In an era when DJs, jam bands and ephemeral Pitchfork darlings play as many corporate festivals as they do regular shows, we live in a golden age of focus-grouped lineups creating a captive market for overpriced fair food and biohazardous port-a-potties. A great many of us are disillusioned with “business as usual” in the music festival game, to a point where even the words “music festival” have the potential to make the event sound less cool.
But once you look beneath Austin City Limits, Austin serves as a music festival oasis. Between Oblivion Access and the return of Austin Psych Fest, the independent promoters there know that the greatest festivals are those where you do not have to leave the comforts of the club environment. But perhaps most significant is that these festivals are organized by actual, honest-to-god music fans who care more about making some cool shit happen than booking an act that will help the draw.
That’s the best of it: The lineups do not settle for an artist who is less than exceptional.
And Oblivion Access has exceptional music down to a science, regardless of whether the artists making it draw 1,000 people or five.
Oblivion Access is an authentic, capital-M, lowercase-f music festival. This isn’t being said to curry favor with a publicist or someone else behind the scenes, but because real fucking music is being curated by real fans just south of I-35.
Here are five festival showcases we’re especially excited about.
Duster, Spirit of the Beehive, Nuclear Daisies
Thursday, June 15, at Empire Control Room (outdoors)
Along with bands such as Low and Bedhead, San Jose rock outfit Duster is a key figure in the “slowcore” movement, a subgenre of indie rock that emphasizes slow tempos, minimalist song arrangements and forlorn tones and lyricism. Their 1998 debut album, Stratosphere, initially underperformed before achieving an online cult following that continues to grow even on social media apps like TikTok.
Stratosphere turned 25 just a couple months ago, but the band won’t be playing it in its entirety (at least, that’s not what they advertised). You’ll have to get acquainted with equally deserving albums like the band’s 2019 self-titled album and 2022’s Together.
The two opening bands for this showcase are also perfect additions. Philadelphia’s The Spirit of the Beehive has released some of the most entrancing lo-fi rock music of late between albums such as Entertainment, Death and Pleasure Suck. Austin’s Nuclear Daisies features Alex Gehring and Daniel Coburn of Ringo Deathstarr fame, and their excellent self-titled album is as atmospheric and hypnotizing as it is noisy and danceable.
Saturday, June 17, at Central Presbyterian Church
Olympia metal band Earth is playing the 1993 album Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version, in its glorious entirety. Nobody is opening, and if you’re old and want to go to bed early on a weekend, you can catch this show and still be home by 9 p.m.
Earth 2 is what would happen if La Monte Young’s Trio for Strings was reimagined by Lysol-era Melvins. At a time when friends of Kurt Cobain’s got signed onto major labels just for having some affiliation with Nirvana, Carlson (who was such a good friend of Cobain’s that he was his best man) remained in the trenches making esoteric music that paved the way for bands like Boris, Sunn O))) and Sleep.
Faust, Beak>, Jarboe, Drew McDowall, USA/Mexico, Thor & FriendsSaturday, June 17, at Empire Control Room (indoors and outdoors)
There is a lot to unpack here. First off, German “krautrock” band Faust (“krautrock” is in quotes since the band apparently hates that genre label) rarely ever makes an appearance in the U.S., and to be able to see them right after seeing Earth play Earth 2 is even wilder.
Not to mention, Geoff Barrow of Portishead’s own Beak> is playing after Drew McDowall and Jarboe, former members of Coil and Swans, respectively.
As if that isn’t already an experimental music fan’s wettest dream, USA/Mexico (which features Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey and Shit and Shine guitarist Craig Clouse) and Thor & Friends (whose namesake, Thor Harris, was a member of Swans and Shearwater and has performed with Xiu Xiu and Bill Callahan) both open.
clipping., Clams Casino, Prison Religion, Domino, Fuck MoneySaturday, June 17, at Mohawk
Many people know Daveed Diggs for his work in Hamilton, but few people know that his experimental hip-hop group clipping. sampled Whitehouse on the song “Wriggle.” (Whitehouse is a British power electronics band. If you listen to them, avoid their sound collage stuff.)
The aptly named clipping. is perhaps one of hip-hop’s most versatile acts. Their 2014 album CLPPNG, for example, does a lot of what the kids call “scaring the hoes,” with Diggs rapping over shrill, beatless feedback on “Intro,” just two tracks before the comparably more polished and commercially friendly “Work Work.”
Kicking off this showcase is Austin’s ferocious Fuck Money, which features members of BLXPLTN and Alton_USA.
Godflesh, Ludicra and ParasiticideSunday, June 18, at Empire Control Room (outdoors)
The last time Godflesh came through Texas was 2014, when the British industrial metal greats played a one-off at Mohawk with Prurient. That was the first time the band had played Texas since 1996.
While industrial metal bands like Ministry leaning more into the stylings of Slayer than Throbbing Gristle, Godflesh did the reverse, and the result was an especially nasty, cacophonous sound that put the band in the same league as other British metal bands like Napalm Death and Carcass. It also served as a blueprint for later metal and hardcore bands like Isis, Converge and Helmet.
Opening this show is the recently reformed black metal band Ludicra and Parasiticide, a band whose sound can best be described as Man is the Bastard-meets-Deicide.
Honorable mentions: Some of the bands playing Oblivion Access, including Narrow Head and SRSQ, are Dallas-affiliated. But here are some other showcases that also deserve a mention:
- Street Sects, Midwife, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Amulets and Succumb, Thursday, June 15, at Elysium.
- Yellow Swans (first show in 15 years!), John Wiese and Closed City, Friday, June 16, at Elysium.
- Lil Ugly Mane (whose song “Oblivion Access” is the namesake of the festival), RXK Nephew and Shelly Knicks, Friday, June 16, at Empire Control Room (outdoors).
- Drain, Drug Church, Magnitude, Gel, Restraining Order, Mugger, Black Mercy, Sunday, June 18 at Mohawk.