As an intern at a New York culture magazine in 2012, Danny Krug felt that new and captivating bands coming out of north Brooklyn weren’t necessarily getting their due. When he pitched the likes of DIIV or Widowspeak for coverage, his ideas usually landed with a modest thud, because his editors weren’t interested. Krug decided to take matters into his own hands though, and launched 1.21 Gigawatts–a bi-monthly magazine dedicated to boosting the profiles of emerging bands with limited platforms–in 2013. The magazine celebrated the launch of each issue with live shows that originally sufficed as standalone parties, but nearly three years later, they’ve morphed into something much more impactful: a three-day music festival that boasts over sixty bands.
“I thought it would kind of be a one-off,” says Krug of the first Gigawatts issue launch parties in 2013. But the momentum quickly snowballed, and due to some very genuine word-of-mouth appreciation, it feels like the festival’s “first real year,” according to Krug.
“It’s kind of spread on its own through the community. We just print this magazine and we run around town leaving it in whatever restaurant, cafe or bar that will let us. I don’t know who’s picking them up and where they’re going–they might just throw them in the trash, but [the magazines] might make their way all the way to the west coast,” Krug says, in a passing-reference to the fact that this year’s festival will feature bands from outside of New York for the first time.
The lineup used to feature upstart local bands exclusively, many of whom were friends of Krug and other organizers. Now though, the festival boasts some bigger names in indie rock, like The Black Lips, in addition to bands from out of town, like Palehound and Guerrilla Toss. Braid, a seminal and pioneering emo band active in Chicago throughout the 1990s, is also on the bill as a headliner.
The festival’s expansion suggests more notoriety outside of a local vein, and Krug is aware that it could one day explode in national popularity, but that doesn’t really qualify as a concern for him. He knows that many festivals often veer off course and wind up more diluted and commercialized than they intended to be. Krug references how Governors Ball has sort of turned into a Coachella for New Yorkers.
“There’s a tricky balance when it comes to maintaining the integrity of the event,” he says, citing how Fuck Yeah Fest, a large-scale alternative rock show that takes place annually in Los Angeles, might be a worthwhile project to emulate.
Although it’s not at the forefront of his mind, Krug doesn’t shudder at the thought of his festival blowing up. He’s just careful about how to approach it.
“If some company comes in and gives me a lot of money in order to do my thing, then I’m fine with that. But if they come along and want to give me a bunch of money for me to do their thing but with my branding on it, that’s where the problem starts,” he says.
Parker Silzer of the band Slonk Donkerson, which is playing the festival this year, echoes that sentiment, saying “if Gigawatts moves to different territory, it would be neither unexpected nor saddening. I have fond memories of the humble beginnings…but there’s always something new blooming somewhere.”
Whatever shape or form the festival eventually takes, one thing about Gigawatts can’t be denied: how it’s served as a launch site for bands who eventually reached larger audiences. “You may come cause of Black Lips or whatever but there’s still the possibility that you’re gonna catch some bands on the cusp of more national recognition,” says Silzer.
The Gigawatts Festival’s expansion is occurring in a pretty dark time for DIY venues across Brooklyn and greater New York City. In recent years, Williamsburg has seen the shuttering of Death by Audio, 285 Kent and the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, which are just a few venues that have disappeared across the borough’s creative landscape.
“All of the big DIY spots are closed. All we have left is Shea Stadium [in Bushwick] in terms of the old-guard of DIY spots,” says Krug.
To that effect, Gigawatts can be viewed as something of a light in the DIY world that isn’t burning out, but only catching more fire. Although there are bigger names on this year’s bill, the lions share of acts are still lesser known, local bands. The lineup is a testament to Krug’s belief that “smaller bands don’t have as many opportunities” and that “people need to know about these bands.”
And as Gigawatts presses on, it’s likely that people will soon know more about the bands teeming in neighborhoods like Bushwick and in other cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston. Slizer thinks fans will come to know many of these bands because of Gigawatts.
“People like thinking they discovered something first. I think Gigawatts continues to provide people with that opportunity,” he says.
The Gigawatts Festival will take place July 24-26 across a range of venues in Bushwick. See the event’s website for details.
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