YoYo a GoGo 1994 Oral History: 30 Years Later, Part 1

Glorious design work by the wonderful artist Tae Won Yu

From July 12 to 16, 1994, the original YoYo a GoGo festival happened at the Capitol Theater in Olympia, Washington. It was organized by Yoyo Records’ Pat Maley, Michelle Noel, Kent Oiwa, along with Pat Castaldo, Diana Arens, Sara Lorimer, and others, and there were subsequent YoYos in 1997, 1999 and 2001. Carrying on from the great tradition of pop festivals like the International Pop Underground Convention (1991) and Lotsa Pop Losers (1991), it featured a ridiculous lineup that included superfeminist superstars Team Dresch and Mecca Normal, loud bands, quiet bands, punk bands, pop bands, see a full lineup later in the piece. We asked some folks who played, attended and organized it to share memories including Jean Smith (Mecca Normal), Jen Sbragia (The Softies), Lois Maffeo, David Nichols (Blairmailer), Nikki McClure, Tracy Wilson (Dahlia Seed), and Sara Lund (Unwound).

Tae Won Yu design / Courtesy Lois Maffeo

Chickfactor: Did you attend YoYo in 1994? What made you want to go?

Jen Sbragia (The Softies): Yes! I’d never been to a festival like that and was very excited to be included and see a lot of bands.

Nikki McClure: Yes. It was across the street from where I lived.

Tracy Wilson (Dahlia Seed): Yes, I attended and played that year. The lineup was a dream come true and I can’t imagine any self-described indie rocker wouldn’t do whatever it took to be at this special event.

Gail CF: I sure did. I think I built my summer vacation around it, in the days when people had such a thing as paid vacation at their jobs.

Rose and Al – Photo: Jen Sbragia

In what capacity were you involved with YoYo a GoGo 1994?

Sara Lund (Unwound):  I played at YoYo a Go-go in 1994 with Unwound. I had been in the band for about 2 years and we had released our 2nd record (with me) New Plastic Ideas that spring. We did a lot of touring that year – I think we went on our longest ever tour. 10 weeks all over the US. I’m pretty sure the YoYo show we played front stage at the Capitol Theater was the biggest crowd we had played to at that point.

I had attended the 1991 International Pop Underground festival my first week in Olympia, before I knew anyone. This festival felt very different to me as I was now a 3-year resident of Olympia as well as being in one of the relatively better known bands in town.

Sara Lund / Photo: Pat Castaldo

It most definitely felt like the town was suddenly overrun with looky-loos, coming to see what all the buzz was about. It was so weird that Beck came and played! He had had a huge hit with “Loser” and it was like cognitive dissonance to have a pop star wandering around this very anti mainstream, major label pro DIY scene.

I also feel like this festival made a TON of people move to Olympia. People got the impression from the festival that Olympia was this super fun, hip playground all the time. What most people discovered when they moved there was that Olympia was just a small town with not a lot going on and locals that weren’t particularly welcoming to a rush of young hipsters, polluting the scene. That was not true for everyone, but I know a lot of people moved there and did not last long once they realized daily life was nothing like YoYo a GoGo.

Rose and Beck in Calvin’s backyard. Photo: Jen Sbragia

Jen: The Softies and Go Sailor were invited to play.

Nikki: I think I named it? I remember suggesting the name to Pat Maley. I also maybe led a Nature Punk Walk? Where we caught the #81 bus to some park? Maybe what is now Squaxin Park? I hope someone out there remembers this! My memory was more focused on the making of burritos and selling them outside the theater. I was down to my last $100 and spent it on burrito making supplies supplemented with greens and nasturtium flowers from my garden patch. I’d make the burritos and then run across the street to sell them then run back to make more. I wore a kids cowboy hat and strapped a small suitcase to me, open and full off “Burritos a Go Go”. Thankfully I keep a briefly noted calendar. I made $68 the first day, $24 the next due to the nature walk. $72 the next day. And somehow figured that I came out ahead? Fed myself and some others at $2 a burrito! I took Ian MacKaye to my garden to pick more greens for the Friday burritos. I also was the Punk Rock Janitor for the theater and would clean up the stage area and bathrooms…the things one does for free movies! It was a time of scraping by and making fun out of it!

Tracy: My band Dahlia Seed was scheduled to play, but a month before, the rest of the members told me they couldn’t afford to fly out, leaving me to scramble to find a way to play without them. Michelle Noel convinced me I needed to still play so I promised her I would. I am infamously terrible at playing guitar and singing at the same time, so my co-worker Michael from C/Z records AKA Snackboy stepped in at the last minute to help me out. I taught him how to play all the Dahlia Seed songs I had written on guitar, and we played together as a duo with me singing beside him on electric guitar.

