IPUC at 30! The International Pop Underground Convention Remembered by Those Who Were There on its 30th Anniversary

We asked a few folks to look back and try to remember what it felt like attending, organizing, and performing at the very influential International Pop Underground Convention, which took place August 20–25, 1991 in Olympia, Washington, was organized by Calvin and Candice from K Records, and featured a crazy good lineup including Beat Happening, Bratmobile, the Pastels, Jad Fair, Kicking Giant, Some Velvet Sidewalk, Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses, Sleepyhead, Scrawl, Nikki McClure, Rose Melberg and loads more. This type of festival became a blueprint and surely influenced our foray into party throwing a few years later. Some folks remember it as a magical utopian moment in time, others were stressed and disillusioned. Whatever those who attended felt, it was a pivotal moment for independent labels, great pop and punk music, and a spirit and community still with us today.

Convention pass courtesy of Rose Melberg

Did you attend the convention? What made you want to go? 
Nikki McClure: Yes. It felt like it would be the center of the world that week. I had a job in the mountains during the week (field ornithology) and threatened to quit when my boss wouldn’t let me take the week off as promised. He let me go and keep my job. I was willing to risk complete poverty for the Convention. My boyfriend at the time went to Europe with Nirvana to the Reading Festival. That moment felt like a cultural divide. Everything shifted in August 1991.
Erin Smith (Bratmobile): YES!  I was a major K kid from ’87 on, so it was a no-brainer I was going. That was the entire center of my universe—virtually EVERY band I loved at the time was playing IPU.  I was OBSESSED with Beat Happening! Bratmobile were asked by Calvin Johnson to play as well—a total dream come true!  Bratmobile were actually the only band to play 2 shows at IPU—both on Girl Night—8/20, and an early morning show with Kicking Giant and Jad Fair on 8/23.
Michael Galinsky: Sleepyhead got invited to play, largely due to Tae’s suggestion. I don’t think we even had a single out yet, maybe we did… it’s murky, but we had just done our first 10-day, 5-show tour that July. So, we were a little more prepared to play. I might have gone even if we weren’t playing, but I was also pretty broke so it would have been a big reach for me. Thankfully the awesome folks in Treehouse offered us a place to stay, which made it more possible. Allison from Bratmobile lent us her car to go pick up Rachael, our drummer, about two hours before we had to play. All went smoothly until we left the airport and realized we needed gas. She had given us the key to the car but not the gas key, which we discovered when we pulled over to get gas. Thankfully we made it into town and had to jump on stage shortly after we got there.

Memories from Lois Maffeo


Tobi Vail: Yes. I honestly don’t remember if I wanted to go or not. I mostly grew up in Olympia and I was a part of the K scene as a teenager but after I was assaulted by a stranger at 18 (in my first apartment in Eugene) what I perceived to be traditional gender roles and cute 1950s aesthetic of K no longer spoke to me (if it ever really did). I was in a band with Calvin (’85–89) as a teen and I looked up to him but that experience ended on a bad note. The year before IPU I was part of a feminist awakening of young women in the NW music scene, which eventually led to us starting riot grrrl. We were angry and pushing back against male domination and patriarchy and at that point I feel like most men in the Olympia music scene were threatened by us—exceptions were the teenagers in Unwound and the guys in Nirvana, who were super supportive. We had a little trouble communicating with K when they were distributing our self-released demo tape and ended up pulling it from their mail order to distribute on our own and I don’t think they understood why we wanted to control everything but that was really important to us at the time. So it was nice that the festival was organized by a woman (Candice) who became a co-owner of K. In retrospect I do appreciate that K sold our tape through their mail order and I appreciate their support but I wish that we had been able to communicate with them a little better about sales.
Ira Robbins: I was there and wrote about it in Rolling Stone, which earned me a death threat from Ian Svenonius.

Bratmobile photographed by Michael Galinsky

Had there been other festivals like this you’d been to before? What felt different about it? 
Nikki M: It really felt like a Convention and not just some shows. A Convention needed banners! So I made some from dyed sheets with sticks found on the old growth forests I was working in. I made them on the floor of the ranger cabin that I lived at during the week, rolled them up and headed to Oly then unfurled them from the windows of The Martin apartments. There was more happening than music. It was a collection of people forming an international underground community and network. It was important work.
Candice Pedersen (IPUC organizer/formerly K Records): I’d never been to a music festival or conference before. The IPU was designed so that the bands and the audience would come to us! But seriously, the IPU convention was a chance to be at a conference that was designed by the kids for the kids. 
Erin Bratmobile: Festivals for “our” brand of indie were not so commonplace at this point.  Of all things, I’d won tickets to the first Lollapalooza, so attended that in DC the SAME week as IPU, turned 19 that day, then flew to Olympia.
Tobi Bikini Kill: No.
Michael Sleepyhead: We went to a couple of others after this. Lotsa Pop Losers (which wasn’t as big but had a similar inclusive vibe) and Lollipops and Booze, which was more of a schedule of shows with a pass over the course of a week than a festival like this. So, no, this was a truly unique and powerful event.

Scrawl photographed by Rose Melberg

Organizers, what do you remember about putting it together? 
Candice Pedersen: Everything and nothing. I remember being adamant that the design should include blackberries as they are Olympia in August in a nutshell. I remember hand making the badges. I remember when it was proposed (not by us!) that there should be a “girl night” and worrying that if it was the first night no one would be there. Which was exactly what didn’t happen. It was the most electric night of the entire festival. I remember the Sub Pop BBQ—it was great to have them as part of the convention even if there wasn’t any food. 
Nikki M: I made banners. I helped Candice make invites. Calvin had issued a call to action which is still vital and raw. She wanted formal invites mailed to people. I made a blackberry vine image, which now seems fitting for those hot, sweet, thorn-scratched days.

