Although my current employment situation is unfortunately going to prevent me from attending, it should be noted that this weekend marks the advent of the 7th annual Austin Psychedelic Music Festival. Mad props are in order to Austin’s very own The Black Angels for continuing to cohesively bridge the gap between various factions of the stoned music community. For the vast majority of my life, organized psychedelic culture has basically consisted of the hippie jam band crowd and the psi-trance Burning Man set. Of course, the vast majority of entheogen voyagers (myself included) don’t conveniently fit into either one of those camps at all. As a teenage head, psych music to me meant things like Sonic Youth, Kyuss, Monster Magnet, classic Verve albums, and the Future Sound of London rather than hippie-dippy crap like the Grateful Dead and Phish, neither of whom come across as particularly psych-ed out to my ears. That stuff does exactly nothing for me when I’m high. Yet I somehow always managed to find albums that pushed me to the farthest reaches of the psychic stratosphere, even when this sort of thing wasn’t considered remotely fashionable. It’s a weird categorization thing. How say, OK Computer wasn’t considered a psych album back in the day I haven’t a clue.
And that’s what’s so great about APF, they put a lot of acts on the bill that wouldn’t typically be considered psychedelic but obviously derive inspiration from internal head tripping. In a lot of cases, that’s the best shit. I’ll never forget watching an interview with Deerhunter (who played the fest last year) where Bradford Cox openly discussed his disdain for popular psychedelic culture and then a minute later started talking about getting high and writing songs – suddenly laughing at the unintentional contradiction: “errrr, I got non-psychedelically stoned”, he clarified. Which is a dance non-traditional psych musicians have had to master for quite some time for fear of being relegated to the pop-cultural ghettos of rave or hippie culture, which traditional media outlets won’t often touch. In contemplating this exact topic not long ago it occurred to me that almost all popular psychedelic bands are simultaneously some of the most divisive around. Seriously, think about it. What do say Tool, The Grateful Dead, Phish, The Doors, and The Mars Volta have in common? They are all enormously popular psych bands that people either obsessively love or absolutely fucking hate. This shouldn’t really be surprising as the music industry is largely funded by alcohol sales. You want to make money playing music? Try cover bands. Drunk people love to hear songs they already know and can sing along with. They don’t even care if they’re singing along with the people who wrote them or not. High people are a tad more in tune with extended noise freakouts and less demanding of predictable order/nostalgia. Why there’s little talk about shifting the revenue stream at live concerts from booze mongering to pot sales with the increasing legality is beyond me, but I’ll keep freaking bringing it up until we start moving in that direction. With all that in mind, here’s a list of the five acts I’d be most excited about catching if going to Austin was in fact feasible for me this year:
1. Bardo Pond – Absolute godhead noise rock legends. In fact, if I would have caught onto their 2013 album Peace In Venus last year, it probably would have made it to like 3 on my trippiest albums of the year list as it’s the best thing they’ve done in quite a while. Sadly, despite being a fan for nearly 20 years now, I still haven’t caught these cats live as of yet. Even with all the other great bands on the bill, I don’t actually think anyone will be able to touch them.
2. Liars – Not typically considered a psych band, and yet, their music is ridiculously trippy and always has been. As a matter of fact, I’ve interviewed these guys a whopping 3 times now. The first time I did Angus was taking bong rips backstage during the entire interview. Despite this, when I asked them about the influence of marijuana on their music a few months before we legalized it in Washington and specifically mentioned that the only reason I was bringing it up involved politics, they completely dodged the question. Do I blame them? Not necessarily. Touring bands need to worry about getting arrested and shit. This is the sad reality we live in. Also, it should be said that I just got their latest album Mess and must say that the critics are clueless on this one. My take, it’s a new Liars album that sounds quite a bit different than every other Liars album I own and is still amazing. When you continually push the envelope, it’s bound to confuse people, which is why it takes so much balls to do so. Thank god we have bands like Liars who refuse to repeat themselves, whether it’s in their short term best interest critically or not. I got into this band in the first place because critics trashed their brilliant landmark, They Were Wrong So We Drowned. When something gets slagged in the press for being too weird, I’m bound to take notice.
3. White Hills – Total psych rock juggernauts who dropped maybe their finest recorded outing last year in So You Are…So You’ll Be. To be honest, this band is so overwhelmingly awesome live that it took me a bit to actually acquire an appreciation for their studio work. The fact that their records steer away from pop hooks and veer more into trance riff head fuck territory baffled me for a bit but I finally got hip upon repeated listens. Maybe it’s the fact that live they have a gorgeous bassist who wears short shorts and rocks a see-through bass, almost inviting you to stare at her crotch that threw me off.
4. Panda Bear – Here’s the part where I admit that I have zero idea what the other dudes in Animal Collective do other than take Panda Bear’s ideas and make them suck. No really. AC are so weird that even heads like me don’t get it as to my ears it’s not a good weird, but a rather annoying one. I’ve tried an hundred times to dig on those vibes and the best I can say is that I’m one of those posers that just wants them to play My Girls, which really, is because it’s the song they do that sounds the most like a Panda Bear cut. Panda makes entire albums that are as good as that song, so I’m not sure why one would bother with AC but must confess that maybe if I listen to the Animal Collective albums I have another hundred times it’ll start to make sense. Maybe not.
5. Earthless – On paper, Earthless are a fairly straightforward proto-typical stoner metal act, granted, one with chops far beyond those of most mere mortal pentatonic wankers. The difference is that Earthless’s instrumental psych jams don’t stop. They just keep swirling and building until your entire sense of time is elevated to the 5th dimension. The last time I saw them, they played a set which consisted of one 35 minute song and it absolutely destroyed. Part concert experience, part endurance contest, my guess is that even if you get a bit bored with their schtick you’ll simultaneously find yourself wondering whether or not they are in fact human beings at all or something much more deliciously cosmic as their name implies.
Well anyway, that list could keep going and going but the best thing about this fest is that despite being an admitted psych music geek, I’ve never even heard of like 80% of the bands playing, which would sort of be the point of attending an event of this magnitude. Clever concert-goers could easily accidentally stumble upon what will soon become their favorite new acid jams or better yet, read through a ton of interviews that Ryan Muldoon (from the Revolt of The Apes website which is one of my favorite things on the net) compiled and plan your day based on what jibes best with your soul structure. If you are anywhere near Austin Texas this weekend, this is the place to be tripsters. Make it so.