Just as Debacle Records delves into the outer reaches of experimental music, Debacle Festival fills the far corners of the city. The label, helmed by founder Sam Melancon and events coordinator Rachel LeBlanc, spans styles from Appalachian fingerpicked guitar to ambient drone to unsettling noise to driving psych-rock. Debacle's namesake festival has roamed from Capitol Hill to Eastlake and now, in its eighth year, finds a new home at Columbia City Theater, a beautiful, undersung vaudeville-era venue with one of the best sound systems in Seattle. With Debacle Festival running Friday and Saturday of this week, we spoke to LeBlanc about Debacle's role in the Seattle music scene, the festival's new locale and some of the highlights of this year's lineup.
It makes sense to me that you guys are taking over a cool venue in an offbeat neighborhood. You range pretty far with your musical selections so why wouldn't you expand your geographical footprint, too?
Rachel LeBlanc: Sam has been saying throughout the campaign for this year's festival that you should see it as a vacation from what you normally listen to. Even if you don't listen to quote-unquote experimental music, we're confident there's something you can appreciate. That’s the response we've had the past few years, as we've gotten bigger outside the circles we run it. We've turned a lot of people on.
Along with Motor, Debacle's electronic dance music night at Kremwerk, you guys are decentralizing the music scene in Seattle. It's not always about what's happening on Capitol Hill or in Ballard and it's not always about guitar rock or hip-hop or folk-pop.
We like the idea of pushing people out of their little bubble. It's tricky because Columbia City is out of the core of the city and Seattleites need convincing to leave their comfort zone, but it’s a great spot. I walked from light rail to the venue and back and its ten minutes, 12 if you meander and stop and smell the flowers. There's bus routes right there. And the theater is amazing, a beautiful spot with an excellent sound system. So we're exited to feature the artists that we're hosting, some of whom we've been working with for years.
Is there a through-line with the festival lineup? With the label, you guys act as tastemakers. You guys have the benefit of an audio archive of your intuition, your preferences, to guide people into the festival. Pretty much whatever you suggest I'll check out.
Even in the noisy, experimental realm there's different veins. The biggest through-line for the festival is that it’s the heart and soul of what Debacle is. Which isn’t one genre. Sam and I love all different sorts of music and love finding people we can represent that appeal to our ears. Overwhelmingly that sound is, as Sam says, bubbles and soft daylight. We do have harsh noise on the label and at the festival and some of those artists go into darker themes, but overwhelmingly it's a more ecstatic, elevated, playful feel. Overwhelmingly it's beautiful landscapes and looking into the distance, being introspective.
What will the festival format be?
We're gonna use the main-stage big room and the front stage in the front bar that they usually use for open mics and acoustic nights. We had great fun at last year's festival with multiple stages simultaneously at Black Lodge, Lofi and Victory Lounge, so this year the front stage will have more of the solo setup and the main stage will have the full-band acts. We're conscious of how we put this together. We try not to book acts over each other, but it'll be simultaneous for a good amount of it.
I love Mamiffer and Raica and that's pretty much all I recognize from this year's lineup. What else should I look forward to?
Faith [Coloccia of Mamiffer] is collaborating with Daniel Menche, a noise artist from Portland who she's worked with before. That’s gonna be cool. I'm excited about Pink Void, who was previously in a noise group called Blue Sabbath Black Cheer that has a big name in that world. She broke off as a solo act and it's been amazing to watch her evolve and develop and create some heavy sounds with her guitar and samples. We're putting her on the main stage this year.
Sam is really excited about Marielle Jakobsons; she's from the Bay Area and does these beautiful drones primarily with a violin. Sarah Davachi is from Vancouver, BC and and made this gorgeous electronic drone album using analog and modular synths. That’s gonna sound amazing on that sound system.
You're right that you can group all these musicians as "experimental" but they all sound different. And most of all, seeing them in the live setting is always exciting. I love an unprecedented musical experience. And you guys make it fun.
Yeah, we try not to make it too academic or scary. That’s another thing we've heard from people—everybody comes away feeling very welcome. It could easily fall into family reunion territory because these are people we're obsessed with but we try to present it as more of invitation. Maybe a family potluck. But we put the ad in the Little Nickel. Everyone's invited! That’s what we strive for. Let us take you by the hand. Trust us. And dive in.
Debacle Festival happens Friday and Saturday July 10-11 at Columbia City Theater. Tickets are $20 per night or $30 for a two-night pass—a serious bargain for 32 acts! Check the festival website for further info.
Pictured above: Pink Void courtesy Debacle website.