Convention pass courtesy of Stephen Pastel

Performers, what did it feel like to be there? What were the fans like? 
Stephen Pastel: From our perspective just being invited was really exciting. It was the first time we’d played in the US and it was the first time we’d played a community type event on that scale. Everything about it seemed thought through, joined up—the groups, the audiences, the spaces, the city. We were so impressed by all the work that Calvin, Candice and their friends had put into it—it was so ahead of its time. I remember the Beat Happening show being incredible, seeing them at their best in a beautiful theatre space with an absolutely packed out audience just going wild for them.  It felt like we were at the epicentre of something new and the world had suddenly changed for the better.   
Rose Melberg: I remember going to my first punk show at 13. all guys of course. it was like Social Distortion and Battalion of Saints and I was standing in the back of the venue in Sacramento. I was tiny. I was up in the top and my first thought was: the safe place is on stage. I was terrified of what was happening in the pit but I wanted to be a part of that and I saw it in my mind. I was having all these ideas of what it would look like and feel like to sing in a punk band, just scream and be above everyone. it was my first punk show and that was the feeling I got. I wanted to be on the stage. partly out of fear and partly out of power but mostly because I wanted to be part of it so bad. I was 19 when got up onstage at IPU. I was terrified. I had a physical reaction to it. my hands shook violently. I wanted to get on that stage so bad but my body wouldn’t even let me. I had to kind of detach because I knew I wanted it so bad—even though my body was telling me “don’t do this”—I couldn’t even hold my guitar pick. I was so desperate to be included. I didn’t want to feel left out. I didn’t want to be in the audience. I wanted to be liked and acknowledged and heard (from chickfactor 18, interview with the Softies).
Nikki M: This was also my first time performing. I sang a few songs at Girl Night, the songs I sang in the woods to ward away bears. It was powerful to hear those songs fill the theater. Those 5 minutes were life altering.The theater was packed. It was the first night and every one was so eager and open to possibility. We were creating our own world.
Michael Sleepyhead: It was wonderful to be there, but no one had even heard of us so it was kind of like going to a film festival with your first film, where you don’t know a lot of folks. Although, this was a little different as we knew a couple of the bands from their visits to NY and we had Tae to make some introductions. It was fun to play for sure, but also kind of hard to do an outdoor show when we had never done anything remotely like that. We were young and excited and it just meant a ton to us to be invited into the community. 

Bikini Kill photographed by Rose Melberg

Tobi Bikini Kill: Bikini Kill got to play the festival but we were added late and had to play an afternoon show on a small stage. I feel like someone from DC got us on the bill at the last minute but I really can’t be sure. I remember feeling kind of bummed that we didn’t get to play with Nation of Ulysses who we had been on tour with and spent the summer with in DC but I was happy that we got to play. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to practice that summer as Kathi, our bass player, had gone to Europe by herself. It was a hard show for us. We weren’t ready and had a lot of equipment trouble but I think some of it was pretty good.
Erin Bratmobile: Girl Night especially was completely intense.  The stuff of legend now!  The launching point for so much.  Heavens 2 Betsy played their first ever show at IPU—Rose Melberg as Tiger Trap, too.  So I got to witness both Corin Tucker and Rose Melberg’s first times on stage.  I remember Corin coming up to me after the show and complimenting me on the Bratmobile set.  It was all so new to me, too—I had no idea how to respond!  

Beat Happening photographed by Rose Melberg

Fans, what do you remember loving about it? 
Nikki M: Probably many Performers were Fans 90% of the time. I remember dancing and responding to the immediacy of sound and to the intimacy of hanging out with those who just made you dance so crazy afterwards. It was a Convention, We were all attendees, not so much fan or performer.
Michael Sleepyhead: As a fan I was blown away by seeing a lot of bands I had only heard about, like Bikini Kill, Jad with the Pastels was amazing. Seeing Beat Happening play to a packed house that was all in was astounding. Nation of Ulysses was on fire. the Bratmobile Kicking Giant show was inspiring. It was also nice that the whole thing felt very community focused.
Erin Bratmobile: Olympia is magic.  Being able to just WALK and see every band I loved over the course of a week was wild. All of my heroes were playing!  When Stephen Pastel asked to borrow my Sears Silvertone amp—well, he was a hero of mine to say the least.  Just a couple years before I was buying my first Pastels album, and now, not only was I playing the same festival of them, Stephen liked my amp?! There was not a whole lot of divide between the bands and the fans. The bands were fans, too!
Tobi Bikini Kill: I lived across the street. It was overwhelming. People kept coming over to my teeny tiny apartment. It was nice to have friends in town but there was no escape. I don’t remember the fans, it seemed like everyone here was in a band and it was just like people in the audience getting up on stage and vice versa. That was pretty cool.
Rich Siegmeister: I was friends with Sleepyhead but they made their own arrangements and I traveled there by myself. I needed a hotel. K records was offering to help and it sounds crazy now but they randomly placed people together. I ended up in a room with a nice guy. We didn’t hang out much together but when it came time to sleep, he came out in silvery silk pajamas. We were each in our single beds but crazy. Also I was hanging outside talking to some nice people from New Zealand. I was telling them how I loved the Clean and the Chills and this all girl group Look Blue Go Purple. They got a look on their faces and then one of them yelled out “Lizzie you got a fan.” A member of the band was there and couldn’t believed I was listening to them.

Sleepyhead photographed by Michael Galinsky

It was a very exciting new fresh time for music and culture: What did the community feel like then and is some of it still intact for you? 
Candice P: The community felt intimate and yet also disparate. Everyone was together but still had their own thing going, which I appreciate. I wouldn’t say the community from then is still intact for me. But, many of the friendships I had then and made then are still the most important friendships I have today. And many faded as they do.
Erin Bratmobile: It’s hard to understand in retrospect, and it might not even be fully understood unless you were there, but IPU was like the big bang and really everything came from that in a lot of ways. It’s all still totally intact. Friendships formed over that week for so many have been life long. It was life changing, and that’s not hyperbole.
Michael Sleepyhead: That community is still foundational for me. Tae drew the cover for our first single and he designed my photo book two years ago. I went on to make films but my foundational community is still the music one. It is wildly more open and supportive than the film world. 
Nikki M: The community was always present then and possibilities were always blooming. Now that spirit is there, but things aren’t nearly as spontaneous or untamed. It feels like it might just be me, but I think we all are thinking that…maybe? We all have embers we carry from that time and still use in our lives.
Tobi Bikini Kill: For me it was a little bit of a sad time. Nirvana wanted to play and they were not allowed because they had signed to a major label. The ’80s were ending and the ’90s were starting. L7 were great. I was confused that they got to play but Nirvana didn’t. I remember wishing that they didn’t sign but understanding why they did. I didn’t think we needed corporations to buy and sell our music and I think that was kind of the main idea of IPU.

