Freak Scene #53: DNA Test Fest

March 11, 2010

In this week’s Freak Scene, Jamie Johns gives a preview of DNA Test Fest, with some music from Neon Blud and Twin Stumps, along with an interview with the gents of Fan Death Records, who run the fest. Check it all after the jump.

DNA Test Fest III is happening April 3 at Sonar in Baltimore, MD. The lineup (as seen in the above flyer by Scott Archer) is unreal, here is a sample:

Pissed Jeans: My opinions on this group have already been well documented.

Home Blitz: Out of Phase, their new record on Richie Records, is excellent indeed. Their fanbase that is equal parts noise rock brahs and indie pop brahs. There are parts where the songs sound like they are coming together on the spot and then the band will rush into a perfect blast of pop punk rock whatever, like on “Two Steps” and “World War III”. Yes, Home Blitz are “lo-fi” (whatever that means at this point), but these recordings supersede any commentaries about recording fidelity. And yes, their drummer is in high school. See this band live, buy their records, and love them the way they deserve to be loved.

Lamps: Lamps rule. Their songs are succinct and loud. They are also very good. Hacked up and blasted out music with a guy named Monty Buckles screaming over it all. They make you want to write in short sentences. They have two new 7”s out, one on Dull Knife and one on Fan Death. I have only caught one half of this elusive set. I am going to write about that in the next Freak Scene.

Twin Stumps: I have said it before but the uncomfortable listening experience is often the best one, at least from my perspective. You can’t make out the content of Twin Stumps’ songs, I assume they are about uncomfortable things, but the music itself, its volume and its, is overwhelming to the point of almost being uncomfortable to experience. With that being said, Twin Stumps are the best band in New York. Listen to "Missing Persons," off of their upcoming full length Seedbed:

Death Domain: Just added to the line-up, really into biology, and I am a fan.

Homostupids: The Load LP was one of my favorites from last year. Actual Neanderthals?

Psychedelic Horseshit: Shitgaze.

And more and more, etc. etc. Oh yeah, and it's only $12 for the night.

DNA Test Fest was started by Sean Gray two years ago as an extension of his radio show, DNA in the DNA. Sean still does that radio program but now he also runs Fan Death Records with Chris Berry. I interviewed these two young men behind Fan Death Records about DNA Test Fest III and what the label has in store for the rest of 2010. They put out the stellar Puerto Rico Flowers' 4 earlier this year and have a full release schedule for the rest of the year. They blew up the internet for a day or two too, but we aren’t going to talk about that here. They were right though. Check out Fan Death on Myspace for more songs and grip their records on their website.

And there is a pre-party too! With Twin Stumps, The Chickens (see: Siltbreeze Skulls Without Borders comp), So Cow, and a set by Michael Berdan (DRUNKDRIVER) and Theresa Smith. I think devoting a column to Test Fest is a way for me to work out my disappointment and angst over the fact that I can't go to the show. Why? The biggest paper of my life is due a few days after the event and while I would love to be like "Ay yo, Columbia University, two days of hanging out with dudes and listening to music I like were more important than finishing this thesis, sorry!” it can't happen. So this week's Freak Scene is in the hopes that everyone else who can make it to DNA Test Fest will go because the line-up is all killer no filler and you will probably make tons of great new pals in the Sonar chillspace and maybe you’ll end up with some blood on your clothes too. Enjoy yourselves while I am hunched over a pile of Chinese women's periodicals from the 1950s.

How and why did DNA Test Fest come about?
Sean Gray: I started a show on WMUC 88.1 FM College Park, Maryland called DNA IN THE DNA in September of 2007. My goal was pretty much to play what I liked. I really had no set agenda; it wasn't (and honestly still isn't) a punk show, an experimental, fringe show or what have you, it is just what I thought was good. We played and still play as much Gilbert O'Sullivan as we do China White or Keiji Haino. I started getting a lot of questions from bands if I'd play their stuff. Much of it, I noticed, had even been done live around the DC metro area such as Buckets of Bile, FNU Ronnies etc. Around the spring of 2008 I had this idea to just invite all these bands down to play in one fell swoop. Instead of me chasing all these bands around or booking shows one by one, I asked myself: "Why not just do a fest" I didn't care if anyone came, I was prepared to lose money, and it was free (for better or worse).

