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Friday
Oct272017

Nadafest: A Long, Unnecessary Review of a Very Good Festival 

Nadafest. 3 days. 24 bands. Some of whom you've heard. Many you probably haven't.

I am what you'd call a Nadafest professional. I have performed at Nadafest twice. I co-hosted it the first year with organizer Tim Basaraba. When I die tragically young, my body will be displayed on the main stage at Substation before it is burned in tribute. In the three years since its inception I have seen a lot of performances and I can say, without reservation, that this was the best lineup yet.

Nadafest is a product of NadaMucho.com's #41for2017 list. The purpose of the list is to generate interest in artists who aren't receiving widespread coverage in the city, thereby boosting their name value and encouraging them to step up their own promotional game. Artists who made the list in 2017 and in previous years are invited to perform at Nadafest (which is NOT a festival, according to them, even though it is a gathering of musicians and fans taking place over three days, exactly like a music festival).

So there's the setup. What actually happened?

Day 1

I am Tim Basaraba's ride. This is significant because Tim is hosting the event, introducing each band with his friend Zach. I am running late. I am sweating. This entire festival is on my back at the moment, there is no way we can make it exactly at 7:30. I am drowning. I am Drowning. I AM DROWNING.

I pull up to Substation at 7:23. The festival is saved. Tim makes a smartass comment about me being late anyway because that's just how he is. He jumps out of the car. I park. I run in thinking I am about to miss out on the first few minutes of the festival. The Screaming Multitudes, kicking things off in the back room, are not finished sound checking. The venue is far less than full. I have spent 45 minutes freaking out for nothing. My life is a lie.

Once things do kick off, around 8, I quickly come to the conclusion that The Screaming Multitudes are aptly named. They are loud as fuck. There is no bass, two guitars, and drums. I get a Television-meets-Weezer vibe and I mean that as a compliment. Lots of interesting guitar riffage with a distinct punch of power pop. Alliteration. I have to step out toward the end of the set for fear that my ears will literally saw themselves in half.

My ears are already ringing. I smoke a cigarette. I pray.

Killer Ghost are kicking off the main stage and have two drummers. I have loved and hated two-drummer set ups. I like this one. Killer Ghost reminds me a lot of The Velvet Underground. Not like they are a tribute project, they just have a similar aura about them. Their singer also reminds me of Lou Reed but only the Lou Reed who could sing. His voice is better than any era of Lou, to be honest. Great set.

I smoke again. I bullshit with my friends just a bit too long and realize the next act is already performing.

Photo by Jake HansonChristiaan of Hellergrave is performing solo in the back room and I am way into it. The room is dark, the sole ground light is focused on him in his chair. It's like a séance in the middle of a circus. Hellergrave is solemn, cerebral music best reserved for a morning of regret and a bottle of whiskey. I don't drink but I assume that's true. There are mellotron strings accompanying the guitar and vocals. I thought it was a

loop then realize Christiaan is playing it with his fucking feet. I was moved and now started to get the festival feels that I'd been waiting for.

More people are here now. Smoke.

Jake HansonMind Beams are insanely compelling. Describing their sound is stupid because it won't do it justice...but I'll try. They are prog without an ounce of douchebag-ery. They are punk, stoner rock, they are metal...with even a touch of folk every once in a while. Every instrumentalist is a virtuoso without ever being self-indulgent. Front person Meredith Myre's stage presence is spellbinding. Myre also suffers from MS and took the stage with a cane before proceeding to obliterate any doubts one might have about someone in a compromised state of health. They might be the best performance of the whole event.

Smoke.

somesurprises are one of my favorite, somehow-still-not-exactly-well-known bands in Seattle. Theirs is an elegant blend of psych, two guitars interlocking effortlessly while Emma Danner's bass grooves keep the whole thing moving. It's textural, druggy, dreamy, uplifting stuff. Natasha El-Sergany's voice serves as a fifth instrument, draped in reverb and echo to add the final, haunting touch on a masterful performance.

Smoke. After three successive transcendent sets I was feeling great but knew it couldn't last. The mood would have to change.

Photo by Jake HansonEnter Tit Nun. Taking the main stage in the kind of costumes you would expect a band called Tit Nun to wear, they launched into a set of silly, enjoyable punk that bounced between abrasive and campy, B52s-ish fair. Stage banter included helpful information about Scientology and STDs.

