The fourth annual Psych Fest returns to the Hideout this weekend; with it, some of the local psychedelic scene's stalwarts. The difference this year, according to one of the festival's organizers, Matt Ginsberg, is that some of the bookings expand the palette of just what might be categorized as straight-up psychedelic.
Another big development? "This year we have a psychedelic light show," reports Ginsberg. Utilizing two visual/video artists, the light shows will be interactive, one including manipulated live streaming video of the event itself. A meta-broadcast by light show is what Ginsberg termed "that typical '60s-style dish of oil over a light" visual effect. "Not that there is anything wrong with that," adds Ginsberg. "This is just a more modern and current way to do it."
The festival's expanded development comes right at a time when psychedelic sounds have started to cross over from a deep underground niche scene into the ... well ... not-quite-mainstream. In the past few years, the sound and aesthetics of '60s and '70s psychedelic rock has seen a reinvigoration on the underground music scene — from its Day-Glo color schemes and hazy lo-fi album production to epic solos.
What makes Psych Fest special, claims Ginsberg, is that it's clear that the blowout is organized by insiders. "We're obviously not from the outside trying to put this on because of its growing popularity," says Ginsberg. "We are doing it as a part of (the scene)." Ginsberg, formerly of rock band Dark Fog, has been involved with organizing and promoting the festival alongside the scene's most active local ambassador, Steve Krakow of Plastic Crimewave Sound.
According to Ginsberg, the festival serves a bigger purpose beyond just offering up righteous riffs (and, now, crazy lights): community. Psych Fest comes in January, at a time "where Chicagoans need something in that weird period after New Year's and Christmas — it's a little bit of a downer. It's good to get a crowd together; there is a need for it."
This year's bookings pull from a broader spectrum — the driving, soulful work of the Velcro Lewis Group; the hypnotic, lo-fi sound of Energy Gown; trio epic work that borders on experimental from Mako Sica. "It's very diverse," says Ginsberg. "If you like one band, you might like the others."
This year's headliners are fiery locals Outer Minds, the dominant favorite of the local garage rock scene. Miracle Condition comes from the ashes of iconic art-rock band U.S. Maple and preserves some of that band's lithe licks — but the group is really all about just how massive they can make the guitars. And according to the bio for Ginsberg's new band, Underground Symposium, which plays Saturday, the sitar-led trio "channel the funky sitar grooves of the '60s and '70s."
The promoter is hesitant to speculate exactly why Chicago has always played home to a small but thriving psychedelic rock scene — dating back to Rotary Connection, the psych-soul band that launched singer Minnie Riperton's career.
Ginsberg says, "We've had a lot of greats and I think it's because we are stuck in the middle — geographically — a lot of different influences pass through for that reason. It's a hub."
As for why psychedelic rock has consistently held a fan base and dedicated interest for decades, Ginsberg, knows exactly: "It's a new world, but not too far removed. It's creative, colorful, dark and light."