Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Dániel Perlaky, Tyson Wirtzfeld & John Laird
Fun Fun Fun Festival :: 11.08.08 & 11.09.08 :: Waterloo Park :: Austin, TX
Fun Fun Fun Fest has been referred to as SXSW and Austin City Limit's "upstart younger sibling." Picturing those three sitting down for Thanksgiving, the cynical side of me imagined SXSW as the oldest, maybe a lawyer, who dashes back to the kitchen to check his Blackberry every ten minutes while gravy congeals on his stuffing. ACL is the middle sibling who used to be a big hippie, and now shops at Whole Foods and attends an expensive yoga studio to try and rectify their past idealism with the realities of their upper middle class existence. FX3 would then be the youngest, maybe an anarchist or a staunch atheist, gushing torrents of Chomsky and stabbing at their overcooked Tofurky with a fork.
|Fun Fun Fun Fest 2008 by Perlaky|
Maybe it was the lineup, with a main stage revolving around all hardcore and punk acts – including some serious veterans you had to respect (Adolescents, D.O.A., a Cro-Mags incarnation, ALL, Killdozer not to mention headliners Dead Milkmen and Bad Brains) - and a center stage showcasing several indie up and comers and critical champions, along with a dance/hip-hop oriented stage and a wee stage in the back for comedy and acoustic acts (headlined by Neil Hamburger and the Tim and Eric Awesome Show). Maybe it was the relative intimacy of the fest itself, especially compared with the two other Austin behemoths, where you need a Christmas stocking full of trucker speed and a cloning device to see it all. Maybe it was the quirky local vendors, where you could get a coffee from Spider House Café or a brat from Best Wurst or even a slice of vegan pizza if so inclined. Whatever it was, this festival definitely felt a bit upstart. Only in its third year, it still had that air of youthful petulance and organizer hands-on attention. Sure, I could have done with longer sets for some acts, although the split set-up on the punk and indie stages meant one act could set up while another played, so the music moved nonstop (and for punk, short and powerful is often the way to go). For me, it was a chance to explore some unusual musical territory and reconnect with my inner punk rock girl. So, here's a recap of my weekend at the black sheep of Austin's festival family.
Wake up and rage. Taking a cue from the Dead Kennedys satirical approach, Austin's own punkers the Yuppie Pricks embodied the targets of their satire - sporting neon golf suits, with a Sarah Palin dancer in tow and spouting stage banter about how awesome those days in the frat house were (you know, slipping roofies into girls drinks and performing vaguely homoerotic initiation rituals – then turning around and voting Republican). With songs like, "Fuck You I'm Rich" and "Greed Is Good," they ain't going for subtlety. And I now have a burned in my brain image of Trevor Middleton pouring beer over his exposed ass, which apparently a fan drank, although logistically, I didn't catch how that went down from where I was standing (was said beer caught in a cup or simply poured into the mouth directly? Am I really contemplating the physics of this?). But I do know the fan was happily a member of the frat after that. Props for their belligerently funny class warfare.
|Grampall Jookabox :: FFF Fest 2008 by Laird|
We wandered over to Stage 2 to catch the last few songs of Grampall Jookabox, aka one-man mission David "Moose" Adamson. Although hardly the first artist ever to unpack a band out of instrumental loops, his grungy beats, punky basslines and falsetto soul wail had the tiny crowd rapt. Performing a song called "The Girl Ain't Preggers" to close out his set, he danced his way across the front of the stage, dredging up the oddities and paranoias of his subconscious and funneling it through a sampler darkly. This was incredibly intriguing, rootsy, beat-driven music for the terminally weird. I definitely dug it.
Setting off on a meeting-up-and-lunch mission in the press area, I heard some of Terp 2 It on Stage 4. When the husband and I first entered the festival we were accosted by a Bible-thrusting gentleman in a suit that urged us in preacher intonations to see "the wonder of this act" (something to that effect). Looking on stage, I recognized that man as part of the show. There was a plant in the audience convulsing with the power of Chris Trew, a local comedian and geek MC, the power of Terp compelling him. I spotted Trew wandering around all day. Then again, it's hard to miss a mustachioed Jesus with a shiny gold wrestling belt. Lord have mercy.
|El Paso Hot Button by Perlaky|
Stage 2 called us back for El Paso Hot Button. Another one-man creation, this didn't grab me as much as Grampall did. Although imbibed with plenty of passion, with a voice that recalled Jack White at moments, I found the music to be a bit dirge-like and uninvolving. Plus, I could hear some screaming punk in the distance and found myself drawn back to Stage 3 and Austin's Krum Bums. Not running on satire as much as guzzling pure, righteous anger, this was straight up brutal and just bloody exciting to watch. Lead singer Dave Tejas shot down beers like a shortage was imminent, scaling the stage scaffolding, up the side and then over the top, clutching the bars like he was in an army training exercise and screaming into the mic while hanging above the stage. The pogoing throng near the front threw themselves at the raw bile coming at them. The cathartic release of a hardcore punk show leaves you feeling both bruised and oddly cleansed, like a simultaneous baptism and punch in the stomach, and Krum Bums owned the stage in that respect.
