Interview: Subterranean Dissonance Promoter Discusses Fest’s Inaugural Year


Putting a festival together, let alone pulling it off well, takes a little bit of effort and a little bit of insanity—trust us, we know. So when we see another festival pop up in our hometown of Philadelphia, Decibel has to know more. The inaugural Subterranean Dissonance Fest happens on February 11 at Underground Arts and features a wild lineup including Decibel favs Horrendous, Imperial Triumphant and Thantifaxath, Liturgy, Umbra Vitae and local crews like Cognitive and Kaonashi.

Decibel spoke to promoter Graham Noel to get the details on how Subterranean Dissonance came together and what to expect. The festival is moving at sell-out pace, so it’s a good idea to get advance tickets.

This is your first festival but you’ve been booking shows for a long time. Why did you decide now was the right time?
Subterranean Dissonance Fest has been a concept that I’ve been working toward for nearly three years. My original intention was to introduce the brand with a show in July 2020 followed by a multi-stage concept in 2021. The venue, date, and artwork had been finalized for the 2020 show just before the pandemic hit. I started to send inquiries and offers for the February 2023 date once I felt confident that the live music industry was stable enough to avoid another cancelation. It’s surreal that it’s finally happening.

You’ve got a pretty diverse lineup of bands within the progressive or math-y umbrellas. How did you start to curate the lineup?
The mashup of styles is basically a Venn diagram of my personal heavy music taste. I started with a wishlist in the form of a playlist that I still maintain today. My first few inquiries were “reach” artists and ones that I already had good relationships with from booking club shows in Philly. While a handful of my top choices ran into availability issues, pretty quickly I had a more exciting lineup than I could have ever hoped for.

You have bands like Kaonashi, bands like HIRS and a lot of more “traditionally” extreme bands like Liturgy, Imperial Triumphant and Horrendous. Has there been any pushback to combining extreme stuff with genres like sludge and metalcore?
There has definitely been some fodder online to the tune of “Why is X band playing with Y band???”, but there are way more commenters excited by the unexpected pairings. I’ve received notes from folks who are traveling far and wide, even internationally. That’s a testament to this unique collection of styles with each artist pushing boundaries in their particular lane of off-kilter heaviness.

What’s been the biggest challenge of booking and promoting Subterranean Dissonance to this point?
It’s been difficult to start a new brand from the ground up. However, Alex Eckman-Lawn’s stunning artwork that drove the design aesthetic combined with collaboration with marketing manager Zach Roumaya, the team at Underground Arts and my colleagues at Rising Sun Presents, I’ve had lots of help along the way. I’m also so grateful to sponsors Yards Brewing Co. and Pabst Blue Ribbon who have really helped make this wild concept viable. Overall though, I have been blown away by the positive response both from the fans and from the artists themselves.

Is this a thing you see happening again as an annual thing? There aren’t a whole lot of other festivals in February…
I definitely have plans to make this a recurring venture. I’m actively working on the next iteration, which will absolutely be even more ambitious in scope. Stay tuned…

Which set are you most excited to see as the promoter?
For sure John Frum. Liam Wilson (John Frum, Azusa, The Dillinger Escape Plan) was my bass teacher in college and has grown to become a great friend and mentor. My love for dissonant and progressive music has very much been fostered by our conversations. He turned me on to bands like Thantifaxath, Pyrrhon, Dysrhythmia and Portal. I was lucky enough to witness the inception of John Frum firsthand, literally in attendance at their first demo recording session. It’s been so exciting to see experts in their craft not only create killer music but also develop their own lore and unique aesthetic. Having them be a part of the inaugural lineup is truly a full-circle moment.

Full Lineup:
Imperial Triumphant
John Frum

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