A music festival can't survive without good branding–no matter what crowd you're trying to attract. For his second annual Psycho De Mayo festival this Sunday, promoter Evan Hagen made sure everything–from the band lineup to the acid trip posters–create a vibe that's eccentric, inclusive, and rowdy as fuck. Though most consider Psycho De Mayo to be geared to psych-rock scenesters, presenting a wide range of acts like the doom metal pioneers of Pentagram, Stoner Metal thrashers The Shrine and hypnotic art rockers Suuns mirrors Hagen's own connoisseur tastes.
"I want to cater to the people of course but I wouldn't want to put a band on stage that I couldn't stand behind, just because I thought they could sell tickets," Hagen says. "There's no point to doing that. I wanna go to a show that I would wanna go to."
After holding the first year of the the fest at the Yost, Hagen moved it across town to the Observatory this year to continue building his brand. But he was surprised last month when he found out the Yost was still hosting Psycho De Mayo–a very different Psycho De Mayo, presented by LA hip hop legends Psycho Realm slated for May 4. It turns out the group, led by emcee Sick Jacken, had started their idea for an event with the same name the same year as Evan. Two shows with two very different brands with the same name, in the same city? Whether it was calculated or just some bumbling coincidence, the brand confusion caused a momentary stir over which fest was legitimately more psycho.
Considering Hagen's experience working with the Yost last year, he says the gaffe over the name seemed like par for the course. Despite putting on a show he was proud of, he and the venue didn't work out well together for various reasons. One of which seemed to be owners Dennis Luly and Dave Leon's general disinterest in his event, which Hagen says he did end up losing money on. He also complained about the staff–there was apparently a lot of yelling done at Hagen and the bands and minor arguments backstage with the crew.
"It was a really terrible experience," he says. "The Yost would be better run by a bunch of blindfolded chimpanzees."
But, the promoter says, it was still worth it to have renowned international bands like Canada's Black Mountain and Iceland's Dead Skeletons headlining the day long fest, which also included a full lineup of smaller shows at Proof Bar and Copper Door.
Hagen had actually learned about the other Psycho De Mayo last year, when it started in LA at Club Nokia. Given the difference between the evens and the distance, Hagen–who is also a co-curator at a DIY venue called the Think Tank Gallery in downtown LA–didn't really pay much attention to it. Two months ago, when it came time to resume his event, he says he got an email from Psycho Realm's manager notifying him that he and Sick Jacken (aka Joaquin Gonzales) actually owned the trademark for Psycho De Mayo in the category of festivals and liver performance. Hagen was then contacted by a lawyer for the group via Facebook (very official) and tried to discuss the issue over the name and work out an agreement, but Hagen says he pretty much ignored the request to talk it over.
"They never said directly they wanted me to pay them money, but just by the tone of their emails I could tell what they were getting at," Hagen says. After talking to Observatory talent buyer Jeff Shuman, he contacted the group–which was apparently enough to make them let go of any issue over the name. But weeks later, Hagen discovered the Yost had picked up the show without letting him know. Attempts to contact Psycho Realm for an interview were unsuccessful and the Yost declined to comment. Psycho Realm's event happened last weekend without a hitch as far as we know. Whether they decide to keep it in OC next year is anybody's guess. Despite this being a thorn in Hagen's side from a marketing perspective–he says the brand of his young festival is strong enough to survive any confusion over the name.
Working as a touring lighting tech for LA band and supporting festival act Dead Meadow, Hagen's traveled with the band through various psych scenes around the world garnering contacts and spreading the word about his Santa Ana fest. Plenty of big name American psych bands and international acts that rarely come to the states have started taking notice.
"Evan's been coming with us on tour got to see what DJs are playing, or what kids are talking about in Germany, or overseas," says Dead Meadow's lead guitarist Jason Simon. "A band like Kadavar I used to see their name in Europe whenever we go over there and now their in Santa Ana, that's pretty cool."
Then there's bands like French electro pop duo Zombie Zombie (who specialize in recreating the music of John Carpentar films) that are playing Orange County for the first time at Psycho De Mayo. Though they're not a typical guitar band, the group is glad to expose their own brand of intense, synth-laden sounds as part of the fest's electronic stage inside the Constellation Room.
"Even if we don't play the same music there's like a trippy vibe, long songs and its the same idea for a lot of the the other bands," says member Cosmic Neman.
For now, it seems Hagen is free to continue using the Psycho De Mayo name even though the recent confusion with Psycho Realm isn't really resolved. However, he says he holds no ill will towards Psycho Realm for the show. Mostly, he says he's concerned about offering more amenities to his bands this year, including beach front camping and backstage masseuses. Even little things like decent food go a long way when it comes to getting bands to deliver the best show possible and brag to other bands about it later.
"Bands talk, it's like a big knitting circle, all across the world," Hagen says. "And the fest has to be good for everyone, not just the fans, but the artists and the promoters too."
Psycho De Mayo happens this Sunday at the Observatory, featuring Pentagram, Dead Meadow, Kadavar, Saint Vitus, The Shrine and many more. 6 p.m. $36. All ages. For full ticket info click here.
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.