Echo Fest, now in its seventh year, is ready to expand your sonic palette, challenge your perceptions of sound, uproot your mind from reality, and probably make you dance or something too. Hosted by local psychedelic group Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, this year's lineup is the most musically ambitious to date, and with its heaviest concoction of Detroit bands yet.
All three members of the band — guitarist/vocalist Sean Morrow, bassist/organist Eric Oppitz, and drummer/percussionist Rick Sawoscinski — stress this year's emphasis on the music. One of the first things they tell me is how important it was for them to expand this year. The reopening of the Magic Stick aligned perfectly with that desire; a bigger venue to work with than previous years gave them the capacity to bring in larger acts like Nik Turner's Hawkwind, as well as hone the ridiculously solid selection of local music.
Putting together a festival takes a great deal of effort, and Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor pointedly called out the Magic Stick and Found Sound for their generosity. Found Sound is sponsoring a stage and highlighting records from the bands playing the festival in store, and the Magic Stick couldn't have been more accommodating, "bending over backward" to help them, in Sawoscinski's words. Other sponsors include Peoples Records, Armageddon Beachparty Detroit, and dizzybird records.
"We never talk about it, we just do it," Sawoscinski says of their style. With Echo Fest, they wanted to fill the niche of a psychedelic festival in Detroit, and so they did. But one of the neat things about their approach is that even though it does fill this niche, words like psychedelic, shoegaze, stoner, noise, and experimental are all broadly invoked — the name Echo Fest itself implies a spirit as well as a sound, and an exploratory spirit is something that all the bands, in one way or another, reflect or embody.
To put it another way, as Morrow says, "We didn't want to call it Michigan Psych Fest."
Oppitz elaborates on this: "We wanted to take the 'psych' out and make it about bands that were really spacious and reverb-y. This gives the opportunity to have a band like Timmy's Organism — a lot more punk rock, but experimental and interesting, with a certain aesthetic and vibe that really fits."
But there's one more thing, Sawoscinski adds with a laugh, "Every one of the bands has a delay pedal! Every one of 'em!"
Speaking of the bands, there's the tireless post-industrial noise of Wolf Eyes, the exquisite space slop of Timmy's Organism, the heavy psychedelic punk of the Deadly Vipers, the glimmering, stoned out grooves of Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor — none of this is to be missed.
And to think, you get to see it all under the same roof as Nik Turner's Hawkwind.
The band backing Turner on his present U.S. tour, Hedersleben, is now based out of San Francisco and holds an impressive international psychedelic, progressive, and punk pedigree — including involvement with U.K. Subs, Brainticket, and the Source Family, to name a few. Hedersleben is playing a solo show at Echo Fest as well. Nicky Garratt, the band's guitarist, was eager to return to his progressive rock roots after playing in punk bands earlier in life, including a stint in U.K. Subs; when Turner's label asked him to act as a musical director for Turner's 2013 album Space Gypsy, Garratt jumped at the chance, and Hedersleben was born.
When asked what psychedelic means to him, Garratt's answer provides a nice thorough line to where we are now. "The swirl of '60s psychedelia gave way to the more measured yet ambitious early progressive rock bands," Garratt says.
"Those bands that did absorb that sound, like Pink Floyd and Hawkwind, birthed space rock." In the '80s and '90s, shoegaze, indie, and alternative all drew from that well. Today, psychedelic influences are more alive than ever in rock and pop, among other genres. Bands drawing from all of these influences are coming together at Echo Fest. It just makes sense.
Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor describe the festival in yet another capacity as one big party — the best excuse to share bands they've toured with and befriended throughout the years with local audiences at home in Detroit. Some of this music includes the catchy, dark psychedelic sounds of Heaven's Gateway Drugs from Fort Wayne, Ind.; Nest Egg from Asheville, N.C. and their tunnels of immersive krautrock; and the congenial psychedelic rock of Holy Wave from El Paso, Texas.
As for the Sisters, they have a new record in the works. They intend to enter the studio around Thanksgiving, and they have some intense inspiration behind some of the new songs. Oppitz tells the story well, even the truncated version, which is at times entertaining, at times frightening.
To sum it up, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor took — or at least started to take — a flight home from Greece after the end of a European tour on a retired airplane. The decommissioned aircraft from the '90s had been purchased by what they called a "rinky-dink" airline and recommissioned. (Morrow describes the plane as resembling "a grandma's cigarette.")
Recommissioned, however, apparently doesn't necessarily mean updated, as when an emergency caused the plane to lose cabin pressure, they discovered numerous broken oxygen masks and outdated equipment. For maybe 30 minutes, there was no communication. The confusion and fear were palpable. A rapid descent to get rid of fuel followed, and eventually they were slowly on their way back to Greece to start the trip over. They laugh about it now, but there was nothing funny about it then.
What we're likely to hear in the new album is the surreal feeling and melancholy vibes Oppitz describes he felt during the return flight, sitting there with an oxygen mask he didn't even know was really working slung over his face and gazing out the window at the sun setting beyond Greece in the distance. They hope to get the new album out sometime next year, and we hope to hear some of these new songs at the show.
In addition to Echo Fest, which takes place most of Saturday, there's also a free pre-party at the Garden Bowl at 9 p.m. on Friday, the night before. Echo Fest veterans, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Dead Leaf Echo, Detroit's Warhorses, and Chicago's Diagonal will entertain you then.
Echo Fest takes place at the Magic Stick on Saturday, Nov. 12; doors at 5 p.m; 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; $20 at the door. 18 and over.