Any given weekend, Kansas City, Missouri’s Midtown venues host the city’s biggest music scene, but lot of music lovers get left out of the fun.
Bands that have members under twenty-one, that don’t want to be part of the bar scene, or that are just too weird can have a hard time finding a place to play. That’s why, in 2011, a handful of artists and musicians started FOKL in Kansas City, Kansas to provide a non-commercial stage away from the bars. This weekend, FOKL will host its biggest annual event: a weekend-long experimental music showcase.
The FOKL music venue is nothing if not humble. It’s located in the dark, cool basement of a former corner grocery store in Strawberry Hill. FOKL used to also occupy the main floor, but its recently moved all operations downstairs. Inside, the stone walls are covered with elaborate graffiti pieces, and against the south wall, there’s a wooden stage about two feet off the ground. There’s no bar, no big sound system, no stage lights, and, as FOKL organizer Martin Swank explains, it makes no money.
“This is a money-losing project, for sure,” Swank says with a grin.
For Swank and co-founders Allie Mason and Craig Demoss, FOKL began as a labor of love about two years ago, and its remained so ever since. Shortly after moving in to live on the second floor of the KCK building in 2011, Swank and his roommates decided to rent more of the building to use as an art gallery. But the gallery soon morphed into an all-ages, alcohol-free stage for punk and other off-beat bands. FOKL wanted to fill the void left by the closing of similar underground venues like the Studded Bird and the Firehouse. Martin Swank says FOKL was also inspired by the Do-It-Yourself approach to music of his teenage years.
“You go to shows growing up that are almost in houses or basements similar to this. There’s no door guy harassing people. It’s just a really comfortable place to be, and we wanted to provide that in the neighborhood we lived.”
Last year, two of FOKL’s regular performers decided they wanted something more than a one night gig. Dedric Moore of Monta at Odds and Justin Wright of Expo 70 wanted to bring together their friends and favorite experimental bands together for something like a mini-Woodstock, with three days of peace and droning guitars. The result was the 1st annual Psychfest.
“We intentionally picked bands and picked a location and picked an atmosphere that you really have to want to come be part of it,” explains Dedrick Moore. “It’s not like you’re at a bar next door, and you just happen to hear this thing going on and you come over. So everybody who came here made the trek to get over here to KCK and had the purpose of ‘I want to see something interesting, and I want to experience something unusual.”
Moore says this year’s festival will be even bigger, with 21 bands in two different venues, FOKL and HQ, which is also in KCK. In addition to music, the festival will include light and projection art. But while the organizers look forward in expanded festival, they’re committed to a non-commercial, sponsor-free event.
“We all have day jobs,” says Moore. “I think if this was something where our lives depended upon it, then we would approach it differently. But this gives us the freedom to choose what we want to hear, what we want to do. And who we want sponsoring and not sponsoring and [it] frees us up to just do it exactly how we want to do it and have fun with it.”
Both Kansas natives, Moore and Swank also hope PsychFest will draw attention to a commonly-ignored part of the city. Morgan says the low cost of living has attracted lots of artists and musicians to the area in recent years, but most audiences still seem to overlook KCK and Wyandotte County.
“As a ‘dotte’, as we call ourselves, there’s always motivation for us within the neighborhood to try to show the good side and the benefits and the neighborhood that a lot of people pass over as they’re just sorta driving by on I-70,” explains Moore. “I think there’s a lot of great people, a lot of diversity, so, yeah, any time I can promote the inner city of Kansas City, Kansas to show it’s vibrant, and it’s up and coming, and people are excited to be here. That’s sort of one of my personal missions.”
In addition to Monta at Odd and Expo 70, the lineup includes touring bands and local groups like Metatone, Conquerors and Umberto. PsychFest 2013 will take place at FOKL and HQ in Kansas City, Kansas on Friday, May 17th and Saturday, May 18th.
The music featured in this piece is from local bands performing at PsychFest 2013. The songs included:
“Apple Tel Aviv” Snake Island
“Old Believers” Bloodbirds
“Light Traces” Gemini Revolution
“Native Bounce” Your Reflection
“Faith” (Amen) Monta At Odds
“Plastic Ocean” Karma Vision
“Closet” Expo 70