Hell Fireside Chat w/ Scorched Tundra Metal Fest Founder, Alexi Front
We asked Alexi some questions about the fest, trends in the metal genre, what it means to be "independent", and yeah, of course, beer. Here's what the man, the myth, the metal legend had to say:
So Scorched Tundra is a dual city fest - you alternate between hosting the fest in Gothenburg and Chicago - why those two cities?
In the beginning, Gothenburg was the natural first choice for Scorched Tundra. For years before the first Scorched Tundra edition, I had operated my own record label (Pivotal Rockordings) that focused primarily on Swedish death metal music. Most of the bands that I had gotten to know and work with either in this label capacity - or later as a band manager and tour booker - came from Gothenburg, or the south of Sweden. Building the festival from an area where I had the most support and resources made natural sense from the outset.
Sweden’s second city is also well known for its metal scene internationally. The original “Gothenburg Sound” is frequently credited as having impacted a vast majority of young bands that came about in the early 2000s in the global metal scene. For a city of around 500,000 people it seems as though everyone who is interested in metal music is in at least one band. These are incredible foundations to work with. Why not have a festival in such a wonderful place with a huge talent pool and a strong local interest in metal?
Having the festival in Chicago was a pipedream and a game of patience on my part. Having grown up in Chicago, I always felt the city was a bit underserved as far as underground metal festivals. There were venues that showcased extreme underground music (Fireside Bowl, original Bottom Lounge, random basements/cafes and larger venues occasionally for touring acts) as well as Metal Haven which was a world class record shop. Now a days, there are plenty of events in Chicago that support underground metal and I am proud to be a part of that fabric.
So much is going on in the metal scene. How do you go about curating the fest?
I begin by creating lists; groups that I have seen recently and thought ruled; new bands that are doing something exciting; established underground bands that may not have played Chicago or Gothenburg; these are typically starting points. Once I am able to ascertain who is available then, for me, the imaginative part comes. I always attempt to put together a lineup that contains variety and is based more on sound than stature. The heaviest and least heavy, most brutal, and least brutal should all be on display in some form each night in a concentrated showing. Scorched Tundra is a festival that is not bound by name to any specific subgenre of rock music, so for me it is important to display a variety of underground metal and/or rock each evening.
There is also an element of considering the space that the festival is invading; what artists fit the space well; what artists would not normally play in the Empty Bottle for example? This gives not only festivalgoers, but also people who regularly attend shows at the host venues something to look forward to.
This is the 8th Scorched Tundra! Crazy. What was the first scorched Tundra like? How did the idea to host your own festival come to you?
The festival began as a way for me to showcase bands that I was working with at the time to media and to gather my friends together for a big party between Christmas and New Years. I’d put shows together at Sticky Fingers before and the in house promoter agreed to my idea – he particularly enjoyed the fact that I wanted to utilize both stages for the same event, which is something venue rarely ever does even to this day. The festival was thus born.
What are the pros and cons of being an independent music fest?
Having an independent festival allows me a great deal of freedom. I don’t have to worry about sponsors or seeking additional funding; I can simply focus my efforts first and foremost on creating the lineup then filling the space. With the format the festival takes each year the emphasis is always on the music and a concentrated arrangement of bands each evening. There is therefore no need to have a hundred bands a day and be concerned with having diversions that keep people entertained on the festival ground (and in the case of larger festivals, drive in additional concession revenue to help substantiate the cost of bringing in those big expensive bands).
There’s a lot of work that goes into putting on this type of independent festival. Ranging from booking the bands, coordinating travel, and looking after the promotional effort to all the small things involved in spreading awareness. But all this effort is worth all the days and hours of work that occurs behind the scenes.
The support networks in the underground world are fantastic. I’m particularly happy with the working relationship I’ve developed with The Empty Bottle and I look forward to working with them for future iterations of the festival in Chicago. Other partners for this years editions such as Pipeworks; Gamma Brewing Company in Denmark; and Kumas Corner (grab a Scorched Tundra burger at all their Chicagoland locations in August!) have been awesome in supporting the festival. It is companies like these that I enjoy working with and look forward to finding in future locations of the festival.
We just collaborated on a beer. You seemed to have something specific in mind at the onset. Why did you choose to brew the recipe that you did? Is IPA style that you seek out?
The Scorched Tundra VIII beer this year is an India Pale ale dry hopped with American and Australian varietals. I sought to explore a different style of beer than the previous two ST beers (both ST VI and ST VII were stouts with coffee from Dark Matter). India Pale Ale is a style that I explored quite a bit when I first got into craft beer, and one that I still enjoy quite a bit today.
