Last year, Will Neer and Mitchie Shue were not planning to book a stacked-to-the brim, anchored, and potentially important screamo festival. They were hosting and playing tons of shows.
Last year, Will Neer and Mitchie Shue were not planning to book a stacked-to-the brim, anchored, and potentially important screamo festival. They were hosting and playing tons of shows. The swampy dog days of summer in Richmond are about over, and the finale for screamers from all over the country needed to happen someplace. Swamp Fest 2015, held August 8-9, was precisely that festival.
25 bands, many from Richmond, many from far away, played at Strange Matter and 25 Watt Club on those dates respectively.
It would be easy to say a lot happened in between, but it’s really about what happened here in Richmond for many years prior.
“Basically Swamp Fest began as a pipe dream in our friend group who have for the past couple years been working to foster a screamo scene here in Richmond,” Shue spoke of the process for getting the fest together. “Though we have been consistently putting on shows for the last few years, organizing a fest was something none of us had any experience with and a fest featuring a genre so niche as screamo just seemed a little daunting.”
The screamo scene is huge for a “niche” and huge in Richmond. I’m going with “screamo” too because I’m not getting into the typical genre wordmashing and bicker that haunts tumblr posts, blogs, etc. – and also because the word and the scene here parallel each other in their unabashedness. Nonetheless, despite the niche interest, these bands were raw, refined, and all of the molasses in between.
So local bands and those from every cardinal direction, numerous members of bands under the umbrella of loud emotional music, suggested a big festival was in order, and the reigns were in the hands of the DIY troupers here when all was said and done.
Neer and Shue had the ball rolling when it got to them, and they were in position to give it a swift kick.
Many bands went far out of their way to make this happen, and it reflected in a conversation I had with Blake Givens of Lyed (TX). I asked if they were on tour or just came for the fest.
That was a weak question. He said they were on tour, and I commented that they must be stoked that it worked right into the fest’s schedule.
“Oh, no, we toured for this fest.”
I was floored. Finding out that the fest was creating shows in other cities really placed the fest on a national scale. This was big, and even weeks after, as the sidewalk in front of Strange Matter is now also the line for the Panda Express, I’m still taken back. The first thought I had after “it’s finally here” was “this is definitely happening again.”
In the process of setting up countless fundraiser shows, throwing bangers in basements, getting help from local folks like Circle Thrift (that’s the place to plant your feet on First Fridays if you ask me), Strange Matter, 25 Watt, a few local basements and their curators, and support from all over the country, it seemed known the show was going to probably be great, which allowed Shue and Neer to focus on the unspoken-but-spoken-about theme of making Swamp Fest a celebration of DIY and inclusiveness; or as Shue, multi-instrumentalist in Truman and more, put it, invitation and introduction.
“The goal was to ultimately introduce people to our scene who may have not heard of it before as well as reconnect old and new friends from around this country and all come together to celebrate DIY and the music we love so much,” Shue said. and Neer echoed that vehemently:
“Swamp Fest was a room full of people sharing something genuine, unique and sort of hard to label. Unlike some more self-descriptive events like, say, ‘This is Hardcore’ that almost tell you how to act and feel” wrote Neer, who, besides organizing, plays drums like a maniac for Swan of Tuonela, Caust and now more.
Bingo! The fact that a core chunk of screamo acts in 2015 was ever present at the fest, while local showgoers less familiar with the bands were quite intentionally welcomed, is a testament to the organizers and bands’ desire for positivity. Both shows were incredibly well-attended, and organizers fears about paying for all this slipped into the ether. The turnout was better than expected, venues were choice, and only two bands of 27 dropped. Really excellent. I don’t know when the likelihood of Swamp Fest 2016 sunk in for most people, but it was a hot topic and the short answer is: Yeah, that’s the plan.
Amidst unfettered emotion, panic chords and harmony, melody and discord, the overwhelming feeling came from how happy everyone was to be there. To steal no glory from the beloved Best Friends Day, I have never felt such a sense of giddy joy at a show. It was a joy to witness and incredible to meet so many different creative people with a propensity for really friggin raw tunes.
“We hope it’s a really cool, positive, and inclusive event,” Shue told RVA Mag prior to the fest. “And honestly I really think it will be.” Yeah, it was. It was also bonkers as hell. See below
Highlight vid by Grace Myers
Day 1- Strange Matter
Facility (NJ) : These guys sound like City Of Caterpillar. Is that sacrilege? Unrelenting, maybe faster. The vocals that come out of the lead are devastating- she rips. What a way to kick it off
Mothlight (IL) : Sporadic and wonderfully clumsy, yet tight. Very cool four way split with Marcy, Gas Up Yer Hearse!!! and Flesh Born.
Gillian Carter (FL): Very hardcore, very melodic. They’ve been doing this 10 years now. Recommended reading: they have forty million albums of good stuff but their newest single, Despondency, released the week of the fest, is awesome, and plus you probably just click the first song anyhow. It’s what I do.
Gas Up Yr Hearse!! (IL): You knew they were gonna bonk out some of the craziest stuff. They did. The fest seemed to be bringing out really great sets.
Amygdala (TX): Stomp around; these guys and gals are for the terminally punk. Complex and fun riffage along with the tasteful amounts of musical set pieces like breaks and bursts produced a lot of taste for short-set music.
