Gilead Media Fest 2014 prepares to occupy Oshkosh with three days of metallic camaraderie

Gilead FestOshkosh, WI, might not jump out as an epicenter of extreme music. But this weekend, it will host a collection of some of the most eclectic and ambitious bands in the world at Gilead Media Fest, where black metal, doom, drone, hardcore, and so many others forms of volcanic expression will meet.

Gilead Media, one of the best, most consistent labels in metal, is driven by one man, Adam Bartlett. Over the years, he has brought the world music from forward-thinking bands such as Thou, FALSE, Mutilation Rites, Ash Borer, Barghest, Fell Voices, and so many others. And not only have people become emotionally tied to the music he releases, but Bartlett has found himself devoted to those who buy from him, talk to him about music, and record for him. He’s inviting the world back to his hometown so this tight-knit community, that is spread out all over the globe, can break bread, shake hands, and have their minds blown together. Amid his duties as shop manager at Offbeat Press, getting several vinyl releases ready for release, and putting the final touches on this year’s Fest, Bartlett took time to talk about an event that, as far as we’re concerned, is the metal weekend of the year.

I thought at one point after Gilead Fest in 2012 you said it might be a one-off. What changed your mind and made you want to do another one in 2014?

I might have mentioned something about that then, and at the time I was 100 percent serious. I was like, “No more Gilead Media Fests unless Neurosis will play.” Well, obviously Neurosis isn’t going to be playing (this year), or that could be one hell of a surprise I could unleash on everyone. Only it’s not (laughs). But I guess it was about a year after the first one, like in the middle of 2013, when I thought I might want to do another one. So I talked to my wife about it and said, “Hey, I’m not working on any films over the next year, and I want to do another fest because I didn’t have any fun the first time.” I mean, that’s despite the fact that it went well, and everyone seemed to have fun, but I was freaking out the entire time because I sucked at planning it and didn’t relegate any responsibilities to anyone else. I mean, I didn’t get to hang out with anyone the entire weekend. I saw all of these pictures from the weekend, all of these bands hanging out at all of the restaurants at places where I grew up, in my town, which was just fucking surreal, man.

Also, up until Gilead Fest 1, there basically were two Adam Bartletts. One that lived in Oshkosh, WI, and one that ran Gilead Media, and they were two different worlds that never met. In general, there’s not a huge scene except for some awesome dudes who are in bands and play locally, and they would support the label. But it’s not like I’m from Richmond, VA, or San Francisco, places where the labels there have a large local scene that supports the label and really helps it to grow. Not that I didn’t have people supporting me here, but it’s not to that capacity, so that’s why I’ve kept those two parts of my lives very separate. So seeing all of these bands be here, and my two worlds coming together, I felt like I didn’t have a chance to properly witness that. I’ll tell you right now, that’s the only reason Gilead Media Festival 2014 is even happening. There are so many people I didn’t get to see, mail order customers from all over the world, people I have communicated with only online, and I didn’t get to spend any time talking to them. This year I did things totally differently so I can see people and socialize with people and have fun and enjoy myself. That’s all due to the people who are helping me this year and supporting me and all of the volunteers who are helping me run things. If it weren’t for them, I’d be dead. They are preventing me from falling in on myself.

Well, talk about the work you’ve done putting the fest together, from the time you decided to do another festival to now as we’re days away.

I think I announced the fest almost a year to the day before Gilead Fest 2014 was going to happen, so like the middle of July 2013. Prior to that, in April or May, I reached out to a few bands and told them I was thinking about doing this again and asked if they were interested. That was the initial step, getting the primary Gilead Media bands on board. I mean, Thou has to be there, and Ash Borer as well, especially since I had just done that new 12” for them (“Bloodlands”). And we tried for other bands like Fell Voices, who couldn’t make it, and Krallice, who are in kind of a lull right now, and Colin (Martson) is focusing on Gorguts. But I felt it was important to invite them because they’ve been so integral to the growth of the label the past five or six years. Once I got a good core group of bands, many of them who played the first time around, that’s when I started branching out. As people who attended the 2012 fest, who will compare it to this year’s, will see, there are a lot of bands here I haven’t worked with yet. I didn’t just want to have Gilead Media Fest 2012 Part 2. That’s also why I’m not calling it Gilead Fest 2. I’m calling it Gilead Media Fest 2014, it’s at a new venue, there are a lot of different bands, and it’ll be a whole new atmosphere. I still wanted it to be intimate and have the sense of DIY community that I cherish in music. But I want it to be different so the people coming back won’t feel like they’re seeing the same show again.

It’s been a lot easier this year. I learned from a lot of the mistakes I made in 2012. As I said earlier, I tried not to do everything myself, because I am a control freak. My friend Scott is helping me run the fest. My wife Cari is helping coordinate the volunteers, because she actually does volunteer coordinating at the humane society she works at here in town. So it’s a lot more organized this year. The biggest pain in the ass really has been working with all of these touring bands’ schedules because certain bands are coming through town on one day, and they need to play at a certain time on a certain day. But I also want there to be an ebb and flow to the music. I don’t want there to be three straight hours of blast beats and tremolo picking. I want to be able to put a band like Owlfood before a doom band and after a black metal band, and things like that. I want—man, I’m going to sound like a douche here (laughs)—the music to take people on a journey while they’re here. Another thing is I don’t expect every attendee is going to be stoked to see every band, so I want them to be able to have some down time for themselves. Then there was the matter of getting the word out to people and getting people to come to Oshkosh, WI. Oh, and then I decided to put out four records during the final weeks of planning Gilead Media Fest. So the biggest pain in the ass I brought on myself!

