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Tuesday, 02 September 2014 11:22

Pü Fest brings a homegrown, DIY spirit to the festival season in St. Louis

Pü Fest performing artist Black James Pü Fest performing artist Black James Andy Lombardo
Written by Derek Schwartz

Empire Hall is as nice of a spot as any in St. Louis to host a party. Giant windows look out over California Avenue, and natural light spills into the space, illuminating the white pillars and shining hardwood floors of the interior. There is a subtle elegance to the space, making it the perfect spot for a wedding reception or a gallery opening.

This weekend, though, Empire Hall will host a very different type of party. Starting on Saturday, September 6, non-commercial musicians from around the country will flock to the venue for Pü Fest, a DIY music festival celebrating its first year.

Although the festival is being held the same weekend that LouFest takes over Forest Park, the similarities between these two festivals end there. While LouFest boasts big name artists such as Outkast and Arctic Monkeys, Pü Fest offers a very different opportunity to St. Louis music fans.

"You are guaranteed to see something you've never heard of at Pü Fest," says Mike Herr, one of the festival organizers. "If you are more adventurous that's the reason to go, and if you do know some of the bands, great, you'll get to see them up close."

While LouFest is produced by C3 Presents -- a production company based in Austin, Texas that produces some of the world's biggest festivals including Lollapalooza -- Herr and the other two Pü Fest organizers, Luc Michalski and Pat Boland, are all local musicians who are deeply tied to the St. Louis DIY scene.

"[Pü Fest] is about camaraderie and getting everybody together," explains Michalski. "These bands are all friends with each other or friends of friends. It's more about playing the event then it is about getting paid."

In addition to touring bands like Digital Leather (Nebrasak), Alex Body (Iowa) and Perfect Pussy (New York), Pü Fest will feature over 10 St. Louis artists, including groups like Trauma Harness and Shaved Women among the 30 bands performing over the weekend. On Saturday night, Black James, a local favorite who plays experimental dance music, will close out the night.

"I think Pü Fest will help put St. Louis more on the map for bands as a good music town and a good hub for people to pass through," says Jennifer McDaniel aka Black James. "I think it will help the scene grow here. More touring bands definitely need to come through St. Louis and we need to keep hosting more touring bands so that we'll get different kinds of music."

Black James is particularly excited to play this show because it will give her an opportunity to play to a crowd that doesn't usually listen to dance music. While there are artists from many different genres playing the event, the majority of the bands are punk and hardcore acts.

Although Black James' musical style is different from most of the other artists playing Pü Fest, her philosophy towards music resembles that of any other DIY artist. While she would not turn down a record deal if it fell in her lap, for Black James creative control is far more important than commercial recognition. In order to maintain this control, she, and most DIY groups, do all of their work themselves.

"I'm doing every fucking thing by myself," she says. "I record everything at home, I make the tapes by myself, I'm mastering everything, I'm shipping them. I'm doing everything."

While Pü Fest has received donations and support from some businesses and donors, at its core, it is being run entirely in the DIY spirit. Herr, Michalski and Boland are doing all of their own booking, scheduling, promoting and even printing their own tickets. If there is any money left over after the festival, all of the proceeds will go to the bands and to making next year's festival even better.

Although the three organizers wont be cashing checks off of Pü Fest, they are happy to take off work to put together the festival. For them, St. Louis DIY is about far more than music. When Michalski describes the St. Louis DIY scene, it is almost as if he is talking about a close friend.

"St. Louis likes to get weird and roll on the ground and get dirty and wear masks and cover themselves in goo and shit," Michalski says. "When we go to other towns they either don't know how to react or they hate it. We just wanted to do something that actually represented St. Louis, that showed off St. Louis artists, that shows that St. Louis really gives a shit."

Check out the full Pü Fest lineup on Facebook.

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