Cvlt Nation Catches Out From The Shadows III Festival In Portland, OR!
Dave Cantrell puts together a huge, several-day lineup of darkwave/postpunk/deathrock/darkpunk/shoegaze/synthpop/etc and related bands from as near and far as possible, ranging from heavy hitters to the obscure. Fittingly, it’s known as the Out From The Shadows Festival, and this was the third year running! I was absolutely devastated when I missed last year’s festival due to illness, and I’ve practically made OFTS III my identity to make up for it. Let me just jump right in: The OTS III Pre-Event Party took place at my favorite Portland venue, Black Water Bar, on Wednesday April 5th. There was no chance in hell I’d miss this regardless of occasion because my favorite local band The Exorcists were on the bill. The first band to come on were Vacant Stares (usually stylized V A C A N T S T A R E S), who I’d noticed on several show lineups recently (including with The Exorcists at The Tardis Room back in March) as well as on a few obscure subreddits. They’re an atmospheric shoegazey post-punk band with an established sound and a promising future. I’m excited to hear their next endeavors!
White Rooms were up next, a dancey postpunk band (featuring an ex-Shadowhouse member!) I reviewed along with The Exoricists for SFUTF Showcase 3. These guys sound better and better every time I hear them, and this time they played a fun funk song I hadn’t heard before. The Exorcists absolutely killed it. They managed to excite me just as much as the first time I saw them, playing at least a song or two I hadn’t heard at their previous shows. Nothing could really prepare me for the one band I was completely unfamiliar with that evening, Dark Palms. I was almost expecting some kind of darkwave or even dark electronica judging from the name. To understate a bit, these guys were intense. They played much louder than their recorded material would lead you to believe. They have almost a country goth aesthetic, but the music is more along the lines of dark psych rock.
The remainder of OFTS III would take place at the new Tonic Lounge (more recently having been known as Panic Room and The Raven, here’s an article if you want further explanation). Before I even get into the bands, I just have to gush about the venue: the sound has vastly improved and the open circle layout made everything easily accessible. Every single band was done justice. Any technical mishaps, which were few and far between, were easy to overlook because everything else was such a treat for the ears. Believe me when I say if you missed this festival, you really missed out.
The first night of OFTS III felt like a fever dream from the start. I entered the floor moments after The Secret Light began their set, placing myself front and center between Dave Cantrell and Jason of Shadowlands and Murderbait. Even during a technical mishap, they were able to keep the crowd entertained. Kizou jumped off stage for the last song and played around the audience for a quite a while, which was awesome! My only complaint was that their set felt short, but when you have this many bands to cram in, it’s understandable.
After them came my other friends, Shadowlands, who I hadn’t seen in several months. Although their set was also short, they managed to showcase the perfect blend of what their music’s all about in that time. The second song they played at the singer belting her voice in such a poetic way. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again– these guys really, really put their hearts and souls into the music and the audience absolutely fucking feels it. It’s like you’re being transported to their world for that moment in time. Incredible.
The band I was most looking forward to seeing on the first night was of course Ötzi (Oakland), a kickass female-fronted deathrock band. I’d been listening to their four-track demo obsessively in the months leading up to the festival. I never realized that both girls sang! Somehow I had it in my head that they’d played at the festival last year and I’d missed them, so I was quite shocked when they revealed it was their first time playing in Portland! They also announced that they were recording something with Arctic Flowers… be still, my heart! Be sure to catch these guys at Near Dark in Oakland in early August! I ended up chatting with both the girls after the show– they’re incredibly sweet, personable, and easy to talk to.
Echolust was the first band on the bill I was completely unfamiliar with, and I fell in love with them immediately. Their sound was far more atmospheric and soothing than the rest and heavily reminded me of early Cure. Similar to the way Shadowlands played, it felt like we were being transported to a completely different world. Especially since they came right after Otzi, you could see how varied the sound between bands were. They played in beautifully serious melancholy, bringing the energy down in a therapeutic, hypnotic way. It felt very shoegazey.