Gail CF: I went as a fan, a zine editor, photographer, documenter.

Jean Smith (Mecca Normal): Mecca Normal performed. We were around for most of the festival and went to lots of shows.

Nikki McClure / photo: Pat Castaldo

How did it feel different from other festivals at the time?

Nikki: Scrappily ambitious. Yet also low-key and not ambitious at all. Now looking back and thinking of the paths everyone has gone on since then, it was a nurturing garden in full flower and then the seedpods all popped open and scattered far, really far. I also remember the mix of bands being selected on some mysterious connections that weren’t based on musical likeness. It was really a mix of everything from quiet whispers to loudest possible electric noise. Polished and raw all a jumble.

Jen: I’d never been to one! I was still in transition from hair metal to normal music to indie pop when the IPU happened.

Tracy: I was 22 and had not been to too many festivals before – other than giant things like Amnesty International events. In some ways it set me up for a lot of future disappointment. This event was so friendly, so easy to attend and play, that it would be a shock to learn how most other music would struggle to have that kind of talent pool, that kind of welcoming atmosphere, and such wonderful support from the folks running it. I remember walking around, a very new person to the northwest (I has just moved to Seattle) and feeling overwhelmed by how friendly attendees and other band people were. Everyone was sharing addresses and phone numbers to stay in touch like the last day of summer camp or high school. I was so nervous to play without my regular band members and so many people went out of their way to make sure I felt good/proud of the performance. And wow, the food and drinks were affordable, like starving artist affordable, something I can’t say about many other fests.

Gail CF: Most festivals at that time were kinda gross and mainstream, like Lollapalooza, corporate, dorky. Not as outrageously priced as today but more expensive than something like YoYo, which was very accessible. I am guessing these bands didn’t get flown in for this, but probably appreciated the exposure at the time. Looking back, festivals like IPU and YoYo were influential on the small fests CF has set up, but again, it is ever harder to make a profit in 2024 since tech platforms are siphoning off everything they can and extracting pennies they did nothing to earn.

Mecca Normal. Photo: Pat Blashill

Jean: Mecca Normal toured at least once in Europe that year, playing the Fast Forward Festival in Nijmegen, Holland with Smog, Dump, Sebadoh and other specifically lo-fi bands. Even though that was a small festival, it felt very formal in terms of being accommodated at a hotel somewhere else in the city and arriving at the venue in advance of our set. I don’t think we went to shows other than the one we played. Other festivals we’ve played on tour we basically just do a one-day stop with shows on either side of it in other towns. Sometimes, as a band, you wouldn’t necessarily notice you’re playing a festival. You arrive, do the show and leave.

Festivals in Olympia were special because so many of the performers were there for more than their show day, seeing a lot of bands over the duration of the event, which also meant that various bands were meeting each other, and fans were bumping into band members at other shows and in the street. There were so many opportunities to engage and form new connections. Having said that, it was sort of nerve wracking to be so noticeable and approachable any time we were out and about.

There were so many participants, both band and audience members, downtown that we’d see people we knew all over the place. I’d say that proximity and a very small downtown core were key factors that helped to extend Olympia festivals beyond the venues to restaurants and accommodation.

YoYo Festival was, by location and association, related to the IPU 3 years prior, so expectations and comparisons were palpable. For me, there was no way it came close to the wow factor of the IPU, but it definitely had its own excellent vibe. For those who missed the IPU, they likely experienced the same thrill factor of the IPU when the town was once again filled with idiosyncratic fans and bands who, in essence, expanded even the broadest description of punk.

Being a small city, distances between everything are short. For a touring band, Olympia is a very easy town to deal with in terms of navigating, getting parking, having everything you basically need close by. It wouldn’t be the first or best place you’d think of putting on a music festival though. The IPU provided a blueprint for YoYo. That Candice Pedersen, co-founder of K Records, was able to put the IPU together and pull it off, was an astounding feat. For Pat Maley, following a similar path would likely have been somewhat daunting, but he had a lot of things working for him, including the fact that his recording studio was in the Capitol Theater.

People in front of the Capitol Theater / Photo: Pat Castaldo

What impact did YoYo have on the city of Olympia?

Nikki: I always welcomed the focus on the Capitol Theater as the epicenter of life, instead of my town being overrun by the carnival festival of Lakefair. It was a cultural exchange: Japan! New York! DC! LA! Anacortes! The impact was of connections between all the people and places that continues today. Olympia finally has a city-owned arts center that is developing places for performances. The city also is able to fund events now with a sale tax levy. People seem creative and ambitious again. Punk Theater! Community Print! And there are plenty of show flyers in the window of Rainy Day Records. AND the Capitol Theater is turning 100 years old this year.