When I had the idea I just started asking every band I could. A lot of help and ideas came from other bands and friends such as people from Parts Unknown Records and Richie Records. Most bands agreed to do it and those who couldn't agree actually wanted to do it (Drunkdriver, No Fucker) but couldn't make it. Venue wise we actually did it at the WMUC station itself, which only holds maybe 50 people at most. For some awesome and crazy reason YDI agreed to play the first fest. That's when I knew I was on to something special. I also remember very clearly inviting Kurt Vile and Homostupids to play. Both of them were on heavy rotation on the show at the time and Kurt, with the Violators, did an amazing version of The Stooges "No Fun" and blew everyone away. Homostupids who played the second day pretty much ripped the station apart. By the third song in their set people were so busted up (including one of the ‘Stupids who started bleeding sort of heavily) that I wasn't even sure if they would play anymore than three songs. They finished the set. Afterwards, I knew I had to do this again next year.

DNA Test Fest predates the label but how do you see the relationship between the two things now?
SG: They go hand in hand, really. The label is just another venture for us to show people music that we love and I think that, with the label now attached to it, people know where they might be able to pick up music by some of the bands who play Test Fest. It [the label] kind of gives people a home base of where some of these bands can be found. I think they both really shape each other. A prime example of this would be Twin Stumps. After seeing them at Test Fest II, we knew we had to work with them in some way. Their set was flooring and impressed even the already believers at that show. Test Fest also gives bands on Fan Death that might not make it up [to this area] normally a reason to come up i.e. Neon Blud or The Chickens. Adding Fan Death Records as a part of the Fest was really just a way to unify everything.

What makes this year's DNA Test Fest different from the last two years?
SG: Well it is one day which is so much better than two days, I think. That being said, there's two stages, so a lot of picking and choosing is going to be necessary for some people. I also think it being in Baltimore will draw a much different crowd, one which is a bit more open to louder music. If you look at last year’s Fest, one night you could almost deem the "soft" night. There is nothing really like that this year. Also I think there is excitement in the air about all of these bands playing, a sort of community if you will. Twin Stumps’ new record is really great, and the Neon Blud 7-inch/cassette has really been turning heads to those who hear it. Also, many of these bands this year all know each other, whereas last year day one (and especially DNA TEST FEST I) many bands had no clue who was who. So it seems like a lot of the bands will gel well together, which in turn I think will make for a better fest.

You mentioned that there is a ’zine and a tape that will be handed out at the show, could you talk a little bit about that? And the pre-party?
Chris Berry: The tape is called "Results" and will have most of the Test Fest bands playing, with some exclusive tracks as well as some surprises. It's limited to 100 copies and will never be re-pressed again. There will be a few different ‘zines that are available, some of which will be done by members of the bands (including Neon Blud) and others done by friends of ours, including Terence Hannum of Locrian and Jim Vail of FNU Ronnies.

Did anything else determine the lineup besides personal taste?
CB: We view doing the fest the same way we do the label.  We put out the records that we want to have in our record collections and we put bands on Test Fest and other shows we book that we want to see.  It's cool that people have been receptive to what we like so far, but we'd still be putting out records and putting on shows even if nobody cared.

What's next for the label?
CB: We're going to be pretty busy for the rest of 2010.  We're putting out our first LP, by Baltimore noise-rock band Pfisters, later this month, and 7"s by Neon Blud and Jason Urick are also at the plant and should be done shortly.  In April we're doing the first full-length record by Twin Stumps, Seedbed, and a Puerto Rico Flowers 7". 7"s by Broken Water and Screen Vinyl Image will be out in the late spring/early summer.  After that we have a couple things that are in early stages that we're REALLY excited about, but we don't want to blow our load about it just yet.

Sean and Chris have graciously let me use this MP3 from their upcoming Neon Blud 7-inch, Whipps. Neon Blud has former members of Cult Ritual but a lady singer. They don't have a MySpace so check out the song below and get the record here:



Jamie Johns

4304 Lerner Hall

2920 Broadway

New York, NY 10027


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Freak Scene
Freak Scene #53: DNA Test Fest