The real show-stopper of the evening was Mortal Boy, absolutely no question about it. This was another band I hadn’t listened to beforehand– I went in blind, and they captivated me the entire way through. These guys weren’t just charismatic with excellent stage presence, they were fucking GOOD. I felt like I was listening to 80s synthy goth classics. Singer/guitarist Duckie takes a lot of inspiration from Joy Division (can you tell?) and the talent is obvious. I was also quite enamored with the tall, delicate-looking keyboard player. They all seemed so genuine up there– unapologetically themselves. They really need to be heard to be believed. As if they hadn’t already stolen the show, the last song they played was a cover of Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses”… yes, Duckie did the tuck thing. He also held the microphone to Michelle (bassist for The Secret Light and The Xploding Boys), who finished the song out beautifully! That was my favorite part of the whole night, and that’s saying something.
To be honest, this must have been my 6th or 7th time seeing Vice Device. How have I never written about them before? They’re yet another one of several Portland postpunk gems. Many of you might recall them opening for Clan of Xymox in Portland last year. What you really need to know is this: dual male/female vocals, but the girl also plays keyboard, trumpet, probably another instrument I’m forgetting, and she’s a total Scream Queen. I don’t know how else to describe it– she just has a beautiful, unrelenting scream. It gives me goosebumps every time! Their set felt rushed of course, but they put their all into it as usual.
Who could be more fitting to close out Day I than the legendary Bellicose Minds? I couldn’t even remember the last time I saw them play, but when they did, I knew it had been far too long.
I’d only ever seen Sex Park (PDX) twice before, but I had never heard them sound as good as they did on this night. They had one slight technical issue with the drum machine, but that doesn’t stand out in my mind as much as their overall sound, which has clearly evolved to perfection in a short period of time. What’s astounding to me is that it’s just two guys, but they sound like a full band.
The night before, Ashkelon of Devoured By Flowers (don’t worry, I’ll discuss them in another article soon) was telling me about this band he was stoked to see called The Electric West (LA). He said he’d checked them out online and was highly impressed. Although he had to work during Day II, he stopped by to catch these guys, and now I completely understand why. I wasn’t expecting such crazy energy! The singer had vibrant expressions to match his erratic movements. Something about him really reminded me of Iggy Pop. I ended up chatting with him for a while at the merch booth and he turned out to be ridiculously easy to talk to! Evidently he’s a fan of Portland locals Lunch.
I had already listened to Winkie (Brooklyn) before the show, but that didn’t matter. I’m pretty sure they took everyone by surprise. From listening to their Bandcamp you would have thought they were more on the shoegaze side, but they turned out to have quite the noise/industrial edge!
The band I was anticipating the most on this night, Second Still (LA), did not disappoint. On the contrary, they completely blew me away and surprised the shit out of me! The crowd quickly surged around and in front of me as the singer danced with the speed and grace of a cat. There were times I really didn’t know how she could be singing and dancing simultaneously without losing her breath. She must practice a lot because her dancing was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I would have watched a simple dance performance from her, but pair that with incredible music and you’ve got a real treat! Did Souxsie even move like this onstage?
At this point it should be noted that every single band on this night’s lineup completely surprised me in one way or another. Sculpture Club (Salt Lake City) surprisingly reminded me a LOT of Lunch. Not only do they sound somewhat similar as far as mood and lyrics, but the singers honestly remind me of each other. There’s this positive, uplifting vibe behind the darkness.
I may have freaked out when Mayflower Madame (Oslo, Norway) started playing. This was another band I hadn’t heard before, but they immediately reminded me of Fields of the Nephilim at the time. I was feeling antsy because my partner was due back any minute (he was opening for Michael Graves that night) and I knew right away he would have fallen in love with this band. They had this atmospheric, traditional goth rock sound to them. The lights were particularly badass on stage while they were on– shadows highlighted in green. I stood there mouth agape the entire time. It honestly felt like I was somewhere else while they played.
