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Where the wild things are

The Olympia Experimental Music Festival embraces a diverse array of off-kilter sounds

L.A. LUNGS: Nathan Markiewicz, left, is in his second year curating the Olympia Experimental Music Festival. Photo courtesy of Facebook

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You'd be hard pressed to find a more wide-ranging roster of artists at any other Northwest music-related event than the one lined up for the 17th Annual Olympia Experimental Music Festival. This year, the fest welcomes more than 20 artists, including the likes of Eurostache, Squim, Pavonine and Megabats, along with a handful of returning favorites (what OEMF booker Nathan Markiewicz calls "the festival's extended family"). Additionally, Eric Ostrowski (Noggin, WaMü) will be hosting a night of noise musicians accompanied by live projections, with user-submitted YouTube videos to be shown between acts (categories include "Most Weirdest," "Most Loudest" and "Most Tasteless").

This is Markiewicz's second year curating the Olympia Experimental Music Festival. L.A. Lungs, his band with wife Lori Peterson, first played the festival years ago and has since become a dependable participant. As a fan of intimate performance environs and outrageous musical diversity, Markiewicz is ideally suited to usher the festival into the new decade. It helps that he's experiencing a renewed appreciation for the region's sundry sounds.

"Between what goes on in Seattle and what goes on pretty much between Vancouver and Portland ... the Northwest is great for the arts in general," Markiewicz  muses. "It's nice that there's a fringe market that is strong and relatively viable here. I don't know if that's so much the case in other parts of the country. I try to look at the festival as a celebration of that."

Fittingly, this year's festival (which runs June 10 through 12) has an appreciable number of local performers on deck.

"I was amazed that so many people from Olympia solicited me to be a part of the festival. That wasn't really the case last year," Markiewicz says.

Olympia bands slated to play this year's OEMF include Paintings for Animals, Big Tom the Lithuanian, Four Dimensional Nightmare, Echoes of Infiniti, Violet, Nightjar and Wood Paneling.

Also well-represented at the festival are artists from Seattle avant label Debacle Records. Squim, Paintings for Animals and L.A. Lungs have all released material on Debacle, and the label's founder, Sam Melancon, plays in the droning, looping electronic band Megabats. At their OEMF set, Megabats will debut some new equipment (the core of their set-up are twin Nintendo DS consoles) and attempt to create a "river of sound."

Melancon's experienced with music festivals: in August, he'll assemble his own lineup of left-field talent for "Debacle Fest," held annually at Seattle DIY venues (the first Debacle Fest doubled as Melancon's bachelor party. It's expanded exponentially over the past four years).

Melancon and Markiewicz are old friends and travel in some of the same fringe circles, so it's unsurprising that both festival organizers had nothing but good things to say about one another.

"Cryptic Snuggling by L.A. Lungs is one of the most beautiful things I've ever put out," Melancon effuses. Russian dark ambient musician and blogger Kirill Platonkin is also a fan of that 2010 release. His description, in beautifully awkward broken English, is hard to top: "You make a step into this thermal spring, plunge into the vesicular solution of not-yet crystallized sounds and have a psychedelic bath." The sudsy sounds of L.A. Lungs are as hypnotically gorgeous as they are bizarre; since the music refuses to be boxed in by genre designations, the band is a keen example of experimental music's inherent, limitless diversity.

"(L.A. Lungs) have played shows before where we've played with one performer who, say, went to Mill's College in San Francisco and studied with these highly-regarded modern composers and these sorts of people. And then you'll also be on a bill with an 18-year-old noise kid who just has all these electronics and no formal training at all and he's just going off, doing his thing. It's so diverse," says Markiewicz.

"‘Experimental' is the label that gets thrown on to any music that sort of defies classic genres or well-established genres," he continues. And yet, "when Jim (McAdams) started the festival back in the mid-‘90s, you either were an experimental musician or you weren't. The lines have become very blurred."

Hence the festival's rich bounty of dissimilar noisemakers. If "experimental music" is enjoying a period of expansion, redefinition and mutation, that bodes well for future years of the OEMF and the state of Cascadian racket in general. But no matter what the future of experimental music holds, the festival's not going anywhere. Markiewicz believes it's self-sustaining at this point: "This thing has lasted for 17 years now, and it almost seems like it's lasted that long through sheer will alone."

17th Annual Olympia Experimental Music Festival

with Megabats, L.A. Lungs, Dead Air Fresheners, Squim and others
Friday, June 10-Sunday, June 12, 7 p.m., all ages
Northern, 321 Fourth Ave., Olympia

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