Interview: Caterwaul is Here to Shake Up the Twin Cities

On May 27 through 30  in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Learning Curve Records and Seismic Wave Entertainment present Caterwaul, a festival that features 51 bands, from across North America, over four days at the world famous outdoor stage at Palmer’s along with cult favorite music club Mortimer’s.

Originally, slated for 2020, but cancelled because of you know what, the festival is now on, and it’s bigger than ever. In fact, they added an extra day.

It will feature  headlining “closing” sets from such national acts as Big Business, Bummer, and Vaz, along with cult live favorites such as Multicult, Tongue Party, Reptoid, Couch Slut, Intercourse, and Lung. In addition, the fest will feature a Sunday night set from legendary Touch And Go Records band, Arcwelder, and one of the first shows of The Deep Tunnel Project, which features multiple members of Tar along with Tim Midyett of Silkworm.

The names of the bands might not be all familiar, but the sense of community and uncompromising creativity is unmistakable. Caterwaul is staking a claim for the bold, the weird and uncompromising.

For information on tickets, line-up and FAQ’s visit the Fest’s website here.

If any of that excites you, we have an interview with the two men behind the festival: Rainer Fronz of Learning Curve Records and Conan Neutron of Seismic Wave Entertainment, Conan Neutron’s Protonic Reversal podcast, and Conan Neutron And The Secret Friends band.

What made you decide to do this festival?

Conan Neutron (CN):  A sense of adventure, a physical manifestation of a vibrant community of musical weirdos and a healthy dose of masochism.

Rainer Fronz (RF): Curiosity, wanted to increase my levels of anxiety to peak levels. Also wanted to get all my shows packed in to one long weekend a year.

Have either of you ever booked a festival like this before? If you have, what experience did you bring to curating of it? If you didn’t, what have you learned about booking one of these?

CN: I think we both have, I used to throw these things called “Noiserock picnics” in the early 2000s, post-’90s, pre-NR revival, and I’ve either been the main organizer or a helper with other community events on these scale, mostly on the West Coast where I am from. It pretty much has to be a labor of love, because there’s certainly no financial reward to it at all. The hardest thing is having to tell people “no,” but if you say “yes” to everybody, that makes the event far less enjoyable for all involved. It’s a fine line, and you have to have a thick skin and a lot of patience. Most folks have no conception how much work, effort, hassle, and woe comes with throwing these kinds of things. Most folks are asleep for the danger and awake for the money, to quote the great sage Rocket Raccoon.

RF: I only had experience booking small, one-day events here in Minneapolis at Grumpy’s, or residency type events for Learning Curve Records. Those came together a lot easier because they usually involved bands I had a direct relationship with, although most of the bands we have booked for Caterwaul are either directly or indirectly involved thru Learning Curve, or at least can be followed down part of the family tree from either Conan or I.  I don’t know if “curating” is the right word to put on it. We put together a list of bands we wanted to see on a big show over and long weekend and it somehow came together. Poof.

Originally, the fest was scheduled for 2020, but had to be postponed until this year. When this happened, did you think you would ever actually end up doing it?

CN: I can’t speak for Rainer, but I always had it in my mind that it was just a postponement. Obviously nobody knew anything at this time in 2020. The only time I ever had any doubt is Rainer’s health scare, and even then, it’s because the last thing in front of mind was throwing a big party with a bunch of noiseniks. That led to the Caterwaul Society comp though, so even then … the community came through. It was always a question of “when” for me. At a certain point it became very clear that there wasn’t going to be any kind of objective checkered flag to do stuff like this. If nobody can even agree on basic facts about what is happening, well … you could be dead and in the ground until you get to do your cool thing waiting for consensus. Life is nasty, unfair, brutish, mean, and short. Do cool stuff, and make the awesome and nice moments count. That’s the Caterwaul way.

RF: Like most things in 2020, we got COVIDed. We put it on hold and planned to do it the next year, but COVID was still raging, and I had a bit of a health/heart issue so the festival had to wait one more year till 2022. I for sure wanted to eventually make it happen because after the pandemic, being away from live music and not seeing friends in both touring bands and in local bands, throwing a festival where we invite everyone to come together to celebrate each other and our community was never a question of not doing it just a question of when we would do it.

How did you choose the bands to play on it? In addition, how did you secure up a venue?

