Robert Katerwol sounds a little the worse for wear when the Straight reaches him at home in Vancouver.
“I was in the hospital just two days ago,” Katerwol says. “I was diagnosed with some kind of virus, so I’m having a really tough time.” This last statement is punctuated by a nasty-sounding cough. Here’s hoping Katerwol feels better by the time this issue hits the streets, because he has a festival to sing at. Oh, and he’s also running it.
Now in its second year, Verboden is a three-night showcase of independent music, featuring a mix of local bands and acts from out of town. These include Katerwol’s own minimalist industrial duo Weird Candle (a collaboration with Caleb Blagdon), new-wave poppers Girlfriends and Boyfriends, and the swirling-goth-rock purveyors of Puritans.
The thread that stitches together these groups, and Verboden’s other performers, is an appetite for darkness. Whether they draw inspiration from the late-’70s postpunk of Joy Division or the bleak electronic soundscapes of Skinny Puppy, all of the festival’s acts are geared toward those who wear black on the outside because black is how they feel on the inside.
Or maybe they don’t. One of the reasons this particular music scene has a low profile is that its fans don’t necessarily resemble entrants in an Edward Scissorhands look-alike contest. Another is that Vancouver doesn’t exactly have an abundance of venues available to bands making original music. Mainstream venues, that is. In a separate interview, Girlfriends and Boyfriends singer-bassist Grant Francis Minor notes that local fans of dark music must seek their pleasures in underground spaces.
“There are a few venues where you can see more of that kind of stuff popping up, which are usually DIY–type spaces—Black Lab, Red Gate, Franklin Studios,” Minor says. “There’s one, I think it’s called the Rattle, I just saw Brutes there a couple weeks ago. People are doing the best they can in this city to find DIY–type spaces to put on shows with this darker postpunk or alternative, electronic-type spin to it. I think there’s a bit of a scene in Vancouver for this, but Rob’s festival is unique in that way, as a more organized initiative to bring all this together.”
“I think Vancouver is a hub for music like this,” says Katerwol, who points out that local acts such as Spectres and Animal Bodies play packed shows at home and abroad. “There’s also bands like Koban, and lié is playing this year. They play around the world.”
As for Verboden, it’s not just Vancouver fans who will be in attendance. Katerwol notes that the festival’s reputation appears to be growing. “I feel it’s getting bigger, because I’m getting ticket sales online from Edmonton, from Portland, from Seattle, from Calgary. From quite a far reach. That wasn’t happening last year, so the word is spreading a lot more now.”
Verboden is still a one-man operation, however. The fest was at three venues last year, but this time around Katerwol has simplified things by booking only two rooms, which are located on adjacent blocks of East Hastings Street. “When one band finishes [at the Red Gate], another band is starting at the other venue, so people just have to walk half a block to the Astoria,” he says. “So there’s basically no gaps between music. It’s like that basically from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday is just at one venue, the Astoria, but Friday and Saturday it’s going to be back and forth.”
After it’s all over, Katerwol has his sights set on presenting smaller shows throughout the year. “It’s going to be whenever I have an opportunity to work with a touring band that I would love to have play the festival but isn’t touring at the right time,” he says. “I would grab them and throw a show in this vein, maybe in the summer or whenever.”
To give the curious a taste of what to expect, Katerwol has created a 28-track mix tape. Hear it on the Verboden Bandcamp page, where you can also purchase a three-day festival pass. While you’re streaming choice cuts by ACTORS, Night Terrors, and Bestial Mouths, spare a thought for Katerwol’s good health; the man will have enough to keep him occupied this weekend without having to worry about some nasty virus slowing him down.
Verboden takes place Thursday to Saturday (April 13 to 15) at the Astoria and the Red Gate.