Photograph by Michael Galinsky

What performances do you remember? New artists discovered? 
Candice P: I love all my children equally. 
Erin Bratmobile: I STILL hear IPU stage banter replaying in my head.  Thee Headcoats: “Oh, fuck your mother.” L7: “Keep your elbows off the knockers!!” The Bikini Kill set was absolutely revolutionary. The Mummies were incredible! I remember heading straight to the pit—all of Bikini Kill and all of Bratmobile together—to watch the Nation of Ulysses.  After their blistering performance, I remember James Canty coming back out onstage to humbly announce the release of their first record.  I was SO PROUD!  
Tobi Bikini Kill: Bratmobile played two sets I think and they were very good. Heavens To Betsy at girl night were incredible. Mecca Normal were great, as always. I remember being excited The Pastels were going to play but I would have been more excited to have seen them a few years earlier when they were still one of my favorite groups. Nation of Ulysses was my favorite group at the time but I remember Thee Headcoats as being the best group at IPU by far. They had played Olympia the year before and both shows were nuts. I think the band I discovered at the fest is The Mummies—they were so good and fun and funny. Fugazi was great too.
Nikki M: Fugazi. Heavens to Betsy. Rose. Jad Fair. Beat Happening. I Scream Truck. Nation of Ulysses. The Pastels. Cake walk. A picnic with no food.

Slim Kill Rock Stars, Rose Melberg and Al Some Velvet Sidewalk (photo courtesy of Rose)

What was the vibe in general? 
Candice P: For me the vibe was hectic. The Pastels were staying in my apartment, I had to co-host the event, and I was trying to spend time with friends. The time flew by. I was supposed join the Pastels on their west coast tour after the convention but I was too exhausted/sick to go. Chris Jordan so kindly took my place at the last minute. 
Nikki M: Festive. Spontaneous. After this past year, it seems fantastical that we once so freely mingled and danced and ate cake. It was powerful. All dreams became possible.
Tobi Bikini Kill: A little stressful. Like too much going on at once. It was also very odd to have people not from here acting like it was quaint or cute or utopian or something and not really understanding where they were. By 1991, Olympia was no longer a milltown but the brewery was still here. It was still pretty working class, the center of southwest Washington, which was populated by loggers and timber workers. It was a kind of rough place to live if you were nonconformist. The Evergreen State College is a public school and very progressive but it’s very small. Olympia never really was a liberal college town because the population of students has always been just a few thousand and my impression is that most people who end up going there are kids from the NW who couldn’t afford or get into a more expensive school. Local kids who went to punk shows and hippies from Evergreen got targeted and bullied and physically assaulted by guys in pickup trucks downtown. The IPU people didn’t really seem to notice any of that. Also it rains more than 150 days a year in Olympia and it was very sunny that week. It all seemed like a dream.

Tae Kicking Giant photographed by Michael Galinsky

Why do you think there was this link between D.C. and Olympia? Was it down to individuals or was it just a shared ethos? 
Nikki M: Both! Individuals sharing an ethos but with differences between the East and West. Both explored and created cultural freedom. For the Cake Walk, Cynthia Connolly (DC and Dischord) made a vegan chocolate cake topped with freshly picked blackberries, if I remember correctly. That cake seemed the perfect pairing of the 2 sides of the country.
Candice: It’s a shared ethos. 
Erin Bratmobile: I think it began as certain individuals and grew to be a shared ethos.  Calvin Johnson lived in Bethesda, MD, in the late ’70s/early ’80s, so was involved in the DC punk scene before going back to Olympia and Evergreen. Then the cross-pollination of the scenes continued. DC had great record stores like Yesterday & Today that stocked K titles, and Calvin visited family in the DC area all through the ’80s into the early ’90s, always bringing along records and making more connections. I connected with being a K and indie kid before I then grew to intensely love Dischord and the DC underground. Nation of Ulysses and Fugazi were my gateway drug in that regard, if that makes sense!
Tobi Bikini Kill: Olympia is the capital of Washington so there are a lot of natural connections—one of them being that Calvin went to high school in both places.
Michael Sleepyhead: I think it was both the shared ideals and the musical influences created a strong cross current that made sense—I felt like going on tour was like being in the pony express. Bands carried information and ideas from one town to the next and in some ways DC and Oly were kind of the terminuses at the end of the routes.

Rose Melberg, the very first time she ever got onstage or sang into a microphone. (Photo courtesy Rose)

Was it covered by mainstream media then and if so, did they get it? 
Nikki M: Who cared? We were mostly happy to outnumber the logging trucks.
Tobi Bikini Kill: Yes and no.
Candice: I think there was national media outside of indie fanzines. I remember Ira Robbins wrote something. But, if people “got it” or not didn’t concern me. “It” was something for different for everyone. And, I didn’t care if media got what it was to me.  