CN: The lineup is 90% the 2020 lineup. That was picked through open submissions, referrals, and bands that we loved that we wanted to have involved. When we picked up the pieces and put it back together again we added another day (like crazy people). In the time between 2020 and now we would have had enough interest to do a six-day Caterwaul if we felt so inclined, but you have to know your limits and be realistic. A lot of it came from Rainer and I just excitedly texting and e-mailing back: “Hey! How about ______.”. Then we would ask if they wanted to do it. I tour and make records and put them out, and Rainer runs one of the best record labels going IMO (although, I’m biased) so we have a pretty good handle on who has the goods just from doing it and being in the water with it, you know?

Then we would ask if they wanted to do it. I tour and make records, and put them out, and Rainer runs one of the best record labels going IMO (although I’m biased), so we have a pretty good handle on who has the goods just from doing it and being in the water with it, you know? Also: RIP to your inbox. By the time we announce the lineup, the dinner is pretty much cooked. It is hard to fault people for wanting to be involved, that’s actually a huge compliment, but it’s like seeing the light of a star that actually shined millions of years ago maaaaaaaaaan …

We had to turn down awesome bands because we couldn’t make the money work, or there just wasn’t room. There’s always next year.

RF: Many of the bands were bands we just started contacting. “Hey, band X—we have this crazy idea, wanna come play and hang out?” People said yes. It is a testament to the community of underground music and the willingness to support each other. Many of the bands initially came about with Conan and I talking or texting being like, ” what about this band?” “Cool, I know them, I’ll ask” type-stuff. Eventually, once the word started getting out, then bands began asking and it became more selective and difficult because of space and time. The venues are both well established music venues in Minneapolis. Palmer’s and Mortimer’s both cater to underground, alternative artists and embody the spirit and ethic of building community and support for local and national artists.

Why Minneapolis?

CN: Minneapolis is a great town for freaky noisy music, also: why not? For what it’s worth, I like playing Minneapolis better than playing Milwaukee (where I live).  As a transplant, I get mystified by both the inferiority complex that the Midwest has, as well as the chip on the shoulder about it. Stop worrying about what New York or Los Angeles is doing, and build stuff; there’s a rich tradition of that already. Get up! Get on your feet!

RF: Minneapolis is a great place for weird cutting edge music. It has a rich history from Prince to Atmosphere, to Amrep to Dylan and so forth. There is a solid support network here of artists and fans.

Were there any bands you tried to book, but couldn’t get? On the flip side, were there any bands you booked that you were surprised you could get? 

CN: Surprised? Not really. You ask, and sometimes the answer is no and sometimes the answer is yes. You never know unless you ask. I was sad that Kowloon Walled City and Whores. who were on the 2020 lineup, couldn’t make it happen this time for different reasons, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. The world went from NO TOURING to ALL THE TOURING in the space of a couple weeks. Stuff happens.

I’d be hesitant to mention bands we tried to book but couldn’t get because at least half of them are on the “first call” list for the next one! It’s a pretty impressive list, but it also isn’t where my head is at. We’re firmly focused on landing the plane for Caterwaul 2022 and  making the best, most momentous and unforgettably awesome time possible.

RF: There are a couple of bands that were on the 2020 version that couldn’t make it work in 2022; Whores., Gaytheist, the Intelligence, and Elephant Rifle. Totally bummed because I was really excited to have them play the original festival.

Would you consider this a “noise rock” fest, since a majority of the bands playing on it, fit into that particular subgenre? Why or why not?

CN: Personally? No. Additionally, I don’t really care. The correlating factor is “good” as far as we’re concerned. If folks walk into Caterwaul with an open mind and willingness to see the bands that aren’t just ones they already know, I think they’ll be pleasantly shocked. Some of my personal favorites that are playing aren’t just lesser known in the underground, they are barely known at all. I’m looking forward to seeing those bands find their audience. That always makes me really happy. I do like that it isn’t exclusively “Dudes Yelling” bands, though.

RF: You can refer to it as that, but I think there is enough variety on the bills to make it unique to any subgenre of underground music. Noise, electro-punk, punk, garage, metal, hardcore the list goes on. How bout we just refer to it as the “subgenre fest”.

If this ends up being successful, would you do another one?

CN: Yes.

RF: We hope so; the idea is to turn this into a yearly event. Maybe get crazy and do an east and west coast version. Do you have a spot in Connecticut? (Full Disclosure: The writer is from the Land Of Steady Habits. Don’t hold that against him.)

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