Ten Years of Debacle Fest, One Giant Pile of Goop

Comic artist Max Clotfelter walks us through a brief history of the region’s reigning weirdo music fest.

Since 2007, local experimental music label Debacle Records has held its annual weirdo freakout convention, Debacle Fest. Gathering the region’s most out-there noisers, krautrockers, psychonauts, drone- and doom-lords, and plenty of other artists for whom the English language has yet to invent adequate descriptors, the music fest has become a beloved institution to the city’s strong outsider-artist community. This year the festival celebrates a decade of noise with a lineup featuring some of its “ride-or-die” artists—perennials like Pink Void, Knifecream, and LA Lungs. While comic artist Max Clotfelter doesn’t play music, he too could be considered a Debacle Fest “ride-or-die,” a regular face at the annual show for seven years running. To commemorate the occassion, Clotfelter illustrated this year’s Debacle poster, riddled with hidden Easter eggs. We asked Clotfelter to give us a tour through the goop pile. KELTON SEARS

1. This being the 10th anniversary, it’s fitting that I am tasked with drawing a poster that sums up the history of the festival. I have attended Debacle Fest since the third edition, and I am an obsessive note-taker, writing down all the shows I attend in these little tiny notebooks, taking care to document any ridiculous or whimsical observations. This is a chance for all that history to come spilling out.

2. Apparently, during the early days of the festival, incorrect word got out that the fest was concurrent with Debacle Records head Sam Melancon’s b-day. So, despite Sam’s protest to the contrary, the early rallying cry of the festival was “Happy Birthday, Sammy!” You can spot the lifers in the crowd still using it to punctuate sets.

3. Debacle is known for a lot of interplay between audience and artist; you never know what’s going to happen, from celebratory group exhortation to a wizard offering you a mysterious red liquid from an animal horn mid-set. Drink up!

4. Over the years I have noticed how the folks running this festival have invested in flying artists out, packing nights with tons of bands, and increasing the venue quality. I am sure the returns have fallen short some years. It has been heartbreaking to watch Sam throw money away, and sometimes see a mixed response from the community.

5. In 2015, with the festival going progressively above-ground, the tone was ripe for some shenanigans. They had a screen showing a feed of tagged Instagram photos, so some buddies went in the alley and decided to spice it up. Hence the creation of #debaclebutts. The whole thing snowballed to include more and more attendees adding their fannies to the revolving slideshow.

6. Debacle Fest has inspired many people to take up music-making and booking. You’re likely to see performers onstage who the year previous were wide-eyed audience members. The fest has even inspired folks to create their own haywire events, like my buddies Dustin, Marcus, and Wild Bill, who created the epic Pizza Crawl, partially out of wanting to extend the weirdness of the festival deep into the summer months.

7. The fest always lets me find my new favorite artists, so I included nods to many bands from Debacle history such as fest stalwarts L.A. Lungs. Can you find the other hidden artist references?

A. Dull Knife

B. Dried Up Corpse

C. Brain Fruit

D. Megabats

E. Red Squirrels

F. Walrus Machine

8. While it’s not needed to enjoy the ecstatic tones of the fest, there are many references to the extra substances many folk use to enhance their enjoyment over the weekend.

Just like the larger DIY scene, this gnarly pile of stuff wouldn’t hold much weight individually, but Debacle Records and the Fest have brought us together year after year to create something bigger than the sum of the parts. It may be crazy or ugly or messy, but it reaches all the way to the sun. Debacle Fest, Royal Room and Columbia City Theater, 5000 Rainier Ave. S. and 4916 Rainier Ave. S., debaclefest.com. $10–$25. All ages. 5 p.m. Sat., May 6.

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