Black Flags Over Brooklyn 2019: Kim Kelly Interview
Kim Kelly was named one of the 25 Most Important People in Metal by MetalSucks in 2016 with a résumé that included experience in nearly every facet of the music business: she worked or interned for record labels, was the metal director at her college radio station, owned her own PR firm, and toured the world as a merchandiser. All the while, she wrote for a slew of metal publications and websites – including Invisible Oranges and BrooklynVegan – and became the go-to voice when mainstream outlets such as Pitchfork, Chicago Reader, and the New York Times needed dispatches from the underground.
Anyone who paid attention to her Twitter page could see how her interests branched out beyond metal the past few years. She critiqued capitalism and touted unions at Teen Vogue, and as the metal editor at Noisey, championed metal bands that embraced leftist politics and activism such as Neckbeard Deathcamp and Summoning.
Given her past as a metal renaissance woman (including booking shows since she was too young to get into many venues) and her current role as a significant element in extreme metal’s conscience, it’s not a shock that she is responsible for Black Flags Over Brooklyn 2019. The fest will take place at Brooklyn Bazaar and bring together 16 bands over the course of two days. They come from all around the world and are as disparate as Racetraitor’s brutal hardcore, Ragana’s anarcha-feminist doom, Pulsatile Tinnitus’ ambient noise, Morne’s atmospheric sludge, Chepang’s Nepalese grindcore, and Glacial Tomb’s blackened death metal.
Kim Kelly took a break from raising the Black Flags to answer some questions about the festival:
*More details on the event follow the interview.
What prompted you to want to do Black Flags Over Brooklyn 2019?
It was an idle thought that snowballed into something bigger than I could have ever imagined. The idea popped into my head one summer afternoon while I was killing time on Instagram; I saw Dawn Ray'd post a flyer for some cool-looking politically-oriented gig overseas, and thought, "Man, I wish we had something like that here." I absentmindedly tweeted about it, and got a ton of excited responses right off the bat. That made the gears start turning, so I texted Simon [Barr], the vocalist of Dawn Ray'd, and asked him what he thought of the idea. He and the other fellas were into it, so I figured, fuck it, let's give it a go.
On a more personal level, I wanted to try and put together the kind of show I'd always dreamed of: One that combined the music I love with the politics I live by, and rather selfishly planned it for my 31st birthday weekend.
On an even more personal note, I've been in this industry for a long time (I might've still been a teenager the first time I wrote something for IO!) and have learned so much from the mistakes I've made along the way. When I was younger, before I really became politically educated, some of the bands I covered or worked with had views or lyrics I would never in a million years condone or give a platform to now; continuing to take accountability for that is important to me, and I also think it's worth mentioning because it's concrete proof that people can grow and start caring more about the world around them, instead of just riffs. Riffs are very, very important, but aren't everything. We all start somewhere, and maybe this festival will be some other person's first step towards something better.
In a cosmic sort of way, it feels like putting on this event and pouring so much blood, sweat, and tears into making it happen is the least I could do.
Although you had Doomed to Suffer Promotions, have you ever undertaken an event of this size and scope?
Nope, I still don't know what came over me! I haven't booked a show under that moniker in a very long time (probably since I left Philly in 2010) and seldom book shows up here in NYC now, but did a lot of booking for a long time and still do the occasional benefit show, so it was familiar enough territory. I'm also lucky to be working with people who live and breathe booking, and who between them have decades of experience in making shows go off without a hitch. I've been focusing more on curation, media, strategy, and artist relations; there's a very clear division of labor, and we're each playing to our strengths.
You worked for MDF for a few years. Did that experience assist you with Black Flags Over Brooklyn? What experiences at other fests gave you the best ideas on what to do and also what not to do?
Well, I wouldn't say that I worked for them -- that's not an accurate characterization. For several years, with the MDF crew's blessing and alongside a fluid team of other writers and designers, and illustrators, I edited and put together a zine that we printed up and handed out for free to attendees; I believe the last year we did it, we printed 5,000 copies.
That experience didn't really impact what we're doing here (though was certainly valuable in terms of my day job as an editor at Noisey). I took far more inspiration from 161 Fest, Fluff Fest, Eistnaflug, and Roadburn overseas, and Migration Fest, Shadow Woods, and Northwest Terror Fest here in the States, and tried to cherry-pick my favorite bits from each of them to assemble the kind of festival I'd always wished to attend. I knew how important it was to find our aesthetic -- in terms of design, genre mix, and overall vibe -- and what kind of feeling I wanted people to have when they walk into the space. I learned from Gilead/Migration's example of starting small, and building; that's why this year's event is only a day and a half. Seeing the way that Walter [Hoeijmakers] and the team at Roadburn go above and beyond to treat their artists and crew with great care and respect is something I also wanted to emulate. Eistnaflug's "no assholes allowed!" policy was an inspiration as well, ha! There is always room to grow.
Did you know all of the bands personally, professionally? Most of our readers know Dawn Ray'd and Cloud Rat -- tell us about some of the emerging bands on the bill and why attendees should make sure they don’t miss them.
