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Interview With Gilead Music Festival organizer and label head Adam Bartlett
We all dream of hosting our own music festival. Even this reporter is guilty—Scabfest would be a three-day bender of blackened thrash, sideshow freaks, and Devil-worshipping exotic dancers, with a finale of Slayer calling Matt Pike onstage to cover Venom’s “Sacrifice”. Sadly, these dreams of throwing the Oktoberfest of the metal year are often sabotaged by laziness, finances, and a general lack of musical connections. Not so for Adam Bartlett of Gilead Media—this year, he’s throwing the Gilead Music Festival, a two-day event featuring some of today’s hottest black and doom metal bands, all in the remote town of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Over IM, Adam contacted Invisible Oranges to discuss Oshkosh, his label, and living the dream.
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Tell Me About Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Well, there’s not a ton to tell. It’s a small midwestern town. College town, about 65,000 people. Lots of artists, lots of music, and other creative culture. But nothing that is really within the realm of what people like you, me, and those that support the label are interested in. Bands don’t really play here, no one comes through here on tour. Some will play in Appleton, about 30 minutes north, but it’s not really a big destination.
Is this kind of festival common in the area? Perhaps not in genre, but in the two-day blast of tall line-ups?
Actually, there are a lot of festivals and events that are based here. There are huge country music and “rock” festivals with million dollar lineups. Drawing tens of thousands of people, maybe more. And there is an aviation convention here, the largest in the world, for a week a year. Kurt Russell, Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, guys like that all come here for the fly-in. The local economy thrives on that stuff. But in terms of more “alternative” sort of culture, not so much. There are a lot of smaller events with a more local focus, but nothing like this music festival. There are far more people coming to the fest from Minneapolis than Wisconsin as a whole.
It’s an interesting idea, throwing such a genre-specific festival in a town somewhat lacking in a scene.
Well, there are specific reasons . . . For the last six years or so I’ve been sending records all over the world . . . And many of the bands I’ve never met, and even fewer fans obviously. I decided it was time for the fans to follow that path back here, to where everything happens. To bring everyone together to see my home, the place where the energy is based that drives MY side of the release.
And then of course to see the bands that I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing. Fell Voices, Ash Borer, Barghest . . . I’ve never seen those bands live. I didn’t want to do it in Milwaukee, or Chicago. They get cool stuff all the time and aside from personal relationships, I have no ties to those places. This needed to be something special and personal. The venue is going to be amazingly intimate for such a lineup. A lot of bands will be playing on the floor, I think. The max capacity is about 250. It’s going to be a weird weekend. But it’s going to be the way I feel it should be: personal.
Obviously, the Gilead roster had a strange common aesthetic, though the bands play vastly different styles. Can you comment on that? What do you expect the vibe to be, rolling through this weekend?
For me, it is important to have a lineup with a lot of variety, but with the same DIY ethic and quality performances. I personally can not go to a show where there are 4 or 5 (or more) bands playing, and they all sound the same, or play the same type of music. I have a non-existent attention span so after about an hour of any one thing my interest wanes. I wanted to create an environment where people could see some of the bands they’re familiar with and then provide some alternatives that still fit in with a strong DIY aesthetic, although their individual styles vary. I don’t see a problem with a band like Get Rad or Arms Aloft playing around the same time as Hell or Aseethe. In my mind those bands all share a bond, even though a couple are real slow, one is fast, and another is more melodic. It keeps people interested, and keeps people from getting bored.
And if someone isn’t into one of the bands, they can always go bowling in the basement of the venue or walk down the street to go record shopping.
I feel like this is a weird chance to see a ton of doom fans bowling. It’s like an eclipse or something.
Ha! I’ve already had a ton of bands ask me if there is really a bowling alley there. They’re all stoked. It’s going to be great.
Is there a band you’re especially stoked to see?