Kaoru Nagisa (VA): Talk about live music: this is a screamo army. Ted Gordon, guitarist and a member of the DIY scenes in Northern Virginia and DC that inspired both Will and Mitchie to make DIY happen paid homage to the last generation of screamo, arguably disassembled or at best rearranged, and the reunion shows in the mid 2000’s at which the atmosphere was similarly electric. But he proceeded to make a passionate declaration that “this is our music, our thing, and it’s fucking awesome” to rousing applause. Quite a moment.
Plague Walker (IN): Newer outfit from the midwest. They made a 30 second song with two asinine chords into a concert. And they played some more songs too.
Swells (CO): Screamo, but weird. Punk, but screamo. Is that redundant? It was cool music, man. Sweet energy, all the way from Colorado. Recommended: Split w/Marcy
Marcy (WI) : Really heavy sweeping doom chords + screamo is a nice way to keep warm in Wisconsin.
Truman (RVA): You could probably say they are post-something-or-other but you could also say that they play tight, jarring screamo melodies, tightly. And jarringly. Keep an eye on those dudes.
Vivian K (FL); Rock friggin band. I don’t like the term garage because you can play any kind of music in a garage, but calling it lo-fi would sell the production short. Really good emo. Reminds me of Desaparecidos a bit. Their self titled is excellent and brand new.
Swan of Tuonela (RVA): Screamo ordered Animal Style. Symphonic tinnitus. Some music is ear candy, this band is ear cheeseburgers and liquor. They closed out day one magnificently.
Day 2- 25 Watt
The Heads Are Zeros (MD): Grindy and grinding, fast and shrill and still so freakin groovy. Rarely feel like a set was too short but I recall thinking that, at least fleetingly.
Coma Regalia (IN): Hypnotic veteran two-piece that they are, they are a sure thing when it comes to placing you in a dreamscape and then rudely interrupting it with all these loud noises.
Eyelet (MD): They sounded awesome, which is good, because their music sounds awesome. Very rangey band. If screamo were a roller coaster, then Eyelet is a wooden coaster with loops. Like some other Baltimore bands, it makes little sense in the best way possible.
Bad Dinner (MO): Newer outfit from Kansas City. Swingy post-hardcore riffage amongst screamy screams.
Under A Sky So Blue (GA): The very heavy two piece meddled with discord and weird (neat) Melvins-esque basslines. A band with a strong anti-capitalist, anti-ism, anti-phobia, anti-hate “anarchist screamo” (according to Bandcamp) message, which is very much pro-DIY, they played with a specific passion.
People’s Temple Project (NY): Very screamo and very interesting, People’s Temple Project had an eclectic set, which ranged from full-howl emotional hardcore to what sounded like Sunny Day Real Estate on meth. To clarify: that’s good. That sound is good.
Caust (RVA): This band has a reputation. The ability to make noise, play their severe tracks, and perform a sort of tragic ballet about a human stampede was really unmatched. This is a band that is prolific at both touring and recording. They get messages from far away lands (emails, I suspect) asking them to play. Panic chords serving as a fire alarm for insanity, and a howling two guitar attack make Caust a freakin explosion of a band, and the vox are loud enough to ditch the mic. They slayed, in short.
Lyed (TX): Ok so they fell one after another but this band is ridiculously heavy and pretty much entirely melodic, yet they ripped the crowd open similarly to Caust, and just acted like rock stars proper. It was very cool.
Ostraca (RVA): Sort of a Richmond supergroup by accident, Ostraca has a long history, including playing some of the first screamo shows the organizers attended. At Mitchie and Will’s shows, popular local bands go last. This is true other places too. That way the come-ers and go-ers get a chance to see bands that might not be back till *gasp* next Swamp Fest. Ostraca features members of Caust, Swan of Tuonela, and the recently split (but still worth checking out) Perfect Future. Ostraca lifts you up and puts you down. Don’t let the three- piece fool you; I’m fairly certain that one axe is going through seven illegally modified amplifiers, seriously. Loud band with a crazy vocal range, slam-bient and well loved, the crowd had meted out just enough energy to cap the night toasting to a phenomenal four- song Ostraca set.
Here are some words of thanks (Mitchie Shue) that are far more real than mine:
Swamp Fest was an intensely collaborative effort on so many people’s parts that I don’t quite know where to begin. The amount of support from friends both new and old from all across the country was truly astonishing and heartwarming. It is because of the love and unfaltering dedication to this scene by so many people, that this fest was truly able to realize its potential and be the incredible weekend that it was. The specific ways people helped are: organizing or in anyway participating in a fundraising show/event, contributing to the Swamp Fest zine or compilation tape, offering your home for a band or out of town guest to sleep, sharing or promoting swamp fest in anyway, creating original art for Swamp Fest flyer and merch, and donating any money in any way to Swamp Fest. I would personally like to shout out Circle Thrift and Art Space, specifically Brenden Ginsburg and Chris Maloney for allowing us to do numerous fundraising events as well as just being great people and running a great establishment. I would also like to shout out Stephanie Smith and Christian Marchant for all their help organizing, fundraising, and anything and everything else Swamp Fest. Final shout out goes to Ajah Courts, Angelica Pettingell, and Zoe Brzezinski for creating original art for Swamp fest. But seriously, from the bottom of my heart thank you to everyone for playing, organizing, and attending Swamp Fest.