KEXP Suggests: 5 Artists to See at Freakout Fest 7

KEXP Suggests
Jasmine Albertson

This weekend, November 14-17, local label Freakout Records is holding its annual music festival aptly titled Freakout Fest. Located in the heart of Ballard, venues like the Tractor Tavern, Sunset Tavern, Salmon Bay Eagles Club, and Conor Byrne will be taken over with a bevy of some of the most blustering and boisterous bands you’ll likely have the chance to see in one place.

While recent previous years have seen the festival feature more varied genres in its lineup, 2019’s fest will harken back to their beginnings with a heavier focus on psychedelic, garage, and straightforward rock and roll while still remaining diverse and exciting. An emphasis on international artists known for blistering live performances seems to be a running theme this year, most of whom have the common thread of dripping sweat, raucous riffs, and unforgettable antics.

Ahead of the fest, KEXP breaks down a few of the exciting acts playing this year, both local and international, and gets Freakout Records co-founder Guy Keltner’s opinion on why you should be excited to see them.

The Shivas

Long-running PNW locals The Shivas have been unleashing their surf-tinged rock and roll on audiences for over 13 years. In that time, the Portland-bred band has released five full-length albums and three EPs on labels such as Tender Loving Empire, K, and Burger Records and became an unmissable live act through their bombastic, explosive, and thoroughly communal performances.

Their latest record, Dark Thoughts, is true to its name, bending elements of ‘60s psychedelic and modern garage rock through a gloomy, almost nightmarish, lens. Even the tracks that lean towards lighthearted doo-wop like “Sometimes II” and “If You See Me” somehow seem sinister in the hands of the Shivas. Album opener “Gloria” was John Richards' choice for October 28th’s KEXP Song of the Day.

“The Shivas were an easy pick for all of us. We've been friends with the band for many years, and this is their fourth time performing at the festival. They always deliver a tight, energetic and off-the-wall performance and are some of the nicest musicians in the PNW. Their new record, 'Gloria', is fantastic, too! Also, definitely do not miss Kristin's other band, The Rare Forms, who are also on the lineup.” — Guy Keltner


The Shivas will perform live on KEXP on Wednesday, November 13 at 1 PM PT. They’ll play the Sunset Tavern stage at Freakout Fest on Thursday, November 14 at 10 PM PT. Watch their 2014 KEXP in-studio performance below.


The Kitsch

While mostly unknown in the US, The Kitsch are garage rock heroes in their hometown of Bogotá, Colombia. Formed in 2012, the band takes their influences from the garage rock bands that permeated and characterized 1960’s Colombia such as Los Yetis, Los Ampex, Los Flippers, and Los Speakers. Their live shows are a raucous barrage of energy while their videos are psychedelic trippers (look to their latest one for “Animal Viscoso” for proof).

Last week, they released the second part of their three-part trilogy of EPs, Los Kitsch de Colombia presentan…, which continues their streak of fiery, blustering psych jams over the course of four tracks.

“For anyone not familiar with The Kitsch, I suggest checking out 'Quiero Bailar Con Tu Mama' ('I want to dance with your mom'). These Colombian rockers create thumping, raw as hell garage tunes with some of the catchiest lyrics I've heard in a while. We hosted them in Texas at our Marfa Freakout showcase and they put on one of the craziest shows we've seen in 2019.” — Keltner


The Kitsch will perform live on KEXP on Thursday, November 14 at 12 PM PT. They’ll play the Sunset Tavern stage at Freakout Fest on Saturday, November 16 at 11:10 PM PT. Below, watch a live performance of "Quiero Bailar Con Tu Mamá" in Bogotá from 2017



Michelle Blades

Michelle Blades’ geographic history is just as expansive and interesting as the music she’s been putting out under her birth name since 2015. Born in Panama into a family of salsa musicians, they were forced to flee to Miami when she was just 6-years-old to escape Manuel Noriega’s dictatorship. At eighteen, she moved to Arizona, where she discovered and got deeply involved in the underground Phoenix music scene. After a handful of tours in Europe, Blades hopped the pond to Paris, where she’s lived ever since.

