Just as the Brooklyn-based psychedelic rock duo Tonstartssbandht were about to play their headlining set at Radio Bushwick during last summer’s Gigawatts Festival, its organizer, Danny Krug, got a text from his sound guy: “The P.A. just blew up, there’s smoke and sparks everywhere, you need to come now.”
The P.A. was installed over at a makeshift venue around the block dubbed “Hot 97,” and the sound man was beside himself. It couldn’t have come at a worse time: Brooklyn rock trio Fiasco were about to play their long-awaited reunion show. “[Fiasco] were more or less convinced to get back together for the festival,” Krug says. The band was supposed to take the stage for the closing set.
“And I was like, ‘Well, they have to play, and it has to be crazy, because all these people came here specifically to see this band that hasn’t played in years.’
“I ran down the street, ran upstairs, and sure enough, what had happened was [the P.A.] overloaded ’cause it was so hot in there. The main problem was that my sound guy was so messed up at the time he just didn’t know what to do. He had a pocket flask of whiskey that he had been nursing the whole day, and he’d probably smoked some weed, too, at some point.”
Thinking quickly, Krug helped him run vocals through the guitar amp. “It was literally a squat that we were in,” Krug marvels. “I came in with the microphone cable to get the Frankenstein guitar-amp-P.A. situation working, and we fixed it up and made it all happen. That was a lot of the vibe of last year.”
Krug is now gearing up for the biggest and best (and most legitimate) Gigawatts Festival ever, with more than 80 bands playing in three venues in three days. It’s an endeavor that started somewhat modestly two summers ago, when Krug staged the first Gigawatts fest at Silent Barn, to commemorate the inaugural year of his publication, 1.21 Gigawatts Magazine. It was a natural extension of what Krug had already been doing at 171 Lombardy, an unsuspecting warehouse in a desolate swath of Greenpoint that became home to late-night parties and rooftop shows. After offering 20 bands for $20 at the first Gigawatts Festival, Krug says, “We had to do it bigger.” So he did — offering a lineup with more than 60 bands at 2014’s fest, with hundreds of punk and garage-rock fans showing up for the party. This year, Gigawatts takes over interconnected venues the Wick and the Well, along with their newly opened bar and rehearsal space Our Wicked Lady. More bands and more space means nearly triple the audience.
Still, Gigawatts has kept its focus on the ultra-local, booking from a pool of nascent bands that Krug calls friends or has profiled in his magazine. “No matter how big we grow it, I always wanna have the element of small, up-and-coming bands from Bushwick,” Krug maintains. “That’s important even if they’re only on a tiny dive stage in the future. I want them to be included in some way because that’s kinda what it’s about. And it needs to be about that on some level for as long as I’m involved — which is probably gonna be as long as it exists.”
“Gigawatts gets all those bands you force your way into someone’s basement to see and puts them all in one place for a wicked, badass tsunami,” raves Oliver Ackerman, guitarist for eardrum-crushing psych-noise outfit A Place to Bury Strangers, who precede Friday-night headliners Black Lips. “I love a ton of the bands playing the festival. I can’t wait to see Guardian Alien, ’cause that shit is absolutely insane, and Bambara, I hear, have got some new jams, so I can’t wait.” Ackerman is more than a little familiar with Brooklyn’s underground music scene; he used to run beloved D.I.Y space Death by Audio, which shuttered last year. “The scene keeps on getting its ass kicked, so people gotta keep on trying. It’s good to know that there are still so many poor kids making the celebration happen because New York is so special.”
“As a philosophy, D.I.Y. will never die,” Krug echoes, remembering the heyday of DBA and its neighbors, 285 Kent and Glasslands, also closed. “But something like that [cluster of venues] can never exist again. People like the idea of D.I.Y. culture, but they don’t want some crazy party happening down the street until 3 or 4 a.m.” Without a venue-based epicenter, Krug works to connect like-minded bands at events like Gigawatts. “He really cares about giving independent music a good home in Brooklyn,” says Peter Berkman of Saturday headliners Anamanaguchi, “which is pretty important now considering the massive blows dealt to it [with] the closing of 285 Kent, Death by Audio, Glasslands, and so many others.”
Krug’s motivations are relatively simple: He loves seeing the scene evolve. “It’s cool to watch these bands grow and change over time. There are a lot of different sub-scenes within the quote-unquote scene of Brooklyn, but there’s also camaraderie between all of them. There’s this sense of inclusion,” he says. “I also love that a lot of the bands we’ve had back year after year have grown immensely. Celestial Shore [playing Friday evening] is pretty much a prime example. [They] played the first show I ever booked in Brooklyn, on the roof of a warehouse I lived in. And I think I paid ’em like twenty bucks to play that show. Tonight they’re playing on a boat with Delicate Steve, which is awesome. They just toured Europe.”
This is what makes Gigawatts unique — it isn’t the bloated, over-branded behemoth that so many festivals have become. “Everybody always said, until people formed Governors Ball and it blew up, that you can’t have a festival in New York, that it just doesn’t work,” Krug says. He says that citywide fests like CMJ or Northside “don’t really work” because “especially during CMJ, bands will play Terminal 5 and then bands play at Shea Stadium. And there’s no way you can bounce between those venues. There’s zero way.
“To me, it’s all about using New York City in a way that you can cultivate something similar to an enclosed festival where it feels like Bonnaroo or Coachella but on a smaller scale.” That’s the idea behind Gigawatts’ tongue-in-cheek slogan: “Probably Brooklyn’s Best Music Festival.”
“It is a festival ’cause there’s 85 bands playing over three stages,” Krug says. “But it’s not a self-contained thing. You can wander around, you can go home, take a nap, come back, watch another band if you want.”
For now, Krug will have to wait for that nap. Organizing this year’s Gigawatts has been “the most tiring thing I’ve ever done in my life, that’s for sure. It doesn’t sound like it should be. It sounds like I’m just at a concert all day, drinking beer,” he laughs. “Last year, I don’t think I did a single thing the week after. I just stayed at home. I didn’t book a show for a month, and then we booked the most ridiculous show, which was ten bands, at Silent Barn, and they all did a cover of Eddy Grant’s ‘Electric Avenue,’ and that’s the only song they played. It was ten bands only playing that song, and it was just me with my mind so fried I couldn’t think of normal things, so I’m going to do this ridiculous thing. So that I can maybe get back to normalcy.”
Gigawatts Festival will take over the Wick, the Well, and Our Wicked Lady July 24–26. For the full lineup, ticket information, and more, click here.