Luck Machine Fest: How a mystic collective rocked rural MN

Some of Luck Machine's collective members, from left: August Linden, Tyler Rosenbohm, Matthew Molzahn, Marshall Hawks, Tony Schurbon, Anthony Casey, Luke Ketsch.

Some of Luck Machine's collective members, from left: August Linden, Tyler Rosenbohm, Matthew Molzahn, Marshall Hawks, Tony Schurbon, Anthony Casey, Luke Ketsch.

Like a giant mezuzah, a vaguely eldritch graffiti symbol dominates the monolithic black garage door to Luck Machine’s warehouse on the outskirts of downtown Minneapolis. Patrons of the neighboring fitness studio might find the whole thing a little dramatic, but the occult symbolism suits the enigmatic young music/art collective just fine.

Across the threshold, the space’s interior becomes even more mystical, with a motif of paisley and dappled lighting, ropes of hanging faux-greenery, and stacks of disused television sets glinting from the room’s corners like blackened crystal balls.

A few of the assembled collective members sport matching rune-like tattoos, and the number 13 comes up with eerie regularity in the warehouse suite’s official registrations. Even the group’s assumed name has a numinous backstory.

“My buddy had this warehouse space that he was living in, and it was written on the wall there along with a bunch of other things,” says Tony Schrubon, guitarist for Danger Ron & the Spins and Luck Machine’s house studio engineer. “He had woken up from a dream one night and written it on his wall, and then gone back to sleep.”

In spite of all the supernatural trappings, Luck Machine’s origins were surprisingly organic. A loose group of musicians and artists came together at shows in the now shuttered basement venues of the Monastery and Gen’s Den, sharing a mutual respect for each other’s talents and a common ambition to stretch the limits of DIY organization.

Things stayed loose and informal until last year, when Danger Ron frontman Marshall Hawks brought the grand idea of assembling all of their favorite bands for an outdoor music and camping festival to his friend August Linden, drummer for Tso Big. Naturally, this bout of inspiration came less than a month before the festival’s target date.

“Marshall came to me with the idea for the festival and I was like, ‘We don’t have enough time, we can’t do it.'" Linden explains. “But then we just did it anyways.”

Call it genius or call it foolishness, but the group charged ahead with their idea, and Luck Machine Fest was born. Without any suitable property available in the Twin Cities to match their shoestring budget, Hawks and Linden persuaded their friend and eventual collective member Aaron Bolton to beg his parents for a weekend’s worth of usage of their acreage in bucolic Montgomery, MN. Surprisingly, the festival’s maiden voyage went off without a hitch, featuring 12 bands, many of which would later join the collective, and a night of police- and storm-free camping.

“Last year we had only one power meltdown, which was someone tripping over our 200-foot extension cable,” Schrubon says ruefully. “If we had tied the ends there would have been zero power malfunctions.”

Working on the festival together inspired a real sense of camaraderie between the bands and individuals involved, and before long the group decided to rent a space together where they could practice, record, and play shows.

After a few near-misses with sketchy landlords, Luck Machine settled into their current space and began the arduous process of turning a large, bare warehouse with a loft on the far wall into the playground of their imaginations. An unused central air duct was removed, wood was stained, faux-flora was obtained, and, most improbably, the bare concrete walls were soundproofed without any professional help.

“Marshall did most of the work with the [huge sound baffles] hanging from the ceiling,” Schrubon tells. “That was a serious thing, we only had a 12-foot ladder, and it’s a much higher ceiling. It was pretty intense. Anyone could have died, but mostly Marshall.”

Perhaps it was the space’s enchanting pull, but the original organizers of the Luck Machine Fest found themselves drawing in a wider pool of affiliated bands and a steady audience to attend their shows at the space.
Luck Machine, as it stands today, includes Danger Ron, Tso Big, Chalk, Moving Parts, Fisheadfeasts, Ghostmouth, Blueclaw, Factory Sample, Ego Death, and a multitude of other affiliated side projects and friendlies. In the spirit of DIY, everyone seems to chip in and contribute equally, sharing the responsibilities and benefits of the space with a bonhomie that would make Fugazi shed a small tear of pride.

“We’re using one another without any negative connotations, to achieve our artistic goals,” explains Michael Voller, singer and guitarist for Chalk. “It’s just really helpful to have a built-in network of people. ‘Hey, do you guys know anybody that films stuff?’ or ‘Hey, can you play saxophone on this track for me?'”

Roughly 90 percent of the extended Luck Machine family has recorded in the space over the past year with Linden, Schrubon, and other members sharing production duties, giving the collective something resembling a loose musical identity. The slacker-psychedellica of Danger Ron, Tso Big and Moving Parts gets muddied by the arty noise of Fisheadfeasts and Chalk’s Up Records-era Modest Mouse vulnerability, but all of the bands involved with Luck Machine seem to enjoy defying traditional song structures and easy categorization.

The full spectrum of the group’s work will be available in a compilation tape that comes free with admission to their second Luck Machine Fest this weekend. Featuring 20 bands, two stages, and a food truck, the Luck Machine Fest 2 is a massive improvement over last year’s iteration, but still retains the homespun location and feel of the original.
“The first Luck Machine festival was planned in a couple of weeks, and this one has been planned all year,” Voller explains. “Since Luck Machine 1, we’ve been kind of thinking about Luck Machine 2.”

It’s somewhat curious that an urban-focused punky art collective would decide to return to the one-cow hamlet of Montgomery rather than opting for a festival within the cities, but for Luck Machine, it makes perfect sense.

“I really think it is as simple as, ‘That is where we can get away with it.'" Linden explains. “It’s tiny as hell, but last year it was really cool to see everybody from [the town] there, to see everybody there commingling, and doing the same shit under the same influences.”

“It was kind of the thing that happened in Montgomery that summer,” Schrubon cracks. “We fucking rocked Montgomery, they didn’t know what to think.”
Away from the prying eyes of the Minneapolis Police Department and their landlords, the Luck Machine crowd can really let their freak flag fly and enjoy all of the natural pleasure of southern Minnesota’s plain country. Naturally, the collective has even grander plans for next year, there’s already talk of expanding to two nights and trying to haul in national bands.

With such a low price ($10), zero sponsorship, and an intentionally unincorporated revenue stream, this kind of talk could be a pipe dream, but it’s one that Luck Machine is more than happy to treat as a reality. Even if DIY spaces tend to have short, tumultuous lifespans, you’d never know from the sheer enthusiasm present in these kids.

“There is something that is somewhat consistent about whatever identity that we have,” Voller says. “We all appreciate one another’s creations, but we also just enjoy creation for the sake of creation. That’s how we help one another out.”

Luck Machine Fest 2
With: Rupert Angeleyes, C. Kostra, Suzie, Phantom Tails, Villa Rosa, more
Where: 15303 Leander Ln., Montgomery
When: 2 p.m. August 29
Tickets: $10; more info here