Milwaukee Psych Fest aims to create community
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For Ives Sepulveda Minho, one half of Santiago, Chile band The Holydrug Couple, psychedelic music is a genre without boundaries. He can find it in any type of music that makes him feel things, transports him to his dad’s car when he was little, or reminds him of the smell of an ex-girlfriend. “I don’t like to see psych music like a closed type of music,” Minho says. “Psych music lets you play with your mind and soul, going to places that even you didn’t know about yourself. For me, that can be a cheesy ’70s pop song or a really sad folk ballad. It’s an infinite space of possibilities, sounds, colors, and feelings.”
As Minho prepares for his band’s visit to Milwaukee as part of the first ever Milwaukee Psych Fest (April 19-20 at Cactus Club), he doesn’t feel nervous, since psych music is a universal language. “I don’t feel the difference of countries or places. In terms of music, we feel like people of the world,” Minho says. “We see the same reactions in people here in the U.S. compared to Chile. It’s interesting how the Internet plays an important role in this situation. It makes young culture a worldwide thing. It’s easy to share visions, images, and ideas in this time. I know that I can sit down with any person and talk about anything without feeling any distance.”
For fest organizer Andrew Shelp, who is a member of local experimental band Moss Folk, this sense of community is one reason he put the fest together. “I want to emphasize the importance of community as well as the total freedom of expression and the acceptance of it in the ‘psych’ community,” Shelp says. “It’s all about community, and by working together we can make Milwaukee a truly amazing city.”
In addition to The Holydrug Couple, the fest features bands from around the country, including L.A. band The Warlocks, and Denver, Colorado band Woodsman, as well as a diverse selection of local groups.
Inspired by seeing how well the Austin Psych Fest in Texas created a feeling of community, Shelp decided it was a good time to try to get a psych fest in his own city, especially with the current popularity of psychedelic music. He set about contacting the bands, some of which are also playing the Austin Psych Fest, hoping to show the world what Milwaukee has to offer. “I think that Milwaukee has a lot to offer the world when it comes to talented artists and musicians,” Shelp says. “I love this city and want to help make it a destination for music and art aficionados, as well as for travelers, worldwide. If we host these bands from all over the world and make sure that they are taken care of, play in front of an enthusiastic audience, and have a great time, they will pass that information along as they tour and will reflect positively on Milwaukee as a whole.”
The festival is split into three shows at the Cactus Club, with The Warlocks headlining one show on April 19 and Woodsman and The Holydrug Couple headlining afternoon and evening shows on April 20, respectively. Food trucks will be parked outside for people to recharge between the shows on the 20th. All the money made from the shows (and an accompanying CD compilation) will go directly to the bands.
Shelp said he’s very proud of the diverse psych music in Milwaukee, so he made sure there’s a good helping of local acts. “The importance of balancing the lineup out with Milwaukee bands was to obviously showcase some of the diverse local talent that we have when it comes to psychedelic music,” he says. “Sleepcomesdown is labeled as post-punk, Elusive Parallelograms are considered shoegaze, Catacombz are kosmische/Krautrock, and Moss Folk is experimental, drone, trance rock.”
Shelp says he enjoys the freedom of playing psychedelic music in Moss Folk as he can branch off on a whim and go wherever he wishes. “If I want to play aggressively, I can. If I want to drone out, I can. If I want to do nothing but bang on some drums, I can,” he says. “There is no ‘guideline’ for playing psych other than delay and reverb, of course. You just do it. We all have written songs, don’t get me wrong, but we also have the space and freedom to embellish if so desired.”
Likewise, he found ease and freedom in booking the acts for the fest, thanks to connections from bands he’s toured with or through mutual friends. There was some luck, too, as several of the bands were touring close by and were able to fit it in their schedule.
With Woodsman, the band was able to fit it in the show on the way to the Austin Psych Fest. Member Trevor Peterson, who is also owner of Fire Talk Records, couldn’t pass on the uniqueness of a Milwaukee festival. “It was between playing this festival and doing our own show in another town, and in our minds we would much rather be a part of a rad event with like-minded people than take our chances elsewhere,” Peterson says.
In addition to a wealth of local sponsors, Shelp was able to utilize his connection with the Counter Culture Club, a promotions company and label that specializes in “underground, experimental, psychedelic sounds in all genres.” Milwaukee Psych Fest and its accompanying compilation is the first project for CCC, and he’s hoping there’s more in the future, including cassettes and records later this year. “I have friends looking for outlets to release their sounds and we would love to help them out.” Shelp says. “Solo projects from Psychic Ills, Indian Jewelry, Prince Rama, other friends such as Golden Donna, Brujas Del Sol, as well as some others are in the early stages, plus my own band, Moss Folk, will be having releases on the label.”
Shelp hopes that he can inspire non-promoters to seek out creating festivals around town. All it takes is the right connections and being a fan of bands, he says. “The days of the paid ‘promoter’ are dying with the DIY aesthetic becoming more and more prominent, and rightfully so,” Shelp says. “I do it because I love it. I bar-tend 40 hours a week between Frank’s Power Plant and the Cactus Club so I can play music and do things like this.”
“I love my friends and what they do. I want everyone to succeed, and hope that this festival will expose Milwaukee for what it is: an amazing city full of talented, creative people willing to support each other to better the community,” he adds.
Shelp also feels grateful for the warm reception people around town have been giving his idea. “It’s just how willing and accepting the community can be of a long-haired bearded fellow with a vision,” he says. “Isn’t that how cults start?”