What did it feel like to play YoYo?

Jen: I was always terribly nervous.

Tracy: Dahlia Seed was still a relatively new band, on top of being my first serious band, so I had never played something so big before. I WAS TERRIFIED. To soften the blow of what Snackboy and I were certain would be a disastrous performance, we went to the Oly brewery and got these little beer cookies to throw out into the crowd. We spent an alarmingly long time throwing out cookies before we played, but it seemed like people were wildly excited about them. It was a nice way to ease into our less than perfect set as a brand new two piece trying to play the songs of what was typically a well practiced 5-piece band. We played the day that bands like Built To Spill, Lois, Neutral Milk Hotel, Lync, Halo Benders, and Versus played, so needless to say, as a kid who was buried up to their ears in an obsession with DIY/underground music, this was one of the best days of my young life. I will never forget the sound of a theater filled with people clapping after we played the first song. I had dreaded that moment for so many months because I was so new to performing. The anxiety leading up to our performance was all consuming. After we completed that first song, even with all its flaws, the audience gifted us the support to feel not just really heard, but appreciated.

It was great to be on a giant stage in front of a big audience of people who were probably going to like us well enough. Because our friends were putting on the event, we felt supported in all ways. So having to assert ourselves as we likely would in regular clubs wasn’t an issue. Battling with typical soundmen in clubs tended to be tiresome after a long day of driving.

It was an honour to be included and, considering Olympia was like a second home to us, it was somewhat emotional to play a big show there. We’d already been around for 10 years at that point, so we wanted to represent our reason for becoming a band in terms of songs that meant something to people as well as playing new material.

I often think we give slightly better performances where there’s a sense of opposition, whereas, in a setting like YoYo, it may have seemed just slightly too friendly. Also, because I tend to look directly at people in the audience, I’m sure I would have been a bit distracted by seeing people I knew who I didn’t know would be there. While singing about various social injustices, seeing someone I like in the audience might set off a series of reactions in me that might not essentially fortify the performance. Wanting to jump off stage and hug someone was contrary to an angry song about a woman’s right to walk alone.

Jeff Cashvan and Richard Baluyut (Versus): Photo by Gail O‘Hara

What YoYo performances stand out in your memory?

Jen: I really remember seeing Unwound the most. I was right in the front with Linton from Go Sailor. I also loved KARP.

Lois: Versus sang “Frog.” My favorite band. My favorite song.

Nikki: Slant 6, Bloodthirsty Butchers, Had Fair, Gravel, Versus, Copass Grinderz, Mecca Normal

Tracy: I recall watching Built to Spill and being in absolute awe of how someone could ROCK but also be so vulnerable and tender at the same time. I was a massive Treepeople fan and Dug was so important to me. I seriously moved to Seattle to work at C/Z because I was such a big Treepeople fan. I didn’t think Dug’s new band would ever possibly be as good, and their Yoyo performance proved otherwise. I wonder if this is how Minor Threat fans felt when they saw Rites of Spring for the first time?

Gail CF: Team Dresch, Lois, The Softies, Heavens to Betsy, Spinanes, Mary Lou Lord, Excuse 17, Slant 6, Neutral Milk Hotel, Halo Benders…

New artists discovered?

Tracy: It wasn’t so much about discovering any artist for me. It was about seeing a lot of artists play live for the first time and out of those bands, Karp absolutely blew my mind. They were so tight and had the humor and energy I always wanted from The Melvins, but never quite got from their live shows during that time period.

Nikki: Copass Grinderz

Big Girl wall zine by Lois Maffeo and Margaret Doherty. Photos: Gail O’Hara

What was the vibe like at YoYo in general?

Jen: I felt like I was included in a beautiful weird secret.

Jean Smith: There can be a weird sort of alienation playing regular rock clubs in towns where you don’t know anyone, when you don’t actually know the other bands on the bill. In those cases, there may be an intensity of performance due to that anonymity. YoYo was the opposite of that.

Some Velvet Sidewalk / Photo: Pat Castaldo

Did Yo-Yo a Go-Go get national attention?
Tracy: I think because there were bands from so many other states performing, the DIY world who was connected through radio, zines, penpal packages, and record stores all seemed in the know. Does that count as national attention?