I know it sounds like a cop out, but really every single band. I wouldn’t have asked any of them to play if I wasn’t excited to see them. Loss put out my favorite doom album in 2011, but then of course there’s Hell whom I never thought I’d see, and Barghest (who just lost their drummer and found a new one in 24 hours) . . . and Thou playing Tyrant. Who ever thought that would happen? I’ve actually never seen Arms Aloft and I LOVE that band, a lot. Northless, of course . . . heaviest band I’ve ever seen. Never been disappointed. Every time I think I’ve figured out who I’m most excited to see, I remember every other band that’s playing and can’t decide. And then I’m doing vocals for A Scanner Darkly that day . . . another live show I never thought would happen again. Their s/t EP was my third release, and it’s still high up on my list of favorite records. I really just can’t wait, it’s going to be total sensory overload.
You seem so jazzed for this–was putting these two days together ever a pain in the ass?
There is no seeming, I AM legitimately jazzed! There have been a lot of hurdles, some very frustrating and some very expensive. I’m really not going to stand to make any money at this point because of some expenses that came up. But then there are the incredibly positive things- the support I’ve had from people that make it possible. Friends opening their homes to bands so the band or I don’t have to cover hotels in many cases, the people reporting on the festival, the sponsors that helped cover expenses up front. That makes it worth all of the anxiety and headaches. And the people at The Electric Lounge have just been fantastic to work with. They truly understand what I’m doing, and how I’m trying to do something positive to bring people to Oshkosh, and they are doing a great deal to support the festival.
“Positive to Oshkosh” is interesting when related to these obscure, very bleak and demonic bands.
Yeah, that’s the funny thing. And an issue I’ve had at some junctures with people when referring to or discussing the festival. Especially with some people locally who don’t understand this scene. Yes, the music is bleak, it is abrasive, it can be very dark. But in all of my time working in the music industry (I did sales and marketing for a distributor for years) I’ve never encountered a more positive group of people than those in that play “bleak” music, or that sound “angry” (which, it seems, many people can’t get past).
I’m a relatively non-violent person; I don’t inflict harm on anyone or thing. But I love this very intense and abrasive music. I think that’s more common than not for people, and obviously most people reading Invisible Oranges will understand that. The thing I’ve been trying to drive home is that these bands create something- a feeling, an emotion. I try to explain to people who don’t understand that it’s not testosterone metal where people want to just hurt each other and get sick. It’s an appreciation of the ability to create a feeling, to capture and amplify this energy or emotion.
No, that makes sense. Your line-ups are full of bands who are very dark, but it’s an artistic darkness rather than a sort of frenzied human darkness like one gets at many more traditional metal shows.
Exactly, I hope that’s something everyone can latch on to. I want this to be a positive meeting of like-minded individuals, coming together to enjoy something unique.
In your mind, is this a yearly event or one big single weird occurrence?
Single weird occurrence, absolutely. I don’t think I’ll have the time or energy to do this again. It was just something I wanted to do once just to have the experience, like most other aspects of running this label I guess. Doing it just for the experience. I was heavily inspired by the Utech Records Music Festival in Milwaukee, and I figured that if I did things right I could pull off something similar. Unless I come into a bunch of money and can pay someone else to handle putting this together, it’s not happening again.
Has the label been on the back burner while focusing on the festival?
Eh, not really. Label work and festival work kind of get done together. There’s a LOT happening with the label right now, but they are releases I’m keeping secret until they’re ready to ship. It’s more like the label has been on the back burner while my pal John and I finish up the film we’ve been working on for two and a half years. [The film is called "Dead Weight"] The public premiere for that is March 30 and 31, so after that the label will be a little more of a focus again. But I’m still trying to scale some things back, too many responsibilities on top of a real job.
If you could do Gilead as a full-time job, would you?
I would enthusiastically say yes to that, but I know for a fact I’d want to get involved in a million other projects. That’s my nature. I need to be doing a million things at once. It’s more like I’d want to do the label alongside continuing to write and produce films. That way I’m still fulfilling the love I have for working on music, but get to work on my own creative output, too.
What would you say to a metalhead traveling to Gilead?
Bring an open mind and get ready to be social. If you feel inclined to say hi to me, please do. I want to meet as many of these people as possible that own the names I’ve been writing on packages over the past few years. Also, if you’re driving through Wisconsin make sure you have coffee, it’s a boring drive most of the time.