Crushing Denver: Electric Funeral Fest IV is Poised to Pummel This Weekend
Electric Funeral Fest, Colorado’s premiere gathering for doom, sludge metal, stoner rock, and all things low and slow will see its latest iteration unfold this Friday and Saturday on the streets of Denver’s South Broadway, the geographical center of the city’s thriving metal and punk scenes. Aptly named for that legendary Black Sabbath track from Paranoid, an album that inspired the entire slew of genres represented herein, the event was originally conceived as a cordial neighborhood get-together for the then-burgeoning doom and sludge scenes in Denver and the surrounding area. Though Electric Funeral Fest's lineup remains true to these roots by perennially incorporating dozens of up-and-coming bands from the local scene, its scope has expanded immensely since its inception in 2016, with the fest now functioning as a full-fledged block party with three separate stages and featuring nationally renowned headliners such as Torche, Thou, and Dead Meadow.
For more insight into the fest's inner workings and its quick rise to prominence, I spoke with the event’s main organizer Shaun Goodwin, the fearless leader of the relatively compact team behind DUST Presents (and also the guitarist of Denver doom outfit The Munsens). In anticipation of the upcoming weekend’s festivities, we discussed the event’s origins, its rapidly expanding scale, and the atmosphere its inventors intend to create year after year.
Looking back at the origins of Electric Funeral Fest, what were your earliest inspirations for its conception? How did it first come together?
I went to school for business, but all I really care about is music and I was trying to figure out a way that I could do something with whatever I had learned. I think it was Cinco de Mayo five years ago -- we had been involved in the Denver music scene for a little while by then -- and we were sitting having margaritas over at Las Margs right around the corner here. We were just chatting, I think it was my brother and I and some other friends, and we were just like, “Let’s do a festival. Let’s see what happens.” So the first year it was just one stage, it was at 3 Kings Tavern. That one went really well, for a first year. We had a lot of our friends’ bands come in to play, we had Sourvein and Radio Moscow; it was a really good time. Then from there we added a second stage the second year, Hi-Dive, which is just a hundred yards away. Then last year we added Mutiny as a third stage, and we’re running with the same format this year. It takes a lot of work, you know, it takes a whole year to curate it. But it’s been a fun process, it had just been an idea to throw a big party, more or less. It went well and it caught on -- there wasn’t a big festival like that yet in Denver, so I think it was a right time, right place kind of things.
What’s your vision for what kind of experience you’re ultimately striving to create? Are you aiming to cultivate a more holistic cultural event in addition to the music?
I think we have something unique with what we’re doing here. There’s a lot of festivals now, and you really have to have your thing to stick out, or you will get drowned out. What we have going for us is the intimacy of it, and the small/mid-size clubs that we play that are all on the same block of South Broadway. So it’s just as much of a block party as it is an indoor festival; everyone’s walking from venue to venue, passing each other on the street, so I think that’s what we really value and what’s prevented us from taking it to a bigger festival ground where we can sell more tickets. So it’s kind of like a little boutique, intimate festival. Capacity is very small, and we try to keep ticket prices low, which is difficult when you’re trying to bring in bigger acts -- you do need some money to do so. But we found this cool little balance of bringing in big bands and giving new bands a shot at the spotlight, and I think that’s another cool part of it; it’s not all big name acts but everybody’s awesome, so it’s a great chance to discover new bands. It’s also pretty cool watching bands from tours around the fest, it’s amazing to see. So getting back to your original question, that’s our vision: keeping it this intimate Denver block party hosted at all independently owned clubs. And that’s another big thing: there’s no bigger hands involved. We have really close relationships with all the owners and managers, and they love what we’re doing too. That’s what we’re going for.
Since Electric Funeral first started, how has its stylistic range expanded and evolved over the years?
I try not to limit myself to anything, I tell myself I’ll book anybody that’s good. I think we have expanded that over the years -- the first one was definitely a little more rock and stonery. The next year we had Acid King and Corky Laing, so that was kind of the same route, but I think last year we expanded quite a bit more. I listen to just about everything, and I think it’s also just a good idea to include all types of genres so there’s something for everybody. This year is probably the most diverse lineup. We have bands like Fotocrime all the way over to death metal bands like Thra, so I think we want to continue to expand in that direction and not limit ourselves to anything. I don’t really want to call it a “rock and metal” festival, but it is. We’re open to booking all types of things.
Within the booking/organization process, were there any particular highlights? Any interesting stories behind that part of the procedure?
Honestly, we just work with different agents and try to brainstorm. We reach out, see if they’re available, see if they’re willing to throw a tour around it. Chrome Waves is touring with Tombs, that’s how we got them on, so that was a really cool opportunity. Torche and Thou are flying in, and Dead Meadow was already passing through town on the same weekend, so we’re like hey, let’s join forces here. It probably wouldn’t be best to split the crowds [laughs].
