This Scene Could Be Your Life: Cvlt Nation interviews Chris Nukala (Petrification/Raptor/Famine Fest)
It’s easy to take the behind-the-scenes guys for granted. You see a flyer or a facebook event that appeals to you, go the venue, pay the cover, start swilling beer, and bang your head. Chances are you base your opinion of a show on the bands (or if you’re snarky, the sound guy). But a scene also lives or dies as a result of the work done by the promoters, managers, and organizers, as well as the musicians. In the Portland, OR metal scene, Chris Nukala (aka Nukes) is all of these things. The sheer number of roles he plays in our scene (coupled with his skating) could burn out most people or turn them into a huge asshole. However, Chris is as well known for his graciousness and approachability as much as his work ethic. “One of the big reasons I asked Chris to join Petrification was because of my observation of how he handled his booking/ promotion, etc,” says Jason Barnett, who handles vocals for Petrification and has done his own fair share of booking and promoting. “He handled everything extremely professionally and dedicated, while remaining humble and friendly the entire time.” You’ll hear this sentiment echoed throughout the Portland metal community. As someone who has enjoyed the scene purely as a fan of the music, I’ve benefitted time and again from Chris’s work, which is mostly invisible to those of us just drinking beer and enjoying the show. I wanted to know a little more about what makes a scene like this tick. Chris was kind enough to answer my questions over PM.
First, would you mind detailing your various roles in the Portland metal scene?
I am a fan and love live music. I am a musician playing in Petrification, Raptor and Malefic Siege. I am a independent show promoter as well as the organizer of Famine Fest NW. I am a band manager, my soon to launch agency “Departed Offerings” represents Drawn And Quartered, Gloam, and Blood Freak and we have a expanding roster to come in the near future.
Tell me more about your goals with Departed Offerings and what inspired you start it up.
Well, I receive lots of booking offers and requests through the Famine Fest page, far too many for my bands to take on over the years. I always passed on those opportunities to bands that my friends played in and didn’t think anything of it. Later, I started thinking about concentrating my efforts and saving the best opportunities for the bands that work hardest and that I truly believe in. I watched a documentary on Shep Gordon and it made this small concept make more sense. Shep managed Alice Cooper, Blondie and many others, basically he was their close friend that looked out for booking and promotion opportunities that would benefit them. Shep wasn’t the typical manager asshole; he just did the right things for his friends and the results were phenomenal – it brought them all a new level of legitimacy, and that’s what I hope to do for the bands that I consider “treasures” of the underground through Departed Offerings.
Does your skating overlap in any way with your role in the metal scene?
Skateboarding doesn’t overlap with my current booking and promotion too much, other than keeping me too busy to skate as much as I would like to. However, Skateboarding really got me into Extreme Music…. Growing up, I always knew I liked the heavier songs on the radio, but being a 12 year old skate rat I never had the resources, or cash flow, to hunt down CDs. I was at the mercy of sneaking mix tapes from my friend’s parents and what mainstream radio DJ’s would play and at the time they never dug deeper than a few Sabbath or Metallica songs. As a kid, I skated around with a boom box and classic rock cassettes and the older guys at Burnside Skatepark would tell me, “If it’s played on the radio it isn’t played at the skate session.” So they would basically load their albums and mixtapes into my boom box. Of course I was introduced by a majority of the skaters to punk bands like Agent Orange, J.F.A, Minor Threat, and Misfits, but when the Terror skateboards crew would show up, I made the Boom Box available because they had had the heaviest music I had ever heard before. They had Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, At The Gates, and Carcass. This ignited an interest that spread inside of me like wildfire, and it has never stopped.
How did you first start setting up shows?
Honestly, I started organizing shows out of necessity…. When we started our first band Compulsive Slasher, we were high school kids; the little following we had wasn’t even [old enough to legally] drink, so bar venues considered us of zero value and playing the Satyricon seemed like a pipe dream. So for my 18th birthday, I hustled up two kegs and convinced a older skatehead to loan me his basement, and I booked Compulsive Slasher’s first show with Heathen Shrine, Hyphema, and Extirpatients. After that night I realized that I didn’t have to wait for opportunity; I would rather create opportunity on my own terms. I started calling bars’ and venues’ direct phone lines saying I was an independent show promoter, and I would like to organize a local showcase, and I would hassle them until they eventually agreed. When I would arrive to the venue, the owners and sound guys were always surprised to see that it was 18-year-old kid pulling strings to bring the show together.
How did Famine Fest come about?
Growing up in Portland, I would regularly attend Black Circle Fest and Goregon Massacre Fest, and they were always the highlights of the year. They were the reasons the interest [in] doing a festival in Portland sparked [for me]. I was a few years into booking live shows and starting to mold my ideas of a fest into an actual business plan. I proposed the idea to a few of my close friends in hopes of gaining partners on this project, but everyone felt that my visions were a little too ambitious, and no one would commit. I was feeling a little defeated, and my girlfriend Tuesday Teal reminded me that I never needed partners on my other projects and I needed to believe in myself. It gave me the confidence to push forward, and Famine Fest has been a one-man project since.
