For seventeen years, Olympia has held an annual experimental music festival, aptly named the Olympia Experimental Music Festival (OEMF). This year, it was held at the Northern, an all ages, non-profit art gallery and venue situated on 4th Ave, the heartstring of downtown Olympia. According to the festival statement written by the festival director Nathan Markiewicz, “the festival is a tremendous celebration of the Pacific Northwest’s legacy of ‘left of center’ music and art. It is also a celebration of DIY culture in general, particularly Olympia’s rich tradition of being a place where this philosophy is vital and important.” Sponsored by KAOS 89.3 FM, a community radio station located on the Evergreen State College Campus, the festival comprised three nights of performances from around 7pm to midnight, June 10th-12th.
Paintings for Animals
I attended the first night of performances at the Northern, a bright and charming space adorned currently with comic illustrations from several local Olympian artists. The lineup initially consisted of seven acts and dropped to six after Portland, Oregon’s Marlo Eggplant called Markiewicz with the sudden news that her medication made it unreasonable to drive two hours north. The acts that did perform ran the gamut between absolutist drone metal, tribal electronics, an Atari with a meth habit, pure improv, and through-composed ambiance.
Paintings for Animals is the brain child of Olympia native Pearson Wallace-Hoyt and cultivates an atmosphere of tribal intoxication. Sound loops mix with live use of droning medicine bowls, hand drums, and incense to develop an amoral, natural pulse. LA Lungs is the project of the festival director Nathan Markiewicz himself. Combined with his wife Lori, the duo create ethereal drone of microscopic tendencies, moving slowly in between time and notes, leading the listener to constantly lean inward.
San Francisco’s Eurostache are an improv collective of an optimum eight members, melding musicians of purely electronic inclinations with scatter-brained bass, experimental vocals, percussion, and circuit bending. Only six could make it up for this show, leaving out a cello and a clarinet. Regardless, the group performed their chosen instruments with certainty and discerning ears, leaving me expecting their performance to be completely through-composed, or completely pre-planned. On the opposite end of the spectrum were Echoes of Infiniti, an Olympia duo that performed forty-five minutes of fixed doom-metal drone, ornamented sparingly with boran, gong, and an electronic loop. Whereas Eurostache left the audience unsure of what sounds in the room where a part of the performance due to the musics transience, Echoes of Infiniti engulfed the room in absolute sound, fully dominating the local pressure density.
Echoes of Infiniti
The night’s first two acts, Big Tom The Lithuanian and 4th Dimensional Nightmare sounded like two different approaches to video game scoring. While Big Tom made it clear that his classical piano chops were quite strong, even through the various wet pads on his Korg Karma work station, 4th Dimensional Nightmare utilized an effects loop and electric guitar to create digital noise in the context of a four-four beat.
4th Dimensional Nightmare
The variety and talent present on Friday night was substantial, and that was just night one. Seven more acts played on Saturday, Olympia’s Technicolor Yawn held a performance of his “Drone For Peace in the Key of F” at the capitol dome on Sunday at 1pm, and seven more artists performed that night accompanied by video artists. This event has occurred every year for seventeen straight. It’s a fabulous example of the diverse “weirdo” music community in the NW that the typical concert listings never glance at.