Were there any big obstacles you faced that impeded you, anything you had to work around?
Like I said with our capacity and keeping ticket prices low, there’s only so much we can spend. There’s a million bands you can get and fly in, but we really have to limit ourselves to what we can do. People get offered shows -- bigger bands are getting offered gigs left and right, so they have to choose their summer plans. Oftentimes you have things on the line, it's 99% booked and it falls through, and you were planning on that so you have to fully clean slate. Sometimes it’s like, “What are we gonna do here? We need another headliner.” So those things happen every year, there’s always cancelations for one reason or another. You can’t really blame anybody, you know? I’ve been in that position as a musician where you have to cancel shows for different reasons, cancel tours. So you kind of have to be ready for those things and be on your toes. The first couple fests, those things got to me. It was like “No! We’re a week away, what do you mean you can’t?” Now it’s just like yeah, I expect it, those things happen. Un had to drop off recently so we brought on Dysphotic, a really awesome thrashy death metal band from Santa Fe. When those things happen, it might open up a door to book a band that you wish you had room to book but didn’t until somebody canceled. There’s always obstacles, I’d rather not get into specifics of certain ones but it’s a fuckin’ trip every year. It’s always, always something: that’s just the nature of the music business.
Do you feel that you were able to accomplish anything this year you that you couldn’t in the past? What aspects do you feel will be different, if any?
Last year was the first year that we added Mutiny, this year we’re trying to do the same thing but better. We’re trying to build off of last year -- last year we had the Speedwolf reunion, so that was in itself a sellout show for Denver -- we’re trying to learn from certain things that may have not been perfect with this new three-stage format try to really nail them this year. And then next year, do we add a fourth stage or do we just do it the same way again? You know, same capacity, sell it out and just keep riding with that? So I don’t know, we’ll see after this year. I think that it’s definitely a step above the last one, every year the lineup is a little bit bigger. We’re just trying to take it step by step here, year by year.
What kind of team is DUST Presents? How many people are behind it, or is it just you?
It’s basically just me. My brother Mike does a lot of the media stuff, photography, video, and some of the design work. We’ve lived together for several years, so we’re always around each other shooting ideas. He’s got his Ritual of Sin magazine that he does, so that’s kind of like a DUST Presents media partner, we work together quite a bit. My friend Sarah does hospitality - she's awesome, last year was her first with us. She does awesome work, she’s done tour managing before. She’s great at taking care of the bands so I don’t have to do a lot of that. It’s more like I do most of the stuff behind the scenes, and date of show I’ve got a lot of great people helping out. I hire a lot of friends that are musicians to run stages, be stages managers to have someone hands-on at all times in case something goes wrong. But luckily the venues we work with are so great and their staff is so awesome, their sound people, their door, so we don’t really have to do that because they have staff set up already.
So yeah, it’s a pretty small team, I’ve got lots of awesome friends that are willing to step up and help out when needed.
How does the three venue system work with Hi-Dive, Mutiny, and 3 Kings?
All the set times are staggered; they do overlap a little bit, but if you wanted to you could catch a bit of every band. But because they’re fairly small rooms, it doesn’t mean that set times overlapping will mean anybody’s getting a small crowd, there’s enough people to go around and everyone will have a solid crowd, if not a packed room. But when it comes to the headliner, that’s the only band playing at that time at 3 Kings, that’s the biggest room. It’s fun because you can pop in, see a band, maybe you’re not feeling it, you can just pop around and there’s always something playing at all times there’s no breaks.
The idea is that during a headliner’s set, most everyone will be in the one room. So with that in mind, how will capacity work? Where are you capping the ticket sales?
We can pretty much only sell about as many tickets as 3 Kings can hold, because when everybody floods there for the headliner you don’t want anybody stuck outside. Last year, we sold it out but we realized we could sell some more. The numbers are there, but some people can’t make it, or go home, so we realized we could push that a little bit without people having to be outside, if it got to that. We never got to that point last year and we hope it doesn’t this year, so like I said this’ll be another way to test out the waters of maxing out this three-stage system. Hopefully it all goes well.
With the way you’ve curated the event thus far, what are your biggest expectations for this year?
I hope it’s just as much fun as last year, the feedback was awesome. I hope we sell out, tickets are moving quick as usually happens this close to the show. I personally don’t buy tickets until close to the show or if I hear there’s only 50 tickets left. So think we just hope everything runs as smoothly as last year. A lot of that relies on the awesome staff at the venues, and they always do a really great job. There haven’t really been any crazy issues, everything always runs on time, there’s 20 minutes between each set so that gives everyone breathing room to set up for the next band. So I guess we hope we get a sellout with no major hiccups and no flights canceled. That’s another front we’ve been very lucky on in the past, the weather. We’ve had a little bit of heat before, but that’s okay, it’s June.