There are very few legitimate extreme metal festivals in the United States; typically fans have to head overseas to events like England's Damnation Festival, Netherland's Eindhoven Metal Meeting, or France's Hellfest to get their fix. However, in the past couple years we've slowly gained some speed. Maryland's Death Fest has been shredding the scene for more than a decade, and Phil Anselmo's Housecore Horror Fest in Austin, which is all about underground metal and horror films, comes later this month.
Now Arizona has entered the frontier, hosting the DIY, booked-by-musicians-for-musicians Southwest Terror Fest right in our rattlesnake-filled, heavy metal-loving backyard.
Organized and hosted entirely by Tucson band members--Godhunter guitarist/vocalist David Rodgers, Great American Tragedy bassist Larry Horvath, and Diseased Reason guitarist Dave Carroll--Southwest Terror Fest 2013: Year of the Snake may have a long way before it becomes the West Coast's answer to Maryland Death Fest.
But after the festival's crushingly successful debut last year, it's clear that this event is bringing a one-of-a-kind, much-need extreme underground music gathering to the Southwestern quadrant of America. It's all ages and inexpensive, too--a ticket for the event, which takes place October 10-13 at The Rock, only costs $55.
"Metal and hardcore have always been more underground, so it needs more of a push to get that broader appeal," explains founder/musician David Rodgers. "So it was easy for me to direct my passion in that direction. I actually like all kinds of music--I mean, my favorite band is Radiohead--but a lot of music is already popular and doesn't need help, so to speak. I've lived in Tucson since 2006, and that's where my band Godhunter started. I guess it's a hobby, because you don't make a living off of it, but I love it. I can't think of doing anything better with my time."
The organizing founders/musicians knew from the start that creating a death metal music festival was going to be quite the undertaking. The idea for an Arizona extreme metal festival was born--"as I'm sure many great ideas in history probably come from," Rodgers laughs--one drunken night a few years back. It was right before Maryland Death Fest and right after L.A.'s MurderFest ended its run. After a night of beers and throwing around ideas, they woke up the next morning and decided to actually go for it.
The three founders had never been on a festival before, let alone organized one, so they brought on their friend Ryan Avery, who runs the kick-ass Los Angeles DIY metal booking agency Ear/Splitters, to help with a lot of the logistics, themes, and scheduling.
The debut was a crushing success, so much so that it has expanded to four days this year.
"The bigger this gets, the more of a pain in the ass it is," admits Rodgers. "But I love it."
"I'm so proud to live in a country where I can organize a four-day punk and metal fest with a giant inverted cross on our artwork without being hauled before some religious court and thrown into prison. I mean, that happens to 'metal' people in some parts of the world. So no matter how hard it is, I couldn't be prouder of this project."
When it came time to select the lineup the organizers mostly went after the bands they wanted to see on the bill, rather than waiting for bands to reach out to them. "Every year we go in with a wishlist of bands that we want to play. For instance, when I saw Sacred Reich at Maryland Deathfest this year," David Rodgers says, "I knew I wanted to base one night around them. We paired them with an Arizona band like Landmine Marathon. [And] a lot of people love Red Fang and Kylesa, and they are two of our personal favorite bands, so when we had the chance to book them we ran with it."
More than 60 bands on the bill cover the majority of extreme metal genres--from punk and hardcore to sludge and thrash to grindcore and black--so feel free to pick your poison. The event features even more national headlining acts than last year, including legends like Sacred Reich and Vehemence, along with Kylesa, Red Fang, Demon Lung, Ancestors, Subrosa, Landmine Marathon, Early Graves, Pinkish Black, Anakim, Sovereign, and others, and a long line of newer underground acts.
"This is the first year we're playing Southwest Terror Fest," says Sacred Reich drummer Greg Hall. "I'm excited to see Red Fang play. We played with them in Finland and endured a four-hour van ride to the airport with them. They are fun guys." "Hopefully people in Tucson and Phoenix will support the efforts of SWTF," adds Sacred Reich vocalist Phil Rind. "It can bring together a divergent group of bands and expose people to new music. It gives the fans an opportunity to come together and form strong bonds as a community, and it gives bands the chance to meet and network and support one another."
Sponsors came into play in a big way with Southwest Terror Fest. The founders knew that sponsors were the only way to make the event work, so they approached local businesses, like Acid Reflux Records, Sticks 'N Strings Music Center, Moon Smoke Shops, and a couple national ones like Lace Pickups, Zombie Effects Lab and CVLT Nation. The contributions were welcomed like headbangers in a mosh pit--they're helping pay for the band's hotel rooms, the artwork, advertising, and more. The only donors are the Southwest Terror Fest's organizers themselves.
Heavy metal is one part of the music world where the focus isn't just on what's popular. This isn't just a group of guys bringing all of their friends on board to play.
"I've lost a few friends because some people feel entitled to play this event, just because it's in their home state," says Rodgers. "Yeah, we may have a ton of great bands in Arizona, but I have to spread those out over multiple years. If you can't or won't have the patience to wait, well, don't fucking take it out on me."
In other ways, Southwest Terror Fest is following a more typical music festival format. Besides the usual merch booths you'll find clothing and accessory vendors, food trucks, and local businesses like Lindy's on 4th and Black Rose Tattooers. And while Southwest Terror Fest is tailored to extreme metal musicians and fans, no one's going to discriminate if you decide you want to show up just to get a taste of the culture and learn about some new bands.
So will Southwest Terror Fest eventually grow to a West Coast Maryland Death Fest?
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"All festivals begin with humble origins," Rind says. "And some can grow to massive proportions with the support of the fans, strong financial backing from the promoter and sponsors and the right mix of bands."
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