Contrast this to Will Johnson's musings from Stage 1 during Centro-matic's set. "The last four days have felt positive," he mused, one of many artists to make reference to the Presidential election. Austin is an island of blue in a red sea after all, and most in the city had been walking on air since Election Tuesday. Centro-matic stews in the best from alt-country and lo-fi, but it runs on the pulse of the prolific Johnson's songwriting and the spring lock kinetic release of the surrounding band. I think a longer stage time would have benefited this set, which started off as a bit of a slow burner. "Flashes and Cables" got a robust crowd response, "Calling Thermatico" (from Fort Recovery) showed off drummer Matt Pence's skills and closer "Fidgeting Wildly" was one of those songs that gives you that roller coaster drop sensation in your stomach, like your heart's been broken and exposed but this is the bandage. Half an hour was not long enough for this set, which felt like it was just taking off when their stage time was over.
Bishop Allen's set was regarded highly by many, but although I found them pleasant enough musically and energetic onstage (in spite of the midday sun, which reminded us it may be November but this is still Texas, beotch), they just didn't have anything to distinguish them from the other Shriner cars in the indie pop parade. I guess given the choices I just preferred Swingin' Utters, who tore up Stage 3 with meaty doses of no frills street punk. Vets of the California revival of the late 1980s/early 1990s, they've kept that blue collar persistence pumping strong. I eventually found myself at Stage 4 and the delirious dreamscape/nightmare of Octopus Project, who had impressed me at ACL (read the review here). Slow tinkling chimes, teasing squirms and low growls would break with a sudden, vociferous left hook you weren't anticipating - damn cool. They employed some big dancing ghost creatures, which gave the stage the feeling of an acid-fueled trek through a fabric store.
|Centro-matic :: FFF Fest by Perlaky|
Trekking across the park for Killdozer, I realized I just really love saying their name in an exaggerated evil voice and shaking my fist in the air. The grind core pioneers (circa 1983) have just recently gotten back together. So heavy they will snap your arms and lumbering like a semi trying to bust its way up Pike's Peak, they loosely wrap creeping guitar drones over huge, loose basslines and the snarling vocals of frontman Michael Gerald. I dug it, especially Gerald's misanthropic stage banter, which he delivered in a voice one shade less melodious than his singing voice. "My mom's not really dead, but she almost is - she lives in Arizona," he growled at one point. Later he cried, "Thank you, Oklahoma!" If you know even the slightest thing about college football that's a big no no in Austin. Judging by the mischievous look on Gerald's face, he could give a fuck. And guitarist Bill Hobson puts most young bucks to shame with his antics.
I caught the end of the irony of ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead playing with Brackenridge Hospital in the background. Ominous buildups, fast tempo changes and a rhythm section with dueling drummers to rip you a new one, what I witnessed was engaging. The show built to a peaking fervor and ended with a furious scream. The enthusiastic crowd had pounded out quite the brown dust cloud, which was hinting at what was in store for our lungs for the rest of the weekend. That's just an unavoidable reality of urban fests, especially in Texas. Still, next year I'm bringing a bandana and rocking the "off-to-rob-a-bank" look.
|Deerhoof :: FFF Fest 2008 by Perlaky|
Dusk and dust settled into darkness and it was time for Brownout. This is a slightly pared down version of Grupo Fantasma bushwhacked through its psychedelic side, getting lost after a few left turns and running out screaming and naked under trailing desert stars. This was where the jam was hiding all weekend - nasty space funk with lots of sexy, wah-wah guitars, courtesy of Adrian Quesada and Beto Martinez, the latter giving us a tune entitled "The Sexican." If Santana and Galactic ate insanity peppers together at a chili cook-off it might sound something like this. When an enthusiastic individual hollered wild in the front, Quesada said, "We got that feeling, too, bro, but we don't need to smash guitars." They let the sonic exploring do their shit kicking. Rounded out by a tight rhythm section and killer horns, I felt it for sure.
Critical darlings Deerhoof balanced a sense of performance with serious instrumentation, and unlike some other bands that get slapped with the vague "experimental" label, they do it all with a massive sense of fun. It was a blast to watch. Frontwoman Satomi Matsuzaki sported a massive tiger mask, which she would turn around so she could face out and sing, and then turn back to groove in as a tiger lady while the rest of the band leapt and threw their heads around. Combusting moments of indie arts and crafts with sonic garage aggression that reminded me of The Woods-era Sleater-Kinney at times, they set it alight with strange time signature shifts that almost veered into free jazz. I would have stayed for longer, but a trusted buddy recommend that I check out Dan Deacon so I migrated back to Stage 4.