The Pastels photographed by Rose Melberg

Is there anything else you remember? 
Candice: I don’t remember meeting Scotty but he remembers meeting me (I asked him how old he was!). But, I’m glad we were both there because one year later we started dating and 29 years later we’re still together. 
Nikki M: Driving with Calvin to the Sup Pop picnic but there was no food left. People signing the back of the Kill Rock Stars albums like they were yearbooks with the silkscreen ink still a bit tacky. Melvins at the park. Blueprint posters taped to my door fading over time. Was this the festival that the theater cat peed on the shirts?
Erin Bratmobile: The first Kill Rock stars comp came out on vinyl the week of IPU, all hand silkscreened covers, with no time even to put the art on the back yet. So all of the copies given to the bands that were on the comp had hand done covers and blank backs. Several of us, myself included, got autographs of the other bands on the blank backs, high school yearbook style. 
Tobi Bikini Kill: The first Kill Rock Stars compilation came out at IPU. The front was silkscreened and the back was blank so everyone used the back like a yearbook and signed each other’s records. That was pretty cool. 
Michael Sleepyhead: I don’t have a good tactile memory. Thankfully I have pictures, though not nearly enough from that event. What I do recall was that the whole summer felt the beginning of something for me. It takes a lot of hope to start a band and then commit to it in the way that we felt we needed to. The summer before we had moved to Providence to live together. It wasn’t an easy transition but we muddled through and became more of a band. We started to play out in NY a lot which connected us with NY bands like flying saucer, ruby falls, antietam, and many others. II spent months booking that first tour which we went on a few weeks before IPU. On that trip we met some incredibly creative people and that just changed my life. Then we went out to Olympia and that sense of being part of a community became some much more profound.

See more photos of IPUC by Michael Galinsky here.

Rachel Kicking Giant (photographed by Rose Melberg)
The Pastels with Jad Fair (photographed by Rose Melberg)
Bratmobile with Michelle Noel (photographed by Rose Melberg)
Some Velvet Sidewalk (photographed by Rose Melberg)

Sleepyhead (photographed by Rose Melberg)
Kicking Giant (Photographed by Michael Galinsky)

chickfactor parties in new york, london and portland, oregon

We are thrilled to celebrate our 25th anniversary with friends, bands, and our awesome community this year in three cities. Please join us! Ticket links for all the shows are below.
+ a paper issue of chickfactor (#18) will be out in december so please make sure we have your news, records, ads, etc! 

Thursday, Nov 2: CF25 New York
Kicking Giant, The Pacific Ocean, Bridget St John, HoneyBunch at Union Pool + MC Sukhdev Sandhu
Get tickets

Saturday, Nov 4: CF25 New York (daytime show 2-6)
Laura Cantrell, Joe Pernice, Cotton Candy & Special Guests at Union Pool + MC Gaylord Fields
Get tickets.

Saturday, Nov 11 All-Ages Matinee: CF25 London
A benefit for Shelter featuring Wait What + The Numberz + more at the Lexington
Get tickets (100% of the proceeds to Shelter)

Saturday, Nov 11 Evening Show: CF25 London
The Pastels, Kicking Giant, Lois, Kites at Night (featuring Rose Melberg) at the Lexington + MC Gaylord Fields
Sold out.

Sunday, Nov 12: CF25 London, Night Two
The Softies, Stevie Jackson (from Belle & Sebastian!), the Would-Be-Goods, the Catenary Wires (featuring Rob & Amelia ex-Heavenly, Marine Research, Talulah Gosh) at the Lexington + MC Gaylord Fields
Get tickets

Saturday, December 9: CF25 Portland
Rocketship (first full band show in Portland since 1996)
Kites at Night (featuring Rose Melberg)
Lida Husik
+ DJ Calvin Johnson
Get tickets.

Sunday, December 10: CF25 Portland (free, daytime 11am–2pm)
Indiepop Brunch chickfactor special featuring DJs gail chickfactor, Jen “Softies” Sbragia, and chickfactor webmaster Janice Headley
at the Toffee Club (no tickets required)

Rocketship photo by Gail O’Hara, 2017

chickfactor 25: a series of fortunate events, new york edition

 

Kicking Giant

* * *

chickfactor 25: a series of fortunate events (new york edition)

celebrating 25 years of music, friendship and community
starring…


Thursday, November 2

Doors 7:30, Show 8 at Union Pool

KICKING GIANT
THE PACIFIC OCEAN
BRIDGET ST JOHN

HONEYBUNCH
+ MC SUKHDEV SANDHU

$15 advance; $20 day of show. Tickets on sale.
* * *
Saturday, November 4
Doors 1:30, Show 2pm // AFTERNOON SHOW at Union Pool

LAURA CANTRELL
JOE PERNICE
COTTON CANDY
+ VERY SPECIAL GUESTS
+ MC GAYLORD FIELDS

$15 advance; $20 day of show. Tickets on sale.

 


The Pacific Ocean


Bridget St John

HoneyBunch

Laura Cantrell

Joe Pernice


Cotton Candy

Plus, Very Special Guests 

Tae Won Yu & Rachel Carns formed this powerful union in New York via Olympia, WA, in 1989. This is their first-ever show in the UK. A double LP reissue of their early work, This Being the Ballad of Kicking Giant, Halo: NYC/Olympia 1989–1993, will come out on Drawing Room Records later this year. They rarely play live and haven’t played NYC in forever. 
The Pacific Ocean was a NYC indie featuring Edward Baluyut (Versus), Connie Lovatt (Alkaline, Containe) and drummer Steve Pilgrim. They made two records for chickfactor’s flagship label (Enchanté Records) and haven’t played a show in ages. 
Bridget St John is an English singer-songwriter and guitarist, best known for the three albums she recorded between 1969 and 1972 for John Peel’s Dandelion record label. Peel produced her debut album Ask Me No Questions. She has played at many chickfactor parties including CF20 in 2012 in both London and New York. 
Honeybunch is an indiepop band from Providence, Rhode Island, formed in 1987 by Velvet Crush member Jeffrey Underhill. They have played at many chickfactor parties including CF20 in 2012. 

Laura Cantrell
is a Nashville-born, New York-based country music artist. A longtime DJ for WFMU, Ms. Cantrell has been making beautiful records since her debut, Not the Tremblin’ Kind, way back in Y2K. She was a friend and favorite of the late John Peel. Her most recent release, Laura Cantrell At The BBC, compiles the best of her UK radio performances from 2000-2005, tracing the arc of her rise as an Americana artist on the airwaves of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Joe Pernice has made a lot records with the Pernice Brothers, Scud Mountain Boys, The New Mendicants (with Norman Blake) and Roger Lion (with hip-hop producer Budo.) He is also a novelist and a TV writer.  He and Joyce Linehan have owned Ashmont Records, Inc. in Dorchester, MA. since 1999.

