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Interview: Colin Newman on Wire's Drill: Chicago festival

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

Comparing Wire's visceral 1977 debut Pink Flag to its recent self-titled release, it's clear that British post-punk legends have gone through a lot of changes during the band's nearly 40-year career. Within the past two years they have also become music festival curators, organizing a series of city-specific events dubbed the Drill Festival which features diverse lineups of like-minded artists. The group is bringing the Drill Festival to a trio of venues in Chicago this week, culminating in a performance at Metro on Saturday, June 13 that will feature Wire, Tim Hecker, and Disappears. We spoke with Wire frontman Colin Newman about the festival's inception and the band's connection to Chicago.

Can you speak about the origin of the Drill Festival?

The original Drill Festival was in London in 2013 and came about as a result of us recording Change Becomes Us. When we released the record, we hadn't planned any touring, so I thought it might be interesting if we did a city festival instead. We came up with a format of three nights across two venues and we programmed it in collaboration with The Quietus. Everything worked out, nobody lost any money, so we felt like we could do it again. People started to come to us and ask if we could take the Drill Festival somewhere else. Since then, we've done festivals in Detroit, Brighton, and Lexington. The basic scheme is that the festivals have no specific city, no specific time of year in which they're done, and no specific format. That makes it more interesting for us as a band—we rely on partners, so each festival is different.

How do you go about choosing the bands that play the festival?

Of course we don't choose everything ourselves—we work with partners and we take suggestions. One of the great things about the festival is that it enables us to reach out to musicians who are friends of ours and people who we like. It cements a kind of connection. We do "Drill" with various people—in Chicago we're doing it with St. Vincent and Jon Spencer. We're also doing the Pink Flag Guitar Orchestra [at Metro on Saturday] which is a lot of people playing one chord on guitar onstage and is about the most fun you can have with your clothes on. There are always a lot of big grins in the audience because it's a huge noise.

What made Chicago an ideal fit for the Drill Festival?

Well we have a longstanding relationship with [Chicago-based booking agency] Billions that goes back a really long time, so it just made sense. During our last tour, we rehearsed in Chicago and then flew off to the West Coast and made our way back to the city. I've lost count of how many times we've played Metro. We always have a good audience—Chicago is a real city and we have a definite connection.

Will Wire continue to organize festivals or do you want to focus on making new music?

It's all part of the mix. We're already under discussion for three Drill festivals next year, one of which will be in the U.S. The way I describe them, they almost seem ad hoc, but there is a lot of work that goes into putting these festivals together. It would be a fantastic way to lose a lot of money if you didn't figure all the details out.

Drill: Chicago takes place at the Hideout (June 11), Thalia Hall (June 12) and Metro (June 13) featuring performances by Wire, St. Vincent, Tim Hecker, Ken Vandermark and more.

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