Juan Carlos says he booked the first annual This is Austin, Not that Great, a punk and hardcore festival that unfurled earlier this month, largely for himself. “I wanted to see the bands I want to see,” he says. “It sounds selfish, but I made it happen, and I’m glad everyone else got to enjoy it, too.” In a way, it’s a positive message, and a contrast to the person who, a few weeks before the fest, publically shamed someone for asking for a hotel recommendation. And told them not to come.
Each day began with matinée shows at Hotel Vegas, intended to highlight lesser-known acts, such as Soy Babies. The Dallas/Forth Worth act played slow moving but rancorous punk in the style of Flipper or No Trend. Nihilistic beyond her years, vocalist Blair Dunkin already seemed sick of audiences. Soy Babies contrasted with Digiboys, Devo obsessives from McAllen, TX, whose performance was one the of the weekend’s very most manic on account of vocalist Josh Flores, who twitched and writhed on stage, eyes bulging every time his mouth opened. Other notables included Wite Wash, whose feedback-laden hardcore accounted for perhaps the weekend’s most violent set. The vocalist tried, unsuccessfully, to staple a cactus to his forehead, and eventually settled for the puncture wounds.
At night, the fest shifted to the Spiderhouse Ballroom, the main venue. It’s not known for hosting punk gigs, meaning local punks murmured concerns about the staff’s decency. (And they were fairly tolerant of everything but the crowd’s major transgression: firecrackers in the pit, during a set by Denton standbys Wiccans on Friday night.) Which gets at the distinguishing part of the event: Texas hardcore bands appeared in force and took ownership, as if they had something to prove. Attendees crossed state and country lines for the event. And regional acts seemed to play harder or looser, anything to leave a mark on the audience.
Glue, the stripped-down hardcore pride of Austin, easily received the best introduction, from Swervy of Sexpill: “When you’re from Houston, you fuck with DJ Screw. When you’re from Austin—you fuck with GLUE!” At one point, vocalist Harris Greenwood’s microphone broke. Rather than stop the set to fix it, Glue played on while Greenwood clambered into rafters. Once it worked again, Greenwood appeared to release a new EP, hurling two boxes of tapes into the middle of the pit while the band started a new song. Attendees dashed to snatch copies—in the middle of the pit—only to later find each one blank.
The true highlight of the fest might have been New York outfit L.O.T.I.O.N. On Friday night, either everyone is too tired to move or too tired to try to understand them. Cybernetic industrial punk built from equal parts samples, beats, and static, L.O.T.I.O.N. is fronted by Alexander Heir, whose distinctive artwork will be familiar to anyone with at least a passing interesting in the contemporary underground. Clad in a camo cloak, Heir spewed dystopic visions of a deeply paranoid police state. Emil Nasdor, who’s also in Dawn of Humans and Hank Wood & the Hammerheads, should have been hampered by constantly triggering samples, yet he managed to merge them perfectly with assaultive drumming. The distorted bass almost engulfed every other sound on stage, yet it was kept at just the right volume to contribute to the discord.
The letdowns of the fest were few and mostly on account of technical mishaps. Dye’s set was plagued with problems, namely a chronically mute microphone. And Cremalleras, the Monterrey duo whose 2013 LP updated and harshened the Avengers’ late-1970s work, sounded thin on stage and under-rehearsed, in the wrong way. Granted, this was all on the third day of This is Austin, and the audience seemed understandably weary. Crazy Spirit, one of the best-known New York punk bands in recent years, made a valiant effort to end the fest right. But by then, at 1:10 in the morning, everyone was exhausted. The pit mustered little passion—until Greenwood threw himself from the stage and into crowd, rousing the last bit of momentum from everyone, a final eruption. With one last muddled and distorted chord, it was over. And vocalist Walker Behl ended the fest on an absurdist note, awkwardly muttered Alicia Keys’ hook from “Empire State of Mind”.