Cotton Candy
Cotton Candy is Mark Robinson (from the bands Unrest, Air Miami, Grenadine, Flin Flon) and Evelyn Hurley (Blast Off Country Style). Their band, which is mostly a cappella, focuses on reinventing advertising jingles and other radio and TV commercials and PSAs. Mark and Evelyn also run the Teen-Beat label. We saw them recently in Portland and they were delightful and fun!

chickfactor 25: a series of fortunate events

The Softies


The Pastels

chickfactor & the hangover lounge are thrilled to present a celebration of 25 years of pop, friendship & community at the Lexington in London

Saturday, November 11 // Doors 7:30, Show 8

Sunday, November 12 //  Doors 7:30, Show 8

THE SOFTIES
STEVIE JACKSON (from Belle & Sebastian)
THE WOULD-BE-GOODS
THE CATENARY WIRES

Both nights will feature MC Gaylord Fields (WFMU)
& chickfactor / Hangover Lounge DJs downstairs

 

Lois


Kicking Giant

Kites at Night

Stevie Jackson

The Would-Be-Goods

The Catenary Wires

 & & &
ABOUT THE BANDS:
 
• THE PASTELS — The pop geniuses Stephen McRobbie, Katrina Mitchell & Co. came down from Glasgow to play at CF20 in London. We are thrilled to have them back.
• LOIS — Lois Maffeo is indie royalty from Olympia, Washington, where she has made many great albums for K Records.
• KICKING GIANT — Tae Won Yu & Rachel Carns formed this powerful union in New York via Olympia, WA, in 1989. This is their first-ever show in the UK. A double LP reissue of their early work, This Being the Ballad of Kicking Giant, Halo: NYC/Olympia 1989–1993, will come out on Drawing Room Records later this year.
• KITES AT NIGHT are Rose Melberg & Jon Manning (with Jen Sbragia on bass for this show), whose previous band was called Imaginary Pants. This is their first show in London.
• THE SOFTIES — Indiepop queens Rose Melberg & Jen Sbragia (from Vancouver BC & Portland OR, respectively) reunited for the chickfactor 20 shows in 2012 in NYC, Portland and SF. This is their first-ever show in London.
• STEVIE JACKSON is the amazing guitarist, singer and songwriter in Belle & Sebastian! He also happened to write a song named after our zine “chickfactor.”
• THE WOULD-BE-GOODS — Jessica Griffin, Peter Momtchiloff, Debbie Greensmith & Andy Warren are indie legends based in London & St Leonards.
• THE CATENARY WIRES — This super-duo formed in 2014 when Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey (ex-Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research, Tender Trap) moved out of London.
• Gaylord Fields is an excellent WFMU DJ, a music writer and a longtime MC for chickfactor events.
• The Hangover Lounge is a much-beloved event that happened for years at the Lexington, a label and a community that’s often collaborated with chickfactor before.
• chickfactor is a fanzine started by Pam Berry and Gail O’Hara in 1992. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, it will publish a new print zine in late 2017.

an interview with tae won yu

it’s an honor to present an interview with insanely talented artist-designerphotographer-renaissance man tae won yu, who used to play in kicking giant. gail and peter momtchiloff interviewed tae in lois’ living room on a moonlit september eve… (this originally appeared in our paper issue chickfactor 17, out in late 2012)

photo of tae won yu by gail o’hara; other artwork and photos by tae won yu

chickfactor: do you come from a creative or musical family?
tae won yu: no, I’m the only one. I don’t know anyone in my family who does art. my father played the clarinet. he had somewhat of an artistic soul but he was really a journalist. both my parents saw me as
 a little bit of an anomaly. they often commented on where I got my predilection for drawing…

peter: which predilection emerged first?
tae: visual art definitely. when I was in kindergarten, constructing elaborate cardboard costumes and sculptures and cray-pas drawings. when I was in elementary school in america, I was obsessively drawing the new york yankees. I remember getting
 a nice autograph from reggie jackson and a bunch
 of players. I would draw portraits of them in marker. for awhile it was quite embarrassing, the living
 room was filled with my portraits. then there was a melding around junior high when I became obsessed with music and I would draw and paint album covers perfectly. I was informed by a style and aesthetic I don’t see anymore, which was—in queens, where 
I grew up, there were a lot of rockers and heshers who had jean jackets with iron maiden art beautifully airbrushed or oil painted on the back panel, the coolest ones.

cf: we saw a leather biker jacket with talulah gosh on it in portland. what were you like as a teenager?
tae: mostly a music phase. very intense, very angry. I was obsessed with the clash and english music. the first record I got—was it called venus records? on 8th?—I asked them what was good and they asked me what I liked. I said I like punk rock, and I don’t like horns. they gave me buzzcocks singles going steady and wire’s pink flag and basically that’s all I listened to.

cf: what about when you started playing music?
tae: that was ’89 I think. I had just started college. the music that influenced me back then was yo la tengo’s first album and seeing sonic youth live for the first time. the first time I heard yo la tengo’s first album it was playing at café orlin. I was into r.e.m. too. there was a good balance to that music. definitely seeing sonic youth, there was something visceral about how they riffed and played music, making noise, attacking the instrument. it gave me ideas and a sense of freedom about how to make music that wasn’t based on playing well. I bought a four-track from a heavy metal guy in the chelsea projects. from there on
 it was very similar…if I want to see something, I’ll draw it. if I want to have something, I’ll make it. in the same way, it’s basically playing pretend.

cf: how did you end up in olympia?
tae: right after graduating cooper union and the summer before that, meeting lois and calvin. people were telling me about olympia bands like the go-team when I was in new york but I didn’t really know about it and never listened to that music.

