Two of the most respected labels in underground music today — 20 Buck Spin and Gilead Media — have combined their considerable heavy metal firepower to found and curate Migration Fest, a three day celebration of aural boundary-pushers and face-melters set to go down at the historic Capitol Theater in downtown Olympia, Washington this August. The stacked lineup includes Krallice, Christian Mistress, a The Body & Krieg collaborative performance, Thou, Vastum, Mutilation Rights, Kowloon Walled City, Pale Chalice, Vhol, Auroch, and a slew of others.
Decibel caught up with 20 Buck Spin’s Dave Adelson and Gilead Media’s Adam Bartlett for an exclusive preview of this upcoming gathering of levelers…
Fill me in on the Migration Fest origin story. How long has this been percolating?
DAVE ADELSON: Adam had done his own Gilead Fest a couple times and I’d heard somewhere he wanted to possibly do one out West. I’d been thinking of doing something similar for years but the actuality of it seemed daunting. So I reached out to Adam and suggested we partner up on a Fest that would be comprised of bands from both our labels and some closely associated bands. He agreed. We hadn’t previously collaborated on anything and didn’t know each other well until recently. As we’ve become more familiar with each other it’s clear we have different likes and aesthetic interests, but that benefits our Fest. The metal scene is really ghettoized now and not into challenging itself with varied lineups. I hope we are doing something contrary to that kind of safe, comfortable conservatism, and that if we do more of these it will continue in a more pronounced way. Logistically I would just say that any illusions I had ever entertained about being a travel or booking agent are now dead and gone.
ADAM BARTLETT: A few months after my second Gilead Fest in 2014 Dave and I began talking about the possiblity of working together. We had a business relationship, trading records from our labels etc, but this is our first time working together on a project. A big thing to jump into head first! But observing how Dave runs 20 Buck Spin it was fairly obvious that if there was any label guy I could work with and trust to not fuck up, it would be him. We come from somewhat similar backgrounds and scenes, so it all just felt right. I was going to do another festival in 2016, but wasn’t sure where and in what format. So It worked out well that Dave got in touch, and that my goals for Gilead Fests of the future aligned with what Dave was interested in doing with a festival with which he was involved.
Is there any particular hole in the fest scene you’re looking to fill?
ADELSON: First of all it’s very…hard to not make this answer full of euphemistic innuendo based on the way you’ve asked the question. My personal intention was to get my bands seen and heard in a Fest format. I feel the quality of my bands is such that they should be on many Fests and yet that wasn’t happening nearly enough. So as I’ve done many times in the past, I took it upon myself to fill the void. This time I’ve got Bartlett with me for the tag team. For years Europe had all the Fests. Now we’ve got some decent choices in the US too.
BARTLETT: I think it’s plain to see that the metal festival scene in North America is fairly narrow in scope. A lot of the same bands are playing the same festivals all the time. Sure, there are standouts and one-off headliners, but in the end there isn’t a festival that really served my interests through and through. And on top of that, there are a number of bands I work with that I have never seen perform live. So not only am I looking to fill a hole in the North American metal festival scene, but also fulfill the very selfish desire to book the fest I want to see with the bands I work with and the bands I’m friends with. I basically just want to have a label family reunion every two years. And so many of the bands on both 20 Buck Spin and Gilead Media are friends, have toured together, etcetera. So it works out perfectly.
The lineup is crazy good. It looks like you got a lot of wish list stuff here…
ADELSON: Yeah we did pretty well getting most of what we wanted on the Fest. I wanted to make Oranssi Pazuzu happen but for a variety of reasons it wasn’t to be. But I expect they’ll be making it to America soon nonetheless. We tried to get Urfaust too but they have a busy summer schedule already. I suppose we could have gotten Archgoat like every other Fest but really the focus is meant to be on 20 Buck Spin and Gilead Media bands, so it’s not the kind of thing that’s meant to impress every clique in the scene, yet I think there’s something for everyone there just by nature of the curators’ personal preferences.
BARTLETT: In the end I feel like we did better than I thought we would on the lineup. I really wanted Godspeed You! Black Emperor to play, but after their big U.S. tour I stopped pursuing that. Dave and I were kicking around the idea of trying to book John Carpenter but that also just sort of dissolved as the fest lineup began to solidify. In the end this fest is exactly what it needed to be — a celebration of the bands our labels work with and the people that buy records and support us. Even the big stuff, like the first Panopticon live show — Austin is one of my friends. I didn’t go out of my way and promise a boatload of money to some stranger to make that happen. There are years of history between us, and there is personal history between me and every band I chose to add to the lineup. Krallice, Mournful Congregation — these are bands Dave and I have worked with for years. Dave and I bust our asses to release what we think is some of the best music being written today. We’ve just been lucky enough to work with bands people are amped on. If people are stoked on this fest it’s because they’re stoked on our labels.
Let’s talk Olympia. Why does this locale fit the fest?
ADELSON: It’s in Olympia because I live here and that was the easiest thing for me. Unlike seemingly every modern person I don’t actually care that much about traveling. I like it once I’m in a new place-slash-city, but the getting there I find so shitty that it makes me not want to go and I have dietary issues that make travel more difficult. So I was glad to do something like this where I live. And I think for Adam, he also comes from a smaller place so this felt comfortable to him. It’s a good place to do this because you can drink for a lot cheaper than you can in Seattle or Portland — your entire stay here is easily walkable if you want it to be and summer in the Northwest is really beautiful and generally mild. If you’re coming from afar I would say, don’t expect a big city — Olympia is the smallest state capitol in the U.S. with a population of just under 50,000. But I’m glad it’s called Migration Fest because if we do more in the future we may migrate it to some other place. It isn’t meant to be synonymous with Olympia.
BARTLETT: After two Gilead Fests in my small hometown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, I was ready to move elsewhere to curate another festival, but I was also very wary of moving the fest to a big city. So much of the feedback I received from past festival attendees stressed the small-town vibe as an important part of the positive fest experience. So that was something I wanted to try and retain when moving the festival elsewhere. With Olympia being as small as it is, but still close in proximity to some large cities and large metal scenes, and with the added bonus of having Dave on the ground locally to work on any number of fest issues with greater ease, it really became the perfect location for the first Migration Fest.
What are you personally looking forward to most? Or perhaps a better question — what will you have time/bandwidth to enjoy?
ADELSON: It’ll be cool to meet a lot of people face to face for the first time, both from bands and people who’ve supported our labels for a long time. This will be a really busy event for us, so I don’t know how much enjoyment will factor in for us personally in the end, but if the people who paid to attend and travel here are satisfied, and the bands feel like it was worth their while to come out here and do it, that will be enough for me because they were the ones who really made it possible at all.
BARTLETT: Although everything is going far smoother than any of my past festival planning experiences, I still expect to be entirely overwhelmed for the entire weekend. There will be a lot of things that I’m sure I’ll miss, and that’s going to be unavoidable. In the end the biggest thing I look forward to from a festival I help curate is to see my friends, see the people in these bands I work with, and meet many of the folks that I’ve been shipping records to over the years. I’ll try and watch as many bands as possible, and I usually do a pretty good job, but hugs with friends are generally top priority. Also, pool parties.