I was at Barnes and Noble when the latest copy of Uncut magazine (November 2018) caught my eye. Other than David Bowie on the cover, the magazine included a free Sub Pop mix CD compiled by label head Jonathan Poneman. The mix is a really good blend of what Sub Pop has to offer from the grunge sound that the label had become known for in its early years, to the notable “alternative” artists the label represents today. Whenever someone mentions “alternative” as a genre, it usually means “we couldn’t think of a good label to put this artist in, so because they bridge and blend genres, they are now alternative”.
The mix CD was great. It motivated me to actually pick up three albums from artists I had heard for the first time on this mix (*LOMA, Mass Gothics, and King Tuff). The label head not only selected great artists to feature but picked some of their best songs. The corresponding article to the album discussed each track, but also talked about Sub Pop Fest 30, one of the most “Seattle” events I attended this past summer.
I’m from Seattle. Born and raised in West Seattle. My experience at Sub Pop Fest 30 (SPF 30) was ultimately positive, but from the weather to the crowd, SPF 30 on Alki had to be the most Seattle music event I ever attended.
I remember getting to the event site and the first band to open the festival was Jo Passed. Jo Passed impressed and did a great job opening the event. The hair flipping, the running around the stage, the getting tangled in wires, it really painted a picture of what you could expect as the day went on, and really drew the crowd even as it began to rain. Once Jo Passed wrapped, the rain began to pick up. The crowd undeterred still milled around the various stages. I remember catching Moaning and LVL UP, but the next act to really catch my attention was LOMA. I had never heard LOMA before this event but their set was so different from the other sets that were presented that day, that it really stuck. It was a much softer, somber set in comparison to the heavier grunge and hip hop that populated the afternoon.
I left LOMA close to the end of their set, in order to get a good spot for Bully. I was next to the front of the stage for Bully, when I ran into several people who I had met at other local shows, some as recent as a week or two prior. As Bully began to play, the group of other concert regulars and I tried to start a pit, but the crowd wasn’t into it, so we eventually let it rest. Bully was great. I had seen them perform live for the first time at this past Capitol Hill Block Party, and they played so well there, I had to see them again at this event. As they wrapped, I made sure to get a great spot for Clipping. As I was milling around the crowd I met a group of Canadians who had come down just to see Clipping. We discussed the rest fo the lineup and they had no clue who they were. They were there for Clipping. I hung with them for a while and caught Clipping’s set. They were nothing short of impressive. Aside from whipping the crowd into a frenzy, their talent showed me why these Canadians came down for this set in particular.
Close to the end of Clipping’s set, I made my way to see Hot Snakes. I had caught Hot Snakes at Upstream and I had to see them again. There set was fun. I read later reviews about how it wasn’t technically proficient, but really it’s grunge/punk music. I think the point is to hear the lyrics, head bang, and mosh if you can. I remember running into a group I had met at the TacocaT show 2 weeks prior. We saw each other, and next thing you know we were moshing. I finally got to get into a pit at a Hot Snakes show! I was tired after the Hot Snakes set, and made my way to Shabazz Palaces. At this point in the afternoon, the clouds had opened up and it was a beautiful afternoon. I don’t know if it was the sudden nice weather, or that more recognizable names were taking the stages, but this is when the crowd began to swell. Up to this point in the afternoon the crowd was also a lot of people I’ve seen around the local concert scene. People you would recognize as faces in the crowd at shows. I would say around 6:15pm in the afternoon, it was less of those familiar faces, and more families, folks who didn’t seem like the regular “stand for hours for your favorite band” concert crowd, and people who were more interested in the spectacle than the music.
I couldn’t see Shabazz Palaces. The crowd was too large to navigate and was it extended into the beer garden which was a “soccer field” away from the stage. I stood as close as I could get (close to the back but still mid crowd-ish), but everyone in the spot I was standing were talking full volume as the show was going on. It’s as if a concert wasn’t happening. Mid set I decided I would get a good spot for Mudhoney. I got there early and posted up mid crowd. The crowd looked excited. Many of which looked like some of their fans from the 90’s sporting various very worn Mudhoney shirts. As Mudhoney began playing, inevitably a pit formed. As I tried to make my way to it, several crowd members blocked myself and a few others from joining. This ring of dudes had decided no one was going to get past them as they wanted a great view of the show and anyone who would make them shift from their spot, would ruin it. They weren’t dancing, head banging, or smiling, they just watched the show from their spot and talked. Like the whole set they stood and chatted. Eventually it got very contentious. A lot of people got in their faces about preventing people from joining the pit or moving up, and they did things like push people back or put palms in people’s faces when they would try to talk. I felt like they had a point in not wanting others to ruin their view, but it really killed the vibe. Not to mention it didn’t seem like they were having a good time. After seeing a handful of scuffles and someone climb the port-o-pottys, I decided to check out Beach House.
The crowd for Beach House was just as packed. It was full and people were talking as if a show wasn’t happening. I decided I would let this one coast and met up with a friend in the beer garden. We drank as the sun began to go down, and Beach House played in the background. We ended the night by making our way to Father John Misty. This would be my 5th time seeing Father John perform and I was pretty excited. The crowd seemed good. A lot of families were posted up for this set. There were also a lot of tense looking people. This was evident when Father John began his set, and seconds into the first song, stopped and called for security to take care of some situations that sprang up mid crowd. Father John was as incredible as he always was and as the sun hit that point between day and night where the sky was almost purple and orange, the moment was almost surreal. You had to stop, listen to Father John talk about humanity, take in the setting and Alki, and think this was a perfect ending to the event. As Father John wrapped, I made my way back to the Water Taxi and that was my memory of SPF 30.
For me, SPF 30 was great before 6:15pm. I saw a lot of familiar faces, got to see a lot of bands I enjoy seeing perform live, and everyone seemed to understand regular concert etiquette. After 6:15pm, it felt tense and crowded. I felt like it wasn’t a crowd that attended shows regularly, but rather were there to see the spectacle and also catch a lot of the bigger names. This in no way is a negative. It’s good that Sub Pop was able to throw an event that could draw a diverse audience, but when people were willfully getting into fights at the drop of a hat over positions in an audience, or talking full volume during a concert not close to the back of the crowd, it makes you wonder what shows has this person attended where that was normal/acceptable behaviour? Overall, I’ll remember SPF 30 as one of the most Seattle events I’ve ever attended. On Alki, in the rain and the sun, we danced, moshed, head banged, and had a great time until it got too crowded, then those of us who were already there from the beginning made the best of the situation (haha). It was very Seattle.
(All photos were taken by me. I have a bunch more from the day. The one of the sun finally coming out of the clouds, I call “My view of Shabazz Palaces from SPF 30”)