Entering its second year, Memphis Hates You Fest is emerging as a viable local music showcase for underground artists and bands involved in the Memphis Hates You online community. But for many fans of Memphis' notoriously splintered and cliquey music scene, the success of Memphis Hates You remains a largely unknown quantity.
"We still feel like outsiders," says Cremains frontman and Memphis Hates You co-founder Michael Jasud. "We don't cater to any specific genre, niche, or aesthetic. We're more about the music. I think our nonaffiliation with anything else going on in town keeps us at a distance."
Beyond that, even defining what Memphis Hates You is presents another set of difficulties. The group arose out of the membership of two now-defunct local message boards — Bound & Gagged and OurMemphis.net — but what it has become is a nebulous collective that challenges any preconceived notions of a "scene."
"I'll tell you what it's not — it's not a record label," says co-founder Ben Aviotti, guitarist for the Unbeheld. "Originally, it was just a message board, a forum for like-minded musicians helping each other with shows and promotion. Eventually it expanded to include an online store, festival, and booking agency."
And then there's the name itself, which by design evokes a sense of antagonism.
"It's not that we're hateful, necessarily," Jasud says. "The phrase 'Memphis Hates You' is more directed at ourselves rather than others. This whole thing grew out of a common frustration with the music scene, the fact that nobody seems to give a shit. But we still see it as a positive thing. Memphis is not an easy place to get ahead in music, but we're trying to do something good and promote underground music that is valid and interesting."
Despite their frustrations, Memphis Hates You's collective of bands, which includes Cremains, the Unbeheld, Tanks, These Wolves Are Robots, Burial Within, and Panther Piss, among many others, continues to gain traction in town, thanks largely to the overwhelming success of last year's Memphis Hates You Fest. The event drew approximately 500 fans to the Hi-Tone over the course of two nights.
"Everything is built upon the contributions of those involved. We were successful last year thanks to tremendous effort and word-of-mouth. The local media gave us no coverage," Jasud says.
Indeed, according to Hi-Tone owner Jonathan Kiersky, it was the tenacity of the group that initially led to the club's interest in hosting the festival.
"They were a musical anomaly, a scene without a venue, when they approached us," Kiersky says. "I realized right away how active they are with promotion and supporting their own scene. They don't miss any opportunity. It makes them extremely easy to work with."
As a collective, Memphis Hates You has a reputation for being dominated by heavy/metal acts, but Aviotti and Jasud strongly assert the eclecticism of the group.
"I'd say it's about 60/40," says Aviotti, referring to the ratio of metal to non-metal acts. "And even within the 'heavy' genre, there's lots of variation, differences in each band's sound and approach."
"We make no requirement that a band be of one particular genre. We have folk, indie-rock, punk rock, metal, and all sorts of bands. We defy any sort of categorization," Jasud explains.
To that end, this year's Memphis Hates You Fest promises to be a great deal more diverse than the last.
The second night of the event, in particular, has been programmed as the "eclectic night" and will feature the indie/folk songwriter Randolph Robinson, the alt-rock American Gods, and the grunge-y punk Chinamen, who could be the festival's can't-miss sleeper.
"We played last year and had a really good time. The festival is run by a bunch of good guys who care more about the music than how awesome each others' hair is. There is no pandering or bullshit. It's just about the music," says Chinamen frontman Alex Pilkington.
Looking ahead to the future of Memphis Hates You, both Aviotti and Jasud express a reluctance to further organize the group.
"I think it would be counter to the original idea," Aviotti says. "There's a general sense that it's getting bigger and that more people are interested and getting involved. But if we turned it into a business or a record label, I think we'd be subject to unwanted scrutiny or criticism. I think it's best if we keep it open-ended."
So, how does one, if so inclined, get involved with Memphis Hates You?
"Just be involved," Jasud says. "Get on the message board, go to shows, be present. That's all it takes."
Memphis Hates You Fest 2010
May 29th-30th at the Hi-Tone Café
$7 cover each night, $10 both nights
Saturday, May 29th
6-6:20 p.m. Galaxicon
6:35-6:55 p.m. This Fucking Train
7:10-7:30 p.m. Process of Suffocation
7:45-8:05 p.m. Elephant House
8:20-8:40 p.m. Thorax Hum
8:55-9:15 p.m. Pulltrigger
9:30-9:50 p.m. Ragpicker
10:05-10:25 p.m. Dead-I-On
10:50-11:20 p.m. Burial Within
11:35 p.m. Cremains
Sunday, May 30th
6-6:20 p.m. Meme
6:35-6:55 p.m. Vere
7:10-7:30 p.m. Chinamen
7:45-8:05 p.m. Randolph Robinson
8:20-8:40 p.m. American Gods
8:55-9:15 p.m. Saurus
9:30-9:50 p.m. Panther Piss
10:05-10:25 p.m. Tanks
10:50-11:10 p.m. These Wolves
11:25 p.m. The Unbeheld