Mould, Imperial Teen Get Bent

Seattle gay indie rock fest kicks off tonight

June 26, 2003 12:00 PM ET

There's extra cause for celebration at the second edition of Seattle's Bent Festival, starting tonight at the city's Re-Bar club. The four-day long event won't just feature great indie rock and good people, but also a renewed sense of optimism: This morning, the Supreme Court shot down a seventeen-year-old Texas ruling deeming "deviant sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex" unconstitutional in that state. The decision is seen as a benchmark by human rights activists, one that could lead the way toward future laws legalizing gay marriages.

This year's Bent fest (scheduled to coincide with Seattle's Gay Pride weekend) will be considerably bigger and better than its predecessor. Participating bands include Imperial Teen, Thalia Zedek (formerly of Come and Live Skull) and Bob Mould. Mould -- ex-frontman for Sugar and Husker Du -- planned his solo acoustic tour around Bent. "I was just jumping at the opportunity when this came up, because the Crocodile Cafe is an indie rock club, Seattle is an indie rock town and it coincides with Pride weekend. Seattle Pride has become much more inclusive."

Bent is the first gay festival Mould has ever been involved with, and he says his increased "out" visibility is both personally and politically motivated. "As soon as I got asked, I knew it was the right thing to do," he says. "With the sodomy law, I think it really is the time of recognition of the same sex union, of validating, of getting the same rights as married couples have. I just don't want to have to jump through hoops every time my partner of fourteen years gets sick or something happens, where married couples just walk in and everything is implicit. If the unenlightened straight world had any idea how difficult it is on a day-to-day basis to negotiate things like that, I think they'd be astonished."

Bent co-founder Frank Nieto started the festival to satisfy a different need. "When I came out," he says. "I didn't identify with anybody musically. Most of the shit around was high-energy techno music. It just drove me crazy! I knew that there were queer people who played rock, and I was dying to see them."

Nieto's ideas solidified in 2001, when the Wotaplava Festival was announced and then cancelled before it got off the ground. The gay-themed tour (nixed after headliner Sinead O'Connor recanted her lesbianism) was put together by the Pet Shop Boys. Wotaplava "just seemed so fucking narrow-minded," Nieto says. "It was all about 'beats' and 'pretty.' Why not challenge people?"

Using the resources at his then-day job booking the Crocodile, Nieto got together with fellow promoter Dave Meinert and recruited a handful of gay bands -- including the Butchies, the Gossip and Pansy Division -- over the course of a week. The pair decided to make it official and call it a festival, and Bent was born.

For Imperial Teen's Roddy Bottum, it's also a matter of personal and political motivation. "Canada's motion [to allow gay marriages] only encourages further activity to push the cause," he says. "To bring what I do into focus to a specifically queer festival, that feels really good, and it feels like it does make a difference. I remember coming out to the media years ago [as the keyboardist for Faith No More], it seemed like a real beacon to bring that into the press, that I was gay. It didn't seem like a real common thing. Now it's not exactly common, but there are more things all the time that are furthering the gay movement, like Bent."

Former Come/Live Skull frontwoman Thalia Zedek agrees that attending Bent is more than just another night at a club for her. "When I first came out, I realized that I didn't have anything in common with people in the bars, except that we were both gay," she says. "When I went to clubs, the music was definitely not what I was into. The whole [Nineties] Homocore scene was really great -- I loved bands like Team Dresch and Tribe 8. When all that stuff came out, people were identifying with each other as fellow queer punk rockers, as opposed to just being different."

Nieto plans to grow Bent through monthly gigs called Team Bent -- the only stipulation being that at least one member of each band be gay, lesbian or transgendered. "There was this one parent who brought her daughter down from Vancouver for an all-ages show," he says of last year's fest. "She came up to me and said, 'Thank you for putting on the festival. You've given my daughter someplace to go.' It made me cry."

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