Out from the Shadows is a monster three day postpunk, deathrock, and darkwave fest that was first held in Portland, Oregon last year. It returns on March 31st of this year and has quite a few big names on the bill: The Prids, Arctic Flowers, Underpass, Shadow Age, Lunch, Soft Kill, Annex, and scores of others.
The idea came from Dave Cantrell, the fest’s principle organizer and a postpunk veteran who was actually in London in the late 1970s to see some of the foundational shows of postpunk’s nascent era. “The music meant enough to me that I went to London in 1979 just for the music,” he explained. “In the case of post-punk, it’s worth noting that in 1977 ‘rock music’ itself was only, at most, 25 years old. It’s easy to forget that the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan was only 11 years before the Pistols first came together in London, and in between was one of the most wildly expansive bursts of creativity any art form had ever experienced.” In both the US and the UK, Dave saw early shows by Killing Joke, Magazine, The Passions, The Associates, Gang of Four, The Cure, XTC, Au Pairs, Penetration, and more. Now he does the Songs from Under the Floorboard radio show in Portland, which is devoted mainly to postpunk and its offshoots. Dave also spends a lot of time writing as a music journalist.
Dave talks about the bands at this year’s Out from the Shadows Fest and what drove him to organize it, below.
Dave Cantrell was interviewed by Oliver in March, 2016.
Dave, where did you get the idea for the Out from the Shadows Fest, and what is its purpose and aim?
Dave Cantrell: The idea for OFTS came more or less out of the blue as a natural outgrowth of my Songs from Under the Floorboard radio show, but, as such suddenly appearing notions go, it was an immediate keeper. I knew that if the opportunity came along to put it together I’d have to do it.
The reason why I had to do it answers the second part of your question: having discovered – thanks to you and that piece you wrote for Souciant (“The New Postpunk,” 2011), I might add – that a vital and burgeoning scene was happening underground here in Portland and wasn’t getting near the attention it deserved considering how great it was, the idea of putting together a sort of celebration of that scene, well, it seemed someone should do it and as it seemed unlikely anyone else was going to, I thought ‘Why not.’
The focus of last year’s inaugural event was indeed mostly local (eight Portland bands, one from Olympia, one from Seattle) but from the beginning I’ve envisioned it as a three-day fest with bands from all over (since, as has also become abundantly clear over the years, the post-punk/darkwave scene worldwide is ridiculously active) and the success of that first one cemented the idea that it was possible. But I truly had no idea it would grow out this quickly.
Where did the name “Out from the Shadows” come from and what is it supposed to represent regarding the theme of the fest?
Dave: As is not unusual with me, one of the first things I attended to once I began dreaming of this thing was what it would be called. Out From The Shadows seemed appropriate in view of both the fact that the aim of the festival (beyond having a great f-king time seeing so many great bands at once) is to, basically, shine a light on these amazing groups that aren’t getting their due, and that shadows, of course, are an essential piece of the post-punk aesthetic and seemed, figuratively at least, where most of these musicians would be emerging from anyway.
You’ve mentioned to me that you saw some killer shows at about the time of the formation of postpunk, including seeing Killing Joke in England in the late 1970s at what would have been one of their first shows. What are some other shows you have seen from that era (or times) that had an impact on you, and how were you “in the know” at that time period to check out these underground bands? Why were you going to shows of this type that long ago – were you into the punk scene? What did the music mean to you at that time?
Dave: That’s a big question. I’ve been a music obsessive since my sophomore year in high school (1971-72 for those keeping score), though for the first few years it followed fairly common trajectory – meaning Clapton, Yes, Allman Brothers (esp. Duane, an affinity I still carry to this day), all of that. I had access to great FM radio – it was pretty new then – as we had KSAN in San Francisco, which was considered one of the first underground FM stations in the country.
So between that, and especially going to UC Berkeley (until I dropped out to, what else, go work at a one-stop, a warehouse middle-man distributor between labels and independent shops), and discovering a place called Rather Ripped Records, who kind of adopted me, my musical horizons expanded dramatically and left me in perfect position when punk came around. However…punk itself, beyond the Pistols, the Damned, Buzzcocks (whom no one really counts as ‘punk’), the Dead Kennedys, the Nuns, Crime and a handful of others, however exciting and obviously necessary it was (the world could not take another Rick Wakeman album!), didn’t grab me like it did others. I loved the Ramones and the Saints, but what I saw as a kind of stylistic dogmatism of punk (“ONETWOFREEFOUR!” is my usual shorthand) wasn’t all that interesting to me.
But then came ’77/’78, when the energy released by the punk movement started being infused with the smarts and verve of a lot of art-school renegade types and suddenly there was just this tidal wave of jaw-dropping singles and albums coming out. I’d moved to Berkeley (once I stopped going to school there, oddly enough) and there were all these stores besides Rather Ripped and it was like they were competing to see who could stock the greatest inventory of this stuff. Around that time I got into the New Musical Express (it was quite good back then, essential even) with all those great writers – Paul Morley, Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray, Julie Burchill – and there literally wasn’t a week when another major record (or ten) came out.