Jean Smith: This appeared in Rolling Stone. It seems like it’s a snippet from a longer piece: “Such innocence and enthusiasm are the guiding principles of the Olympia genre called love rock. At Yo Yo, bands throw candy to the audience, and the festival organizers hand out yo-yos. Homemade and vintage instruments proliferate, as do two-and three-piece groups, a minimalism exemplified by the Saturday night performances of Mecca Normal and Spinanes.” – Evelyn McDonnell, Rolling Stone

Love Evelyn, of course, but, in the mid-90s, I’m actually not sure if it would have been published in Rolling Stone if she’d reported that a number of bands performed songs about women’s rights etc.

When national media mentioned various scenes and festivals we participated in, I usually had the impression that the individual journalists may have been compelled to report differently, but maybe their editors dictated a requirement for content that wasn’t confrontational, possibly even especially about women in music.

Mainstream mentions were usually a bit cringe. We were amazed when anything from our ilk made it to a national level. It seemed a bit suspicious. One of the few times Rolling Stone wrote about us, they said we were Vancouver Washington (as opposed to Canada). I took everything they said about anyone with a few grains of salt.

Gail CF: I was an editor at a big rock mag then but all the bands I interviewed ended up in our zine.

Jason Traeger, Calvin Johnson and Beck. Photo: Jen Sbragia

What was the Olympia/larger independent pop scene like in 1994 vs. 2024?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’ve been helping put together another Olympia-centric summer festival called Northern Sky happening in early September. I think there is still a spirit in Olympia to find a fun spot and a great reason to bring people together and just try to pull it off. There is absolutely no danger of any Olympia festival becoming like Coachella or Primavera. Go through the list! IPUC, Yoyo A Go Go, Homo A Go Go, Ladyfest, Helsing Junction Sleepover: all just homemade events. No sponsors, just DIY labor and love.

Gail CF: The 1990s were the last decade where we could live in the moment. No one had smartphones and no one held things up in front of other people or looked at phones while watching shows. You were just there for the show. Sure, people could be rude and talk over the bands but probably not here. The absence of constant device fondling made people more social I think? Also people bought albums/paid for music; not every independent label was paying out properly but there was more potential for bands to earn a living from touring and selling albums.

Tracy: It is so hard to answer this question as a middle-aged person. I would love to believe versions of this event are happening all over the place today, but I also know that in today’s climate, booking a festival is more complicated and expensive than ever. Renting spaces is no easy task (insurance, rental fees, and so on), booking talent is a nightmare since so many artists (especially those with booking agents) charge 10x their normal fee when the word festival is attached to it. I think social media also inherently puts pressure on events to be so much more than just great music and so many events get lost in the weeds trying to be all the things. In turn I think the fans have changed. I grew up having zero expectations from a fest other than music, and fans now are expecting a mini Coachella from every multi-day music event with all the bells and whistles. The closest thing I can think to Yoyo isn’t so much an indie pop thing, but Goner is an example of an event that I go to almost annually that reminds me of the same genuine spirit. For me the perfect fest is 40% about the music (thoughtfully curated) and 40% about the people (fans/musicians) I will be able to spend time with in person, and 20% a city I like (and can afford to spend a few days in).

What other memories do you have about YoYo?

Lois: Yoyo coincided with Lakefair, the Olympia town carnival that had (still has!) all the clichéd accoutrements of such things: pageant queens, outdoor concerts with 70s cover bands and a parade with marching bands and floats from other small towns in Washington featuring their pageant queens, waving. Yoyo staff put in the paperwork to have an entry in the parade and so many festival-goers showed up to march through downtown behind a spray painted Yoyo A Go Go banner! The crowds that lined the streets didn’t know what to make of it and hardly anyone cheered for this ragtag bunch. But one old guy sitting in a lawn chair along the parade route yelled out, “There go the future welfare rats of America!” (A photo of Nikki, Tae and Calvin in the parade adorns the back cover of the “yoyo a go go” LP.)

I ran up to Christina Billotte after Slant 6 tore through a furious set and said to her, “Great set! It was epic!” To which she replied, “It wasn’t great at all.  We played terrible. That’s the trouble with you Olympia people. You’ll clap for anything.” In my mind, that has become the best description of the Olympia music scene and the spirit that drives it. We’ll clap for anything! Thanks, Christina. (And btw, the set truly was great. What a band!)

Jen: If I knew his name, I can’t remember now what it was. Even though it was warm summer weather, he wore a ladies’ navy blue cardigan sweater, buttoned up to the top, with tight pants, low tops and a wide white belt. He had that short hair with the bangs cut straight across. I remember his nails painted with white out or white nail polish. Very emo. Before EMO existed. He didn’t say much and I liked that. I saw him every day at the festival. Eventually we spoke enough that I asked him to go for a walk around the block with me, and we briefly held hands. He wasn’t into me. I never saw him again.

