Keeping It Brutal: Murderfest's Daniel Dismal Talks Heavy Metal
Murderfest Scene from Murderfest 4.0, April, 2008
If you pay attention to show listings across Los Angeles, then you are probably familiar with Church of the 8th Day, the promotion team responsible for everything from hip-hop events to punk shows across the city. Operated by Daniel Dismal and Jordan Goldstein, Church of the 8th Day has expanded beyond its roots of metal shows in backyards, but still maintains its focus on underground artists and DIY promotion. And true to the grizzly sound of its formative years, the company's cornerstone event is the annual celebration of the burliest metal around, Murderfest.
Murderfest began when Dismal's band, Crematorium, scored a gig at Downey nightclub Hully Gully. With two rooms to fill, the vocalist invited fourteen bands to join his. Two years later, he relaunched the event as a proper metal festival. Since then, Murderfest has become an annual tradition, one that has helped spur the reunions of beloved underground bands while introducing an international array of new sounds to the L.A. audience. This year, the two-day event at the Knitting Factory features performances from 56 bands, including Phobia, Despise You, 16 and Eyehategod.
Recently, Dismal chatted with the LA Weekly about Murderfest and the state of heavy metal in Los Angeles.
What are your thoughts on the metal scene in Los Angeles?
I think that for a while, we were all seeing it die a little bit...I don't think anyone saw a reason to put on a metal fest out here. I think that right now it's really strong and that's why it's easy to do stuff. Well, it's not easy, it takes a lot of work, but it's easier to put on a fest out here and get people to come out. The second one was really slow. I lost a lot of money, close to ten grand. The third one did really well and the fourth one did even better. This year, it seems like this one is going to do even better because the metal scene keeps getting stronger. There are a lot of young kids, plus a lot of the old school people are starting to come out of the woodwork because so many bands are touring right now.
You have some pretty major bands from the genre booked, like Eyehategod. Does it take a lot of time to get these bands?
Eyehategod I had been after for about three years. It kind of fell into place, this year seemed to be the right time for them. Even smaller bands, like the guys in Despise You, I was trying to get those guys to reunite for over three years and finally on the third [Murderfest], they reunited. Now they're playing all the time. All of the bands where they are reuniting, that takes a lot of work. It's mostly a lot of reassurance on my part that it will be more than worth it for them. A lot of these bands, they're not in it for the money, but the money needs to be there. We need to make sure that they understand that they are going to get paid, that they aren't going to get ripped off and that it's going to be worth it, that kids are going to be there and it's going to be fun. I think it's easier now to find the bands just because it's been five years in a row. I can tell people, "Hey, I'm not fucking around."
How long is the process for putting together Murderfest?
It takes about a year and one month to put together. It takes about seven months of booking and finding the bands and then about three months of promotion and sending out the money. The last month is flights, hotel pick-ups, all the things that need to be taken care of. It's only me and my partner Jordan putting all of this together. So, it's two people taking care of fifty bands. If you do the multiplication, that's a lot of people.
It's just me and my partner Jordan, but on the day of the festival, we have another friend of ours that we hire to drive. Then we hire stagehands. We hire from within the scene. We hire friends that we know like the music, that aren't going to be like "I have to go to this night and listen to all this loud music." We hire people who are excited about the music.
Why is metal still thriving?
I think a lot of it has to do with the social climate. Obviously, punk rock was great in the '80s and then it kind of died out. I think when people have a lot of discontent with what's going on-- obviously when Bush was in office, everyone hated him, that guy couldn't do anything right-- a lot of people start falling into metal. A lot of it is ridiculous and talks about ridiculous stuff, but it's a primal form of music. I think it helps people, gives a sort of primal release. You go to a metal show, you jump into the pit, you kind of sweat it out. Fights break out here and there, but most of the time, there's a whole brotherhood mentality to it.
I think it's changed a lot now, because there are a lot of women involved in the death metal/extreme music scene now. When I was growing up, there really wasn't. The ratios have changed. You'll see women up there in force and you'll see men up there in force. You'll see people who are straight-up metalheads every day of their life and then you'll see people who are, I guess, "weekend warriors," who instead of going to a bar are going to metal shows.
With bands like Despise You that do have women in them, has it helped to change the scene in any way?
I don't think it's really changed the scene, but it's shown people who were blinded or pigeonholed in their mentality that think metal is a man's sport. There has been women in metal for years, like Lita Ford and Bitch. There are bands that are still active like Wykked Wytch, but I think that everyone started freaking out when Angela [Gossow] from Arch Enemy started singing for them and it started blowing up. I think that what it's done is open people's mentality. Women have always been there, but people at first thought it was a fluke or that girls just got into metal because of their boyfriends. I think it's also the same thing if you look at it in racial terms. There are a lot of black people who play metal now and a lot of hispanics who play metal. Nowadays, I think that the [stereotypes] are dying out. You're seeing girls at shows and in bands, there are people of different races and religions playing. It's not so stereotyped or pigeonholed anymore.
Murderfest takes place May 9 and 10 at the Knitting Factory, check the festival website for set times and tickets.