Since 2015, Blades has released two albums and three EPs via French label Midnight Special Records. Her latest, 2019's Visitor, draws from the life experiences accrued across the multiple continents she’s inhabited while incorporating that border-free philosophy into the many genres embraced throughout. Artists like Frank Zappa, David Byrne, and Mort Garson are influences in her experimental, boundary-free work.

"Michelle opened for my band Acid Tongue in Mexico City earlier this year, and I was completely blown away. Her album Visitor has been one of my top records of 2019, and I'm probably on my hundredth listen at this point. It's also one of the few albums I've shared with friends that has gotten genuinely awesome feedback. Her music has elements of the Talking Heads, Cate Le Bon, and even Television, but she's created a completely unique sound of her own. This will be a must-see performance at the festival, as I imagine she'll be headed for bigger things from here.” — Keltner


Michelle Blades will perform live on KEXP on Thursday, November 14 at 3 PM PT. She’ll play the Salmon Bay stage at Freakout Fest on Friday, November 15 at 7:40 PM PT. Below, watch the video for “Time and Water,” off of Visitor.


Death Valley Girls

Sure to be one of the most packed sets of the weekend, the excitement over L.A.’s Death Valley Girls has been bubbling over the past few years and with good reason. Channeling the snottiness of the Clash, the glam performance art of the New York Dolls, the mysticism of Black Sabbath, and the rip-roaring rawness of the Stooges, Death Valley Girls have perfected the very difficult job of making great ‘70s-style rock in 2019.

The reason it’s working for them, beyond just being very good musicians, is their use of the genre as it was initially intended — as a voice for counter-culturalism and thinking beyond established rhetoric. Their latest record, Darkness Rains, attempts to shift the consciousness of those that have not yet considered how we are all connected and how that relates to the way we view life beyond death. References to the paranormal, the unexplainable, and the conspiratorial are sprinkled throughout.

When asked about the theme of Death Valley Girls, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Bonnie Bloomgarden and guitarist Larry Schemel responded by quoting another iconic ‘70s band with, “Embrace the darkness and don’t fear the Reaper.” Read more about what the band has to say about their new record in a recent track-by-track breakdown with KEXP here.

“This will probably be one of the most mind-bending performances at this year's event. We loved this band so much at last year's festival, we invited them back to headline Freakout 7. I typically shy away from barn-burner, face melting rock & roll unless it's truly exceptional, and this band is just that.” — Keltner


Death Valley Girls will perform live on KEXP on Friday, November 15 at 12 PM PT. They’ll play the Tractor Tavern stage at Freakout Fest on Saturday, November 16 at 12:20 AM PT. Below, watch the video for “Wear Black” off of Darkness Rains.



San Pedro el Cortez

Tijuana is finally having its moment. After years of being a hotbed for DIY creativity in the arts, the Mexican bordertown is finally getting international attention for the diverse array of bands coming out of the city. One of the exciting bands that’s stealing hearts is San Pedro el Cortez, a garage/psych quartet known for their gritty and boisterous live performances. True punks at heart, their motto is to play and drink, and drink again until they fall to the floor with their instruments.

Since the release of their last record, 2017’s Un Poco Más de Luz, the band has been busy sharing the stage with international artists like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, DIIV, The Cynics, Together Pangea, Howler, Wau y Los Arrrghs!, Davila 666, and Vicente Gayo. The song “Asco” was recently one of DJ Chilly’s choices as a KEXP Song of the Day.

“San Pedro el Cortez are one of the bands that really got my attention when I started traveling to Mexico and became invested in the scene down south. The reputation these guys have built is one of pure chaos — live performances in the nude, extended jams, wicked guitar riffs and hard partying on par with the wildest bands of the 60s and 70s. Expect the unexpected at their show, and bring a change of clothes because you are going to be covered in sweat and filth.” — Keltner


San Pedro el Cortez will perform live on KEXP on Friday, November 15 at 3 PM PT. They’ll play the Sunset Tavern stage at Freakout Fest on Saturday, November 16 at 10:10 PM PT. Below, watch the video for “Fukushima.”

Freakout Fest 7 will be held November 14-17, 2019. Get tickets and read the full list of artists playing here.

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