Austin, Texas. Home of the Longhorns, a budding market for food trucks, arid droughts and dusty air, SXSW, and place of the apparent “weird.” The sixth annual Fun Fun Fun Fest is Austin’s little, independent sister when it comes to music festivals, but since its birth, FFF has grown substantially in size and diversity. The festival showcases artists and comedians with talents spanning across generic labels, but the homey locals also provide an underground feel that bigger festivals simply cannot maintain.
Over the course of the three-day weekend, there was a lot to be seen and heard on four stages in Auditorium Shores and an entire Red District devoted to late aftershows. Here’s a brief recap of the festival highs, lows and the just plain weird.
Friday, November 4
Yacht’s electro-spastic presence was a perfect way to begin my weekend of Southern style fun to the third degree. Though front woman Claire Evans was born on Texas soil, the group and its musical output exists somewhere between earth and the celestial cosmos, an almost imaginary world created by its early inhabitants and later followers. Donning a rather vogue outfit and physicality to her, Evans’ choreographed movements and stage theatrics were nothing short of expectations. Given that much of Yacht is propelled by creative semiotics and bizarre theories, its no wonder the group maintains an eclectic character both on record and clearly in a live setting. Yacht played new and old songs including “Utopia,” “Dystopia (The Earth is on Fire)” and a cover of B-52s “Mesopotamia,” all while making a conscious effort to interact with fans by answering quick questions and grabbing, muffing, and shaking the faces of front row patrons.
The fuss over Terence Malick’s forthcoming heartthrob cast on festival grounds (namely Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara) lent itself to a somewhat distracted crowd once Pictureplane took the opposing half of the blue stage. Regardless, Travis Egedy colored the star struck aura with his frayed blend of diva house and electro beats. Sporting a Bulls throwback tee, flashy jumpman chain and notorious, fingerless gloves, it’s no secret that Pictureplane loves Chicago’s ball team, but if you weren’t aware he dedicated a song to “Michael Jordan and extraterrestrials.” Crowd favorites seemed to be “Reel is a Feeling” and “Post-Physical,” where Edgedy’s whisper soft vocals floated atop swirling synths and an astral backdrop.
A brief hiatus and intermittent Twitter talk about a forthcoming, sophomore LP had this Passion Pit diehard anxiously waiting for the indie-poppers to close out the first night of extreme fun. But what should have been a nostalgic return to the better days of 2009’s Manners and Chunk of Change EP turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. About a quarter of the way through their brightly lit performance, frontman Angelakos addressed what could have been the underlying problem to the evening’s ultimate let down: “We haven’t played together in like a year, so I hope everything’s alright,” he confirmed. Though the dynamics and reconstruction of crowd favorites like “Sleepyhead” and “Let Your Love Grow Tall” distanced themselves from the album recordings, Angelakos’ vocals barely scraped the surface of their once appealing nature. He sounded worn out and unable to hit those freakishly high notes that embody the Passion Pit sound. Despite these disparities, Passion Pit’s set was energetic and picturesque and it was awfully kind of the five-piece to give the crowd a taste of what is to come with two new songs “American Blood,” and one awaiting a title.
B L A C K I E
From start to finish, B L A C K I E and his outlandish appearance during the aftershow at Empire Automotive had your correspondent wide-eyed and eagerly tuned in. The Houston local has flown under the buzz radar, but since FFF Fest promotes a slew of genres and pending artist statuses, B L A C K I E’s concoction of thrash-rap and coined “American grime” jolted the massive speaker setup in what seemed to be a fitting location; a rundown auto repair shop turned venue. B L A C K I E embodied the live energy of a furiously ecstatic John Maus—bashing his head with his mic, pacing throughout patrons, collapsing to the floor and spinning in circles—all while wearing nothing but boxers and boots. His formula combines oddly timed lyrics with tampered metronome patterns that operate in the same sphere as his following contender, Death Grips. To sum up who B L A C K I E is and what his music is all about, check out his debut LP True Spirit and Not Giving a Fuck. (The title says it all, really.)