peter: did you play in any bands in
 new york?
tae: I made a cassette album and passed it around and made it my own obsessive hobby 
to create covers and editions and pass it to people and people liked it. the formative experience was definitely seeing a show at a yoga studio, I remember many things about it, it was downstairs, celebrities were there (jon spencer). it was mecca normal, some velvet sidewalk, go-team, galaxie 500 played, all these things were just swirling. it was an amazing show. I immediately connected with what galaxie 500 were doing and I really got go-team. I gave him my so-called album and he wrote me back and through him and sassy magazine I connected to allison wolfe and molly and bratmobile. it was a whirlwind of activity. no one I knew was aware of these things except for the rock nerds, but I didn’t really learn it from them. that show and myself just writing got me really connected, and somewhere in the next year I was playing with rachel, we had this early version of kicking giant, and olympia seemed to be the promised land. the ipu thing was happening, calvin invited us.

peter: how did you hook up with rachel?
tae: she wore an einstürzende neubauten shirt to our class, just through that, through the t-shirt connection we started talking and became inseparable best friends. every single night we would hang out and talk. we were really close. the experience of going to olympia—the enthusiasm and the freedom—we were there a couple weeks before ipu just dancing. coming from new york, where people are just standing around, and there seemed to be no purpose to play music except to say that you just did. I don’t know exactly why we did it, there were no rewards other than the company. but the eye-opening experience of playing in olympia was that it was kids and they really loved it. it was a lot of love being shown for music. a lot of sincerity and enthusiasm. it was very seductive, so that’s why. after returning to new york, I needed to make a decision. I had nothing going on in new york.

cf: how did it change you to live in olympia?
tae: I learned so many things about self-sufficiency. it gave you freedom and part of it was an exercise in delusion about ignoring certain things you might have to invest your time in doing but I learned about how you make things, and you make things for yourself and each other in the community, I learned to make a pie, I learned to cook. you experience the inspirational energy of riot grrrl and communities that were self-empowered and self-directed toward a greater good, very idealistic. everything had a dark side. there’s a pathology to every good intention but I definitely experienced many things.

peter: what pathologies are you thinking of?
tae: one thing is: not everybody should be making music. some music is really terrible and simplistic. just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. you can try, but… once there was enthusiasm for inclusiveness, everybody, but it turned into this riffing on anger and cutting people down who didn’t adhere to its very simplistic ideals. on the whole the lifestyle in olympia after a while was—I always described it as a marshmallow ceiling—you could do as much as you can and you’ll still be applauded for it and you won’t really be challenged so you have to constantly challenge yourself. but you don’t really get the experience of actually failing in the context of the greater view. it’s very supportive and wonderful in many ways, but if you know there’s more that you can or should do, you do have to venture out I guess. for me.

peter: that’s probably true of many scenes.
 at some stages, that’s really helpful. at some stages, it’s not helpful at all.
tae: I like to be criticized. I prefer to be criticized, I don’t really like people who say how great it is. I have an idea of what’s good, but I always want the art to be better. I don’t care about my satisfaction of my self-perception. for the art to improve it really needs to be critiqued by informed and sensitive people that I respect.

peter: do people pay attention to critique? I mean, you may. most artists—my impression is that if someone tells them they don’t like something about their work, they’re not going to take that well.
tae: most people cry.

cf: it depends how you put it. if they actually do sit down and think about it…
peter: to aim higher is a good thing to be told. perhaps that’s what people need to be told in a supportive environment.
tae: if you’re serious about it, you appreciate the criticism.

cf: what about that art studio you used to work out of in olympia? how many people were 
in that?
tae: I didn’t work in the studio. that was nikki and stella’s place. I mostly worked at home. I would go in and out.

cf: I remember talking to you once about art school, and you said: don’t go to art school. do you have any regrets?
tae: [laughs] no, you can’t really regret these things. cooper union is a very good, intense school. the best thing that came out of it was meeting rachel and forming the band and surviving the first few years, which were really difficult. I wish that I was more disciplined and focused about it but it made me feel like, the things I learned and the attitudes about art were something I couldn’t identify with, it was during a period of heavy theory and marxism, things of that sort I couldn’t really understand. I was more of a craftsman and a traditionalist. I don’t mind things that look like recognizable things. I like skill. I appreciate venerable aesthetics and things that come out of 
long training. it’s not all intellectual for me. allowing things to be and creating a space where sensitivity can be aroused, that seems to be the kind of art that I appreciate. not so much about a storehouse of critical theory. that was the reigning aesthetic at the time I went to school. I didn’t really fit in but I did get a lot of ideas about conceptualization. you need some sort of background/foundation about how to proceed and what sort of direction to go to. it’s just another tool in the tool kit.

cf: what album cover are you most proud of?
tae: hmm, I guess the recent one I did for sour patch I’m very proud of which is all paper construction. the album is called stagger and fade. it’s very similar to the style and aesthetic that I do for the chickfactor posters, paper constructions of a scene. for them I constructed little cassettes, trees, drum kits, instruments and melded it with photo collage. it’s a small band and tiny release, but I was happy to put my all into it. it really reflected their sensibility. it was also for myself very satisfying because I discovered a new style.

peter: it was a big change of style of your work and it seemed to emerge fully formed. was 
it just by chance that you developed a new thing—this 3D paper cutout? and was it an illusion that it emerged fully formed?
tae: the style is very much an extension of other illustration styles I’ve been doing with colors. I mean, I always loved danish childhood design, furniture, books, toys, very simple design, back to basics. I 
love the idea of remaking reality through your hands. especially for the sensibility of a child because that 
is the way that children attempt to control their environment. when faced with the unknown, when you’re powerless, the thing that you can do is draw and fold and glue. make a gnome out of felt or make a rocket ship out of paper-towel roll. that sensibility and attraction is very powerful and if you’re able to do it to a sophisticated level that I was able to, it made perfect sense to do it but the actual arrival of coming to that style is directly from my day job as a designer of children’s books. I was working on a project
where I was designing robots for a book and that
was a lot of paper folding and things like that. it was wonderful, two or three months constructing robots out of recycled materials, I just brought that home, that type of folding, gluing. it’s almost like discovering and remembering that, if you fold cardboard and you have backing tape or glue, what is stopping you from making something you want to make rather than something for a book? if you’re making something that already exists in reality, it doesn’t take that much.

peter: did you feel that you needed a change of style?
tae: I’m pretty restless, I always want to try something new. that’s been my method and my downfall in a way. not very marketable.

