It took two years for the decision-makers at MusicfestNW and Project Pabst to realize that Portland might not be big enough for two mega-corporate music festivals along the water-front, and to combine (sorry, merge) their efforts into Musicfest NW Presents: Project Pabst. For the third year in a row, locals involved in the underground music scene will be organizing an “anti-fest,” Festicide. With taglines such as “no wristbands, no sponsors, no bullshit,” the fest aims to appeal to the kind of person that would ride past the goings on at Project Pabst and sneer in contempt.
So here stand Portland music consumers, faced with a choice: the corporate affair that is Project Pabst? Or the local, if not quite a bit smug (eye-rollingly smug, honestly) Festicide? The secret, of course, is that people are not defined by their aesthetic choices, and, unless Festicide organizers try to enforce a very strict “no Project Pabst wristband” entrance policy (which would be insane), we are all free to go to both. Project Pabst and Festicide might be completely misaligned in terms of goals, sponsors, and capital, but ultimately both are offering music fans worthwhile acts, if they want to partake.
I’ve thought quite a bit about an apt analogy between the two festivals. I was tempted to compare Project Pabst and its corporate bloat, somehow, to Trump, and the more local, organic Festicide to…Bernie Sanders? Maybe? But unfortunately, Festicide is all about reaction, it has been since its inception a reactionary event, a negation. Plus much of the branding I see coming from Festicide supporters seems to be what one would call in campaign terms “going negative,” explicitly attacking or poking fun at bands who are playing Project Pabst or the “kinds of people” (ugh…) who would go. Fuck all that, honestly. I’m not going to judge anyone for wanting to see Vince Staples and Mean Jeans for free on Friday, even if the event is in the Dr. Marten’s parking lot. Both of those artists are great. Similarly, while I don’t necessarily match up with Nathan Carson‘s musical tastes on many occasions (including his own band, Witch Mountain) he is one of the hardest working people in the entire Portland music scene, so I’m not going to shit on him for setting up a show in which Bell Witch, a band who had one of the best albums of last year, headlines, even if that show is a Project Pabst night show. Finally, I’m certainly not going to give anyone a side-eye for wanting to see Parquet Courts, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Drive Like Jehu, and Ween, in a row. Those are all solid bands. That is a solid festival line-up, even with the cognitive dissonance of a band like Drive Like Jehu in a very corporate setting. The attack mode, meme-lord antics might be good for a chuckle, but can get tiresome. along with telling “squares” how uncool they are because they might make a different decision, as if at least one of the bands playing in Festicide didn’t just play an event sponsored by PBR literally 2 months ago.
The more apt analogy is between neoliberalism, a mutation of capitalism which seeks to expand the control of corporate identity through horizontal acquisition, and old fashioned, small “c” capitalism, in which plucky up-starts are inspired to offer consumers better options at a cheaper price in a way that will be beneficial to their own communities. A quick click on the “partners” section of Project Pabst reveals a list of corporate “partners” desperately trying to pin their brand identity to whatever they think “cool” is, including Pepsi, Xfinity, Lyft, and New Balance. Ultimately, corporate festivals like Project Pabst function more as gigantic brand conferences, with the music being the vehicle through which those brands connect with potential consumers. This is what I meant by cognitive dissonance above, because droves of people may flock to see Drive Like Jehu, and on their walk back to their car they could be sold an Xfinity bundle. (Anything would be better than last year, when people could actually buy cars in between the two main stages). When Festicide says “no bullshit,” this is what they are talking about. No one is going to try to sell anyone some American Crew hair product after Long Knife or Gaytheist or Bobby Peru. The music is really the only thing being sold (when it even costs money, as many of the shows are free), or could be the only thing being sold, if the messaging on the internet wasn’t also actively selling “the feeling you get when you think you are better than someone else because they listen to music you think is shitty.” At least smugness isn’t manufactured overseas, right?