Deacon is a consummate showman, and he managed to attract a good portion of the photographers at the fest to snap pics of his Technicolor happening. Deacon doesn't seem interested in being another shit hot superstar electronic artist. He plays from the audience, not from some lofty booth above the crowd, bringing the party to the people with giddy dance music that's a little bit goofy and makes everyone act refreshingly uncool. More power to him. He is excellent at creating an atmosphere that operates by its own rules, where you have to greet strangers as par for the course. Music wise, there's a lot of uncanny video game noises mashed up with funky structures and driving beats, but there's craft and composition surrounding it all. Deacon after all is a composer as well as a musician, so he draws scenes that burst out of easy techno boxes. I missed the very end, but apparently his mixer choked at the end of his set, finishing it in an unplanned organic fashion.
|Dan Deacon :: FFF Fest 2008 by Wirtzfeld|
On the way to ALL, I paused for a moment to watch Atmosphere. I didn't find their stage presence to be particularly dynamic, although I did enjoy basking in Slugs' "Sunshine," where he captures hangovers and the weather-induced mood boost nice and simply. It's a sweet sentiment that left me rolling on to Stage 3. They were tearing through a high-energy show, and it's only a shame there wasn't light on the half pipe for the skaters. With plenty of sing-a-long breaks for the audience and stage diving galore - kudos to security on that stage for letting it all go down - they provided pop-punk salvation a-plenty. Just hearing this music provoked strong memories of being thirteen, holding an ex's hand, frayed Independent Truck Co. hoodie shoved over our entangled fingers and walking towards the park at night. I told my mom I was sleeping over at Laura's but me and my boyfriend went to smoke Rhode Island shwagg at the park and look at the lights of Warwick across the bay.
I was snapped out of my reminiscing by my partner-in-crime urging us to go see Tim Fite. Part surreal power point presentation and part kids sing-a-long - if you are a particularly disturbed child - Fite walks that fine line between brilliance and insanity. Looking like a used car salesman with his sideman Sexy Leroy backing him up, his blend of anti-folk and hip-hop recalls early Beck, whereas his gritty side taps a bit of Tom Waits. But Fite is his own animal, strutting with bulging eyes and waving arms. I really enjoyed this set, which featured moments of intense silliness – from leading everyone in "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" to a, er, heart warming tale about a cat and a bird called "Jo Jo and Bobby Stab a Motherfucker" – to more biting, satirical work. I particularly dug "More Clothes," which is a damn catchy stab at empty materialistic posing, and the surprisingly pretty "Away from the Snakes." On "Heavens to Betsy" he warbled, "The Man's out to get me." As HST said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
|The Dead Milkmen :: FFF Fest by Wirtzfeld|
My husband stayed for some of the comedy stylings of Neil Hamburger, and I would have too if he hadn't been clashing with the riot on Stage 3, although I did hear "Three Piece Chicken Dinner" from Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners fading with each step I took closer to Dead Milkmen. The undisputed kings of the weekend provoked hilarious madness, and you couldn't escape the infectious joy in the audience, with a guy even jumping onstage at one point to hug Rodney Anonymous and bouncing back down to the crowd just as quick. It was one of those sets where every song elicited cheers and you could scream the fantastically goofy lyrics with your neighbors. That's what so bitingly brilliant about the Milkmen – if only most of us could just learn to swallow reality, or just plain absurdity, with such fearless humor. We got the songs we wanted to hear – "If You Love Someone Set Them on Fire," opener "Punk Rock Girl," "Beach Party Vietnam," "If I Had a Gun," their cover of Daniel Johnston's "Rocketship" and plenty of hyper enthused commentary from Anonymous, who kept the hour set moving at a breakneck speed. The crowd in front was surfing and jumping nonstop, even in between songs, prompting Anonymous to say, "Don't tell the deaf kids there's no music." The election results had him obviously elated, although he took a shot at Sarah Palin, saying she "blew all the roadies from Van Halen" during "Right Wing Pigeons." Over the walking bass intro to "Bitchin' Camaro," where he celebrated Obama's victory and reminded us we have work to do, he proclaimed, "Obama owes me."
"What does he owe you?" guitarist Joe Jack Talcum asked.
"What kind of car?"
"A bitchin' Camaro!"
Okay, we saw it coming for miles but everyone still went wild. Anonymous tried to crowd surf with his keyboard during one of the encores. End result: someone in Austin probably has a new keyboard, although what shape it's in after an audience beating is anyone's guess. If you didn't have fun at this set, I would have taken your pulse. Leaving Waterloo Park, I was high on my own giddiness.
Continue reading for Sunday's coverage...