While Salt Lake becomes ever more cosmopolitan and progressive, its legacy as the capital city in a state settled by Mormons means its music scene is often preemptively dismissed by outsiders. But predominant cultures always spawn passionate subcultures and countercultures, and Salt Lake is a shining example of this phenomenon—from brewers to artists to activists, Salt Lakers form strong, supportive subcommunities, often with exceptional results.
Along with much of the city’s visual and performing arts, Salt Lake’s soundscape is ripe with defiant expressions of identity, antitheses, and political and social criticism. One especially prolific pocket is Salt Lake’s heavy metal scene, which has been going strong for over 30 years. (For our purposes here, “heavy metal” encompasses all things loud, gritty, dark, or heavy, everything from doom to avant garde noise-rock.)
Salt Lake’s Crucialfest, now in its sixth iteration, celebrates and elevates this underground scene by showcasing dozens of local and touring bands back-to-back. Past headliners have included Red Fang, Goatsnake, Dead Meadow, Eagle Twin, Parallax, and Old Timer, and this year’s fest promises to be just as hell-raising, featuring four nights of non-stop heaviness. Jarom Bischoff, the festival’s founder and director, answers some questions.
What was the impetus for starting Crucialfest?
It was the realization that I was going to be rooted in Salt Lake indefinitely, and that I wasn’t going to be touring in a band much anymore. I needed a new project. I’ve always felt like the underground music that comes out of Utah, especially the heavier varieties, has something special to offer. There’s a lot of passion around these parts and also a lot of creativity and sincerity. Unfortunately, a lot of local bands aren’t able to get out of SLC much because of our being so far from other major cities. It leaves Utah less accounted for in the national scope. Also, there are a lot of amazing bands in this country I want to see perform, and rather than pretend I’m going to fly across the country to see them I opted to try and give them a reason to come here.
What makes Salt Lake’s heavy metal scene unique?
As you mentioned, dominant conservative and religious cultures can spawn equally defiant subcultures. And I do think that’s a big part of it. But beyond that, I think it’s interesting to note that SLC is relatively isolated from other major cities and it’s the only real metropolitan area in Utah. It’s like Madagascar, cut off from Africa. Without as much contact from the outside world Utah’s and SLC’s music, especially heavy music, has sort of gone on its own evolutionary track. It’s less influenced by trends and really has everything to do with what goes on locally and what has carried through the years. Bands here are more influenced by each other than outside sources. It makes, in my mind, an interesting mix of old school roots with a wildly experimental edge.
In your opinion, who are some of the most important bands in Salt Lake’s heavy history?
Iceburn, Clear, Form of Rocket, Gaza, Ether—those are the obvious ones to me. There was a straightedge movement that played a huge historical role in SLC music, but it was never something I personally knew a lot about or was very interested in. The Broship crew, with their many bands, has been around a long time now and has fostered a lot of relationships with locals and great bands from around the US. The role they’ve played in keeping the music scene alive is undeniable. Other highly influential Utah bands came from outside of Salt Lake City. Parallax (Provo, UT), was important. They brought together kids from different backgrounds and created a really special scene. I have to say that Part 2, a screamo band out of Smithfield, UT in 2001-ish created an amazing little subculture in Cache Valley for a while, full of kids just coming to terms with adulthood, personal freedom, and emotional complexity. I’m sure there are hundreds more bands to name, but those are the ones that I really connected with.
What are some of your favorite shows from past Crucialfests?
Crucialfest 1 was pretty unique. We had a free show at Liberty Park that I’ll never forget. We built stages out of 2x6s and plywood and placed them in front of vans with minimal PAs. Lots of amazing bands played, though. There have been a lot of memorable reunion shows, and I really enjoyed seeing Goatsnake, Dead Meadow, and Royal Thunder last year. My favorite shows of all must have been Helms Alee, Kowloon Walled City, Eagle Twin, and Oxcross back at Crucialfest 4, and Crucialfest 2 when Author & Punisher played with Black Elk at The Urban Lounge. And there will always be a special place in my heart for the times Muscle Hawk played—that moment when all these hardcore/metal types suddenly start dancing to electronic music. I hope it’s the kind of thing where lots of people look back and remember their favorite shows.
You’ve described the Crucialfest makeup as four-part: big-name, nationally touring bands; up-and-coming touring bands; local reunions; and solid, currently-playing locals. Which bands are people getting most excited about?