cf: does the sound of an album have much to do with the cover design?
tae: yeah.

cf: have you ever had to say no to an album based on the music?
tae: I don’t recall. I can’t remember.

cf: when is your coffee-table book coming out? can we set up a kickstarter tonight?
tae: my weakest point is my sense of organization. knowing what I’m doing. I need a curator, I need somebody who understands me.

cf: chickfactor 17 is our 20th-anniversary issue. how have things changed in the past 20 years?
peter: what were you doing in 1992?
tae: geez, 44 to 24. I was in olympia. oh my god. are you kidding me? I was sleeping with a 17-year-old, downhill from there, geez. my god. in my 20s, I had the privilege of doing exactly what I wanted to do and inventing myself through music. that was something that I don’t regret and was important in my life. being able to play music and almost that spiritual release, inventing music and collaborating with someone. for a short amount of time, it was so ideal. I wasn’t mentally ready to handle it. as with a lot of things, as soon as it got difficult, I felt like I wasn’t being treated fairly so I quit. I started designing record covers and I was able to pursue art. throughout my 20s it was difficult, I didn’t know how to live. I had a sense of purpose doing art and music, but me personally I had no, I was really depressed and addicted to marijuana. I didn’t know how to live. I was terrible. in my 30s I pursued a course of action trying to fix myself. sort of worked. I’m still growing, I still feel like I have a long way to go. but in those 20 years, looking back, I’ve come some way. I’d like to apologize to everybody I’ve ever met in those 20 years.

peter: you said you felt you were unfairly treated?
tae: specifically I felt I was—I should talk to rachel about this, I don’t think I understood it until now—I was booking all the shows, felt like I was doing all the work. she was indispensable, I could never have made music without her.

peter: it’s so common in bands that one person does all the work. I feel like it’s almost universal. I’ve done it once or twice. in most bands I’ve been a kind of passenger. the most important practical thing in a band is having someone willing to do…
cf: a claudia.
peter: something that anyone could do, but someone has to do it. it’s interesting that you put it in terms of unfairness because I think it is unfair.
tae: equally unfair is my ignorance or unwillingness to talk about it. it could improve if I’d put it out there but I didn’t do that. I had a childish resentment and it grew to a level, out of almost revenge I wanted to quit it.

cf: has anyone caught you drawing them on the subway?
tae: yes.

cf: what happened?
tae: depends on the person. some people are really pissed off. I don’t know.

cf: do you feel threatened?
tae: no, they don’t even talk to me directly. they talk 
to somebody else, like “this fool’s drawing me.” whatever. it’s like, hey man. I got eyes, I can do what 
I want. no one likes to be stared at or monitored or so closely observed. it’s natural. I’m just recording reality.

cf: remember in the ’80s when punks used to charge a dollar if you wanted to take 
their photo?
tae: that might make things easier, if I gave them a dollar to model. it’s an odd thing. I’ve had jobs where I do sketching at live events, I’m being paid to do it. sometimes I sit with them and they actually pose for me. those drawings aren’t as strong. their perception of the event changes, they’re concentrating on me 
or rather on themselves. the ideal situation is for
 me to catch people and have some space and be hidden, and that’s when I really capture not only who they are and their physical gestures and messages that they’re unconsciously expressing, but also the environment around them. they become part of the entire thing and the distance that you have from 
this person, this ego, you’re able to report a much more accurate picture of what’s happening. that
 gives me much more pleasure and freedom about it. when a person realizes that they’re being objectified and reported on, they filter out certain things and they’re not themselves anymore. I really love ugly photographs of myself. I like to be taken any way that I am. there are certain photos that make me cringe but I accept that because that’s what I see in other people. what I consider beautiful are all accidental, it’s all just a moment that is not intended to be captured and you’re lucky to capture it. it’s the work of the artist to capture it. that’s not something you make an appointment for. that’s something that a person has to really go out and steal. there is that tension there. my art really comes from that type of reportage,
 that’s a part of it anyway, at least in the drawings and photographs that I make. less so in my illustrations.

peter: I know this photographer steve pyke and I like his stuff, but here’s what a lot of people say about it: the pictures aren’t very like the people. what he does is he takes pictures, he uses various lighting effects and what he ends up with is an interesting image of a human 
face but often it’s an unusual take on a person. people often say it doesn’t look like that person, and that clearly isn’t what he’s trying to do. in a way it’s a depersonalizing thing. it’s not really a portrait in a sense…
tae: well, on the other hand, the person that is being depersonalized can also be recognized as a brand that people are attached to, so what they’re saying when they say it doesn’t look like the person is “I don’t recognize this brand.” you’re selling me coke but this is not coke. one can say that an interesting picture of a face, that’s all it is, that’s all celebrities are.

peter: there’s a tradition that when you’re doing a portrait, you’re trying to “capture” something about the person and I think that is sometimes what people set out to do and that is sometimes what makes a portrait good.
tae: I don’t know, it goes different ways. there’s a wide spectrum of treatment of how to take portraits and report reality but for my own experience/aesthetic, for me what works is not to intentionally create an image that I have in my mind. which is similar to not to interview someone with an expectation of what kind of answers I want from them. it’s like, let it happen, try to let as much accident and chance into it because the subject doesn’t know themselves, and I don’t know it. if we’re really truthful, we don’t really know who we are and we don’t know who anybody else is. so there’s a chance, given the right circumstances, that you might run into a beautiful accident. you hit on something and that’s a risk that’s kind of worth taking.

cf: have you done a new yorker cover?
tae: [laughs] I have not!

cf: what is wrong with those people? adrian tomine, jorge colombo, chris ware, all these people have done them. why are you not on the cover?
tae: I don’t know why.

peter: do you have an agent?
tae: I don’t have anything.

peter: maybe that’s what you need.
tae: I also need ambition.

cf: do you think artists have a responsibility to influence politics?
tae: no! what? how do you influence politics? you mean have an opinion and spread it?

