Milwaukee Psych Fest brings the sunshine to Cactus Club
Sahan talks to Andrew Shelp, organizer of the very first Milwaukee Psych Fest.
Andrew Shelp is the main force behind Moss Folk, a free-form psychedelic band from Milwaukee. When not playing his own music, Shelp is booking acts both local and national at venues around town, and this year decided to showcase some of his favorite acts in the very first Milwaukee Psych Festival. Shelp sat down with Sahan Jayasuriya to talk about the fest, his influences and his broad definition of “psychedelic.”
Sahan Jayasuriya: Tell us about how you came up with the idea for having a psychedelic music festival in Milwaukee.
Andrew Shelp: I book a good amount of shows in Milwaukee. I booked an outdoor birthday show for myself last year, and that went pretty well, so I was thinking about doing something a little bit bigger for this year. This great band called the Holydrug Couple from Chile contacted me, and I ended up booking them a tour of the states. They’re gonna be heading down to Austin Psych Fest around the time that I was thinking about doing a show here, so I booked them. From there it just kinda snowballed and more bands wanted to get involved.
SJ: That’s interesting, too, because there really is no one particular thing that you can label as being “psychedelic music.” Everything from the Zombies to Spacemen 3 has been referred to as such. Is there a particular act that you could nail down as being sort of definitively psychedelic, or is it just too broad of a term?
AS: It’s just as broad of a term as “punk,” really, and I kind of look at it as just another form of punk. It just represents the freedom of the artist and musician and it sort of entrances the listener. I think that, in and of itself is the psychedelic part of it. Essentially, though, it’s a lot of punk aesthetics in that there’s just this freedom to do whatever you want. It’s just so loose and fun. There’s psychedelic punk, psychedelic hip hop, psychedelic metal, and they all represent psychedelia in their experimentation.
SJ: A lot of people see skateboarding and punk rock music going hand in hand, with both having influence on each other and the two scenes overlapping in a lot of ways. Likewise, do you think that psychedelic music and drug culture go hand in hand?
AS: I think there’s definitely a stigma attached to it for sure, but you could say that about any kind of music. The “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” cliche isn’t always applicable. I think you can associate drug culture with most any kind of music, really. Think about all those huge outdoor jam band festivals, you know? All of those kids are getting loaded (laughs). It’s not so much the artist as it is the listener.
SJ: Yeah I agree. Lately there’s been a lot of music gaining a decent amount of attention that critics describe as being psychedelic, but only vaguely have any sort of sonic relation to the genre. MGMT comes to mind, for example. Do you see this as a blessing that could introduce listeners to other more abstract sounds?
AS: I don’t see MGMT as being a gateway band (laughs). The Flaming Lips and Tame Impala are definitely gateway bands, though. I’m not that big on Tame Impala, but I think what they’re doing is pretty cool and it’s great that a band like that is getting the sort of attention they’ve been getting as of late.
SJ: Let’s talk about that for a minute – gateway bands. When I was younger I got into a lot of music through Nirvana, stuff like Sonic Youth and the Jesus Lizard. What music led you to the more abstract side of psychedelia?
AS: I’ve always loved world music, but I think early on it was stuff like Magical Power Mako and Amon Duul. I love the more trancey stuff where the instrumentation is acoustic. Parson Sound was huge for me. Ash Ra Tempel was cool too, because as much as I like the acoustic stuff I also like electronic music.
SJ: Surely you didn’t just come upon that sort of stuff alone, though. Or did you? I just can’t imagine a younger kid listening to Amon Duul.
AS: I grew up playing in punk and hardcore bands, and some of that three-chord punk stuff is totally trippy if you think about it. Its just the same stuff over and over again, and they play it so fast that its almost entrancing. That’s pretty psychedelic to me, so that’s probably what drew me towards more stuff like that later on.
SJ: For sure. Who do you think are currently some of the best psychedelic bands at the moment?
AS: Definitely the Black Angels for one. They’ve for sure stood the test of time, and they’re all really rad guys as well. They actually curate the Austin Psych Fest, so they’re doing a ton for the currently community. There’s this band called Goat from Sweden are really great. Psychic Ills are awesome too.
SJ: Getting back to the festival, could you give us a review of the schedule for the shows?
On Saturday there’s two shows, both at the Cactus Club. The early show starts with Elusive Parallelograms from here, and then a band from Ft. Wayne Indiana called Heaven’s Gateway Drugs, then Secret Colours from Chicago and then Woodsman from Brooklyn are headlining the early show. The late show starts at ten with Sleep Comes Down,after them is Sisters of your Sunshine Vapor from Detroit, then Catacombz from here and the Holydrug Couple from Chile are headlining the late show.
SJ: That’s quite the lineup. There’s a lot of variety there too on each night.
AS: Yeah, they’re all psychedelic in their own right but they’ve all got different sounds, so I decided to break it up a little bit between shows to give it some variety.
SJ: Excellent. Is there anything else you’d like people to know about the festival?
AS: This is straight up about community, really. This is the kind of music I like the most, and this is my hobby. I think that its really important to get these kind of bands to stop in my hometown that I am proud of. I think everyone should and can do it, because it’s really not that hard. I’m not a promoter by any stretch of the imagination, I’m just a dude that wanted to put together a show for a band, and it turned into this.
The first annual Milwaukee Psych Fest is this weekend on April 19 and 20, with one 10 p.m. show Friday and two shows Saturday at 5 and 10 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online here, or at the door on the night of the shows. For more information, visit the fest’s Facebook page. Follow Sahan on Twitter and Instagram @sahanicyouth.