Walking through the halls of the former Immigration and Naturalization Services building feels heavy, despite never having stepped foot inside before its closure in 2004. For 72 years, the mammoth building was the entry and exit point for immigrants arriving in Seattle, either bringing joy to those who became citizens or pain to the hundreds of immigrants who spent months detained there.
In an effort to take the conflicting history of the building and turn it into something beautiful, the structure now goes by the name Inscape and houses a bevy of multidisciplinary artists breathing life into the hallowed halls. Upwards of 125 tenants currently occupy the 77,000 square feet of colossal history, featuring artists and artisans of all kinds.
One of those tenants happens to be Ben Schauland, a freelance videographer and founder of Inscape Arts Bash alongside musician Pete Jordan. The two started the festival six years ago under the name Big Bldg Bash because of its initial residence at SoDo’s Big Building, a former metal working shop turned into a creative arts space. After coding issues and fear from the city of Seattle following Oakland’s Ghost Ship fire in 2016, the two were forced to find a new home for the fest.
“I feel like every year, it’s like, ‘Can it happen again?,’” says Schauland of the fest. “And the first year was like ‘Can it happen?’”
“The Big Building was more known for the underground rave type things,” explains Jordan. “So it was hard to have an above-ground music festival there. We were always kind of battling the subculture. But it's such a magical building. I'm starting to fall in love with this building but I am missing the weird industrialness. It used to be owned by a foundry company so the whole thing was laid out very strangely. I’m hoping this will be equally magical but safer.”
The Bash was the first time the two artists made the jump into running a festival, which they feel is a benefit because they’ve always put the artists’ needs first. “Our main goal is to be centered around the musicians,” says Jordan. “The idea is that we're the festival that’s not trying to steal your time, not trying to steal your audience. You come here, you get paid, you play in front of people and have a great time.”
Despite the increasingly intricate stage setup, the Bash still donates 100 percent of the proceeds to the artists. They do this by trying to keep expenses as low as possible with the help and collaborative efforts of friends within the community. “You just meet so many cool people that just come out of the woodwork,” notes Schauland. “They say, ‘Oh we've heard about this thing and we want to help out.’ So we’ve made this really cool Bash community of people that are some of our best friends.”
It’s been a bumpy ride trying to keep the festival running, with 2017’s Bash facing intense scrutiny from the city of Seattle following the Ghost Ship fire. “At that point we were just trying to make it happen,” Schauland divulges. “It felt like they were trying to pull the plug on us. Suddenly we needed to shut down streets, get porta potties, fencing, generators. The generators alone were eight grand.”
“It was really tough to have that happen to a DIY fest,” adds Jordan. “But we did it. Almost the whole time along the way I was like, ‘No, we can't do this’ and Ben was like, ‘Yes, we will.”
“It took a few years off my life,” laughs Schauland.
Because of the increased costs for the festival that year, they bumped the price up to $40 which caused some outrage amongst festival-goers. Luckily, with the move to Inscape they’ve been able to get the ticket price back down to the usual $25. Which is incredible considering the vast array of artists playing the one-day fest - 42 to be exact.
This year’s fest will see performances by local favorites like Julia Shapiro, Whitney Ballen, Youryoungbody, Spesh, Kinski, and Falon Sierra plus rising bands like Terror/Cactus, Salt Lick, Nauticult, and High Pulp. Schauland and Jordan see the Bash as a platform and focus their efforts on bringing new and emerging artists to the forefront.
Reminiscing on previous favorite performances, Jordan mentions beloved indie locals Great Grandpa, who played in 2016. “It's my absolute all-time favorite discovery,” he reveals. “That was an election year I think and the singer was just wandering around in her bare feet. It was.amazing. That was when they were kind of starting and now we can't book them. We can't afford them. But that's what we want. We want to get these bands and give them this platform to help even in a small way.”
Looking at this year’s lineup, there’s a number of bands to be excited for. Jordan’s most enthusiastic about Kinski, one of his all-time favorite Seattle bands, Wall of Ears, and Actionesse, who he says he thinks might implode his brain. He’d be correct about that.
Schauland mentions the increase in heavier bands on this year’s lineup with artists like King Mammoth and Skullbot while Urban Artworks will be exclusively featuring electronic and hip hop artists.
“I’m really excited about Falon Sierra,” exclaims Jordan. “She’s got that voice.”
The Bash is adding some international flair with beatboxing/MC duo PLDG flying in all the way from France to play. “My buddy had some extra cash and we love this band that we randomly saw one night in Brussels,” Schauland explains.
When asked what keeps them going despite the hurdles, the two laugh and shake their heads. “It takes a few months after every fest,” acknowledges Jordan, who took last year off after the fest’s stressful fourth year. “I’m too George Costanza inside to handle that much stress."
“It's just being a part of the community,” continues Jordan. “It's so much fun seeing the bands watch each other play and talk to each other. People meeting new bands they've never heard of. It's such a good vibe. That's why it's not about the money.”
"It's a passion project," adds Schauland.
The sixth year of Inscape Arts Bash takes place this Saturday, June 1 at the Inscape Arts Building. Find out more details including the full lineup, beer and food vendors, and set times here. Below, watch KEXP in-studio performances by this year’s Bash artists Whitney Ballen, Kinski, Youryoungbody, Falon Sierra, Spesh, and the Fabulous Downey Brothers.
Long-running Seattle group Kinski discuss their 20th anniversary as a band and their forthcoming record, Accustomed to Your Face.
The Issaquah-based singer/songwriter's debut full-length is an arresting chronicle of when love goes wrong and exploring all the broken pieces left in the harsh realm of a breakup.
Seattle's own Falon Sierra shares with KEXP the joy she feels during this month, the artists that have inspired her, and offers encouragement for young artists looking to make their own way.