What is your vision for Famine Fest and its future?
It is hard to say because Famine Fest has exceeded my expectations every year, and it has morphed into a semi-national booking agency. Recently we announced Famine Fest: Seattle Invasion in late September with Witchtrap from Colombia. I would like to continue to expand and do festival-style shows, as well as special one-offs in cities across America.
Do you have a favorite venue to set up a show, and if so, why?
In Portland, my loyalty belongs to The Tonic Lounge and The Twilight. Chris Control (who has recently become owner of The Tonic lounge) has bounced from venue to venue throughout the years, but the scene has always followed him and honestly my booking has as well. Chris has always been a super honest guy, and he gave me valuable mentoring in my earlier days of booking. He showed me the ropes and helped me realize that some venues were taking advantage of me being so green. The Twilight is a smaller club that is set up really well, having the venue and dining separated so crowd participation is contained to one area, and the staff doesn’t mind the circle pit, stage diving, and general insanity.
Who owns The Blood Shed? What are the pros and cons of doing a house/basement show vs. a “real” venue?
The Blood Shed is a DIY house venue that our friend Skinny runs. He is very generous to loan his basement to us; we have had many ragers there in the past, and The Blood Shed shows no signs of slowing down.
The pros of having a house show is getting back to our dirty roots, and seeing the energy of the crowd with no security staff or authority figures or the new crop of groms churning the pit. Cons are having to clean up the mess, and it is much harder to collect money at a house show because teenage kids don’t have much money. Also, house shows are always a free for all. It makes it impractical to host larger acts with guarantees, but I am always excited when the right opportunity arises for a house show.
I’ve noticed the same sound guys working different venues. Do you set up who runs sound, or does the venue?
Sure, sound guys bounce around from venue to venue, and I will request certain engineers if I feel it to be necessary. Typically the venue provides a sound guy though. Luckily, the venues we normally rent are staffed with the best sound guys around, they are in touch with what we do and know what we expect from our live sound engineers.
Who else is a key figure in the Portland scene that we ought to know about?
I have to give shout-outs to Chris Control and Joe Gallagher for mentoring me and continuing to produce high quality shows for all of Portland. Dylan Laviolette from Headsplit records, Tim Call from Parasitic Records, and Nate Meyers from Eternal Warfare for producing local artists and putting many of our peers on the map. Jake Superchi for producing Black Circle Fest; I learned a lot about booking Famine Fest from observing Jake run [that].
What are some hurdles or challenges regarding what you do (setting up a show, promoting a band, etc.)?
[These] days there are two main challenges I have been facing lately:
1. The venues that host underground metal shows in Portland are shutting down at an alarming rate. This makes booking weekend gigs very competitive.
2. The internet witch-hunt on extreme metal bands is dividing our scene and the heat that goes along with these accusations makes our local venues want to stop hosting metal shows entirely. I am all for freedom of speech and the right to protest, but I cannot stand people belly-aching from behind a keyboard. It’s like a race to see who can complain on facebook first, and these people seem to feel entitled to decide what is appropriate for our scene when they are not even involved.
Do your roles in the scene feel more like a hobby or a job?
I wouldn’t consider what I am doing now a job; it is just a lot of fun. One day I hope to climb the levels of live music promotion and make this a career. The top tier metal booker in town has been disconnected from the underground scene for many years; he just dishes out opening slots for whoever can promise the highest ticket sales or whoever is willing to pay to play, and their final lineups don’t always make sense. [In that scenario] there is no interaction with the community or with [those] artists that makes our scene thrive, and it doesn’t feel right to me…. If there was a way to bridge that gap and unite the scene from the ground level promoters to the top-tier empires, we could do something great for our community and set an example for the rest of the country. Regardless of where I end up, I will never abandon the underground. The bands and people who have supported me in my humble beginnings will always have my support.
Are you satisfied with Portland’s current scene, or is there anything that could be improved?
I would say our scene is thriving! We have had a well documented influx of people moving to Portland, and at first it was just businessmen and career professionals, but this population boom has finally hit our little subculture, and it is obvious to see that the shows in Portland are more well-attended than in the past. Also we have more sick bands going on now than I ever remember.
What happens if/when you retire or move on (assuming that happens)?
I really doubt I will ever move on from organizing live events; I love live music and it is part of me. I hope to organize larger-scale shows and festivals on a national level and one day I would like to become a partner at Cal Skate. Cal Skate is the oldest existing skateboard shop in the world, and they have supported me in several ways since my initial sponsorship in 2002, and it is important to me that this store and its traditions are around for another 41 years.
Do you have any advice for a reader who might want to follow in your footsteps or make their own town’s scene better?
If you need help or have any questions just contact me directly. I have taken many aspiring promoters under my wing, helped them secure venues, passing on line ups that I am too busy to take on and just showing them the ropes. There is plenty of opportunity to go around, and I want to see everyone do well.
You can catch up with Nukes’s various projects and get in touch with him here: