Forget ACL, Sound on Sound is injecting its imagination into the Texas festival scene. Last weekend I had a truly magical experience, completely carefree… until the event was suddenly evacuated. We’ll speak more on that later, but first up of course, is the music.
The fairground was small enough to walk in 20 minutes and the crowd, the largest to ever grace the Sherwood Fairground, never felt overwhelming. The music – a mix of indie, rap, and indie rap – was a aural smorgasboard and the accompanying performances were cinematic visual spectacles.
No act epitomized the delight of the weekend like Purity Ring. Swallowed by darkness, the stage was a torch burning through the night. Dressed in a black robe twice his height, Corin Roddick towered stage center, seated behind a semi circular installation of lantern-like midi controllers. Each lantern was a fully functional instrument, as he struck the lanterns they sung out and exploded into exuberant colors. Flanking him were twin cages of dazzling light. Front and center Megan James made the stage her personal catwalk – strutting and radiating decadence in a golden sci-fi dress out of a Metropolis fantasy. I’ve never been much of a fan but Purity Ring blew me away.
They took the stage Saturday night, at the same time as Boyz Noize and Dillinger Escape Plan. I checked out the other sets as well – Boyz Noize threw down the freshest DJ set of the weekend, while Dillinger Escape Plan was thrilling, their melodic brand of metal was a refreshing change of pace. They could have used a larger stage than the Keep, the layout of that particular stage was crowd constrictive, but this did not stop a sea of fans from moshing and crowd surfing as the music drove them. This is their farewell tour, the band just released their last album Dissociation and will be breaking up shortly.
The most interesting set of Saturday night, for me personally, was Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic. Sonic is no longer simply a hypeman. Aesop Rock’s heterosexual life partner now has equal billing and their performance together was drastically different than the five odd other times I’ve witness Aesop Rock in all his glory. Rob owned the stage, confidently commanding the attention of the fans. He’s lost a lot of weight since I first saw him in 2011 and whatever drove him through his journey comes out as pure passion on stage. They played almost entirely music that has come out in the last two years, though Aesop Rock’s career spans almost 20, and this made their set widely different than what I was expecting. Their new music is more bass heavy and conceptually digestible than the record setting lyrics Aesop is famous for. “Dollywood” off of Bestiary and “Lotta Years” from The Impossible Kid were top moments of the set.
Fridays sets were equally as thrilling. Perhaps the most hyped set of the entire event was Death Grips twilight performance on Friday. There was a palpable nervous energy waiting to erupt in the crowd. When MC Ride took the stage he conducted the rapt and ready audience into chaos. The throng exploded into mosh pits far as the eye could see. It seemed like every few seconds I would bump into a familiar face, quite literally. My number one reason for getting into better shape now is to mosh longer and harder at my next Death Grips show. The performance has divided critics, with the Austin Chronicle taking shots at the fans and the band. I, however, was surrounded by people having a unified experience, willing and ready to help anyone who stumbled in the pit or who needed a boost up on top of the crowd. Though the audience was primarily hipsters, what else can you expect from a festival in Austin? Who cares what labels you apply to people when they are just fans having a good time?
Up and comer Denzel Curry threw the fuck down at his set prior to Death Grips. Riding his wave of success from his XXL listing, he separates himself from the rest of the Freshman Class with beats that bang and lyrics which are both hard and substantial. He is by far my favorite rapper XXL recognized this year.
Truthfully though I was more engaged with .clipping – an experimental hip hop group from Los Angeles that I stumbled on after Cursive. Their songs were so catchy I found myself singing along their hooks almost immediately, without prompting. MC Daveed Diggs, much like Denzel, mixes intelligence and word play with attitude in new and innovative ways. He is perhaps more famous for his performance as Thomas Jefferson in the original run of Hamilton – for which he won praise from Barack Obama as well as a Grammy and Tony.
I wish I could talk about my favorite sets from Sunday but the event dropped the ball and evacuated the venue. When I was told by event staff to evacuate I was safe and covered, enjoying the company of fellow festival goers at a bar. We walked back to the camp site, which took nearly a half hour in pouring rain. Shortly after arriving back in Austin we were told to head back to the venue, an hour drive, because the danger posed by the rain was not as bad as originally thought. Though the storm was huge, given the weather troubles that have plagued Texas festivals for years, the event staff should have had better planning for this contingency. I was told the event was canceled and to evacuate, then later told the event was not canceled and to come back.
I also have a suggestion to whoever is coordinating camping for next year – it is very difficult to traverse the camp site because there are no labeled roads and virtually no landmarks at night. I missed Run The Jewels set because it took over an hour to find my campsite and return. Either using street signs or different colored LED lights along paths (like one street with green lights, another with red, another purple, etc) would make the camping much more navigable.
This was the most number of people that has even been at the Sherwood Forest Fair and also the best festival I have ever been to – though admittedly I have only been to a handful. I loved the weekend, everyone I knew who went had a blast, and can’t wait to come back again next year. Thanks SOS!