Maximum freedom fighters
You’re either with KDVS, or you’re with the terrorists
KDVS DJs Rick Ele, Brendan Boyle and Joe Finkel were hunkered away in the basement of UC Davis’ eclectic radio station when they created Operation: Restore Maximum Freedom, the moniker for KDVS’ biannual music festival.
“[Finkel] was the one surfing the Internet at the time,” Ele recalled, “and he came across a list of all the names of every military operation in the history of our nation.” The trio was taken by the syntactical charm of names like Lightning Resolve and Exercise Unified Spirit. “The format of those names … they should always include a really strong verb, and the direct object is usually an ideal, or a principle,” Ele explained.
They threw around a few ideas, inserting verbs and nouns into the military-industrial Mad Lib. “We were partially inspired by the delusion of being down in that basement,” recalled Boyle.
Ele agreed, “There was a sick-building syndrome that had set in by that point.” Then the sea parted, and the words fell into place.
“We all agreed right away that it was a good name,” Boyle said. Ele concurred: “We just kept laughing because it seemed too good.” Mike Donovan of Sic Alps, one of 17 bands playing this weekend’s Operation: Restore Maximum Freedom IV, said the name reminded him of a “stylish pro-war baseball cap.”
The first O:RMF took place in May 2005 and featured a ridiculously large 21-band lineup, all for a cool $10. One band from New York, Sightings, wasn’t even booked at the festival. It had a gig that evening in the Bay Area, but all the band members’ friends were going to O:RMF.“Where the hell’s Davis?” Ele exclaimed, recounting the story. “They didn’t even know where it was on a map.” Sightings ended up playing O:RMF I. “This band from New York just fell into our laps and became our headliner.”
The first festival didn’t turn a profit for KDVS, but Ele explained, “We had so much fun we decided to do another one.”
This Saturday is the fourth incarnation of O:RMF. The lineup includes such disparate acts as electronica artist Kid606, folk legend Michael Hurley and hip-hop outfit Third Sight with D-Styles. It will be held at Plainfield Station, a restaurant and bar in Woodland with a back patio and a sprawling lawn where artists cut loose on a ramshackle stage. “The place has a right-wing stigma, and KDVS has a left-wing stigma,” Boyle said, “so it’s real cool to have the two come together.”Glitch, dark-hop, psych-rock, alt-folk, punk, indie rock, free-form jazz, experimental, hardcore—O:RMF IV covers all its genre bases and more. “It wouldn’t reflect KDVS if it wasn’t diverse to an almost absurd degree,” remarked Tim Foster, whose band Th’ Losin Streaks is one of two Sacramento acts on the bill. Indeed, there’s no denying that O:RMF IV offers a unique opportunity to catch some of the nation’s top underground and independent music acts.
“We have a different type of fan that gets into Third Sight,” said Jihad, emcee of the Bay Area/Los Angeles/Las Vegas-based hip-hop outfit. Jihad observed that people seek out Third Sight “on the basis of the subject matter or the tone, more so than the fact that it’s just hip-hop.” So, while the festival-goers appear to gather under the banner of diversity, they’re really just there for good music.“I’m really looking forward to seeing how all the different factions react to it,” Boyle said of the demanding lineup. “How the hip-hop crowd reacts to Michael Hurley. And it’s fun to really challenge people in that respect.”
Hurley’s 1964 Folkways release, First Songs, is one of Boyle’s favorite albums of all time. Hurley is a rare breed, a folk troubadour whose songs about outsiders and delicate, Richard Brautigan-like observations have earned him a dedicated following over the past 40 years. “I like how inter-generational his appeal is,” commented Ele. “A lot of people who have loved his music since when he was first on the scene are easily twice the age of our average listener.”“We have people from Oakland and from San Francisco who bike up here [for the show],” said Heather Klinger. A KDVS DJ since her middle-school years, Klinger is one of the many principals involved in planning, promoting and producing O:RMF IV. “I think it’s pretty spectacular to have a 17-band festival and have it put together by six to eight people,” she exulted. Past O:RMF attendees have planned their vacations around the festival, traveling from as far away as Providence, R.I., and New York City. Ele estimates that about one-third of the festival-goers hail from the Bay Area, and a small percentage drive in from Southern California and Portland. But it’s the bands that put in the most miles, coming in from all over the world.
“We are always playing music with our mind free,” Masami Kawaguchi of LSD March, a psych-rock jam band from Japan, told SN&R from Tokyo. LSD March—along with Kawaguchi’s other band, the recently assembled New Rock Syndicate—wins the award for the longest pilgrimage to O:RMF IV. “Playing in the U.S. is exciting for us,” Kawaguchi said. “We feel reactions of the audience directly, more than in Japan.”Headliner Kid606 might beg to differ. “I generally like playing Europe better,” Kid, a.k.a. Miguel Depedro, told SN&R while on tour in Europe. “Less repressed … and people are less brainwashed by MTV and Clear Channel. And there’s no shitty-ass country music.” However, his observations might be moot inside the microcosm that is O:RMF IV. He said he’s looking forward to the gig, so long as he’s “sober enough to play.”
That could be tricky since Plainfield Station, so charming that Ele proclaimed it one of the “top-billed stars of the show,” sold out of beer during the first O:RMF.
“The cheapest beer in Davis, period!” Boyle promised. “Six-dollar pitchers, and [the price] stays the same for the festival.” That says a lot in this age of $5 bottled waters.When that last beat is cut and those final beers have been chugged on Saturday, the DJs at KDVS hopefully will have accomplished their objective of maximizing freedom. If not, however, it’s no big shake. “Bands are starting to come to us and say, ‘Hey can we play No. 5?’” Ele said with a smile.