraded credit rating and an avalanche of housing foreclosures. Even during the best of times, Detroit has always had a negative air surrounding it; some of that civic black eye has been all too entirely justified, some has had its fires flamed due to a long-standing international game of telephone. Either way, Don’t Call it a Fest hopes to spread some positive vibes to a hurting metropolis via the local (and beyond) extreme music community by bringing Magrudergrind, Young and in the Way, Dangers, the Banner, Full of Hell, Homewrecker, Architect, Graf Orlock, Cloud Rat, Holy and more to the Tangent Gallery for what promises to be a grand old time all of the low, low price of $15 advance/$20 at the door! We recently caught up with Maxwell, one half of the team putting this shindig together, for a little background on the fest and to help put the pieces of the city’s true nature together.
What can you tell us about your history as promoter and Don’t Call it a Fest?
This is the first year for the festival. My roommate and myself, we decided to put it together. I’ve been booking shows for about 14-15 years. Originally, I started in Iowa because that’s where I grew up. I was just playing in bands, then I started booking stuff. Then, all of a sudden one band from out of town will come in to play, then they spread word to so-and-so and then I had booking agents hitting me up. When you have a small enough market where kids are desperate for music, it was pretty easy to get bigger crowds. I was 15 years-old and having bigger packages come in and was able to get the band $2000 on a weekday because there’s nothing else happening; who wouldn’t want to go to those markets? That’s pretty much how it started. I moved to Detroit three years ago and just kind of started booking up here because I’d been touring through here for a couple years at that point and had made a lot of friends here.
That begs the next question: you voluntarily moved to Detroit? Why?
Yeah, I’ve heard that a lot [laughs]. Essentially, how it started was that I came up here for the first time in 2006 and I played the scariest club ever. It was literally in the worst neighbourhood you could find anywhere, but I made a few friends that night, despite everything which is a whole story in itself. From there, I ended up meeting a few people who would end up becoming band mates a couple years down the line. It was kind of the right time and I needed to do something new, so I came up here so I could continue playing music and make it more frequent. This was the best way to go about it.
Time for some self-promotion: what bands are you playing in?
Sender Receiver, Sawchuk and Deadchurch.
What was the impetus for the fest? Was there a particular reason you made the leap from doing shows to doing the fest?
It was more that we wanted to do something that was substantial here in Detroit. There are a lot of people who do shows now that have 12 bands on them that are almost all local with maybe one out of town band from maybe two hours away and they call it a fest with some big elaborate hokey name. We wanted to showcase bands from around the country and some from out of the country and kind of bring something cool like that here. There used to be a lot of sweet fests up here in Michigan, but not really anymore. So I guess it was kind of an anti-fest fest, stabbing at the all-local thing and trying to bring some cool bands in.
Being that this is your first year doing it, how has it been in terms of organisation?
There have definitely been some difficulties coming in. There aren’t really many big venues here willing to work with people without wanting more money than they’re worth. There’s no reason to be paying $1400 for a 500 capacity room; that’s just not cost effective for anyone. These places have their own in-house agents. I won’t say the name of the company, but they’re around the country, they own multiple venues and they only care about having people work with them directly so they’re going to try and have everybody charge a lot. There was that, but there’s a really cool space we’re using. It’s got two rooms in it so we’re able to go with two different stages, back-to-back with a five minute turnover. That was pretty much the main difficulty. I guess also having people and bands outside of friends and personal contacts wanting to take a chance and come out to Detroit because the city has its own reputation.
What differences have you noticed in putting this together versus a regular show?
I guess there’s a lot of excitement around here, but we’ve noticed a lot of excitement and interest from out of state. There are so many shows always going on in Detroit. It seems like somebody is always doing something that everybody’s kind of spoiled here, I guess is a way of putting it. We’ve had a good reception, it’s just that people are sort of like, “oh, cool. It’s another cool thing that’s happening.” People are kind of used to it. But, I’m noticing from the surrounding areas, like the other side of the state, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and parts of southern Ontario, that people are super-excited because it’s a cheap festival with a lot of bands people want to see coming together. But, like I said, here in Detroit, there are literally five or six shows going on every night of the week.
Ok, so here’s your chance to dispel any of the myths surrounding the city of Detroit. I spent some unavoidable time wandering the city for a day when I went to see Raw Power there last year and it was pretty barren and sort of post-apocalyptic. Most people have heard about the city bankruptcy, the auto industry troubles, the former mayor being in jail, the water being shut off recently…Is it a case of the arts community thriving in light of – or because of – all the shit going on in mainstream business, government and politics?
Oh yeah! I mean, right here it’s almost like a cesspool of almost every type of culture and art. Probably one of the main things that drew me here, aside from music, was that you can come here with nothing and create something. Everybody is kind of almost in it together in the sense that we’re all not doing so hot, but for the people who are, like you said, into art of any type of medium, you don’t need a ton of money to have a studio space. Generally, in most cities, it’s going to cost you a couple grand and you’re going to have to split a space with other people. Here, you can rent or get a facility for next to nothing because people will take that. Plus, when everybody around is kind of a little bit down or depressed, that breeds a lot of creativity and a lot of people are trying to do really cool things. We all get it, but it’s hard to explain unless you’re here.
In booking shows and tour stops, do you have to often convince bands that it’s worth it stopping in Detroit? I’m sure the farther away you are from the city, the more outlandish the stories about how decrepit the city is are.
That’s for sure. In terms of crime or at least feeling you’re going to get mugged or something, it’s not really worse here than any other major city. I’ve had worse experiences elsewhere in the country, I’ll say that much. Since I’ve moved here, I personally haven’t had too much happen, but I’ve had way worse happen everywhere else. You’d be surprised how many people want to play Detroit, if only to just say they played here [laughs]. I guess it’s the rougher areas, like here and Oakland or something, that have their own thing about them. A lot of people want to play Detroit, especially Detroit house shows and that’s the mainly what I like to do because I’ve run a couple different houses since I’ve moved here and we do a lot of different stuff from smaller to bigger bands. This year alone we’ve had the Banner, Shai Hulud, the last Mongoloids show was in my basement, so I mean there have been a lot of pretty large events. People will literally go, “oh, we’re playing Detroit, at a house” and in many minds it’s cool because it’s where punk rock was pretty much created. It feels right, so a lot of people are really open to the idea when they see that, on a weeknight kids are willing to cram into a basement, go nuts, buy merch and hang out. There’s a pretty cool community going on here.
Tell us about the venue the fest is being held in. It looks like a multi-use sort of place, but did you have to do any amount of convincing to let them use their space?
They were pretty open about it and really excited when they heard what we wanted to do with the multiple room, all-day thing. They’ve done a lot shows there; surprisingly, there have been a lot of black metal shows there, but they also do a lot of community art shows and people do book signings and stuff. They’re pretty open to just about anything.
Is it your intention to do this annually?
We would like to. Both me and my roommate Nick are both going full force on it and we’d like to make that happen if we could. If people are into it we’ll definitely do it again.
If it is a success – however you define success – what do you think you’d in the future? Have you even thought about the future beyond getting through year one?
We’ve definitely thought about it as there has been a good response and a lot of support. People who couldn’t commit this year – it wasn’t a last minute thing, but we only had a couple months to organise this in comparison to other people or fests who plan six months to a year ahead – have talked about wanting to play next year. Hopefully maybe we can make it a two-day thing and fly out some more friends from the west coast or bands from the southeast and Florida.
For more info and to order tickets, check out www.dontcallitafest.com