Jean: We stayed at Calvin’s house. I think Dave slept in the basement in the recording studio and I slept in the backyard where I recall chit-chatting with Beck while I set up my tent.

I forget which festival it was when we bumped into each other, Gail. I also forget who you were walking with and what we all talked about briefly, but I think the conversation was in the actual street as opposed to on the sidewalk you’d just stepped off and we were aiming for. That is to say; it’s a very quiet town!

Tracy: Street busking! I think I saw Mary Lou Lord and the dude from Rancid perform like 3 other times, ha! I know I should be focusing on the bands that played, but my strongest memory is talking to so many different people from all over the country and making friends with people that I still know to this day.

David Nichols (Blairmailer): Pat Maley and Sara Lorimer came to Australia on holiday in I guess 1993. I was finishing my Arts degree at the University of Sydney but very occasionally making records with Michael under the name Blairmailer. Pat and Sara came to see Blairmailer play at the Richmond Club hotel in Melbourne. It was a well-attended show. I can’t remember who was in the band aside from Michael and me at that time, maybe it was just the two of us. Pat either got in touch later to say he was doing YoYo A Go Go or he was thinking and talking about it even while he was in Australia. Michael was very keen, I’m fairly sure that we recruited Bart and Andrew purely for the sake of the US tour, I mean aside from the fact that they were our friends and we liked them. We played a show in Melbourne with Stinky Fire Engine, The Cats Miaow were also on the bill.

Bart and Andrew were with the band for the rest of its existence, it didn’t last much longer. They were our two bass players, we had them play half a show each, which was probably about 5 songs apiece. They sat in the audience together and I think they saw almost everything and kept notes. At some time, before or after the actual Yo Yo show, we recorded an EP with Pat.

Blairmailer had two albums out by that stage, one was a cassette the other was an LP released on IMP records of Portland, a terrific label. Our show went pretty smoothly. We played a couple of other shows at the same time, one with Mocket, one with New Bad Things, both incredible.

YoYo Records’ Pat Maley / Photo: Pat Castaldo

The best shows I remember seeing were Versus, who I’d already seen elsewhere and who are one of my favourite bands, Copass Grinderz, Halo Benders, but I know there heaps more, of course. It’s a long time ago. Some Velvet Sidewalk were going through a really classic period, the Whirlpool album period. Don from SVS asked Bart, Michael and Andrew, kind of tentatively, ‘do you guys like… drinking beer?’ They did.

Meeting Beck and Ian MacKaye was a real privilege and we all walked together somewhere, sometime, after Blairmailer played.

The Stinkypuffs show was something everyone felt was a historic moment, I mean apart from being very touching. I recall being told at the time that Fred Astaire had performed at the Capitol theatre but I imagine everybody has.

I remember sitting in the audience with Rebecca Gates and Gilmore Tamny and Rebecca making some kind of joke, or observation, that included telling a young man ‘I knew your mom in high school’. None of us could have even been thirty by that stage.

I think this was the time I was in Olympia and there was some kind of parade in town? Am I wrong? Is that what’s on the back cover of the LP? If so, then this was the time when I saw a group of Olympia music people in the parade, and a woman asked a policeman who they were, and he said sardonically ‘the future welfare recipients of America’.

Pat Maley used to have a slight chip on his shoulder that he was shunned by the punks of Olympia somewhat, as a hippy, and it wasn’t until Calvin embraced him that he became really ‘acceptable’ to the more pretentious or fickle Olympia types. So I imagine that there was something a little bittersweet for him in running Yo Yo a Go Go but I am certainly glad he, Diana, Aaron and Sara put it on. He has tapes of everything, I remember him saying that one day a long time into the future he’d find a way to release it all, I guess the time is not yet ripe. 

Gail CF: We started our zine out of love for the East Coast (and UK) pop scene in the early ’90s. Yo-Yo was like a grand introduction to West Coast culture for me. I loved the supportive and slightly earnest West Coast people, meeting people like Stella Marrs and Nikki McClure and seeing the DIY ecosystem and “let’s create our own fun” style of putting together an event. It was world-shifting in a good way. One more memory was that Vicky Wheeler was supposed to pick me up and give me a ride to SeaTac but overslept so I missed my flight, spent the night in the Holiday Inn SeaTac but then got upgraded to first class flying home; Dave Grohl and Elliott Smith were on my flight.


Nikki’s calendar, July 1994

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)