The music meant enough to me that I went to London in 1979 just for the music. I made that decision to go the same day as seeing Magazine at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco (which might well have been the show that had the biggest impact on me. Or shows. They played two consecutive nights, went both nights, transfixed). There’d already been the Buzzcocks/Gang of Four show, the Clash’s first West Coast gig (transcendent, and I’m not exaggerating), their next night at a word-of-mouth gig at a rundown place in the City, had seen Television to stunning effect. What other shows? Almost too many to remember, including a lot of smaller ones featuring Bay Area bands. But lessee, the Ramones twice, once at a free afternoon show in front of city hall in SF. The Jam a couple times. Stranglers. The Members at Madame Wong’s in Hollywood just before flying to London (end of Oct 1979). I know I’m forgetting a lot. In London, besides that Killing Joke show, saw the Cure at the London School of Economics with the Passions and a then-unknown Associates opening – the stage was a riser, basically, we were just a few feet away – the Pretenders at the Marquee, Specials (with Selecter and Dexy’s), XTC, the Skids, Penetration. We saw as many as we could, really, though it would have been many many more had we not been so horribly broke.
Just missed seeing Joy Division, possibly my life’s biggest regret. Staying there those last two months of 1979 was also when I found out about John Peel and listened to him every night Mon-Thurs on a little clock radio in this bedsit in far West London. The first time “Transmission,” “Jumping Someone Else’s Train,” “London Calling” “Eton Rifles” and many others were ever broadcast, I heard them on that little radio and was still struck dumb by them. Tried to move to London in 1982 (a complicated failure), and saw more shows then, but the only one I remember with any certainty is the Au Pairs. Know I saw someone at the Hope & Anchor, but don’t recall who. So yeah, pretty big question. I love (and thrive on) a wide spectrum of music, but post-punk, for a lot of reasons, holds center stage for me.
Can you compare today’s postpunk “revivalist” acts to some of those older bands that first got you into the music? Do you think it’s fair to call the newer bands “revivalist” or are they just part of an ongoing continuum?
Dave: It’s hard to say in some ways. No doubt there’s a revivalist aspect to it, but at the same time it’s to be expected when drawing on the tropes that defined the form in the first place. What is inevitably going to be less present in any resurrected art movement is the fresh explosive spark that engendered it in the first place.
In the case of post-punk, it’s worth noting that in 1977 ‘rock music’ itself was only, at most, 25 years old. It’s easy to forget that the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan was only 11 years before the Pistols first came together in London, and in between was one of the most wildly expansive bursts of creativity any art form had ever experienced (thank you, LSD). Yes, ‘rocknroll’ had hit a slump by the mid-70’s, but it was too early to sound the death knell quite yet, there was still far too much energy out there (and too much money to be made, frankly) for it to just succumb to its own torpor. Punk exploded by using energy that was already there, it simply redirected it. It’s not controversial to point out that much of punk was basically Seeds-era garage rock with different clothes (and mostly a different accent) and a more nihilistic streak of (quite legitimate) sociopolitical anger. And since, naturally, the circumstances of 1977 can’t be replicated, and with several decades of the already broadly-defined form of expression called ‘rock music’ having gone through all these spasms of expansion, contraction, dissipating then coming back alive, what post-punk is going to be now can’t possibly be what it was then.
Some bands have more of an experimental reflex (Talk Normal, for instance, or Portland’s own Vice Device), and I love what Arctic Flowers have done with that remix project, and there are plenty of other examples. So while it’s true that one cannot help but hear the echoes of that era – there’s a lot of ‘that’ bass sound, as an example, which is fine with me as I’m a sucker for it – I think it’s also true that the majority of bands have grown from those roots and are developing their own distinct take on it. So in answer to your question (finally!) I’m going to go with, umm, both, and say that the revival has grown into its own continuum. In truth, Killing Joke, the Fall, Wire and the Pop Group aside, it’s very rare for a heritage band to return to the studio and make a record that compares to records being made by Japan Suicide, Protomartyr, LUNCH, Sextile, etc. A lot of that’s down to youthful vigor, it could be argued, but it’s also the case that this is a new world now.
Who are some of your favorite current postpunk or darkwave or strange bands, and why?
Dave: Would it be too lazy of me to simply answer this by way of a link? Or via the “Twenty current post-punk bands” lists that I roll out every three months (up to six thus far, seventh due soon)? Because, really, there are just too many of them and they keep coming in relentless waves from every direction. I mean, there’s this wonderful band from India called The Vinyl Records, who’d have seen that coming?
