Arts

The Irresistible Rise of Freakout Festival

The Experimental Music Festival Celebrates a Decade of Mad Audio-Visual Alchemy
September 20, 2022
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All hands on the rad one.  (RACHEL COWARD)

Originally published on our sister site, The Stranger. 

In this economic climate, respect is due to any festival that reaches the decade milestone. It's even more impressive when an event's organizers put quality and diversity ahead of profits. So, Seattle's Freakout Festival deserves praise for presenting its 10th edition, happening November 10-13 at eight Ballard venues.

Freakout bosses Skyler Locatelli and Guy Keltner and their hard-working crew have gone really big this time, booking Latin-rock legends Os Mutantes, Los Dug Dug's, and Los Saicos' Papi Castrillón, along with about 120 other acts. It's their largest and perhaps most impressive lineup yet. You may not recognize many of the names, but Freakout's catalysts have earned music lovers' trust over the last 10 years of rewarding adventures and Mad Alchemy's psychedelic visuals.

After holding Freakout on Capitol Hill for three out of its first four years, Locatelli and Keltner moved it to Ballard in the fifth and have kept it there ever since. The duo—who also run the Freakout Records label—love how concentrated all of the clubs and bars are, making it efficient to hit multiple spots per night. Plus, it's devoid of what Keltner calls Capitol Hill's “bullshit techie/bro attitude.” 

Freakout's become a fall musical highlight for fans of psych rock, hip-hop, garage rock, soul, and electronic music. The main criteria for Freakout's bookers are simple: the acts have to excite them intensely and be charismatic onstage. Their main goal? To open people's minds to new and/or obscure musicians on the verge of breaking out, but they also respect history by bringing in legendary legacy acts such as Chocolate Watchband, the Seeds, etc.

“A perfect Freakout act usually meets a lot of criteria at once,” says Keltner, who also plays guitar and sings in Acid Tongue and Mala Suerte. “For any of the smaller acts we love, there's some familiarity with our organization and what we do. So the bands are aware that this is going to be an unusual fest, and they come in with this enthusiasm that is so important to the overall experience.

“With regards to the headliners, we are always trying to create some mysticism and make a statement. Os Mutantes and last year's headliners the Seeds are great examples of our brand of nostalgia. The UFO Club [a supergroup featuring members of the Black Angels and Night Beats] is another great example of the planets aligning for [Freakout].” 

The Seeds headlining at Freakout Fest 2021. Jake Hanson

Thanks to a connection with Devil in the Woods A&R rep Moni Saldaña, Freakout boasts a heavy representation of great underground Latin artists, including Margaritas Podridas, a Mexican shoegaze band with punk undertones, and Carrion Kids, habanero-hot punk-rockers from Mexico City. Saldaña founded NRML, a festival renowned for its inclusiveness regarding women-led acts, a philosophy that inspires Freakout's own curation. 

Freakout's international reach also extends to South Africa (Blk Jks), Scotland (Isobel Campbell), Chile (Marineros), and France (Lulu Van Trapp, You Said Strange), along with dozens of American acts from all over the country. Of the latter, highlights include Automatic (deadpan, synthy post-punks from LA), Flaccid Mojo (two-thirds of disjointed audio surrealists Black Dice), Jennifer Herrema's electro-rock badasses Black Bananas, ex-Gun Club/ex-Cramps guitarist Kid Congo and his band, and world-class soul-music DJ Jonathan Toubin. And that just scratches the surface.

“This year's lineup is especially focused on folks that we see as legendary and worthy of a wider audience,” Keltner says. “Os Mutantes have generated the widest response, and I think that it helps that KEXP has played a role in championing [them] over the years. But few people in Seattle are aware of the original punks, Los Saicos. From 1964-1966, they were inventing the genre down in Peru. All of the rock bands in Central and South America are well acquainted with the band, and I have heard more covers of 'Demolición' than I can count. Papi Saicos, one of the sole surviving members, will be doing his final performances ever at Freakout Festival. Mala Suerte will be his backing band.”

Fans freaking out for Mala Suerte at Freakout Festival 2021. Eric Tra

One major new tweak to Freakout is the addition of an outdoor heated and tented stage and beer garden, which will be free and open to the drinking-age public. Located on 20th Avenue between Leary and Russell, it will be an extension of the Salmon Bay Eagles club stages. Locatelli says they “look forward to providing a space for those who want to come to Freakout, but [don't] need to buy a full pass to discover a taste of what we’re all about.” At some point, he would like to provide attendee transport that might involve bikes, scooters, or tuk-tuks.

A festival as expansive as Freakout demands a large, indefatigable staff, so kudos to Rosetta Lane (Director Ops), Ross Albrechtson (Production Manager), Cameron Lavi-Jones (Production Manager), Jake Hanson (Marketing/Media/Project Manager), Jesse Rockey (Operations/Design/Volunteer Manager), and Serafima Healy (Marketing/Social Media).

Keltner works nearly year-round on Freakout, “writing letters to immigration, aiding in the visa process, routing tour dates... I spend almost half of my year on the road, too, so there's a lot that goes into scouting and refining our lineups. [T]his thing has turned into 10 jobs at once.” Keltner strives to be inclusive, but inevitably he receives gripes and resentment from local bands who didn't make the cut, adding to the stress. 

“[Freakout] is a complete logistical nightmare,” he continues. “I can't quite explain why it comes together, but it's a huge reflection of how our brains work that we can somehow make this party happen each year for the past decade.”

For Locatelli, the biggest surprise about Freakout is its growth. “We’ve gone from 15 bands in three venues for a two-day fest into an internationally known, 125 bands in eight venues over a four-day festival that brings people from all over the world together for a fall weekend in Seattle. As Guy always says, we really are a musician’s festival,” Locatelli notes. “So many have created lifelong bonds and had life-changing experiences at Freakout.”


Freakout Festival Add to a List takes place November 10-13 at various venues around Ballard. One-, two- and four-day passes are available here.

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