Drunk At A Show: Vanfest 2017
For the last seven years, Vanfest has set itself up as one of the biggest mainstays of DIY excellence in the PNW music scene. Vanfest is a yearly DIY-centered music festival held at Royal Arch Park in Maple Valley, and curated entirely by the Festivals original father, local DIY hero Van Wolfe. Any ongoing underfunded festival that has seen acts like Car Seat Headrest, Chastity Belt, MC Lars, Willis Earl Beal, and Great Grandpa needs to be paid attention to.
The festival had scrappy beginnings in 2009 and continued to be a failure for the next two festivals. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is the laundry list of things that need to be in place to make a three-stage, 23-band indie festival run smoothly. This is the smoothest, and possibly the best year so far, which is good news for both festival goers and the performing acts.
Distinction went out and saw as much as we could, body alcohol level permitting. The following is a sampling of some of our favorite acts from this years lineup. If you want a bigger choose-your-own-adventure sampling of the bands that performed, you can hit up the official Vanfest Playlist on Spotify.
Astrol Waters is two guitarists making soft ambiance, a nest of diverse alt percussion, and front person / emcee / poet sliding a lyrical bubble that is part freestyle, part bars, through a vocal filter into the listeners souls. Astrol Waters represents a neighborhood of underground rap very often swept under the rug of people who listen to underground rap. The lush, dynamic and shockingly organic musical pieces performed live is a mechanism shockingly under-utilized in rap music, and Astrol Waters is a fountain of it.
This band, of all bands is a major touchstone for people who grew up in this scene; You hear Seacats you’re sixteen again and throwing up outside Ground Zero (RIP). Seacats are also infamous for always cooking up a Vanfest-specific show. Two years ago was a variety show with a wheel of torture. A year ago was a cult ceremony. This year was a terrifying circus. There is a defined tradition that following the last song, the band will send one member down the nearby cedar river on an inflatable raft. They did not disappoint this year.
Also a returning Vanfest classic. Michete’s packed set included a performance of the artists brand new (kind of) cover of Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record). The Internet's reactions to the single’s video, and indeed most of Michete’s output has been very polarized. This was not the case at the fest, if any indication could be taken from the bodies packed around the stage for her set.
The bizarre, variety show meets pitch meeting, is the musical and aesthetic brainchild of Violet Peterson Walker. Violet, main singer / songwriter behind Big Lips, Big Lies has crafted an aesthetic vision that includes angsty jingles for products that don’t need them and drum-machine supporting odes to Steve Albini in the style of Steve Albini. Also partial nudity. Prior to now, Horsest has had a “one gig a year” rule, but we’re hoping that will change in the near future.
Gorgeous instrumental pieces held together by a man, his machines, and a saxophone. Tacoma-based sound-off finalist Torpoise created a grandeur in the trees of the campground that was numinous as it was completely out of the blue.
I have it under authority that the wall of sound that is Bad Luck was the curator himself’s personal favorite act of the festival. Never before has noise music been so aggressively listenable. Vanfest 2017 was the year of the Saxaphone. A live performance of the bands’ single “RGB” with modern contemporary dancer Lorraine Lou filmed at the Chapel Performance Space in Seattle is required viewing.
Maybe the best punk band in Seattle right now? Probably the best punk band in Seattle right now. Definitely the best punk band in Seattle right now and this is fucking Seattle.
Legitimate moments of comedy, meld with really dark shit as the personal meets the political, with the most unexpected band at the festival. Hangry Hayrabs is a three piece made of various associates of Noise Noise Ouch Stop records. The three piece joined voices in harmonies with lines that asked you to consider how many boys you kissed and how many of them were white supremacists. Strap yourself down.