Smile Politely

Dark Tower Fest: A DIY collaboration

It’s no secret that the spirit of DIY music is alive and well in C-U. Gathering in cozy basements and living rooms, the goal has always been to get people together and share art and good vibes. This weekend, the first ever Dark Tower Fest will be a cultivation of some of the greater sounds of that scene. Between Saturday and Sunday, over 20 bands from various cities across the Midwest will perform and although the lineup for both nights consists of primarily heavy genres, there will be a few artists of electronic music, noise music, and more.

Dark Tower Fest has been planned to be an all-inclusive and friendly event in accordance with some virtues held highly in the DIY scene. No matter who you are or what kind of music interests you, Dark Tower Fest should appeal to anyone who comes out and just wants to see some great performances, have a good time, and make connections. I spoke with Sophie-Alice Katet, the founder of Dark Tower DIY, and Veronica Mullen, the owner of Blips and Chitz, who also helped organize the event.

Top image by Veronica Mullen.

Editor’s Note: Since the time of the interview, the lineup for Dark Tower Fest has changed. See the event page for more information. 

Smile Politely: Tell me a bit about Dark Tower Fest.

Sophie-Alice Katet: I guess I’ll start with what Dark Tower DIY is. Basically, it started as doing some booking at various venues – one of them being Veronica’s house, Blips and Chitz, and [then also] Ghost Planet. The first show was last July at Ghost Planet. It was called “Christmas in July Spooktacular.” It was mainly booking, and then I started getting into dubbing tapes for people, and it’s kind of become a label/booking thing. Dark Tower Fest is going to be a two-day festival – it’s kind of mixed-build with focus on darker, heavier music for the most part. The first day is going to be at Blips and Chitz, which is in Champaign, and then the second day is going to be at Ghost Planet, which is in Urbana. There are 11 bands on the first day and 13 or 14 on the second day. There might be a couple added in the meantime. As far as genres go, I’d say about half to three-quarters of it is going to be kind of screamo/emo stuff and then there’s going to be some grindcore, a lot of noise music, a couple indie bands, and a couple of electronic things too.

SP: So, this is a recent development?

Katet: This is the first year it’s going to happen. [For “Christmas in July,”] there were about 12 bands that played, so [Dark Tower Fest] is about that doubled in a two-day period. I just thought it would be fun. I came up with the idea three months ago and started planning that with Veronica about when the dates would work out. We’re purposely doing it the weekend after spring break so that people will be back from spring break stuff and be back at school and so that students can come to it and won’t be traveling and things. It took about a month and a half to get all the bands on board. I’ve just made various connections from booking shows and traveling and just meeting people and talking to cool bands. And they’re all really nice people and just kindly agreed to play.

Photo by Sam Logan.

SP: Are all the bands local?

Katet: I think there are about five local Champaign-Urbana acts on it, maybe four, but all the bands are from Iowa and Illinois and there’s one from Indiana. Mainly just the Midwest area.

SP: So, it’s going to be at both Blips and Chitz and Ghost Planet? Have a lot of these bands played here before?

Katet: I’d say about half of them have probably played at one of those two houses. Just a note: Blips and Chitz and Ghost Planet are DIY venues so it’s going to be in some basements. I’d say about half the bands have, half the bands haven’t or it has been a while since they’ve come through here.

Veronica Mullen: I know a lot of them had played previous shows at my house or if not, at Ghost Planet at the “Christmas in July” fest. So, some [are] returning bands.

Katet: Just the other day, Tweak, Black Nail, and Stye, which are three bands that are going to be in the Fest, played a show, and actually my noise project, Can’-Ka No Rey, played. All four of those artists are going to be playing the fest too. That show was great – it was a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

SP: Is there a cover charged for the Fest?

Katet: It is going to be $10 per day or if you want to go to both days there will be a wristband for $15. All of the money is going to be divided up between the bands to go to gas money, food, things like that. I’m not making any profit off of it.

SP: How did you get the name Dark Tower?

Katet: It’s from the Stephen King “Dark Tower” series, which I’m a big fan of. It’s just eerie-sounding. It’s hard to explain the whole series, but in the books it’s the object that holds the multiverse together and it’s just this kind of pseudo-spiritual, interesting concept that I like a lot, so it was named after that.

SP: Are most of the bands sort of DIY?

Katet: I think every single one of them is a DIY band, yeah. Or is used to playing DIY spaces. There are a couple bigger names, but not huge.

SP: That’s such a beautiful thing about this town specifically: just how wonderful the DIY scene is.

Katet: Yeah, it’s really nice. There are a lot of great people in the scene and a lot of good shows happening – at least four or five a week, and sometimes every day. I know Veronica works so hard on that stuff.

Mullen: Yeah, I think in April we have like 12 or 13 shows just at our house so half the month is literally shows. It’s cool, but I’m stressing out about it already. It’s super fun though – I enjoy doing it. Having a place for bands to play, I think, is super important. There needs to be more DIY spaces in town so we can spread it evenly, you know, throughout downtown and campus-town as well.