An IPA can be extremely drinkable and enjoyable when it the recipe is thoughtful and beer itself is technically well executed. The ST VIII beer seeks to balance classic hop profiles of Simcoe and Amarillo with a decent dose of Galaxy a new variety. The goal was to interplay the unique combination of citrus and tropical fruit flavors and aroma with a balanced malt profile. This beer is my response to the new world of over-hopped session pale ales, and maintains enough complexity to be enjoyed over the course of three days at the festival.
When you're in Gothenburg for Scorched Tundra, are you able to explore their beer scene? How is it different/similar than what's going on in Chicago?
I’ve been able to comprehensively explore the Swedish beer scene as a whole concurrently with my interest in music over the last decade. In many ways, Gothenburg is leading the charge in the Swedish beer world. There are many good breweries and brewers based in Gothenburg (Dugges, All In Brewing, Stigberigets, Ocean, and Beerbliotek come to mind straight away), and great beer bars and restaurants (Ölrepubliken, Brewers Beer Bar, and The Rover are all great). Due to recent changes in law, tasting rooms are starting to pop up as well, whose effect will hopefully be as positive for the breweries there as they have been for those in the USA. From its blue-collar foundations, Gothenburg is a beer-drinking city much like Chicago.
Many brewers in Gothenburg are quite up to date with what is happening in the US as far as styles and ingredients go, and therefore are creating beers similar to what you’d find in the USA. This is part and parcel with Swedes deep understanding and interpretation of our culture.
What are your goals for the festival?
Immediately my goals for Scorched Tundra revolve around delivering great lineups and unique environments for each edition in Chicago and Gothenburg. Adding a curated beer lineup with Pipeworks this year is a nod to my ambition of continuing to highlight fiercely independent companies that are quality driven.
Ultimately Scorched Tundra is a project that knows no borders and will slowly expand geographically without compromising in quality.
To someone who has never been to a metal fest - or even a metal show, do you have any tips for getting into the music/scene? Asking for a friend - really.
Metal music itself takes on a number of different forms, and the numerous subgenres of the music integrate all genres of music in some way. For a newcomer I’d skip the “classics” and find a subgenre of metal that fits your current taste. If you like electronic/house/dubstep (it’s probably not fair to categorize all these together) music there are certain subgenres of metal that integrate elements of the aforementioned. If you enjoy classical music, certainly the Gothenburg sound of the 90s is a good starting point.
Get off your butt and go to a show!
Another crucial aspect of getting into the scene is to go to concerts and shows frequently. In the face of “binge watching Netflix and eating delivery” culture, going out and experiencing the metal world from a social side can also be very rewarding. Going to shows is extremely important for any music scene and this point I cannot stress enough. This is especially true for developing and underground bands, which is the world in which I am immersed.
Buy music; look beyond the biggest names in the genre; take risks; get outside your comfort zone; and enjoy the diverse sounds that comprise metal.
Do you think that metal music can be universally enjoyed? I usually equate it to opera. Do you think it has the potential to transcend national and cultural boundaries? Why?
I believe metal music is already enjoyed universally. Metal knows no cultural boundaries and the numerous subgenres of metal integrate elements of any kind of music out there from jazz, blues, Mongolian folk music, etc. Feelings evoked in metal are universal. Grief, death, dread, gloom, sorrow, all of these, and many more are sentiments evoked by metal lyrics and by the music. Even if none of the themes of metal music are relevant to someone the act of supporting a countercultural movement like metal music can be very compelling.
What was it about metal music as a genre that sunk it's teeth into you?
From the beginning it was the intensity and the display of musicianship that I enjoyed. When I joined the Pivotal Rage webzine at the end of middle school I became exposed to metal from all over the world and enjoyed seeing all the different expressions of metal out there. After reviewing thousands of albums, interviewing hundreds of bands, operating my own label, managing bands, organizing tours around the world and booking this festival there are always new bands that continue to excite me musically. But what most excites me about the metal world is helping young and underground bands reach an audience.
Any other locations you dream of hosting Scorched Tundra?
As far as urban locations, I’d love to host an edition in Copenhagen. The Danish metal scene until recently has been very small as far as number of bands, but there are a lot of metal fans there, as well as in the south of Sweden which is strongly connected to Copenhagen. There was a great festival there a few years back called Heavy Days In Doomtown and there is a strong DIY culture in the city.
I am also very open to the idea of creating a destination style festival that would be held outdoors, possibly in a remote location. This would be an exciting challenge.
One band you would love to work with?
November, the first Swedish hard rock band from the late 60s and 70s.
Still a couple tickets available for Scorched Tundra VIII at Empty Bottle Sept 1-3!
Interview done by Kate Brankin