In her words, Rachel LeBlanc is the official “lieutenant” of Seattle underground experimental label Debacle Records. The first time she interacted with the imprint was when she unknowingly attended a Debacle-sponsored show at the Josephine.
“This band called Forest Friends were playing a packed room. One guy in the band is . . . picking up one of those little-kid boom boxes with the microphones attached, and suddenly he disappears,” she says. “He reappears in the crowd a second later wearing a fuzzy stuffed bear hat, a furry vest, [playing] a kazoo, and he starts parading around and going ‘doot-doo-doot-doo-doo’ in everyone’s face. I was like, ‘What the fuck is this? This is blowing my mind right now.’ ”
Welcome to Debacle Fest.
Now seven years strong, Debacle Fest is a showcase of the Pacific Northwest’s best musical freaks and weirdos—one magical weekend when the noise-loopers crawl out from their bedrooms, the warbling, guitar-strumming psychonauts scurry out from the woodwork, and the drone-makers finally get to pummel other people with the jagged sine waves they’ve summoned from their analog modular synths.
“The genres are all over the place,” LeBlanc says. “Which is hard for branding sometimes.”
True, the roster of Debacle Records is hard to put your finger on. But that’s part of its charm. It was founded by Samuel Melancon, who began with a simple idea—“Here is my taste, small unknown people I want everybody to know about and share”—and its talent veers all over the place from the foresty Northwest punk of Zephyrs to the Haitian-inspired, jazz-infused drum liturgies of King Tears Bat Trip (who’ll release its debut LP on a picture disc at this year’s festival). Debacle Fest is a chance for Melancon and LeBlanc, Melancon’s second-in-command, to release these underdogs to the world lest they spend their whole existence in a garage in a suburb.
“Take L.A. Lungs,” LeBlanc says, referring to a Tacoma-based New Age project—with an album called Cryptic Snuggling—that’s played the fest each year. “Here’s a married couple who have been working hard on the underground Northwest scene. The guy in the band actually ran the Olympia Experimental Music festival for a couple of years and they have great connections, but hardly anybody knows about their wonderful music. One of the rare times they play is at Debacle.”
Above: A brief interview with LA Lungs from the 2012 incarnation of the fest.
According to LeBlanc, most the bands at Debacle Fest rarely play out, making the weekend something of a treasure trove for adventurous music-lovers looking for something they couldn’t see otherwise.
The festival this year will feature a record-label fair, at the Black Lodge during the day before the performances start, where a slew of Seattle’s colorful underground record imprints will have a chance to sell all their wonderful and bizarre releases. Translinguistic Other’s catalog of ritualistic Jungian music, Hanged Man’s crust-covered cassette collection, and Eiderdown’s melting, psychedelic soundscapes are just a few of the labels who’ll peddle their hard-to-find goods.
But you won’t find just records at the bazaar. “I just got contacted by a guy who makes his own noisemakers that harsh noise guys use,” LeBlanc says about a potential vendor. “One is this plaster skull that he drilled holes into so that the knobs come out of the top.”
Following the fair, a maelstrom of weirdness will be unleashed upon Eastlake, where 23 bands will glob into three stages scattered over Lo-Fi, Victory Lounge, and Black Lodge to blow everyone’s minds from the furthest of left field.
“It’s $10 for 23 bands you probably won’t see anywhere else, all in one place,” LeBlanc says. “You really can’t beat that.”
DEBACLE FEST See debaclefest.com for Eastlake venues. $10. 1 p.m. Sat., May 31. Opening ceremony with Danny Paul Grody, Spectrum Control, Chris Davis, and more at Cairo, 507 E. Mercer St., templeofcairo.com. $5. All ages. 7 p.m. Fri., May 30.