cf: I just meant with art. like pussy riot or whatever.
tae: I don’t know. I’m not very political. I have opinions about issues but for me the artist, my responsibility 
is to hopefully be an example of doing something of noble intent with honesty and thought and purity of intent. and work hard basically. it takes a lifetime to understand what you’re doing. if part of it includes expressing it through political art, definitely so. 
I just see it as a bigger picture kind of thing: it’s 
your behavior, it’s how you do things, to do it right, something that lasts, something that connects with people, to be constantly evolving/changing. it’s more about a practice of how to live and proceed—a method of living—than the actual object itself.

cf: what are your favorite tools?
tae: soft graphite pencils and eraser. x-acto knife.
 pva glue. cardboard. construction paper. graph paper. computer. photoshop. ipad. brushes app. fuji x-100 digital camera. contacts g1. polaroid land cameras.

cf: if the tate called you and said “do whatever you want in the turbine hall,” what would you make?
tae: [laughs] I would like to make a…that’s a big space, right? the challenge of working on such a
 big space is about how much human energy can
 you bring together for one project. so it would be wonderful if it’s something that…in 3D space I
 do love the experience of seeing everyday objects recontextualized. that’s a spiritual experience that I want to have in an architectural space, to enter into an empty room that is huge and endless, it’s like something from a dream. suddenly the space is what your mind can feel if you have no language. you’re not naming it cause there’s nothing there. maybe making a city out of one-color cardboard, something of that sort where there’s a repetition and consistency of form repeated over and over and over until things that you recognize suddenly change into its own
body and its own shape and its own entity and its own spirit. when you have a huge space like that and all you can see is one thing, I can see the collected efforts of so many people and materials coming together. those are things I would think about. that’s a good question.

cf: what about if you could make products or projects and money was no object?
tae: if money was no object, the thing I would really like to do is explore construction and printing. I love making paintings and prints and photographs but I
do love using, again recontextualizing familiar things like greeting cards, books, fanzines—these are all things that we take for granted because we are used to perceiving them as manufactured articles. we don’t have a relationship with them. every single one of them is a legitimate medium in which to express craftsmanship and perception of reality and skill
 and focus. even a cardboard box—you could make
 a cardboard box if you wanted to. in the same way that you don’t have to buy a chair, you could design and make a chair. I do love picking these elements of industry and reconfiguring and seeing what happens if you make it. if you see it through your eyes. the best of performance art always has one foot in recognizable theater or language or some component and another foot in the true avant-garde. if you could have one foot landing on solid ground, it gives you security to reach out further and I guess that’s what
 I imagine. an opportunity to make something—you pay respect to things that exist in traditional form and you take it and kind of run with it and rather than remaking something that existed, you allow it to be what it is and allow the form to stand its ground. all these things are venerable mediums but rather than making yet another card or illustration, you can push it and see what happens. if money was no object, the thing is I don’t think I would actually spend it on any materials. I would spend it on time and allow myself to actually make things. I would make the paper. I would make the woodcut. I would draw.

cf: so if money was no object, you’d still work.
tae: exactly. that’s exactly what I want. if money was no object, I would use it to do nothing but research and work.

cf: how has technology changed your process? do you use any apps?
tae: oh yeah, I rely on the computer for many things. they’re all very useful but the more that you use it, the more you realize that we need tangible objects. we need paper, we need ink. we need…

cf: time away from the screen.
tae: we need time away from the screen. but most importantly, we need something to hand to somebody else. something as a direct expression of a connection between a person. let me send you this link, MP3. that doesn’t, that has no… it means so much more to present somebody with this thing that you made, that’s not analogous to an attachment. it exists and visually you receive it but there’s no heart in it. I’m not against technology certainly, I love technology and finding the right way to use it but I always return to the idea that we need to make objects to exchange between human beings. it’s proven.

cf: what did you take away from working in the magazine industry?
tae: [laughs] geez. you learn about workflow, discipline, time management, how difficult it is to me to exist…I worked for home magazine and ellegirl. one experience that really stands out for me…I never took the job seriously. I thought that everybody there had other things going on in their lives and this was just a job. you just do the work. especially a teen girl magazine—how much could you really stand behind it? I remember going out for drinks and socializing— they were all great people, I enjoyed hanging out with them—I suddenly realized by the look in their eyes that they took it completely seriously. I guess that’s what you have to do. this is your real job, if you’re going to advance, you better take it seriously. I really learned, and I’m still learning, I’m at a publishing house. every day I’m there, I always feel like I should be at home writing songs and drawing.

peter: if you could press a button or a magic wand and have four extra hours a day, would you like that?
tae: yes, would I love it? yes.

peter: what if you could wave a magic wand and never have to sleep again?
tae: I love sleeping.
peter: so do I.

 

cf: what’s in your fridge?
tae: it’s kind of empty these days but usually just basil, heirloom tomato, homemade pasta.

peter: you keep tomatoes in the fridge?
cf: you kind of have to when it’s this hot in
 the summer. in this heat beautiful heirloom tomatoes turn to mush in a second. do you
 have any good stories about calvin, lois, nikki mcclure, jeff cashvan?
tae: [laughs. tells jeff cashvan story deemed inappropriate for print by cf editor] I always feel like calvin will always have a better story about you than you’ll have about him. he still remains so guarded, he reveals
 so little of himself. the story with lois is what a true friend she is, she is truly an example of how to live
 a noble life. the only story I could tell is her being an upstanding person, so reliable, if I have a moment of doubt, I always think, what would lois or eric do in this situation? and use that as my moral compass.

peter: what happened to that rickenbacker you played in kicking giant?
tae: oh, I had to sell it. in one of my buddhist-inspired moments of letting things go, I sold it back to richard [baluyut] for the price I paid for it.

cf: did you have a top moment from the chickfactor brooklyn shows?
tae: seeing versus, though I’ve seen them so often. it was a really stellar set from specifically those years, fantastic, all my favorite songs. and small factory as well. my high point was just this feeling at the end of the last show, staying till three or four in the morning and not being able to say goodbye, reveling in the company of these familiar faces. especially the joy 
of people who traveled far. to hang out with pete and you and lois. the human connection, the sharing, the joy of long-term friendship and appreciation for
 each other.