Keeping up with the theme of ending these nights with “heavy hitter” bands, we were drawn to a close with Shadowhouse (PDX), and I have to say it felt like a complete whirlwind. They came onstage pretty fast after Mayflower Madame, Shane excitedly shouted for Dave’s attention, they played their set completely flawlessly (Just check out the video! Effortless!), and then broke down just as soon as they came on the scene! It really played out like an epic cameo finale.
I’m weirdly ignorant when it comes to contemporary postpunk in Seattle, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect from opening band Arcane. Their large fabric band curtain was up behind the drums when I first entered Tonic Lounge that night. It looked fucking badass and helped set the tone for the evening. Once they got on stage and started doing their thing, I was immediately impressed. The second song was particularly impressive; I’m unsure of the track name, but it was very fun and danceable. They managed to be both brooding and fun.
While the entire lineup for this night was especially impressive, Band Aparte (LA) entranced me immediately. It wasn’t just their honed sound– the singer was an animated embodiment of anguished (at times almost cartoonish) emotion. Everyone’s heard the expression “they came alive onstage”, but this guy takes that phrase to another level. I’m dead serious. You can tell he fucking lives for this when you see his eyes light up and expression change throughout each song. My partner and I ended up talking to him and the guitarist at the merch booth. They were stoked to be there, down to earth, truly chill to party with.
No band has ever left an impression on me quite like Lust Era (Puerto Rico), a band who I was told several times had been at last year’s festival. While everyone who attended the previous festival knew what to expect, I was completely blindsided. I had caught a glimpse of the singer on the previous night when he stole Gina of Otzi away from me to buy her a beer, but that unveiled nothing! Boy was I in for a surprise. First of all, a tall straight/cis couple stood in front of me right away, which I didn’t mind– I’m short, I’m used to it, and I didn’t know anything about this band aside from the fact that they were from Puerto Rico and obviously excellent since Dave was having them on another year. I quickly realized the vocalist was there to shake things up, and I loved it. It felt as though we were on the outside looking in, like the singer was breaking the fourth wall. At the end of the first song, he grabbed the back of Nick Whitson (photographer)’s head before zig-zagging into the crowd, cutting directly behind the tall couple to single me out by completing the song in front of me on his knees– what a huge fucking honor! The remainder of the set was extremely fun and high energy.
The final night of the festival packed quite a punch band after band, so it was no surprise we were getting another heavy hitter band early in the night with local legends LUNCH!
The “black sheep” of Day 3, Silence (Pittsburgh, PA), were one of my all-time favorites of the entire festival. This is another band I didn’t research beforehand (can you tell I love surprises?), and I screamed with happiness when I realized they had a dark hardcore punk influence to their sound. Early into the night, a friend who explored the merch booth said, “That band Silence is going to be interesting! Their album title is awesome.” After their set, Dave told me he was at first hesitant to have them on (the punk and goth scenes in Portland have never really intertwined much despite a strong “dark punk” scene), but they got such a great audience response, he was SO glad he put them on. Obviously I’m more than happy he put them on– I’d argue they were the most deathrock band of the festival due to their fast punk sound. I ended up talking to their merch girl for a while, who was extremely down to earth. I now know that this was DJ Erica Scary, best dark punk/goth DJ in Pittsburgh! How rad! Silence was actually the only band of the evening I ended up buying 1 of everything from (even their vinyl record was just $10).
By chance, I happened to meet the bassist for Koban (Vancouver BC) in the bathroom just minutes before she hit the stage. She was wiped out from the road trip that had just recently ended for her, but she was clearly excited, easy to talk to, and ready to play.
Like most people in the audience, I was ready to piss my pants with excitement by the time All Your Sisters (SF) went on. To be fair, the buildup was intense. It seemed like time stood painfully still from the moment Koban started breaking down. These guys had a way of transforming that stage into a high production music video. Naturally I was so impressed by their performance, I drunkenly purchased a T-shirt I likely already bought at the Clan of Xymox show the year prior. What can I say?
I want to sincerely thank Dave Cantrell for putting on such an amazing, life-changing festival. Pictures were taken by Nick Whitson and video footage was provided by Viktor Nova.