This year it’s about local reunions: Form of Rocket, The New Transit Direction, and Ether. Generally I have a hard time gauging what people are most excited about. It’s one thing to see social media buzz and a completely different thing to see it translate into attendance. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of bands, but in particular: Wizard Rifle, Exes, SubRosa, Ape Machine, INVDRS, The Drip, Elephant Rifle, Helms Alee, Gaytheist, and Mos Generator, as well as those I’ve already named.
What’s the format for the festival this year?
Crucialfest 6 runs June 15-18, 2016. It is a four-day, multi-venue music festival that operates like a mini concert series. It features over 50 bands and performers that play experimental varieties of loud music: rock, metal, hardcore, etc. This year features nine different showcases. Attendees can buy a CF6 wristband for entry to all shows, or they can purchase tickets for individual shows (www.24tix.com/crucialfest).
The primary venue this year is Metro Bar, a 21+ venue located at at 627 W. 100 S. in Salt Lake City, UT. We also have a secondary, all-ages, outdoor venue: the Art Garden, which is located right next to the Metro and features good eats, merch stands, and an art market in addition to performances. The sets are staggered, so 21+ patrons can hop back and forth between the two venues. On Friday, June 17th and Saturday, June 18th, there are two late shows at The Urban Lounge.
As a bonus, anyone with a CF6 wristband can get into the two “warm-up” shows the prior weekend (June 11th and 12th), but these shows aren’t part of the official Crucialfest 6 four-day festival. Anyone with questions is more than welcome to hit us up on Facebook.
Where are the bands from this year?
This year, we have 25 locals (SLC and surrounding areas), five hail from Washington, four from Oregon, two from Illinois, two from California, and one band each from New York, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, Idaho, North Carolina, and New Jersey. That makes this the most geographically diverse Crucialfest to date. Big thanks to all our out-of-town bands for making the trek!
What kind of attendance are you seeing? Do most people buy the full pass, or do most buy one-off tickets?
Our attendance has grown steadily since the first Crucialfest. We’ll hopefully sell out a couple of shows this year, likely at Kilby Court and Urban Lounge, but I can never really tell. My guess/hope is that The Art Garden shows will be lighter, 100-200 people. Metro Bar shows might be more like 200-250 and The Urban Lounge shows might hit 400+. But I’ve had shattered expectations and fortunate surprises as far as turnouts go. Crucialfest is and will likely continue to be a smaller, more intimate festival in terms of attendance, but that’s part of what makes it great.
We haven’t done in-depth surveying in a few years, but based on what I do know, I’d estimate that about 20% of Crucialfest attendees are from outside Utah, and about 40% are from outside Salt Lake City. We usually sell around 100 wristbands, give out 100 or so to performers, and then sell a large amount of individual show tickets (some in advance but mostly at the door). We sell a lot more single-show tickets than wristbands, and that’s good. Were we to sell out the whole festival with wristbands we’d lose money… it’s that good of a deal. But at the same time it helps us to know there’s going to be a solid core of people at every show, so we continue to offer wristbands.
What should visitors to Salt Lake do between shows?
During the day, if you’re looking for a record store, check out Graywhale or Diabolical. If you want a legit dive bar with great food, hit Duffy’s. If you’re hungry, The Art Garden will have food every day. The Chow Truck will be there some days, Este Pizza is slinging slices one day, and we’re doing Crucial Dogs and Crucial Burgers on Saturday the 18th. Rye, next to Urban, is a great place to grab a late breakfast.
There really won't be a lot of time between shows, though. The shows on June 15 and 16 go all night at The Art Garden/Metro. On June 17 and 18, you’ll have about an hour between The Art Garden/Metro shows and the late shows at Urban Lounge.
Lastly, on June 19th there’s an official afterparty we’ve dubbed CrucialREST. It’s an all day depressurize session at Duffy’s Tavern. No live music (we’ll be full on that, I promise), but there will be good eats and plenty of shenanigans… jukebox, patio, pool, pinball, arcade games, darts, beers, and shots. I’m actually looking forward to CrucialREST almost as much as the festival itself. It’s gonna feel good to relax.
If you like black T-shirts and bone-rattling riffs, don’t miss this fest.
The Metro Bar/Art Garden, 627 W 100 S
The Urban Lounge, 241 S 500 E
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