Jon Whitney, founder of Brainwashed.com, Killer Pimp Records and the (no pun intended) “brains” behind the fast-approaching Brainwaves Festival, is desperately hoping that he doesn’t get sick following this year’s edition of Brainwaves. “If last time was any indication,” he says, “I’m probably going to end up extremely sick for the entire month of December, so I plan to not be working and lay real low after this is over.” If anything, it shows the effort and dedication he throws into sharing his favorite artists with total strangers, something Whitney’s been doing for almost 15 years. Starting in 1996 as an online domain for some of Whitney’s favorite artists, Brainwashed.com soon expanded to become one of the first places that you could hear and read about rock’s experimental fringe.
Whitney was an early advocate of bands like Dresden Dolls, !!!, Sigur Rós, Godspeed You Black Emperor and Antony and the Johnsons, providing them with coverage years before the mainstream press came calling. But Whitney bristles when it’s suggested that, as an early barometer of taste, it’s become his responsibility to break these artists. “I don’t know if it’s my responsibility so much as it’s something I get really excited about,” he says. “There’s always going to be brilliant, new, unique, crafty and un-championed music.” It’s an excitement that Whitney is now channeling into the Brainwaves festival. “I hope people who come for Foetus will stay for To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie, and those who come for Marissa Nadler stick around for Boduf Songs,” he says. “If anything, I can hope to have an effect on keeping people’s minds open.”
The varied lineup is maddeningly eclectic. Holding it all together is DJ Steven Stapleton, better known as the mastermind behind the dark and often macabre experimental outfit Nurse With Wound. Elsewhere, the pulsing beats of Meat Beat Manifesto rub up against the guitar assault of local pysch-rockers Major Stars. Capping the weekend is a day-long tribute to Kranky, celebrating the 15th anniversary of the label, which is home to avant-garde rockers like Deerhunter and ambient pioneers Stars of the Lid. “For Kranky, we’ve got a whole day planned. Windy [of Windy & Carl] and Thomas Meluch [of Benoit Pioulard] will perform together,” he says. “Stars of the Lid will headline, Lichens, Nudge and Strategy will leave the crowd stunned, and we’ll get a rare glimpse of To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie and Boduf Songs live. Unfortunately we failed to pull off Out Hud, Labradford, Godspeed You Black Emperor and Bowery Electric reunions, but we did try.”
When asked whether Brainwaves is going to become a yearly occurrence, Whitney demurs: “The first Brainwaves [in 2006] took about two years to plan and organize. I figured it would take about two years to do the second one, so I didn’t rush to do another one in 2007. I don’t know if it will occur every year … or even if it will occur again.” One thing is certain: For one weekend, Arlington will be the center of the experimental music world.