Katet: One thing that has been probably the hardest group of people to attract to shows has been students sometimes, just because it’s hard to get the word out there for people that aren’t necessarily, or haven’t been, involved in the DIY scene or don’t know about the shows, because it’s usually just Facebook events. But for this Fest, we’re going to try to put flyers throughout campus and try and get some students to come through. I tried to get a variety of bands. I mean, not everyone is into super-heavy stuff, but I tried to get enough bands on there that weren’t part of that screamo genre area. So if someone comes out, I can’t see someone not enjoying at least one band each day.

SP: It’s good to have that diversity of genres.

Katet: Yeah, it’s definitely pretty important.

SP: What kind of advantages do you feel like a DIY show or house show has over going to a larger venue?

Mullen: I think price is one thing. At my venue specifically, we do donation-based admission so if you don’t have the money, we’re not going to turn you away.

Katet: And that’s another thing with this Fest — if you don’t have money, please still come. It’ll be fun.

Mullen: Yeah we just want people out there to enjoy music and make connections and meet new people. That’s a big one for DIY spaces in general – usually they’re pretty understanding about letting people in. Even if there is a cover, it’s usually five or ten dollars, which is a lot cheaper than some venues. And I think people often feel more comfortable in a DIY space. I think people in our scene are pretty much super welcoming to everyone and it’s easy to meet new friends. If you have an issue, we do our best to try to get everyone to feel included.

Katet: We definitely try and make the venues safer spaces for everyone, and accessible and friendly to LGBTQ people and people who are not neurotypical and things like that. There are couches in both the basements so if someone needs to sit down they can do that.

Mullen: I think the vibe of both basements is welcoming and that they feel pretty safe. And we’re always trying to make our space feel safer too, so if anyone ever has concerns they can always contact us and we’ll do our best to work with them. I think that’s something that you don’t really get at a larger-scale venue.

Katet: Specifically at the Fest, if someone is being made uncomfortable, if they come [notify] someone who’s running it, there will be barely any questions to no questions asked and that person who was making them feel uncomfortable will be asked to leave.

Mullen: Basement shows in general are super intimate and I think that’s something that you don’t get in a larger-scale venue. You can be literally this far away [gesturing the distance of a couple feet] from the bands and I think some people find that super cool. That’s another plus I would say to basement shows in general.

SP: Are there any bands that you are especially excited about?

Katet: I’m really excited for every single one. One main one – they were just here the other day— Black Nail. They played at Blips and Chitz. Seriously, one of the best sets or basement shows I’ve been to in Champaign-Urbana.

Black Nail.

Mullen: It was probably one of the best shows at our house that I’ve ever witnessed.

Katet: It had a really good turnout and people were having fun, people were moving around. There were just really good vibes and that band really brought the good vibes. I’m really excited to see them again. They’re also one of my favorite bands. They’re from Chicago. [Also] Livin’ Thing from Springfield – I’m really excited to see them play here again.

Mullen: I’d say Black Nail because just from watching them play at my house, they’ve become a band that I really enjoy. I had not really listened to them before at all, but after seeing them play I’m like, “Wow, this band…they rip.” I personally don’t listen to a ton of heavier stuff like that, but they just put on a really good performance. It was good.

Katet: Another one I’m really looking forward to is Blue Movies. It’s noise, but they play saxophone in such a way that it’s just so emotional. They usually set up some CRT TVs and will have whatever they’re using to make the noise connected to them in this way that the static on the TVs displays the noise. It’s just really, really interesting and very interactive.

[We take a moment to share a mutual appreciation for the music playing in the background: the album Stratosphere by the band Duster]

Mullen: I’ll shout out one more band. I’ll shout out a local band – Old Home is playing on the first day. They’re still a fairly new band here in town. They’re on the heavier side, I would say. [To Katet] what would you compare them to?

Katet: I don’t really know what to compare them to, but it’s kind of like if math-rock took a little bit of a screamo twist without becoming actual screamo.

Mullen: Yeah they’ve got the screaming vocals, but they’ve got the mathy guitars. I think I booked their first show at the Institute 4 Creativity and they’ve played our basement once or twice before too. That’s one of the other ones I’m looking forward to. But yeah, pretty much every artist on the Fest is going to be awesome.

Katet: It’s going to be a lot of friends being able to see each other that live a few hours away. A lot of people in the bands know each other. But I mean, new people that don’t know anyone, I’m sure they’ll definitely be accepted and can meet some cool people.

Mullen: That’s what it’s all about, right?

Dark Tower Fest is happening this Saturday, April 1st (at Blips and Chitz) and Sunday, April 2nd (at Ghost Planet). The music starts at 2 p.m. both days. Tickets are $10 at the door for each day or $15 for both days (available for purchase at Saturday’s show). For the locations of the show houses, contact either show organizer via Facebook. Visit the event page for more information.

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