The Atlanta Mess-Around: A brief history
Promoter Damon Hare on the Spits, worms, and bad decisions
Damon Hare is brandishing an electronic cigarette. "I gotta quit," he sighs while ordering a Terrapin RecreationAle at 529. Maybe not what you'd expect of the guy who has booked East Atlanta's premier punk fest, the Atlanta Mess-Around, for six years running, but the scruffy 31-year-old has certainly earned his bona fides. Hare has booked shows since he was 16 years old, and plans to do so for the foreseeable future, including seeing the Mess-Around to at least its 10th birthday. The sixth-annual Mess-Around goes down April 25-26 at The Earl and 529. Highlights include the Ramones-meets-synths punk of the Spits and the ghostly sneering pop nuggets of the Marked Men, the latter of whom happens to be making its first Atlanta appearance since 2006. Local acts on the bill include the thrillingly weird post-Carbonas thrash of GG King, the beer-hoisting party come-ons of Barreracudas, Predator's monolithic noise-punk, and the poised-to-break Coathangers. Myriad noisemakers from such far-flung places as New York (Shocked Minds, Ex Humans, Games), Michigan (Tyvek), California (Audacity), and Puerto Rico (AJ Davila y Terror Amor) also join the fun.
Two weeks out from this year's weekend of bad decisions, Hare sat down to talk about the festival's origins, why it feels like an annual family reunion, and how he finally got his white whale on the bill.
How did the Atlanta Mess-Around get started?
I helped facilitate the first one. Die Slaughterhaus Records, Rob's House, and Douchemaster were all involved, but it was mainly Travis Flagel from Rob's House and Bryan Rackley from Douchemaster. They wanted to do one in 2008, and it was so easy to book because their labels were on a roll. All they had to do was invite their bands. We all liked going to Gonerfest, Atlanta had Black Lips, and everybody was booking the Atlanta bands. So we started it.
As the labels got quieter, did it just naturally transfer over to you?
The first two were mainly us, then on the third one Bryan was too busy growing up. Or trying to grow up. That was when the early thought process of what Kimball House would become started. Jesse Smith, of Gentleman Jesse and Kimball House was touring and getting a lot of motivation from tour, seeing bands. He would come back and say, "I like these bands." So me and Jesse did the last three together, and he still had some say in this one. But they're so busy with Kimball House, they pretty much told me, "We're gonna trust you with this one."
I'd say you did all right. It's like the Best of Mess-Around this year.
Good, good. We're happy about that. We always start off with this picture in our minds, and there are so many bands that don't end up on the final lineup. A band I wanted to book this year couldn't do it because one guy's in another band. I don't wanna say it, because I'm gonna try and do it next year when they're free. He's got another band that's popular, so he had to take time off and do that band this year. But yeah, this lineup is kind of a greatest hits. We got real lucky. After we announced Marked Men, a lot of people were like, "Why didn't we get invited?"
How do you describe the festival to someone who's unfamiliar with it?
I hate describing it. I just say it's a weekend of bad decisions. People like those type of weekends. For a lot of people in Atlanta, it's becoming a vacation you don't have to travel for. I hate calling it a fucking garage-punk festival. It was like that, and I've had some friends who like to make fun of that type of scene because all my friends are snobs. I hate that, but I love it at the same time. But it's more of a punk festival. It's a rock 'n' roll festival.
What's the craziest thing that jumps out looking back over the last six years?
Well, there's always the occasional weird fight that will pop up out of nowhere. That's two or three days of alcohol abuse. I did not really expect the whole room to explode when Zero Boys played in 2012. I knew that was gonna be fun. But once "Vicious Circle" started, I swear it looked like a ball of worms exploded. I've never seen people fly in the air like that at the Earl for any show.
When I interviewed Greg Cartwright Reigning Sound, Oblivians, Parting Gifts about the Mess-Around for CL last year, he remarked how the festival is "a great hang ... there are all these people in bands on stage, but then half the people in the audience are in bands as well." Does it feel like a family reunion each year?
Oh yeah, very much. This year especially. Everybody's gonna be in town. Games are all former people from Gentleman Jesse. AJ and the Davila kids — Atlanta was always their second home. The Spits' second home is Atlanta as well. They're not touring. They wanna play here because it's Atlanta. Marked Men were real cool. We've asked them every year and they finally said yes. Their last Atlanta show was in 2006 when they played Lenny's. It was like, "Finally!"