Death Grips is as raw as freshly slain cattle. Once they took the stage on Friday night, I was torn between the idea of punching my bearded neighbor or confronting life with a renewed sense of self-empowerment. Intentions aside, the atmosphere manifested by the Sacramento groups’ jarring tones and deep—albeit dark—emotions made for unavoidable intensity. Bodies thrashed towards MC Ride’s arm reach, Hella drummer Zach Hill, annihilated his distorted instruments, and the venue speakers sounded to be induced by metaphysical bass. Every Death Grips track from “Giouttine” to “Beware” and “I Want it I Need it (Death Heated)” was a hard hitter, and with such agro-punk attitudes, Death Grips’ live set embraced the gritty realness of an underground hip-hop act overrun by progressive metal head spectators. Overall, music that demands emotion from its listeners, whether that emotion is positive or negative, seems to propel Death Grips to keep moving forward with their rap-punk game.
Headlining Friday’s aftershow at Empire was the deranged and sexually oriented stylings of NY rapper, Kool Keith. Cultivating more than a decade’s worth of his self-invented “horror core” (aka “porncore”) output, Keith is somewhat of a legend when it comes to raunchy lyrics and questionable motives. That said, Dr. Octagon was over 20 minutes late to his scheduled time slot, but the ludicrousness didn’t end there. To put it simply, Keith sauntered on stage wearing a purple sequined scarf wrapped around his head and sunglasses in a naturally dark venue. He began his set by repetitively saying “Yo Austin, can you feel me?” and “It’s dark in here, I can’t see nothin'” for three minutes (give or take) before fumbling into past tracks and a half-assed attempts at freestyling. His talent as an MC really took off when Keith deftly rhymed the city of Austin with Boston, though no semblance or explanation was provided. To Keith’s defense, it was around 1 a.m. and 98 percent of the crowd had spent the day/night killing brain cells, so his performance was nothing short of entertaining.
Saturday, November 5
Merrill Garbus’ colorfully organic presence on FFF Fest’s main stage Saturday afternoon shone bright despite rolling, grey clouds and the potential for light showers. Although the parched Texan soil never received liquid nourishment, tUnE-yArDs fans both old and new were showered with Garbus’ powerful vocals and innocent energy. Her personal character coupled with an impressive stage lineup furnished such a pleasant atmosphere, it was hard not to buy into her bouncy dance tunes and cheery emotions. Everything from ukeleles, neon brass hues, glass bottles and playful loops shaped what we know and love about tUnE-yArDs favorites, including songs from this year’s w h o k i l l and earlier tracks from 2009s Bird-Brains.
If asked to pick the most memorable performance of the weekend, Anthony Gonzalez and his dream-pop outfit M83 take the cake and eat it in heaping spoonfuls. The set began on a rocky note because of minor technical issues with their vocals during “Intro,” but it didn’t take Gonzalez and Morgan Kibby long to recover. Playing tracks from Saturdays=Youth and this year’s acclaimed Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, M83’s showcase felt immense in sound and significance, yet seemed weightless in the crowd’s acceptance and response. Bodies swayed in a peaceful fashion for “Kim and Jesse” and other slow-paced songs, but “Midnight City” and “Steve McQueen” livened the crowd energy.
What doesn’t Donald Glover do? The actor/model first launched his career with a role in NBC’s hit series “Community” before dipping his toes in standup comedy and the abstract rap game. Glover’s witticisms crack smiles in the comedy realm, but his jokes also prove to translate into facetious punchlines when he performs under his rap moniker, Childish Gambino. Inching his way towards cumpolsory stardom, Gambino’s live performance Saturday evening displayed his diligence towards making a name for himself in music. With a full band and violinist to accompany a slew of old/new tracks, Gambino’s set was a blend of tasteful rock-rap. Most notable was some features from the upcoming Camp album and the always popular “Freaks and Geeks” and “Lights Turned On.”
Sunday, November 6
Baths’ noisy presence on stage was, for the most part, welcomed with open arms and sparkling eyes. Playing mostly from Cerulean, Baths toyed and twisted with his muscular beats, and the crowd seemed to appreciate every kink, crunch and swish that was reproduced in a live setting. Will Wiesenfeld’s radiance as a focused performer and avant beatmaker definitely set him apart from previous electronic sets on the blue stage. Not to mention, Baths couldn’t have played at a more suitable hour as the sky began to paint itself pretty before turning prematurely dark after a night of saving daylight. Colors beamed through the dusk sky, chillwave poured from the speakers and the festival had an alluring sensation in its final hours.