Seattle-based psych fest, Freakout!, is back for its 11th anniversary ripe and ready to bring to the Ballard community a good old-fashioned rock 'n roll party. Spread out over 4 days across several venues, artists like Allah Lahs, Sextile, Acid Mothers Temple, and Death Valley Girls will collectively celebrate and bring flocks of fans together "to get way out of their heads". With visual artist Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show on projectors and the 60's-themed dance party, Boots! to get you out on your toes, this year's audio-visual experience is going to be a treat for all types of music lovers.
Autumn's almost here and our eyes are peeled on the horizon toward November, when Freakout! returns. With over 100 artists jamming out between small and mid-sized venues throughout the Ballard neighborhood, this festival truly brings the community together similar to LA-based events like Echo Park Rising or Happy Sundays while keeping the same atmosphere and curation to psych rock pilgrimages like Levitation or Desert Daze.
Getting by with a little help from friends and volunteers, founders Guy Keltner and Skyler Locatelli have combined their driven love for the underground and years of experience out in the scene to bring artists from across the globe to their locale. It's a mission and vision of "honoring the past, celebrating the present, and fostering the future" and this year's looking like it'll be another blast to that serendipitous moment. With so many styles from bands like The Spits and Night Beats to Daiistar and ZZZAHARA, musical taste buds are gonna be at a buffet, eating up all that eye candy while tasty tunes pleasantly pour into your ears.
Back in 2019, I was able to venture out to Freakout 7 and had my mind blown, feeling right at home. Interviewing artists like Joel Gion and Frankie & the Witch Fingers and witnessing all the different sets gave me countless insights into my passion as a music journalist and the trust to follow that passion. The ripples are real when you get out of our normal day-to-day and I can say this fest is psychedelic, where you'll have your mindset shifted and your spirits lifted by the amount of music, visuals, and connections that you'll come across.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Freakout Co-Founder, Guy Keltner, to chat about this year's festivities and it's contribution to Seattle's music community.
Q: Freakout 11 is coming up quick, what are you excited about for this year's celebration?
A: I'm personally most excited to see The Spits two nights in a row. Either they behave themselves and we get a couple of great rock shows, or all hell breaks loose and we get a classic Spits brawl.
Mexico's Son Rompe Pera is also going to be a highlight - I was lucky enough to catch them at this year's Treefort Festival and they burned the house down, it was so excellent and I don't think the audience was prepared for the power of cumbia. One of the more unknown highlights is Spanish punk artist Nestter Donuts - he's a one-man band, a blend of punk and flamenco, and he is going to amaze (and possibly offend) much of the audience.
Q: How's the preparation been going for Freakout 11? What's your role in the festival planning process?
A: I oversee programming at the Freakout. So I'm the one generally handling a majority of the bookings. We're now fully booked up with 102 artists on the lineup, so it has been a lot of work leading up to this point. I'm really proud of our curation this year and I think the fans are going to be met with a ton of surprises.
Q: Did you imagine Freakout's torch would be carried this far? What keeps the momentum going?
A: It takes a lot of spirit and artistry to make this thing happen each year. It's not just about booking 100+ bands.
I'm a touring artist for a big part of my year, where I spend a majority of my time writing and recording under the moniker Acid Tongue. So this is as far from a corporate festival as it gets, I'm finding a lot of these artists on the road and then bringing them back to Seattle and sharing their music with the rest of our scene.
Because the festival is artist-led, we make a lot of different choices about how it functions on the ground level. That's the secret juice that keeps this thing alive. It certainly takes a village to keep the momentum going. We have a big team that is growing a little bit each year, that now includes a board of directors and a whole bunch of part-time employees and volunteers, and everyone works so hard to keep things running as smoothly as possible.
Q: How has Freakout influenced the Seattle music scene from its DIY party origins to the full-fledged fest it is today?
A: Before Freakout, rock & roll felt pretty passé in Seattle. Grunge was gone and everyone was really into folk & Americana for a while, these are the years when The Head & The Heart, The Lumineers, and all those sort of bands were blowing up. We saw our fair share of touring rock acts come through, and crowds have always loved rock, but I didn't feel like I was a part of a cohesive scene in this town.
Once Freakout took shape, all of that changed and suddenly there was a tight-knit network of people all working to achieve the same goals. I think Freakout has helped create a sense of community within Seattle's rock scene, and subsequently, it's gotten a lot more eyeballs looking at what the local bands are doing and perhaps looking to Freakout as a barometer for what's coming in the future.
Q: Being a member of the Seattle psych band Acid Tongue and a co-founder of Freakout, how do you view Freakout's space in the larger psych-rock scene compared to other notable fests like Desert Daze or Levitation?
A: I don't necessarily see Freakout as strictly a psychedelic festival. Obviously, we do book a ton of psychedelic bands, and we've spent many years collaborating with San Francisco's Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show. However, we do a ton of programming that tends to be more punk-rock (our Spring 2023 Weekender notably had Viagra Boys and FIDLAR as headliners), garage rock, electronic, and cold wave.
I like to think of our aesthetic as a bit more edgy and grungy than your average psychedelic festival.
Q: Speaking from our personal experience at Freakout 7, the lineups often feature a nice mix of artists from all over the states and other countries in South America. Who are some traveling artists you're looking forward to this round?
A: Aside from Son Rompe Pera and Nestter Donuts (who I listed at the top), other highlights this year will include Mexican lo-fi punks Las Pijamas, Japan's psychedelic freaks Acid Mothers Temple, Tel Aviv's trippy El Khat, Mexico City's deeply intimate Mauro Samaniego, Spain's fuzz-tastic Black Maracas, and Belgian garage-monsters Tuesday Violence. There are so many other great international acts to check out this year, this is only a very partial list.
Q: How would you describe Freakout to someone who's never been? What would you want them to know?
A: Freakout is meant to be experienced on foot and in person - you can try to make a list of what you want to see, but your best bet is to show up, start talking to people, and see where the night takes you.