Austin Psych Fest 2013
“Daddy, no one’s dancing.”
Man this was a tough fest. Fest was tough a man this! Tough this man a fest was!
Yeah, you’re right, I’m disoriented, but forgive me: I go to a lot of indie-rock festivals. Austin Psych Fest represents yet another pipe-wrench to my head. BAM! There’s blood everywhere (or is that puke?). And my daughter presented an interesting point about five minutes after we arrived at Psych Fest 2013: “Daddy, no one’s dancing.” And she was right: No one shook, rattled, or rolled through the entire festival. Why? Are we all really that fucking cool? Just about every fellow attendee I saw dressed as if he/she were in a band themselves, yet when it came time to fuck shit up, no one seemed interested. Instead, they talked on and on about their infinitely less-exciting-than-a-rock-festival lives. What’s up with that? People, if I’m going to be successful in pitching the many music fests I want to attend as “dance parties” (in order to get a certain someone to be open-minded, “a certain someone” being my 5-year-old daughter), you’re going to have to shake that ass more. Seriously.
That quandary addressed, there’s no reason NOT to get right to it. It’s what we all deserve.
I made a huge mistake within 10 minutes of walking through the gates. I thought my accompaniment (wife, daughter) would appreciate The Raveonettes more than Om, so I sat through about a half-hour of lukewarm soft-rock before I realized WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING? WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?
Om: By the time I got to the scenic stage, much of Om’s set had already been spent. What I did witness toed the line between the gentle bass surges of “Space Grass” (whenever it feels right) and the plodding head-jamz of Boris (who we’ll get to later). So wonderfully suited to the stage Om were, and it was one of the only sets of the entire festival that didn’t seem overrun a bit by the chipmunk-y chatter of hyped-up attendees. Then again, maybe I just need to get closer.
Silver Apples: Anyone who’s spent any time with Gumshoe knows Silver Apples are anything but a low-hanging fruit in my expansive wheelhouse. Experiencing a set so long after first diving into their limited discography (three full-lengths and a bunch of garbage, really), along with seeing Acid Mothers Temple, was a bucket-list sort of experience that mandated my attendance at this shindig in the first place. Silver Apples represent a sector of sound so far removed from the norm most people don’t even try to classify them, so I won’t attempt it here either. Suffice to say, if you like to stone out to endless Moog-y grooves, looooong tunnels of psych-throb, and surprisingly funky beats, you need look no further. There’s a reason Lou Barlow and many others tend to sample Apples archives a lot. There’s a unique feel to them, the way the slashing beats collide with the syrupy stretches of bass, procured by Simeon, who fronts the band by himself these days (though the dude from Sybarite, Xian Hawkins, has been known to be included in the mix).
Acid Mothers Temple: As fucked-up as it sounds, I could have left after Acid Mothers Temple’s set without feeling cheated. They were so soaring and intense I felt like my brain was going to POP like a Hubba Bubba bubble and spray the crowd with blood and skull shrapnel. Forget the albums, collaborations, and other longform releases; in concert, AMT leave nothing to chance, plugging in their axes and shedding sparks in battle from start to finish. The most dizzying part of the set involves the dive-bombing of all three guitarists, timed expertly, which created a strange swooping effect. When you think about it, a festival like Psych Fest caters to bands like Acid Mothers Temple most of all. If only the rest of the bands at the fest could have kept up with this juggernaut; it was almost like sampling several Hershey’s bars after indulging in dark-chocolate care of Dove.
Masaki Batoh’s BRAIN PULSE MUSIC
Finally, some experimental dronoise to calm shit down a little; there was far too little representation of acts in the vein of Masaki Batoh’s Brain Pulse Music, but I was happy to lap up all I could get. Here’s how it goes: A woman is strapped into an odd-looking contraption that reminds me of the doo-dad Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown was wearing when Marty first knocked on his door in the 1950s. I think Matmos followed a similar strand of inspiration when crafting their latest full-length: Let the brain do the playing. As one might expect, there’s a ton of randomness intertwined with presenting audio under the auspices of such parameters, and I’m pretty sure Batoh’s, at some point, was guiding the presentation in one way or another. But the set unfolded just as I expected: Bleeps, bloops, long strands of somewhat soothing sounds followed by static cut-outs, flutters, stutters, and, finally, the final curtain. Again: MORE OF THIS NEXT YEAR, PSYCH-FEST ORGANIZERS!