Adam Bartlett

Adam Bartlett

Going back to broadening the scope of bands beyond your label, I imagine it also could enlighten a fan of, say, Wolvserpent to some of the Gilead bands that maybe they don’t know much about.

Oh yeah, there’s definitely that, and that’s a big reason I wanted to cast a larger net, so to speak. But I also just fucking love Wolvserpent. They’re such an awesome band. But yeah, having them on a label like Relapse, and I’d argue they appeal to a bit of a different crowd. They’re not totally an extreme metal band, though they have those elements. Even a band like Kowloon Walled City, even though I sold a ton of their stuff through my distro, the people who buy their music probably doesn’t listen to a lot of the stuff I release. Same with Owlfood, and they’re a band I’m just obsessed with. That’s all the type of stuff I was trying to bring into the fold this year. Yes, hopefully they will attract more people, but they’ll also keep the atmosphere fresh and will prevent people from getting worn out by one sound over the course of the weekend.

I know Oshkosh means a ton to you, and that it’s your home, but did you give any thought to holding this year’s event anywhere else?

It’s funny, because yesterday I was just going through some old e-mails exchanges with Cory (von Bohlen) from Halo of Flies based out of Milwaukee, as well as Erik (Stenglein) from Northless who also is from Milwaukee, when I was considering the first Gilead fest and was asking them about venues there. It’s a lot easier to get to. You can fly right into it and not have to drive anywhere afterward. But I have a lot of pride in my hometown. Oshkosh is a small place, and a lot of people talk shit on it from the area, but I love it here. There’s a small but totally compassionate community of artists and musicians here. It’s not a target tour stop for bands coming through here necessarily, but there are so many incredible people here and bands who are just doing it because they love it. It’s the same way with a lot of the artists who are here. So I just sort of wanted to say, “Fuck you, we can do this here.” We’re bringing people here from across the nation and across the world. At the first one, a dude came in from Australia. At this one, we have people coming in from the United Kingdom and other places. We have people coming in who run other record labels—I think half the people from Thrill Jockey are coming—as well as writers and fans of the music. It’s surreal to me that all these people come together in such a small town like this.

It also helps open the eyes of some of the people in this town of some of the other cultures that are out there. A lot of the other downtown businesses, like a place like New Moon Coffee Shop that’s like a block and a half from the venue, they said they sold a week’s worth of veggie chili in like two days last time. And they said the people that came from the fest were some of the nicest people who ever stepped foot in the coffee shop. You know, dudes with black leather jackets and long black hair probably seemed pretty sketchy to people, but multiple businesses I talked to—a record shop, a comics shop, and a few other places—said they were some of the best people who ever shopped there. So I think it’s cool to watch all of these people come together.

You mentioned you want to have a better time this time around and get to talk to more people who mean a lot to you and the label. But what bands are you most excited to witness?

Well, I’ve never seen Wolvserpent before, so I’m excited about that. Owlfood, who I keep going on and on about, I’m excited about seeing them. Thou has told me there’s a good chance they’ll be playing “Heathen” front to back, so I’m fucking so excited for that. Generation of Vipers, if that band sounds anything live like they do on record, I’m going to lose my shit. Their guitar and bass tone is just dirty fucking distortion. Bastard Sapling, obviously. I can’t wait to see those dudes. Sea of Bones. Shit. I could just keep going. And I mean, the bands I’ve done records for lately like Alraune I’m really excited about seeing. Kowloon Walled City, a band that doesn’t really tour and I haven’t had a chance to see. I did watch every single band that played at the first fest, and I’m going to do that again this year. I legitimately book bands that I fucking love, man.

Why did you choose Oshkosh Masonic Center to host Gilead Media Fest 2014?

Well, first of all, it’s beautiful. It was built, I believe, before Wisconsin was a state, and it’s old as shit. You can tell when you’re in there. It’s a stunning place. We’ll be having the fest in the main ballroom, which is on the second floor. It was built before there was amplified music and amplified instruments. Also, there’s a guy I went to high school with and a dude who works at The Exclusive Company, the local record store where I’m renting all the equipment and gear from, who are both part of the Masons. They were able to help me out with everything, and they were my contacts for the venue. It really helped that I was able to text one of them at 10:30 at night to ask questions and they’d get back to me. We’ve known each other for a long time, and there’s a level of respect there. They’re also giving me a lot of freedom to do whatever. For example, the ballroom has 60 windows, so I cut a bunch of wooden boards and I’m lining them with foam to cover the windows and partially soundproof the room. I’m also going to be screen-printing the Gilead logo on these 14-foot-tall curtains and am going to be hanging the curtains. Plus, I’m building a 24-foot wooden stage that will go in front of the traditional ballroom stage, because I don’t want the bands playing on this giant stage. So, within reason, they’re letting me do whatever I need to do to make this the best event it can be.

Gilead Media Fest kicks off Friday at 5 p.m. Come back tomorrow for a full rundown of the lineup, as well as a special pick of the week that might have a little bit to do with all of this. Thanks again to Adam for taking time out of his hellish schedule to talk on a Friday night over the most nightmarish Skype set-up of all time. Screw technology. Open the beers.

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