Another smoke, I'm starting to fade and there are two more bands.

Maklak was clearly motivated by The Screaming Multitudes to be the loudest band of the night. Holy shit. A lot of people call bands that sound like grunge "post-grunge" because music writers love to use the word post in everything. So I guess theirs is a post-grunge kind of sound. I was listening in the hallway because my tinnitus was not going to allow me to be directly devastated by their auditory assault. It was tight, it was well-played. They covered "Angel" by Massive Attack very well.

Toward the end of the set I walked into the main room. Approximately 45 seconds later someone fell face first into the concrete floor and bled everywhere. EMTS came, crowds gathered, guy got up and went to the hospital without the aid of an ambulance. Somehow this all happened before Maklak's set ended.

The Low Hums were sound-checking when the aforementioned face plant occurred. I felt for them because I was sure they were concerned but also hoping the show didn't get delayed or outright canceled. As it happened, the show proceeded in a rather orderly fashion. The Low Hums are pros and they showed it on the main stage. Now a bare bones conventional rock 4-piece, they powered through a fun set with nary a misstep. A fitting conclusion to a wild night.

I smoked too much. Smoke.

Day 2

After working a full day on a few hours sleep, I'm tired and cynical. This better be good. Clearly programmed as the "electro-hip-hop" night, Day 2 didn't disappoint.

I walked in at 8 and Cave Green had just begun their set. They are technically a 2-piece but of the Elton John/Bernie Taupin variety, Eleanor Murray was the sole performer. It was an enjoyable electro pop set that swayed between minimal beats and swirling piano/synth soundscapes. Eleanor's voice was the highlight, her melodies are soaring, kinda heavenly.

This is the part where I review rap. I like rap. I listen to rap. I'm not a connoisseur but I am a fan. Most of Day 2 featured very good rap performances. I will now embarrass myself. Please forgive me.

Astro King Phoenix kicked things off on the main stage by giving the subwoofers a workout. I don't remember the name of his DJ but the beats were hypnotic with some seriously psychedelic sample beds. Astro's flow is offbeat, his stage presence is relaxed and confident and he jumped on to the floor and high-fived people. Anyone who high-fives during the set is fucking amazing. The last 4 songs or so got much harder and he ended with a bang.

Smoke.

Guayaba was in the back room but she may end up on the main stage at a festival near you in the near Photo by Osato Cooleyfuture. That's because she was fucking awesome. Really awesome. She bounced from singing to rap so quickly and so effortlessly I looked down and realized I was pulling all of the money out of my wallet to throw at the stage. She had the entire crowd dancing with slacked jaws. One of the biggest surprises (to me). She was edgy but had a lot of pop crossover hooks that will very likely be on your radio soon. Look her up and bow down.

DoNormaal is probably the most buzzed-about artist playing Nadafest. If you're reading this article, you've probably read about her. If you haven't, read this or this or this. She's abstract, she's on point and her set featured a good mix of her classic cuts with new songs from her recent release "Third Daughter". There were a LOT of people in the room and many of them were singing every word to every song. Also her boots were fucking awesome.Photo by Osato Cooley

I step out to...smoke. Matt Ashworth from NadaMucho will not shut up about Downtown. That's ok though because he's very tall with a pleasant voice and on some level I fear him. So I listen before heading to the back room...

Downtown is, in fact, awesome. To be clear, you have to really like confrontational farce. They are like Suicide and Black Flag if both bands were morons and that is a strong compliment. Andrew, the proud Substation door man of legend, calls them "video game meth punk". They are. Mocking gun culture, bro culture, consumer culture and other cultural stupidity through unflinching deadpan embrace, they were a lot of fun.

Outside, I talked with Raven Matthews, now professionally known as RVN about his new album "GREYNEON" which I hadn't heard yet. It was stylistically different from his preivous offering "Disco Christ" but carried over some themes. "Prove it," I said in my head.

Photo by Osato CooleyRVN was telling the truth. His new material was gunge-esque at times (, at others it was closer to freak folk with a heavy emphasis on acoustic guitar (standout track for me was "Turkish Royals"). One of RVN's most admirable qualities is his ability to be incredibly off-beat, strange while remaining melodic and

memorable. He is a stage expressionist with no fear of being misunderstood. He never gives the answers to his questions, only provokes more.

Smoke.

