Greg Anderson of Southern Lord talks Power of the Riff fest
Before the Power of the Riff came along, the local L.A. metal scene was in need of a unifying festival. It was something that Sam Velde -- frontman of L.A. band Night Horse -- and Greg Anderson of Southern Lord Records knew they needed to be a part of.
Raging inside the doors of the Echo and the Echoplex, the day-long L.A. festival created a new thrash of energy among heavy music acts ranging from punk to hardcore to heavy metal when it premiered last year in L.A., San Francisco and Seattle. And despite running on corporate cash courtesy of its partnership with Converse, the celebration of amp-splitting distortion carried a spirit of DIY ethos you might find at almost any backyard metal bash -- only with bigger bands and a couple hundred more long-haired headbangers.
This year, the festival is no longer a free event, though Converse remains partly involved. However, Anderson says the 19-band line-up -- running the gamut from underground '70s icons such as Pentagram to the modern-day brutality of Chicago band Pelican -- is what makes this fest worth the $30 price of admission. Add to that an underground record-swap meet, the Grill 'Em All food truck and pop-up shops curated by local indie labels.
In Anderson's view, it's a chance to provide both a memorable show and an appreciation to the community it serves. Judging by the festival's expansion this year -- with extended two-day line-ups in San Francisco and Seattle -- the Power of the Riff's format and philosophy have served as an example to like-minded metal fests in the U.S. and abroad. Pop & Hiss recently caught up with Anderson, who let us in on why paying to see the Power of the Riff ensures the long-term power of the people in the L.A. metal scene.
Last year's Power of the Riff was free due to corporate sponsorship from Converse and Scion. What changed this year?
It was kind of a unique situation [last year], where we got corporate sponsorship. Sam [Velde] had a friend at Converse that was really into what we were doing and wanted to meet with us about it. So we met with him and he said, "This idea is great, but I’d like it to be free." So he put up the money in order to make it a free event. This year, we didn’t really have that luxury. Converse is involved a bit, but it was the same old story, that their budgets just weren’t there for promotion like they were last year, so we weren’t able to make it a free event.
Do you feel like that had a negative or positive effect on the fest?
To be honest with you, we knew early on that this show wasn’t gonna be free, even if we had corporate sponsorship. Because there’s been a ton of free shows in L.A. over the last couple years. For us, in some ways, the audiences in L.A. are really fortunate -- and you could even say spoiled. We don’t want a concert or a festival to be looked at as a disposable medium like the compact disc is becoming. I wanted to give it some sort of value. And this year, I think the $30 ticket price is reasonable, considering there’s 19 bands, and the caliber of bands we have. And having corporate sponsorship, although it is a nice luxury to have, I definitely don’t wanna rely on that.
You've also mentioned that the Power of the Riff is different from events like the Scion-sponsored monthly metal shows at the Roxy. How so?
The Scion thing is gonna go away once they realize that hard-core punk and metal kids aren’t gonna buy their toaster box cars. I think it’s amazing that they’re throwing the money around right now to do that and allow some of these bands to get paid well and give the fans a good show for free. But at the same time, it’s not gonna be there forever. We wanna stand on our own feet. That’s how we got to where we are and it’s part of the ethos of the scene we’ve been involved in since we were very young.
Considering the hit that so many physical record stores have taken, do you think pop-up shops are helping them stay afloat or at least keeping them in people’s minds on the metal scene?
It can’t hurt. And that’s the other difference between what we’re doing and what Scion is doing -- of FYF Fest, for that matter. Although what they do is really cool and they put together some really great bills, they’re really not giving anything back to the community or the scene with this stuff. It’s got this really hollow feeling to it. They come in, throw a bunch of money around and they split. And they don’t really encourage or allow any local labels, fanzines or anything to be involved in what they’re doing. And that’s what we wanted to have, which is why we have the record swap downstairs. We’re really trying to include a lot more people and not have it be this weird, closed off corporate event. I feel like we pulled that off last year, even with the corporate sponsorship.
The Power of the Riff festival, Friday at the Echoplex, 1822 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles.(213) 413-8200, www.thepoweroftheriff.com, www.attheecho.com. Noon-midnight. $30 advance, $35 day of show. All ages.
Photo: Members of the Chicago-based instrumental metal band Pelican, which will perform at the Power of the Riff Festival in L.A. on Friday: Larry Herweg, left, Laurent Lebec, Trevor de Brauw, Larry Herweg. Credit: Marty Watson