Freakout Festival stands out as the brainchild of Freakout Records co-founders Guy Keltner and Skyler Locatelli. In efforts to bring an all inclusive rock n' roll festival to the musical landscape of Seattle, Freakout Records set forth to establish one of the finest and grittiest DIY shows in the Pacific Northwest. This year would've marked their 8th event; however, the energy and spirit of Freakout still lives on through everyone involved in previous years.
If it wasn't for a global pandemic shutting down all live music for the year, Freakout Records and KEXP would've been getting ready to set up for the 8th anniversary this upcoming weekend. Starting out a few years back as a small DIY event scheduled in December, the festival quickly gained local acclaim and momentum for the following years. The escalation came to a rise with last year's festivities which included a lineup featuring a wide slew of global acts, the Mad Alchemist Liquid Light Show, and new venues.
That means it's been about a year since I traveled out to Seattle to document and capture Freakout 7. It was a spectacle to see and experience. The organizers did a mighty fine job to create a welcoming community on an international scale; truly a DIY masterpiece fit for the rock n' roll history books. The constant blend of genres, visuals, and crowds satisfied my craving for a musical pilgrimage and I'm sure anyone who's experienced any previous Freakout events can vouch. Freakout knows how to throw a show and they're not afraid to promote it.
I had the opportunity to chat with Guy Keltner, Guitarist/Vocalist of Acid Tongue, before flying out to Seattle.
Here's what he had to say:
Q: Could you describe how you helped create Freakout records? In other words, how was Freakout brought from an idea and made into a functioning label?
A: Freakout was actually a festival first, and the label came a few years later. I used to live in a house on Capitol Hill in Seattle, with a bunch of musician and artist friends. We rehearsed there, screen printed merch, put together huge posters to wheat paste around town, and threw a lot of parties and house shows.
I had started touring quite a bit around the US and wanted to develop a vehicle to promote some lesser known bands I had met on the road and felt should be heard in Seattle. At the time I was playing a stoner rock group, but was connecting with all sorts of bands, especially garage and psych groups on the West Coast.
The first Freakout Festival (originally called 'The Psychedelic Holiday Freakout') was held in December, in below-freezing temperatures, scattered around Capitol Hill at a bunch of really bizarre venues, including a dance studio where we built out a stage for the headliners. We also used a Caribbean Restaurant that doubled as a speakeasy and sold hard drugs after hours. It was right next to the old house, and eventually got busted for serving minors.
A few years later, as the fest started to grow, I met Skyler [Locatelli] and Ian [Cunningham] and enlisted them to help me manage our the festival. We had such great chemistry that we decided to create a label and start releasing records from PNW bands and eventual bands from all over the states.
We essentially adopted the same ethos as the festival, to promote lesser known acts that we to be find interesting, compelling and great songwriters. We've done everything from re-issuing a 60s Pacific Northwest psych 7'' by The Bumps to releasing a far-out darkwave electronic reimagining of the soundtrack to the first Alien film (The 8th Passenger by Newaxeyes).
Q: Was there an original vision or mission statement behind your idea for the label?
A: I think in the beginning we just wanted to do something different. Isn't that how it always starts with a lot of really cool stuff? Seattle and a lot of hipper cities have been really oversaturated with these EDM, corporate or faux-DIY festivals and everything felt like white noise to my friends and I. There's always a load of cool bands floating around under the radar and we found a way to elevate our weird little scene.
The festival and label are generally devoid of a specific genre, although we do lean towards garage, psychedelia and some dark electronic stuff from time to time.
Q: Could you describe how the Freakout festival has progressed over the years?
A: The festival definitely has a large local presence every year, but that has actually shrank substantially as the event has grown. These days, we're more interested in some of the more unique aspects of the fest. The last couple of years, we've brought in a larger contingency of bands from Mexico and this year South America. There's a lot of great music being created south of the border that literally gets no recognition in the United States.
This year KEXP will even be doing a bunch of in-studios with these bands, including El Shirota, Los Kitsch, and Michelle Blades y Los Machetes.
Q: What have been some of your favorite moments from previous years? Any sets or artists that stood out?
A: Some notable highlights:
-The freezing weather during the first year of the festival. At one point it hit eight degrees Fahrenheit and folks were still running two or three blocks to get from one venue to the next.
Our graphic designer got so hammered he passed out on a bench in the lobby of the dance studio that first year. I remember being surprised at the turnout during two of the coldest nights of we'd had in Seattle in a long time.
- Kurt Block from Fastbacks absolutely shredding with his new punk band "Full Toilet" in year two.
- No Age absolutely tearing the roof off of Neumos during the third year's fest, and then crashing in my double bed that night. I think I borrowed my mom's car to pick them up from the airport.
- It snowed during the fourth year's fest so we decided to never again do it in December. We also permanently moved it to Ballard after that. Spencer Moody from the Murder City Devils did one of the most bizarre sets I've ever seen that year and it really split the audience. I loved it.
- Guantanamo Baywatch and The Shivas shared such a small stage in year five. I can't believe those two bands are so relaxed and always down to play a small room and 100% destroy it.
- Last year was really 'the year of the Mexicans' to me. Los Honey Rockets and Los Blenders played some of the most amazing sets I've ever seen at the festival, and OC Hurricanes tore it up in a hipster coffee shop and blew my mind. Also, Joel Gion from the Brian Jonestown Massacre hopped on stage with my band, Acid Tongue, and played tambourine on our closing song. By far my favorite year yet.
Q: What are you most excited about for Freakout 7? A: This is probably the coolest lineup we've had to date. We expanded things to four days now, so that we could do opening and closing parties. We have some of the biggest names we've had to date: Alex Maas from The Black Angels, Soft Kill, Elephant Stone, and Frankie & The Witch Fingers, to name a few. Plus, awesome acts like Joel Gion, Death Valley Girls and The Shivas. Joel is actually writing a book about the BJM's early days and will be doing readings at different venues all four days of the fest. Plus, we'll still have a huge contingency of Latinx bands performing, most of them are my favorite bands on the lineup.