Black Bananas: Man, I can’t BEGIN to tell you how confusing it is to watch an indie-hero bake up such putrid loaves onstage. RTX/Royal Trux seem so far away, and I promised myself I wouldn’t cry. Leather pants have never looked so embarrassed.
Kaleidescope: Man, I was totally ready to dig this set, and it blew up in my face. I have the utmost respect for folks in their sixties who still want to rock, but I have even more contempt ready for them if they utterly fail, as Kaleidescope did on this day. Very disappointing.
Man Or Astroman?: People expect a super-serious (?) critic to hate a band like Man Or Astroman?, and I couldn’t disagree with that premise more. MoA? offered a stunning contrast to the baby-steps buildups taking place elsewhere, playing garage-a-delic instrumental rock stupider than a unicycle with a flat tire and more fun than watching a drunken clown trying to ride said unicycle. Forget the between-songs banter (mostly alien stuff; whatevs) and the limited palette; this is not going to be on the test, so let down your hippy hair and jam, goddamn it! How do these fellows look so young, anyway? They’ve been around forever-and-a-day, yet they seem eternally in their early thirties. Take the singer away from Gas Huffer and/or raid early Ventures albums for signposts as to what Man Or Astroman? are attempting to accomplish. From there, one need only take a whiff to get hooked.
I was hoping to avoid seeing the Boris of Pink, and I did. Unfortunately, it was still a fairly boring set, from what I could tell. How is it that a band like Om can so completely OWN slow, morbid processionals while an outfit like Bor(e)is ends up bathing in the excessive excrement sluiced from their eternally eternal ether? I don’t know; if I had the answer to that, I probably wouldn’t be here right now.
Black Mountain: Are they going to play “Drugganaut” or naut? Fuck, I guess naut. Still a decent set, despite the fact that this isn’t the Black Mountain I remember from that first self-titled record. More synths, less booziness, and a shitload of rain (in Texas that’s kind of a big deal; this ain’t Sasquatch territory) made for a set that succeeded more for its settings than for anything noteworthy happening on the stage. Nothing wrong with Black Mountain’s approach, just nothing overly right about it. God is that even fair?
Did I mention it was raining? Yeah, about that: It began to pour so hard we wondered if we’d be able to make it out of the parking lot (which was basically a huge chunk of shit-mud; the only missing ingredient had been rain). Knowing I would miss Spectrum hurt like a thousand ice-hot pitchforks stinging my dickhole, but we decided to leave, and navigating through the parking lot, which was already filled with huge bodies of water, justified our decision. Shit, there goes my potential third bucket-list pick of the weekend. Sob. We also missed Deerhunter, The Warlocks, and Os Mutantes (HA! Just kidding, I saw them open for Ariel Pink a few years ago and THEY SUCK BALLZ. Never would have bothered.)
White Fence: Sprung from the fertile soil bed that brought us Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall, White Fence represent the intersection of rock, garage, and just a pinch of psych well, though those looking for the busy nature of their recordings won’t find it in the live set. Things are stripped down just a bit, the fulcrum of the presentation being the melodies rather than the window dressing. It all worked to White Fence’s advantage, and they played a nice enough set, but at this point, I started to become distracted by stuff that shouldn’t technically be a distraction if one is attempting to cover a rock festival.
My fellow weary travelers and I spent inordinate amounts of time at the swing tree (which is exactly as it sounds: a huge tree with several swings hanging down), the hammock area (my daughter is mostly responsible for this), and hiding under the huge wagon wheels people were supposed to be using as makeshift tables. As such, and partly due to the lineup being weak, we ended up frittering away large sections of our time at Psych Fest; for that I’m sorry.
Perhaps next year will be fraught with less peril. Might I also suggest less middle-of-the-road (and often un-psych) rock bands and more experimental musicians? And one more thing: Can Spectrum play next year too?
[Photos: Pooneh Ghana; Illustration: Carolina Purdum]