When Margin Walker announced that an investor pulled out of Sound on Sound festival last minute, Austin's fringe music lovers cried out in unison. Only the second year of the budding festival, it had a heavy fanbase due to it's outstanding curation that touched on many styles missing from the normal-fare circuit. The cancellation of SoS was a sad state of affairs that bodes poorly for the health of the festival scene at large. That said, Margin Walker's reaction to the sudden cancellation was impressive and indicative that passion will outlast any bubble.
Instead of simply refunding the money to all the sad fans who were foaming at he mouth to go play in the Sherwood Forest Faire, the local promotion company took as many acts as they could and re-booked them in venues all across Austin the very same weekend the festival was supposed to take place. This had the consequence of creating time slot conflicts at venues miles apart, but it also lead to some absolutely outstanding nights at a litany of Austin's coolest venues. We couldn't make it to all the shows they had this past weekend (Nov 10-12) but the ones we did rocked our socks off. Instead of competing for space with a crowd thousands of fans deep, we were treated to the likes of Washed Out, Grizzly Bear, and Lindstrøm, in a crowd of mere hundreds.
Washed Out's show on Friday night was a character study in chilled out lo-fi vibes. Their stage show featured stripped down instrument kits backed by the the lead, Ernest Weatherly Greene Jr., and two more band members who were charged with picking up the pieces when Ernest would reach for the mic. It was impressive to see Ernest in person, as his vocals sounded better live than they come across on the albums. This is not to say this is surprising, as their heavily filtered sound purposely obfuscates the vocal accompaniments, but what was rather surprising was just how much Ernest channeled a Sting in his buttery smooth delivery. The real star of the stage, however, were the tripped out visuals reminiscent of a neon tinged 90s VHS tape that'd been played a few hundred times too many.
By far the highlight of the weekend was the Friday night show at Cheer Up Charlie's. On the bill were THE Juan Maclean, Lindstrøm, and support from Cap'n Tits. All this for 25 bucks, are you kidding me? From the very beginning of the night it was a dance party the likes of which Austin rarely gets a chance to see. The Juan Maclean brought his decades of expertise and a killer set of Bushwick disco sounds that the audience could not get enough of. This continued for well over two hours until Lindstrøm began to set up his laptop and APC. The raucous applause given to Juan the DFA don was commensurate for his unparalleled skill and chops he brought to the decks.
As soon as the CDJs went silent, Lindstrøm's icy synths began their sweet journey to our wanting ears. For any of those who had listened extensively to Lindstrøm in the past, it was a very special treat to watch him craft his space disco firsthand. With remarkable adeptness he was able to weave from his arpeggiated dance tunes to his slow moving glacial grooves. His set had quite the story to it and when the book closed after 90 minutes the crowd demanded encore after encore. With a throw to his Norwegian compatriot he closed with "Lanzarote", a collaboration between him and Todd Terje, that served to wring out all the remaining dance moves the crowd. Speaking of which, the best part about the evening was the fact that only a crowd of about 50 was there to witness the exceptional display of DJs who graced the venue that, on most nights, uses the dance floor as a space for picnic tables.
Rounding out the weekend was a stellar bill of house music sets at local steampunk haunt Vulcan, which is known locally for having one of the best sound systems around. This was a top notch setting for selectors that included Tim Sweeney, Lovefingers, local disco crew Flying Turns, and last but certainly not least, 2 of the 7 members of Hot Chip. Lovefinger played an outstanding set that spanned steamy disco to legit dutch acid house, all the while impeccably mixed. It was a pretty damn good crowd for any night of the week, and the fact that this show took place on a Sunday speaks volumes for the quality of the talent Margin Walker selected to rock the decks. Tim Sweeney had a very special type of sound that bordered on hard-hitting techno and yet had vocal and chord progressions that sounded straight out of new wave pop.
All in all, Margin Walker's recovery from disaster was quite a tribute to the fans. The ticket prices reflected the fact that you would have to buy 8 of them if you wanted to match the festival schedule you had envisioned. Furthermore, Margin Walker treated these makeup shows with the same love and care they gave to Sound on Sound. Wednesday of last week they delivered set times for every single event that took place this weekend, to ensure that the fans were informed enough to be where they needed to be to catch the artists that they cared about. Although the cancellation of Sound on Sound was a massive disappointment, Margin Walker put in significant effort to provide the best experience possible, and for that, they deserve a mountain of praise.
Header image: Growl
Photo credit: Mike Manewitz