Wednesday, September 14, 2016

New Alternative Music Festival Hits Asbury Park This Weekend, 9/16 & 9/17. Interview with Don Giovanni's Joe Steinhardt

There Is an Alternative

Back when I started CoolDad Music, I focused a lot more heavily on the big-time "Indie" rock that you come across on something like SiriusXMU. I'm not sure why that was other than, maybe, I just hadn't gotten out there to see what else was available for a few years. But, as I started to pay closer attention to the industry, I noticed that only bands on certain labels got those SiriusXMU sessions. Only bands on certain labels got the gigs on Saturday Night Live or Letterman or had every moment of their album-release cycle amplified across social media like crazy. It started to dawn on me that the words "Independent" and "Alternative" had been co-opted by the large, corporate, popular music machine and had taken on meanings that were almost the total opposite of what they used to mean. Kind of like "pumpkin."

At the same time, I'd taken notice of New Brunswick record label Don Giovanni Records, probably since (as has been well-documented here by me) my first-ever post featured Don Giovanni band, Screaming Females. I started to head out to shows featuring Screaming Females, Shellshag, Waxahatchee, Laura Stevenson, Mikey Erg, and other bands on the label. I got to speak to some of the members of those bands and to label co-head Joe Steinhardt; and I'm being 100% honest when I say that it made me think about what I was doing here. I read some of Steinhardt's articles and interviews, and I really started to question whether or not I should even be writing about bands like Arcade Fire or Vampire Weekend or whatever if what they were doing wasn't moving me personally on some deep level. So, a lot of what CoolDad Music looks like today is the result of some of the soul-searching that Don Giovanni and their bands set off in me.

Screaming Females

That's why it was so exciting to me when, back in March, Don Giovanni Records announced that they would be holding their New Alternative Music Festival right in my backyard on September 16th and 17th at Asbury Park's Convention Hall. The festival is devoid of corporate sponsorship -- which, in this era of corporations' looking to up their street cred among 20-somethings, is amazing -- and it's stacked with bands who have no major-label ties. Screaming Females, Ought, Girlpool, P.S. Eliot, Tenement, Outer Spaces, Laura Stevenson, Sex Stains, Mal Blum, Upset, Dyke Drama, Pinkwash, Downtown Boys, and many more. It's billed as a "pro-weirdo" event; and, as Steinhardt has mentioned in interviews, that opens things up to voices that don't usually break through in the lowest common denominator world of corporate-dominated music.


We witness a lot of what the New Alternative Music Festival stands for around here in the greater Asbury Park area. From Little Dickman Records lugging their own sound system from show to show in order to be able to give bands a place to play to all of those bands making their own recordings, doing their own artwork, paying to press their own CDs and tapes to house shows to -- yes -- even totally DIY blogs. If you'd like to support an alternative to pay to play and corporate-sponsored events so that bands at least have choices, if you'd like to spend a couple of days having a great time enjoying some utterly fantastic bands, then come out to one or both days of the festival. Tickets are available here and will be available at the door.

I had a chance to run a few questions by Joe Steinhardt in advance of the festival. Read on to see what he had to say; and I'll see you at Convention Hall this weekend.

So, first off, and really simply, why did you see the need for the New Alternative Music Festival?

This seems like a really critical time for independent music where we are looking toward a future where artists who do not partner with multi-national corporations through distribution, branding, or other have almost no chance of being heard.

How long have you wanted to do something like this?

I've wanted to do a festival without corporate interests or major labels long before I started the label even, but I was a pretty weird kid I guess.

With the festival’s manifesto of:

There is an alternative to music released and distributed by three multi-national corporations.
There is an alternative to music festivals as branded experience for millennial males.
There is an alternative to music steeped in sexism, racism, and homophobia.
There is an alternative to corporately managed bands.
There is an alternative to music as a commodity.
There is an alternative to corporately run music festivals."

you’re kind of calling out the entrenched, musical-industrial complex and a lot of what is perceived as making the popular music world go 'round. Have you experienced any pushback or negative feedback from anywhere?

As expected, I have, and I welcome it. I think it's important for these things to be discussed. No one ever wants to hear that something they are a fan of or are a part of isn't allowed to be part of something, but I think a lot of people seem to have never even approached some of these issues or thought about them.

Downtown Boys

Many of the bands on Don Giovanni have participated and do participate in corporately-run or sponsored events. How do bands strike a balance among earning a living, getting their music heard by a wide audience, and maintaining their ideals?

That's really a question for the artists themselves. My goal with events like this, though, is to try to give them options they may not have thought they had, and to show other people who want to get involved with the independent music scene that they can also provide options.

Did you experience any logistical difficulties while putting the fest together as a result of not tapping into that system of huge corporate promoters, ticket sellers, etc.?


Speaking of logistics, I count something like 58 bands in the festival announcement. What was it like coordinating all of those schedules to make that happen?

There's been a lot of shuffling around to try to make everything work. As you can imagine, you can't please everyone, but I did my best and I think people see that.

You obviously got a great response from bands on your label and from elsewhere in terms of participation. What was the general reaction when you presented the idea? Was it one of, "Yes! We need this!"

Basically, people were on board and supportive from the start.

Why did you choose Asbury Park?

I wanted to do it in NJ, and Asbury Park seemed like the only option these days for something like this, which is unfortunate in and of itself.

I’ve always been impressed by the sense of community that surrounds Don Giovanni. There’s been a real sense of joy and togetherness that's run through your past showcases and shows from your individual bands. Are you doing anything special at the festival to foster that on a larger scale to what will probably be a large number of Don Giovanni first-timers?

All the bands, whether on or off the label itself are part of the same community. The label isn't really the community and never was, we are also just another part of it. So I think it will be there.

What are some of the things that you’d like to see come out of this experience? I’m not talking about, "Hey. Let’s all do this again next year." I mean what would you like attendees and even some of the newer bands to take away from this?

I want people to realize that something like this is possible, and that anyone can do it. I hope someone else tries something like this next time.

OK. Now I’ll ask. Are you going to do it again next year? Or is it back to smaller-scale showcases after this?

Not sure yet.

The New Alternative Music Festival takes place this Friday and Saturday, September 16th and 17th, at Asbury Park's Convention Hall. There are free after-parties at Asbury Park Yacht Club hosted by the Asbury Park Feminist Collective / Stage A Revolution each night.

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