Mirror Ferrari was the odd band out on this night. The back room was criminally under-filled for their performance which was a shame because Noel Leaf's passionate performance was incredible. Bare bones indie rock with some tasty RAWK riffs from time to time, they brought a change of vibe and intensity. Leaf used various credit cards for a pick, which never seemed to hamper his playing. He also offered helpful stories about making out at the Outback Steak House. Smart, simple synth chords and excellent drumming rounded out the performance and put Mirror Ferrari's excellent EP "The Pyramid" back on my stereo.Photo by Osato Cooley

By this point I was really tired and left just after Scribemecca's set started. I am a terrible person and deserve to die. I have seen Scribe before and it is well worth the investment in time and money.

Day 3

I am tired. I am withered. I am called by the glow of the Substation to return anyway. I do.

Sleepy Genes kicked the night off in the back room with a set of hard-charging pop punk featuring tight harmonies and smart synth playing. It gave me a Tegan and Sarah vibe. They also boasted a stylish inmate motif with matching striped shirts! Enjoyable.

Smoke. There are a lot more people here tonight than any other night. A LOT MORE.

The main stage came to life with a great set by Oliver Elf Army. Boasting a minimal 3-piece instrumentation, their melodies were impeccable and infectious. It would have been called Alterna-Pop 20 years ago, for the sake of argument I'm just going to call it good.

Smoke. Goddamn there are even more people here now.

By the time I walked back in Zelda Starfire had started in the back room and wasted no time getting everyone's attention. She played some mournful, traditional folk-Americana to start with her violinist but it was nearly impossible not to stare at the two-person, hand-operated lightbox show that was taking place on stage right. It was really cool and kinda hard to describe. Imagine a lightbox with cool shit and you've won the battle. After the lightbox and the violinist exited the stage, Starfire changed the pace and played some Johnny Cash-worthy badass folk punk. She sung out of a megaphone. A standout performance, thank you Zelda.

Crazy Eyes are a really good band that I've seen several times. They are mad, they are off-kilter and yet they are tuneful and catchy. It's contained, cleverly-constructed madness. They had a big crowd who was feeling every note with complete commitment. This is what festivals are about. Another show and Crazy Eyes has yet to disappoint me.Photo by Jake Hanson

I suddenly had a bad headache and went outside for a bit to get some air. I missed Shivertwins' set but heard it was great.

Steal Shit Do Drugs is a band whose name I've seen a lot but hadn't heard. They took the main stage with confidence and launched into a set of filthy, uncompromising punk rock. It felt a little like The

Cramps, a little like Dead Kennedys but more accessible than either. Front man Kennedy Carda in particular seemed to channel Iggy Pop and Jello Biafra.Photo by Jake Hanson

Smoke. By this point my ability to distinguish the finer points of each band has rapidly eroded. The only criticism of this entire festival is that Day 3 featured bands of very similar ilk. It was harder to stand out when so many bands were stylistically similar.

Snuff Redux was the last back room performance of Nadafest and were great. As noted previously, they had the misfortune of playing after several other bands that shared their creative disposition. My head was spinning and I was holding on for dear life. I lasted for about 5 songs and headed to a booth in the hallway to get my fragile bearings back.

Smoke. The crowd has thinned somewhat as it's 12:30 and MONSTERWATCH is still to play. But for about 3 hours, this was the closest I'd seen to Substation being sold out.

As I limped into the main room to watch MONSTERWATCH I am asking myself how I am going to write anything interesting or notable. My brain is overworked and underfed. My feet hurt. I am old and weary. And then...

Power. Youth. Reckless abandon. MONSTERWATCH have studied early 90's Seattle, learned from it and taken it several steps further. It's been a long time since I've heard a band with this much power. Just as I was feeling out of it and ready to sneak out, my pulse is now racing and I kinda wanna punch someone in the face. Not really but really. There are some obvious Nirvana-isms but the sheer force of their will makes me forget about them in a hurry. This was a perfect way to end Nadafest and I am very grateful that I stuck around.Photo by Jake Hanson

In all, Nadafest was exceptional from top to bottom. Substation is a haven for artists outside of the city's more mainstream artists and this was a celebration of their work. I smoked to much, drank too many Red Bulls and will probably require a short-term hospitilization but, to the artists, venue, and organizers, I tip my very large cap (because I have a very large head).

 

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