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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cactus Club Hosts the Inaugural Milwaukee Psych Fest

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With inked-up arms and blond hair down to his elbows, Andrew Shelp could pass for a vocalist from a hardcore metal band. Looks can be deceiving, though, as is the case with Shelp, who pilots the local psych-folk band Moss Folk. As the psych scene in the Midwest has swelled, so has Shelp’s interest in collaborating with bands in the community, which led him to curate a three-show two-night event called Milwaukee Psych Fest. The event takes place April 19-20 at the Cactus Club and features an array of local bands (including The Elusive Parallelograms, Sleepcomesdown and Catacombz) in addition to psych bands from across the nation.

Psych, short for psychedelic, is both a genre and a community. Ambient, impulsive and largely improvisational, live performances seldom sound close to their album counterparts. While some featured bands fuse psychedelic tones with rock (e.g. Catacombz’s self-described "cyberdelic" sound), Shelp's band Moss Folk is influenced more by world music and ’70s German space rock groups such as Popol Vuh and Ash Ra Tempel.

Shelp organized the Psych Fest’s lineup in order to maximize the diversity of the music in each show. He seems most excited about having The Warlocks play on April 19, stating they're “the biggest band in the lineup.” Bobby Hecksher, frontman of The Warlocks, spent time playing guitar and bass with The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Cerebral tunes aren't the festival’s only draw. Andrew Shelp has arranged for a few street food vendors to set up shop outside the Cactus Club to feed hungry festivalgoers. In addition to music and delicious eats, Milwaukee Psych Fest will also feature an element of visual stimulation. "We have a couple bands who are bringing their own oil-and-water shows," Shelp explains. For these “liquid light shows,” colored mineral oils and water are mixed, creating a bubbly, lava lamp-like visual, which is then projected. Artists like The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane used the same technique.

What is Shelp's main goal for this event? "I want to emphasize how tight-knit the psych community is," he says. "Almost all the bands in the lineup know each other, or are friends of friends." After playing at Echo Fest, a similar psych showcase last November in Detroit, Shelp was eager to bring the psychedelic festival fun to the other side of Lake Michigan. The headliners of Echo Fest, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, will take the stage at the Cactus Club on Saturday, April 20.

Although the Cactus Club may seem like an underwhelming space for a lineup of 12 bands, Andrew Shelp knows how many people the venue can hold. "I was [at the Cactus Club] for the first and second show The White Stripes played there," he says. "I've seen how many people can cram into that performance space." Andrew's confidence in the Midwest psych scene is encouraging, considering he already has high hopes for next year. "I'd like to block off the street and have two stages. It'd be more of an outdoor event with vendors' tables," he says.

Shelp says he sees the genre’s reach expanding. "I think psych is slowly creeping into the mainstream. Like punk—punk has become more radio-friendly," he says, mentioning bands like Tame Impala and The Black Angels who are pushing the psychedelic genre closer to that threshold. He doesn’t seem to mind that the genre’s ascent has been a slow one. The music’s day in the sun may be a while off yet, but until then fans can appreciate the intimacy of the subculture at Milwaukee Psych Fest.

The Milwaukee Psych Fest performances start on Friday, April 19, at 9 p.m. and Saturday, April 20, at 5 and 10 p.m. at the Cactus Club. Visit cactusclub.dostuff.info/ for information and tickets.

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