Alexi D. Front
Scorched Tundra Fest
Summer is waning and fall is waxing. The air has become chilled and the days are shorter. What better way to celebrate this annual acquiescence into darkness then with a metal festival at your local dive bar? Throw open the doors of the Empty Bottle to let unleash the harsh, permafrost heat of Scorched Tundra XI. ST, held annually in Chicago and Gothenburg, is always eclectic and always authentic, and this year is no different. Friday kicks off with local post-rockers Varaha and crusty grindcore trio Cloud Rat opening for punk-sludge chord manglers Black Cobra. Saturday will continue to toast your face and freeze your eyebrows off with Chicago’s own blackened rock ‘n rollers Hitter, heavy local post-punkers Luggage, and doomy death-sludge goliath Aseethe, rolling out the blood soaked carpet for the furious EYEHATEGOD. I’m stoked to cover the event for CCS and I was lucky enough to get in touch with the promoter, organizer, and all around one man show Alexi Front to talk about ST’s latest Chicago iteration over email. The following conversation has not been edited and is presented here in full.
Chicago Crowd Surfer
ADF: Alexi D. Front founder of Scorched Tundra Festival
Where does the name Scorched Tundra come from?
ADF: The name Scorched Tundra is a cheeky response to the generic and hilariously-named metal festivals in Europe (take a tour on Google, and you'll see what I mean). The meaning of Scorched Tundra is entirely in the eye of the beholder; it gives me the unique flexibility to shape it in any way I wish over time without any expectations dictated by the name that specific genres will be highlighted.
Is the festival still connected to your label, Pivotal Recordings?
ADF: The festival is part of the snowball effect the label started. I began traveling in Scandinavia in 2005 after starting a zine with the Pivotal Rockordings folks (for those keeping score at home, the name of the zine was Pivotal Rage, founded in 2001). After releasing a dozen metal albums from Swedish/European death metal bands, I decided to start a festival in Gothenburg to showcase all the talent Pivotal Rockordings and Pivotal Management was developing. When we started the label, Sweden didn't have a label that was focused on up-and-coming talented death metal; that was the void we filled. The same was true when Scorched Tundra came about. It grew into an additional expression of the values Pivotal Rockordings represented as a label. So it is not affiliated formally, but the inclinations and impulses that informed the beginning of the label were very much central to the foundations of Scorched Tundra.
You’ve mentioned that you want to keep the festival’s lineup eclectic. How did your approach to event planning affect the lineup this year?
ADF: In the beginning, I am always looking for bands that have recently put out compelling, inspirational, and challenging metal. These groups form a foundation where the music is highlighted in a unique manner when stacked in a lineup. With each edition the approach is the same. Much like hanging paintings in a gallery, aspects of each painting are highlighted or enhanced depending on the order in which they are hung. In this case, the same is true with bands. This approach probably doesn't work for promoters who have to put on X number of shows every week (or even festivals that have strong commitments to certain agents,) but it's done well for ST over the last ten editions.
Which bands are you most excited to have on the bill this year?
ADF: I am equally excited for each band. This year’s lineup contains lots of newcomers to ST, while Eyehategod accomplish a feat only Monolord have by performing both at ST in Göteborg (EHG headlined ST IX,) and Chicago. There's a very strong mix of local and regional talent: Cloud Rat is putting out a new album ("Pollinator" out 9/13 on Artoffact Records); Varaha released its Prosthetic Records debut ("A Passage For Lost Years") in the spring, and Aseethe released a strong candidate for album of the year on Chicago-based Thrill Jockey Records earlier this year ("Throes.") Black Cobra hasn't played in Chicago in five years, and Luggage's material is going to appeal to folks in an entirely new way when sandwiched between the latter and Hitter. Ultimately the goal is for folks to remember the experience most fondly, casting an equally positive light across all bands’ performances.
Empty Bottle isn’t the first venue that comes to mind when most people think of metal in Chicago. Why did you pick this location as opposed to Reggies or Cobra Club?
ADF: Much like the composition of the lineup, the venue is an important part in the experience. The Empty Bottle is an institution in Chicago for all the right reasons; amazing sound, unique setup, incredible neighborhood support, and friendly staff. I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to put on this festival in my hometown at a venue that rarely - if ever - works with outside promoters/organizers and is staunchly independent. I feel as though the values that festival represents is best matched by those of The Empty Bottle.
Do you have any promotions running for the festival this year? Any deals at Kuma’s folks should be aware of?
ADF: In the past I have brewed special beers for the festival (with Pipeworks, Local Option, Spiteful, and Corridor in Chicago). This year I wanted to present new ideas and expressions. During the event you'll find a unique cocktail made in collaboration with The Empty Bottle and Redemption Whiskey on draft. Circle Pit, a collaboration beer I brew with Buckledown for Kuma's Corner will also be on tap. At Bite Cafe you'll find some badass metal-inspired food specials, and if you show up at any Kuma's Corner restaurant on Friday/Saturday with your ticket, you'll get 15% off your individual tab. Throughout the month of August, Kuma's Corner restaurants are running stellar ST-inspired food items including the namesake Scorched Tundra, (back for its third year), Eyehategod, and Aseethe burgers.
Look out for a slew of killer beers coming from the ST camp in between festivals later this year and next year.
Which has the most brutal winters? Chicago or Gothenburg?