Yup, most of the bands were booked by me sending a quick text and asking, "Do you want in?" save for one or two who reached out and ended up being a perfect fit. Trophy Hunt, a queer grind/crust trio from Brooklyn, was one of those; they emailed me out of the blue, I listened to their demo, and was immediately sold. They're opening the show on Saturday, so make sure to show up on time!
I'm excited to see everyone, honestly, but want to emphasize how much care went into the selection of each band, and how much they all rule. It's a very diverse lineup in more ways than one, and I'm really proud of what we're put together. Besides the bands you mentioned (who I love to bits and am so excited to see again), Chepang and Sunrot are local favorites who deserve a lot more shine, Niuta's going to bring the crusty Bolt Thrower worship, our noise artists (Axebreaker, Pulsatile Tinnitus, and Whitephosphorous) are going to add an extra level of audio aggression, I already know for a fact that Racetraitor, Vile Creature, and Morne are incredible live, and I especially cannot wait to finally see Ragana, Closet Witch, Glacial Tomb, and Occultist.
Of course, Black Flags Over Brooklyn is more than music: it’s billed as “an anti-fascist, anti-racist extreme metal festival.” Why are the politics so important to the festival? How is the theme being incorporated into the fest other than the political views shared by the bands performing?
I wouldn't be doing this otherwise. My goal for this event is to create a real-life, physical space for leftist metalheads to gather, organize, connect, learn, and have a good fucking time. There's a really robust network of like-minded metal folk online, but we need to take these conversations offline and into the community itself in order to enact any lasting change.
Besides the fact that every band on the bill aligns with our political focus, we have also organized a free, open-to-the-public, all-ages vendor market that will be open during the show all day Saturday, and bring together a number of radical booksellers, local political organizations, artists, craftspeople, zinesters, distros, and record labels, including PM Press, AK Press, Haymarket Books, NYC Anarchist Black Cross, It's Going Down, Verso Books, POP Gym, The Base, Tridroid Records, Vinyl Fantasy Records, Foxie Cosmetics, Just Seeds, the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council, and more. We'll also have a table from the ASC (Awareness Support Corner) collective [that] will be present to hand out free resources and talk with any folks who may need to take a breather during the show.
We are extremely cognizant that not everyone who might be interested in the festival will be able to buy a ticket (or may not be as interested in the heavy metal component), but still wanted to create space for those community members to come out and enjoy the event. I've been involved in planning the NYC Anarchist Bookfair for the past couple of years, and took a lot of inspiration from that model.
The fest has received backlash online, because a razor company can’t even make a commercial telling men to be responsible human beings without getting backlash. Are you concerned about that spilling over into the venue?
I honestly haven't seen much backlash, probably because at this point in my career as a human online, I know which forums and comment sections to avoid (i.e. literally all of them). I've been really gratified and humbled by the outpouring of support we've received from both members of the metal world and the radical community, and if anyone does have a problem with the festival's political focus, who cares? If reactionary jagoffs are crying about it in some piss-stained corner of the Internet, good. That means we're doing something right.
This isn’t only your own work, you have a bunch of people who helped and are helping you make the fest happen. Who has been instrumental in making BFOB happen?
There are two other organizers who I asked to get involved after I began the initial planning. One of them has many, many years of event production and booking experience at venues around NYC (and is playing the fest with Niuta on Friday!). The other is a graphic designer and a DIY screen printer who's been booking DIY shows for a decade and is deeply involved in the NYC anarchist, anti-fascist, and punk communities. They are both smarter than I am and have elected to keep their names off the Internet, ha!
I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Meredith [Graves] at Kickstarter for guiding us through the process of putting together a successful campaign, Shannon [Void] at Perfect World [Productions] who helped streamline our publicity, Dan Bones for creating our incredible festival t-shirt design, David [Paul Seymour] at Made in Brooklyn silk screeners for whipping up said festival t-shirts, Racetraitor's Mani Mostafi for putting together our festival promo video, King Carrion for designing our awesome festival flyers, and the fine folks at Brooklyn Bazaar for making the entire process a delight, as well as every single band, label, and organization who decided to be a part of this, and every single person who gave us support in any way. This is very much a community effort, and I'm so grateful.
Are there plans for this to be a recurring festival? Maybe having it in other cities or even a tour?
Absolutely. If we have some funds leftover after covering expenses and making donations to causes close to our hearts (like the Brooklyn Bail fund and the Internationalist Commune in Rojava), we fully intend to earmark a few bucks for the next Black Flags event. Will it be a benefit show? Will it be a tour? Will we raise the black flag over another city? Will there be a 2020 edition? Time will tell.
Honestly, outside of what we end up doing, I would love nothing more than for other people to take this idea and run with it. I think every metal show should be an inclusive, explicitly anti-fascist space, and if we can be the spark that lights that flame, then let 'er rip.
Black Flags Over Brooklyn 2019
Where: Brooklyn Bazaar
When: this Friday (doors at 7:45 p.m. EST) + Saturday (doors at 2:00 p.m. EST)
Trophy Hunt NYC
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