Goldrush Proves There's Still Room for Thoughtful Music Festivals

As usual, the pamphlet for Goldrush was a work of art in itself, printed on quality paper with a thick, textured cover bearing a mountain landscape and a stylized G. The band profiles, written by people who clearly get the music and have a personal connection to it, were laid out in a helpful manner. A user-friendly schedule was provided in the early pages of the booklet. Someone was thinking ahead generally, and the accompanying tape compilation had a similar simple yet effective sensibility that informed the whole festival.

See also: Best New Underground Music Festival Denver 2012 - Goldrush Festival

One thing that set Goldrush apart from so many other festivals was how none of the music overlapped, so that if you wanted to catch everything you could. That's not possible with a much larger production, but Goldrush is smaller and such considerations can easily be part of the planning.

Unlike many other music festivals, at Goldrush, the merch table for the record labels that supported the festival was prominently placed in the outdoor area of the Meadowlark, with people around inviting you to check out the wares. Usually that sort of thing is passive.

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All of that was just background for the festival itself, but it's small details like that that help to enhance the actual content of the event. Goldrush doesn't call itself an experimental music festival. It has made a good run of well-curated music chosen from the underground. Even the headliners are projects with a real connection to the underground. Maybe Mount Eerie will bring a big crowd, but even that group's more well-known affiliated act the Microphones remains a largely underground phenomenon. Noise is still forbidding to mainstream sensibilities, so a band like Wolf Eyes will never be as largely popular as Miley Cyrus. But it's also not aimed toward that or designed to be many things to a ton of people. And that was the vibe of Goldrush: inviting, but it demands a bit of you. It asks you to be open to something that isn't fully catering to established expectations.

So the people you ran into were a mixture of who you might expect there locally and a whole lot of people you don't even know from a wide circle of fans of music with an experimental bent. At Eric Copeland's Sunday night set, a woman in a Leftover Crack shirt was there, getting into the music. On Saturday night, when Wolf Eyes took the stage, they looked like skate punks who also like thrash. Nate Young had a patch on his jacket that took some attention to suss out: Jimi Hendrix. John Olson wore a jean jacket with a back patch and smaller patches around it bearing the logos of what look like hardcore or grindcore or death metal bands of various stripes (Slayer, Abattoir, Necrophagia, Herätys, Appendix, EEL, Demon Bitch etc.). The music itself was like an especially disorienting kind of industrial metal, with electronic drums akin to Godflesh and vocals that similarly tap into a primal place. But the entire time it felt like seeing a truly weird hardcore show. Yes, Wolf Eyes looked the part, but that part is no different from the guys who listened to trap music at organizer Nathan Wright's place the night before.

That coming together of hip-hop and noise and trip metal so clear in Wolf Eyes was also to be found in clipping.'s show the next night. Both sets were confrontational and cathartic and both bands unabashedly celebrated music that might not be considered cool by people who might think the guys in Wolf Eyes listen to a steady diet of Whitehouse and Nurse With Wound or clipping. taking in largely Death Grips and modern gangsta rap. It's not like Wolf Eyes and clipping. consulted with each other at all in making their respective music. It was just proof that some of these sounds and ideas that have been coursing through threads of underground music aiming to embrace the more interesting and compelling ideas whether it comes from more mainstream sources or not. Wolf Eyes wore this unpretentious spirit literally on their sleeves, but both bands put that adventurous inclination into the music.

On Sunday if you got to see Oakland's Aja Vision, you might have acquired a rune-esque back patch. Musically, Aja Vision was more like a psychedelic ambient project but its visual aesthetic was more like a punk, Goth band without any perverse loyalty to genre identity. And that was just one of many things you'd run into that made Goldrush not feel like a festival where you had to be part of a specific scene or subculture to be there and to take in the festival. There was an unspoken through line to the show, from the merch to the music to the presentation of the event. Maybe putting the thing on was overwhelming, but it was not an overwhelming experience as many music festivals tend to be these days.

Critic's Notebook

Bias: I've been going to Gold Rush since its inception and always find something incredible to get to see and to talk to people who are into music that hasn't hit the mainstream.

Random Detail: The cops came just after Good Willsmith's set, the final band to play the outside stage at the Meadowlark.

By the Way: Ran into Anna Smith and Derrick Bozich of Ancient Elk/The Circus House/Suspender Defenders, post-Goth hooligan Sara Century, Joseph Meyers of In the Company of Serpents/Whilt, former As Seen on TV guitarist Diana Sperstad, Keith Curts and Tom Nelsen of Echo Beds and Titwrench Mastermind Sarah Slater at the festival. Among others.

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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.

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