The rite of the music festival usually involves conglomerate domination and sponsorship whoring—but this weekend’s genre-encompassing Yo Eskerrik Asko, NYC! is a refreshing break from that norm. Organizer Don Mclean of the DIY-minded Fortissimo Records and improv noise ensemble Action Beat candidly admits to shelling out a shit-ton of his money to put together this weekend’s mindblowing lineups.
In addition to composer, symphonist and no wave visionary Glenn Branca and his ensemble (who will perform The Ascension: The Sequel), electronics-destroying noise miscreants White Suns and sound collage artists Oneohtrix Point Never and Tim Hecker, tomorrow night marks the much-welcomed return of guitarist Tom Carter, who fell ill on tour in Germany. Carter will be playing alongside ex-wife Christina Carter in spiritual guitar duo Charalambides.
Sound of the City got to chat via email with Mclean about putting out Branca’s 1981 no wave landmark The Ascension (on vinyl), Action Beat and the festival’s lineup.
How did the idea come about to do this festival?
I used to book a lot of shows when I lived in the UK. I believe I put on somewhere in the region of 150 shows since 2001. My first ever show was for Dutch punk legends, the EX. No one came to the show, and I lost £350. That was my very first experience of punk rock/DIY, but I didn’t let it deter me. It motivated me more in many ways. When I moved here in 2010 (to marry my wife), I knew it would be almost impossible to put on as many shows as I did when I lived in the UK, because this city is simply saturated with shows/bands/arts/culture. But, I really missed organising gigs, and so one day whilst I was sat at work I decided to put on all of my favorite bands over a two-day weekend (also, because I am about to become 30, and I thought why not?!!). I made a list of potential acts, worked out costs, and started mailing bands. I figured that even if no one came, I could pay for it by saving up my wages… the irony here is that my work let me go after I had agreed terms/guarantees with the artists. C’est la vie. In any case, I think I put together a pretty decent bill, full of bands I admire and respect.
Did it start with just a few bands and it sorta blew up into a two-day fest with tons of bands?
No, the idea was always to make it two days. I was toying with the idea of having an all-dayer in two different rooms, but I think it would have become problematic. I just couldn’t work out the lineup, and I also didn’t want anyone to miss any of the acts.
Was it always going to take place here in New York?
Aye, because I’ve lived here since 2010, with my wife and child, and it’s just the right kind of city to put on a avant/experimental fest. I used to put on festivals/all-dayers in the UK, but nothing of this magnitude. The fact is, if I had put on the same line up in the suburb of London where I once lived (Milton Keynes), about 30 people would have come! haha! My friends, essentially. I’d constantly lose money on guarantees for bands, because no one was interested in anything other than lame, boring mainstream rock bands. I wanted to put on the OXES, ZU, Neptune, Dalek, Do Make Say Think, the Ex, Fuck Buttons, etc., etc…. and every single time, I lost out. Fuck it.
Did you try to get bands like ZU, the Ex or Oxes to play this festival?
Oh yes, I asked both the EX and ZU! The Ex couldn’t come over for a one-off show, and ZU are having problems since their drummer left. I hope to put both of them on in the future, though.
Was it difficult to get Branca to play?
I just made him an offer, and he agreed. Pretty easy, actually.
What sparked you to start the Fortissimo label?
Basically, Dischord Records and Touch & Go made me obsessed with punk rock, labels, bands, etc. I was into bands before that, but when I discovered “the underground,” I became engrossed. I wanted to replicate that in my own town, Milton Keynes, because literally nothing was happening there. I somewhat naively believed that I could create a burgeoning scene, just like Dischord [and its ilk] did. Although the town is pretty still dead, and no one attends shows, my friends and I still managed to bring hundreds of bands and people there from all over the world, and I am very proud of this.The label side, releasing records, etc., hasn’t been as prolific as I would have liked, but I’ll get there one day. The Ascension isn’t a bad release to have on yr label, right?
The band you’re in (Action Beat) is certainly inspired by no wave and Branca. What can be expected from Action Beat’s set?
Hopefully a filthy, destructive set, which will grate at your ears. We normally rip it!
You’ve had multiple drum kits on stage, as well as group members. How many will there be this weekend?
Two. Maybe three if my friend gets back to me.
