By Margaret Welsh
Current Music Editor
When Migration Fest debuted in Olympia, Wa. in 2016, the motive was pretty simple: promotion. Organizers Dave Adelson, founder of record label 20 Buck Spin, and Adam Bartlett, who runs Gilead Media, wanted an opportunity to showcase the mostly underground metal bands that populate their respective independent labels. And, thanks to both labels’ impressive rosters, the lineup – which then featured headliners like Australian funeral doom band Mournful Congregation, Louisville-based ambient black metal artist Panopticon and harsh experimental outfit Krallice, from NYC – was weighty enough to make it a pilgrimage-worthy event for fans across the country.
MIGRATION FEST. Fri., July 27- Sun. 29. Mr. Smalls Theatre,
400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $45-200. www.migrationfest.com
Last year, Adelson moved from the West Coast to Pittsburgh to be closer to family, bringing with him 20 Buck Spin, and – in a move that almost feels too good to be true for Pittsburgh’s metal head constituency — Migration Fest.
“It really isn’t tied too much to the locality, so we have a lot of people coming from far away,” says Adelson, who expects this year’s biannual installment to draw between 800 and 1,000 people. “The people who follow our labels are really dedicated and they’re willing to travel, which is cool.”
Mournful Congregation, Krallice and Panopticon all return this year, adding to a stacked bill that also includes Mutilation Rites, Bongripper, Thou, False, and Tomb Mold, to name just a few. Pittsburgh hosts its share of music festivals, many of which feature national and international headliners. Migration Fest is, however, distinct in its un-local focus. A couple of well-known Pittsburgh-based bands will appear – synth duo Zombi headline Friday’s show, and beloved death metalers Derketa plays Saturday — but otherwise the touring bands make up the bulk of the lineup.
“I’m looking at it as a fan, but I’m also looking at it as promotion for my roster,” says Adelson. He started 20 Buck Spin in 2005 and, as of the last several years, has managed to make it his living. He mostly selected artists for the fest who either just released or are about to release a record on his label.
But that’s not to say he doesn’t have plenty of love for the Pittsburgh metal scene. “Living in the Pacific Northwest, there’s a bit more of a hipster element… a bit, like, ‘we’re too cool for you,” he says. “I’m not saying the people of Pittsburgh aren’t cool, [it just] feels more welcoming.”
As someone who’s been a metal fan for decades – “My parents were always like, ‘maybe it’s just a phase!’” – Adelson’s main priority has always been helping bands navigate the music industry in a way that is fair and ethical. “When I can do that I feel really happy, I just really enjoy it,” he says. Which, frankly, makes him sound like the perfect Pittsburgh transplant. “[Pittsburgh] is really uncynical, you know?” he says. “I find a lot of cynicism in the scenes where I go, and [this scene] is really refreshing. I really like that.”