I’ve just been finding out about a number of Indonesian bands, and of course they’re all over South America (esp. Brazil), Mexico, and let’s not even start on the former Iron Curtain countries. On any given day, I’d answer Iceage because of how they so fearlessly went for it experimentally a couple years ago with Plowing Into The Field of Love, almost certainly alienating just about their entire fanbase. On another day it would be Native Cats from Hobart, Tasmania because their both quirky and cagey as if YMG made a deal with the (Tasmanian) devil. Then it will be Shadowhouse because I need that haunted sound right now. Then Branches, because, my god, but there’s some great music coming out of Italy these days. Kind of a cop-out to your question, but there’s really no other way to go. But I will allow that right now the album to beat this year is that Escarlatina Obsessiva record, Drusba, because, well, it’s just so righteously damned good, commandingly so.
You do a radio show in Portland – can you tell readers what it’s called and what the musical focus tends to be on?
Dave: It’s called Songs From Under the Floorboard, Friday nights on XRAY fm here in Portland (archive link – all post-punk/darkwave/coldwave etc all the time. And whereas it began in 2012 with the idea it would pretty much focus on ‘back then,’ it didn’t take long, once I began to discover what was going on around the world – the internet’s truly wonderful for that – for it to evolve into a mostly-contemporary playlist. I do try to reserve one block per week for ’77-’82 material but sometimes even that one token offering gets shoved aside because there’s just so much coming in now. There are other shows on XRAY that cover that original era fine, and occasionally I’ll do what I call a ‘post-punk comfort food’ show – plus every autumn there’s a week dedicated to the Fall – but like anyone I want to put a show out there that I myself would be most interested in hearing, and I just love how crazy active and far-reaching this current resurgence is and I love how there seems no end in sight.
How do you think you were able to get so many bands across North America (and elsewhere!) to agree to do this fest? It’s a monster of an event, and it must have been very trying to try and coordinate it all!
Dave: When I first dreamed about this, what I hoped it would become is a festival that bands feel they want to play, have to play, even, and would build a tour around it, and as it turns out that’s what it’s becoming. As I said before, I didn’t think it would happen this early but it has and I’m incredibly grateful. To some extent, it was when McAllen, TX band Annex got in touch to say that they really wanted to play the fest that it seemed like this was going to work. To be honest, I’m rather amazed that so many bands are coming so far to play this thing. We’ve only had a couple of bands drop out thus far (which wasn’t fun but wasn’t too much a problem as there’s a waiting list) and that too I find humbling. One factor in the festival’s favor, I think, is that there aren’t a lot of them out there. I think there was just one down in Texas, maybe? (San la Muerte – Oliver). It seems there are a lot more kind of strictly punk festivals than post-punk/darkwave ones, at least in this country, and that was a void I’ve been happy to walk into. If this were Europe, it would be a different story.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention, or promote, that I didn’t a chance to ask you about here? What are the fest details as far as dates and venue and ticket prices, website, etc? Thanks, Dave!
Dave: Thank you, Oliver, truly, this is a total honor. OFTS II is March 31st – April 2nd here in Portland, with the 31st show being a shorter, sort of preliminary bout with five bands playing at the Black Water (owned by Keith from the Estranged and Alex from Arctic Flowers) and the next two, longer slates at the Panic Room. It’s 26 bands in all, and probably the best thing to do is to direct people to the event page on Facebook.
For tickets you can either use the links at the bottom of that event page or go through my co-promoter Chris “Could NOT do this without him” Trumpower’s website Soundcontrol PDX, where you can find the ticket link by scrolling down to April under the ‘calendar’ tab. The Black Water show is separate, in a way, in that it’s not in association with Soundcontrol PDX and is designed as a ‘thank you’ for those that buy the 2-day bracelet, who get in free. Otherwise tickets are at the door for $5. Lastly, this event is a benefit for XRAY fm, which is a listener-supported – a really quite rad, progressive, live on-air radio station of the type they kind of don’t make anymore. Oh, and festival ticket prices? Pretty reasonable, we think: $12/night, $20 for the 2-night pass which, again, gets one into the Thursday night festival-opening show for free. I think that’s it. Thanks again, Oliver, and thanks to CVLT Nation.
The Facebook event page for Out from the Shadows is here. Ticket information is there.
Out from the Shadows:
Thurs March 31st @ Black Water:
Warm Hands (PDX)
Egrets on Ergot (LA)
Silence in the Snow (Oakland)
Lord Alba (PDX)
Fri April 1st @ Panic Room:
Annex (McAllen TX)
In Letter Form (San Francisco)
The Prids (PDX)
Vice Device (PDX)
Terminal A (LA)
Lust Era (Puerto Rico)
Weird Candle (Vancouver BC)
Spirit Host (PDX)
Sat April 2nd @ Panic Room:
Das Fluff (London/Berlin)
Arctic Flowers (PDX)
Soft Kill (PDX/Chi)
Shadow Age (Virginia)
Forever Grey (Michigan)
Ghost Noise (LA)
All-fest (including Thurs night show, FOR FREE!): http://holdmyticket.com/event/237489
Day 1 (Friday, April 1st): http://holdmyticket.com/event/237484
Day 2 (Saturday, April 2nd): http://holdmyticket.com/event/237486