Thursday, June 04, 2009

Matchitehew Assembly in The Reader

From The Reader

Hell’s Handmaidens
Novice promoters Jackie Kilmer and Nicole Chambers throw what might be the world’s first black-metal and noise fest.

By Miles Raymer

June 4, 2009

Matchitehew Assembly
Fri-Sat, 6/5-6/6, 5 PM, Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan, 773-862-1232, $25 per show, $40 for a weekend pass. All Ages

Jackie Kilmer, an artist and clothing designer who tends bar at Metal Shaker, was living in Omaha when she put on her first rock show. She had no experience as a promoter, but the Naperville band Velnias were looking to play the area, and for help they’d contacted Kilmer, who’d moved back and forth from Chicago to Nebraska a few times. Rather than place them at a club, she decided to stage the show in Hummel Park, on the northern outskirts of town. It seemed well-suited to their spooky, atmospheric black metal: the place is supposedly haunted, says Kilmer, and “notorious for murder-suicides, occult activities, Indian burial, blah blah blah.” So they played in the woods, powering the gear with a generator. According to Kilmer it was a success: “No one got arrested.”

By the time Kilmer returned to Chicago about two years ago, an even more ambitious project had begun to take shape in her head: to throw a daylong black-metal festival, for no other reason than to have her favorite black-metal bands all in one spot. After months of research and planning and the addition of a partner—Nicole Chambers, recently laid off from a job doing Photoshop work for an insurance company—this weekend it’s finally happening.

The Matchitehew Assembly (Matchitehew is an Algonquin name meaning “he has an evil heart”) isn’t one day but two, Friday and Saturday at the Co-Prosperity Sphere. And thanks to Chambers, who came into it with a bit of experience booking friends’ bands, there’s plenty of experimental noise mixed in with the black metal. The nearly two dozen bands on the bill hail from all over—the midwest, Texas, California. The Hungarian band Marblebog anchors Friday’s bill; after Matchitehew, Kilmer is accompanying them to an invite-only gathering in the Rockies whose precise location is a secret.

Like many dedicated black-metal fans, Kilmer is suspicious of media exposure almost to the point of paranoia, so Matchitehew has barely been publicized through the usual channels—the news has gotten out mostly person to person, either by word of mouth or online (with a little help from the noise freaks at Aquarius Records in San Francisco). I’m a little surprised she agreed to talk for this story—but as she reminds me, I had to badger her repeatedly.

Kilmer and Chambers have secured nonprofit status under the auspices of the Public Media Institute, which runs the Co-Prosperity Sphere and presents the Select and Version festivals. They’d hoped to scare up donations with the lure of a potential tax deduction, making it easier for the festival to forgo corporate sponsorship, but all they got were small gifts from a couple friends. Aside from selling tickets—at and Metal Shaker, 3394 N. Milwaukee—the only way Kilmer and Chambers are bringing in money is by renting merch-table space to independent black-metal labels like Sepulchral Productions and Autopsy Kitchen. After they meet a few of their expenses—they’ve fronted a lot of cash they don’t expect to see back—they plan to turn over all proceeds to the bands.

Kilmer detests festivals where corporate logos compete with the bands for attention. She has especially harsh words for the recent string of high-profile metal events sponsored by Toyota’s youth-marketed Scion brand, including a February blowout in Atlanta that featured American black-metal heavies Nachtmystium and Wolves in the Throne Room. “It’s all bullshit,” she says. “It ruins everything when dad gets involved. It’s no longer any fun.” (The Co-Prosperity Sphere has a deal of its own with Grolsch, which provides beer for some of the space’s art events, but I’ve never seen any banners there.)

Black-metal fests are rare outside Europe and not exactly common there either, but rarer still are festivals that mix black metal with noise. In fact, if there’s ever been another one, I don’t know about it. The social divisions between the genres are deep enough to trump their commonalities: punishing tones, calibrated for maximum effect on the body; lo-fi recordings, often in extremely limited runs and on cassette tape; and audiences with a significant contingent of serious misanthropes. You also occasionally encounter appropriated fascist imagery and, in extreme cases, fascist ideology. There are National Socialist factions in both scenes, but Chambers and Kilmer insist that no artist at Matchitehew has direct ties to those groups or shares their beliefs—not even California black-metal punks Bone Awl, who’ve used Nazi symbols in their artwork.

If noise artists and black metal bands aren’t mingling, it’s also probably due in part to their fascination with establishing increasingly obscure and exclusive subgenres—in Chambers’s words, they “like to get the boxes really tiny.” I figure this is largely an attempt to control the context in which they’re heard, by fleeing the taint of association with a style that’s either too trendy or insufficiently brutal. “I told Fenriz from Darkthrone about this fest,” says Kilmer. “He was like, ‘Oh, the arty side of music.’ I think he just passed on it as an arty thing because of the noise aspect.”

Actually, by calling the fest simply a mix of black metal and noise, Chambers says, they’re “dumbing it down really far to the most brief thing we could call it in conversation.” The noise acts run the gamut: locals Bloodyminded combine searing power electronics and assaultive ranting; Sword Heaven, from Columbus, Ohio, create a confused tangle of throbbing and clanging that sounds like a pagan army loose in a scrapyard; and Houston’s Rusted Shut favor sludgy, troglodytic stomping. The black-metal contingent is equally varied, ranging from Marblebog’s traditional Mayhem-style epics to Bone Awl’s oi-influenced take on the style to Locrian’s postapocalyptic drone.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the most obvious difference between Matchitehew and other similar festivals. At most noise and metal shows you can count the women in the crowd on your fingers, but here women are in charge—Kilmer and Chambers direct a team of part-time volunteers, mostly men. As remarkable as that might look if you know the scene, though—especially considering that the two of them had so little previous promoter experience—they seem pretty nonchalant about it.

When I ask what they’ve learned from putting the fest together, I’m hoping for something philosophical, but Chambers just talks about navigating a German-language airline Web site to book Marblebog’s plane tickets. Kilmer, though, seems to be feeling more reflective. “The devil will find work for idle hands,” she says. “So I went and made a black-metal festival.”