How many members will play? Any special guests?
Seven, I believe. Maybe we can convince Glenn to strap on a guitar, but I seriously doubt it.
Besides yourself, are there permanent Action Beat members or is it always changing?
Oh yeah, I started the band with James Carney, and since 2007, we have played with pretty much the same seven people…. though we add other people here and there.
Mclean breaks down some of the bands playing this weekend.
Glenn Branca Ensemble at Primavera, 2011
The story with The Ascension: basically, I asked Glenn if he would be willing to allow me to reissue the vinyl, and after about four weeks, he finally replied saying he was prepared to do this but only if I paid a substantial advance. I can’t go into figures because that is unfair, but let’s just say the advance cost as much as the record did to press, and if any of you know about pressing 180g white vinyl, with full colour artwork, you will know it isn’t cheap. Rightly so, Glenn deserves every penny he gets, and after having some pretty bad experiences, it’s only right that he gets what he deserves. For all he knew, I could be some twat that pressed the records, sold them all, and fucked off with the money!
I went for a meeting with Glenn in NYC, as I was out there anyway. I was completely nervous about meeting him, and didn’t know how to open the conversation. I didn’t want to come across like a nerd, or a super fan. Anyway, I was reading an Irvine Welsh book on the subway, and I finally get to the stop in the lower east side. I get to his apartment, and he comes out and first thing he says is “So, you’re Don. Where you from?” I go into the same old story about how I am from Scotland, but my parents moved me to England when I was young, hence the accent. He goes on, “Scotland aye, one of my favorite writers is from Scotland, Irvine Welsh.” “Oh wow, I am just reading The Acid House.” We then go on to talk about the last short story in the book, “A Smart Cunt,” which is a brilliant read, and then, like a smart cunt myself, I somewhat charm him with my impersonations of Scottish accents! After that, we hit a bar where you can smoke, which is quite unusual in NYC seeing as they have a majority ban on smoking in pubs. I have four beers, he has one rather large sambuca. The rest is history.
Neptune, “Cash Mattress”
I had seen Neptune play at the EX’s 25th Anniversary, and it was love at first sight. I thought they were one of the most ingenious bands ever. Their live show looks like an art project, which I guess in ways it is. Magnificently sculpted guitars, that look and sound amazing. I just had to bring them to the UK. So, with a lot of hard work, I made that a reality in 2005. We’ve been good friends ever since.
Tim Hecker, “The Piano Drop”
Have never met Hecker, or OPN before. I was talking to Hecker about releasing a record on Fortissimo but it’s not going to happen for the time being. Basically, Kranky asked him if they could reissue his old records and I told him to go with Kranky rather than Fortissimo, simply as they are a better/well-known label. I’ve been into Hecker for years but never actually managed to see him live. I just asked him and he put me in touch with his agent (who I had already dealt with through Neptune—Frontporch Productions). Ravendeath, 1972 was probably my album of the year for 2011, absolute genius on a couple of 12″ records…
Oneohtrix Point Never
Oneohtrix Point Never, “Replica”
OPN, I really digged Returnal and then he released Replica last year, and I thought it was extremely innovative and listened to it constantly.
Charalambides, “Joy Shapes”
I once played with Charalambides in Manchester years ago but they weren’t the most talkative people!! Hahaha!! They probably didn’t want to speak to some stoner kids neither!!! Hahaha!!!
Christina Carter (live in 2004)
I was obsessed with Christina Carter’s Texas Blues Working. My wife and I abused the shit out of it!!
Colin L. Orchestra
Colin L. Orchestra, “Smoking”
Known him for years and played with them many times. They allowed my old band Riotmen to support them in 2003 and that was my first tour ever.
White Suns (live at Death By Audio, 2011)
White Suns, I think, are the greatest rock band to emerge in recent years. Which is saying something for me because I have pretty much all but given up on rock music; it’s become repetitive and predictable these days. I think White Suns are forward-thinking and perhaps there is an edgy aspect to the music they create.
Action Beat, “Car Crash Halloween Disco”
Well, I am risking a ton of money on the fest, and I thought, “Fuck it, I’ll put my own band on!!!” Hahaha!!
Fortissimo Records presents Yo Eskerrik Asko, NYC! At Public Assembly tonight and tomorrow.