Let’s face it, you’re bored with music. Pop music is too vapid and indie music just becomes the new pop eventually. The radio used to be interesting but even the alternative to the alternative station is just doing what everyone else is. Very little new music really challenges you or makes you wonder how it was made.
A group of Seattle musicians felt largely the same way when they started the Cumulus Festival. 2011 marks the third year of the independent festival, which begins this Thursday. Lucky enough to attend all the Cumulus Festival shows, I can say that the variety of bands has been staggering and every night left me amazed at what had happened.
I sent some questions to the organizers to get some inside information about the festival and spread the news that something exciting and different is happening this weekend.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is involved with, and what was the inspiration for beginning, the Cumulus Festival?
Levi Fuller, Kenny Day, and I (Mark Schlipper) are the three guys behind the festival. At the time Kenny was the drummer in The Luna Moth (Dan Colavito is now). Basically, the three of us liked playing shows with likeminded bands and wanted to provide an outlet for, and show appreciation of, the local talent. So the idea for a festival to showcase ’em came to mind.
Why instrumental (or mostly instrumental) music?
[It's the] nature of the Luna Moth coterie really. We wanted to focus on the kinds of bands we often played shows with. And often those bands are of the more instrumental variety. That inspiration and the initial concept of a mid-winter Seattle festival named after a cloud formation paints a particular kind of picture. Our curating process hasn’t ever had a concrete set of rules, mind you, we’ve always just approached it with a “we’ll know it when we hear it” logic. And it’s just happened that it’s less likely a prominently vocal fronted band has fit in that picture.
For repeat visitors, how has the festival changed since the idea began? What are your goals for this year?
In spirit, the festival remains true to its initial goal of showcasing primarily Northwest talent, in bands that are stretching themselves outside the more typical rock idioms. The changes that have come aren’t so much about the festival, but the bands. While we have a few people back from previous years, we always want plenty of new acts as well. And as the bands on the roster change, so does the fest. But (and this goes to the second part of your question) we’ve always tried to foster some diversity in the talent. From esoteric and acoustic to electronic and dancey, from soloists to large ensembles. Each year we’ve just tried to present bands that fit under the “Cumulus” umbrella and that we think are awesome.
Oh, and the first year we had five bands a night. This year it’s four, four, and five. :)
Recount a couple of your favorite moments in the past two festivals.
- Meeting a journalist who flew all the way out from Italy for the fest.
- Talking to fans toward the end of night three who had been to all three shows and were as simultaneously exhausted & elated as we were (i.e. you :) ).
- Having people come to me speechless after that one Scriptures song, because it’s rad as fuck, and no one had any idea what to expect. (They’re back again this year!)
- The Eastern European guy who somewhat drunkenly called one of my bands “the saviors of rock”.
To be honest, a lot of it blurs, it’s night after night of meeting awesome people, seeing awesome music, it’s madness in the best way possible.
How has the response been from the music scene?
The response has generally been very good. For some bands, it may just be another gig on the calendar. For others, it’s an opportunity to make a rare appearance. And for still others, it’s an opportunity to play with acts they’ve admired for a while but hadn’t thought they’d ever share a bill with.
Has it become easier or more difficult to find bands?
It seems it’s getting more difficult honestly. Partly because we try to keep it fresh with new bands, and we’re pulling from a limited pool. But also partly because I just think there are fewer bands playing “Cumulus” music these days. Or if there are, we’re just having a harder time finding them because maybe we ourselves aren’t gigging as much and making as many connections. One of this year’s bands (Lowmen Markos) came from a chance conversation between me and a barista for example.
What do you perceive as the future of the festival? What’s next?
The future’s open. We don’t generally think that far ahead. We focus on kicking out this year’s fest. Then, we sleep and don’t talk about it for a while. Then, this summer, one of us will start the email thread, “so … Cumulus … 2012?” and we’ll take it from there. It’s strictly a labor of love for us, so the only real motivation is whether or not we can pull off a festival worth that labor? Can we compile a big enough list of “Cumulus” bands? If not, do we need to redefine what that means? Do we shorten it to two nights? Should we bother at all? I don’t have those answers yet.
Cumulus Festival begins 8 p.m., Thursday, January 20, at Chop Suey with Master Musicians of Bukkake, Scriptures, Perish the Island, and Lowmen Markos. Day two is at 9 p.m. on Friday at The Funhouse and features AFCGT, Panther Attack, The Tron Sack, and The Luna Moth. The festival concludes with its only all-ages show at The Black Lodge on Saturday at 7 p.m. with You.May.Die.In.The.Desert, SNDTRKR, Moraine, They Rise We Die, and Joy Wants Eternity. All shows are $8 and will more than likely blow your mind.