We’re smack-dab in the middle of the festival season, here, people. And that means there are many opportunities to stand around sun-baked, drinking overpriced beer and listening to some of Detroit’s best-known bands (again). Case in point: This weekend’s TasteFest. Somewhere along the way, Detroit’s downtown rock scene gave up its underground status and became fair entertainment fare for fest organizers and cultural tourists. So now you’re faced with the surreality of having the option to catch the Electric Six exorcising their, uh, electric demons in an outdoor shed whilst waiting to spend your food tickets on an appetizer-sized portion of rigid bruschetta at an event sponsored by Comerica Bank. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that.
While the rock scene’s hot commodity status among the Hot Topic set hasn’t exactly encouraged the mainlining of new ideas into the mainstream, it is good to see unsuspecting folks get spooked by Blanche’s funhouse mirror take on the Louisiana Hayride. And surely the Tom Potter-led Detroit City Council adds a necessary touch of old school Fourth Street funk and fun. But this weekend, less than a mile away from the TasteFest’s sponsored stages, the Holy Shit!!! Festival — a fête that embraces all that is still wild and untamed about the Detroit music scene — will go down at the Detroit Art Space. And if the aforementioned bands are the seniors that rule the school, the Holy Shit!!! Fest features the crop of freshmen, sophomores (and lifers) coming out of the underground and the left field to nip at the aesthetic heels of the conservative ass-draggers of the rock illuminati.
From Friday, July 2, through Sunday, July 4, this all-ages soirée will provide stage and sound to some of the most intense noise, post-punk, psychedelic rock, electronic and generally unclassifiable jams recently assembled from vet bands like 25 Suaves, heavy-psyche-sludgers Sun O))) (who play very, very rarely) and Detroit space-rock multimedia blastronauts Paik, as well as newer skull-numbing outfits like Human Eye (ex-Clone Defects, Bogue), Wildly Different, the frenzied genre-crunching of Tentacle Lizardo, Lee Marvin Computer Arm and a whole lotta others.
Holy Shit!!! is the brainchild of resident Detroit Art Space promoter Ben Hernandez and performing artists Timmy Vulgar of Human Eye and Christmas of Tentacle Lizardo as well as visual artist and raconteur Jamie Easter.
“We’re sick of festivals with a bunch of bands you’ve seen a million times playing after a bunch of bands you wouldn’t go see in any other context,” says Hernandez.
“We [Detroit Art Space] have had the opportunity over the past 2 1/2 years to see many of these amazing (in one way or another) bands that were just too weird or true or out or dorky to be hip. We thought, ‘Why not have a festival comprising solely of all of the coolest bands that nobody has ever heard of, make it seem huge and thereby make it huge?’”
Indeed, according to Hernandez, the recent Rock City Festival was strangely inspirational. “I thought the Rock City Festival looked amazing in its own way. It looked huge. I was honestly blown away by the scale of it and what it had all become.” The “it” Hernandez refers to is the “humble little scene that grew out of that mid-’90s Zoot’s then Gold Dollar scenes.”
He says, though he still dearly loves many of the bands that played the Rock City fest, the thrill was gone after being able to see many of them in the intimate confines of Zoot’s or the Gold Dollar.
“I mean the Hentchmen were a garage band, obviously, but so were the Mummies and the Gories. They were decontexualized by their times. They were just weirdo misfits in an era of fey indie rock, macho emo hardcore and post-grunge mall punk. You just didn’t think about it being ‘garage rock’ back then,” says Hernandez.
“When it became ‘garage rock,’ and a new wave came along, emulating something they had read about in a magazine instead of speaking from their hearts as weirdo nerds and geeks, then it got to be garage rock and it lost that hungry feeling of urgency that the first wave of misfits had.”
Hernandez notes that many of the bands playing the Holy Shit!!! Festival — including the loud and proud Lee Marvin Computer Arm, This Moment in Black History (featuring Bim Sherman from the Bassholes), 25 Suaves, Ohio’s We March and Sweet J.A.P. — are essentially garage rock ’n’ roll bands, “they just aren’t fashionably retro garage bands.
“I guess this is, in some way, my attempt to point out the next wave of folks who are trying something new or reworking something old and reinjecting some vitality into the music.”
“The Holy Shit!!! Festival is like, ‘Holy shit: all these bands I never heard’ or, ‘Holy shit: I can’t believe how great that band was’ or, ‘Whatever.’” notes Vulgar.
“It’s cool because it’s a variety of weird bands that are pretty much unaccepted or unknown,” says Vulgar. “They don’t care to be known or whatever. They play out of passion, but just like everyone else you want to be known for making cool music. Like you want underground magazines to write about your stuff. I don’t care if the NME writes about it cuz they’re full of shit. I think Rolling Stone’s full of shit. I wouldn’t mind if they reviewed our record in one of those magazines, but I’m not gonna kiss their ass.”
That sums it up about as well as anything.
Throughout the weekend, the Detroit Art Space will also display visual art from Vulgar, Easter and Tentacle Lizardo’s Chrstmas. There will be a Fourth of July barbecue on the final day where attendees can nosh with performers and, no doubt, enjoy gallons of PBR.
The festival runs July 2-4 at Detroit Art Space (101 E. Baltimore, Detroit). Tickets are $6-$8 per show, weekend passes available first night only. Call 313-664-0445 or visit www.detroitartspace.10eastern.com.
Best of the Fest
See a rundown of the highlights. Chris Handyside is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]