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Five Things DTF Taught Me (and the One Thing it Reaffirmed)

Fueled by the likes of Muse, Kings of Leon and Kendrick Lamar, ACL grabbed the lion’s share of headlines the past two weekends, but Raw Paw Zine’s Ditch the Fest Fest 4 & 5 (DTF) shattered any preconceptions that local artists are “inferior” to national headliners with a budget-friendly event at the Historic Scoot Inn.

By Bryan Rolli

I attended DTF both weekends, and besides witnessing some of the most phenomenal performances of my life (and nearly drowning in the process), I took away five excellent lessons and reaffirmed a previously held belief.

  1. When it rains, it pours. And when it pours, moshing to hyper-sexualized electronic music is the best solution. Holiday Mountain stirred up a frenzy at both weekends of DTF. The “space reggae” trio (as UT freshman Andrew Clarkston dubbed them) made hearts drop with its thundering, bass-heavy grooves, and lead singer/organ/synth player Laura Patino enchanted with her delightfully exaggerated Texan accent. While the group took the prize for best audience interaction both weekends, its second performance in the pouring rain — the same storm that shut down ACL the next day — deserves a place in the annals of live music. Hundreds of ecstatic fans slithered, jumped, crowd-surfed and even moshed to the otherworldly tunes – too wet to see more than a foot in front of them, but too enthralled to care. The group concluded its set with a stage dive into the audience, high-fiving every hand within reach along the way. Holiday Mountain embraced all of the virtues of live music: fantastic songs, unparalleled energy, gratuitous audience participation and, above all, raw, unadulterated fun.

    Holiday Mountain at DTF Fest. Photo by Raw Paw

    Holiday Mountain at DTF Fest. Photo by Raw Paw

  2. When an 18-piece band fits on a four-man stage, magic happens. Local funk-rock-rap hybrid SIP SIP sounds likes the result of a collaboration between Chicago, Eminem and the creators of the original Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack. They were set to perform on the outside stage for both weekends of DTF, but last Saturday’s torrential downpour forced them indoors, along with hundreds of audience members that far exceeded the Scoot Inn’s humble capacity. Most groups could have easily adapted to the situation, but there was just one problem: SIP SIP is an 18-piece band. Embodying the old showbiz adage, “the show must go on,” they squeezed onto a stage that even a power trio would consider snug (with the exception of the saxophonists out front who had to climb on stage monitors), and the proceeding set was nothing short of electrifying. The rain-and-sweat-soaked crowd danced so hard that we slid off of one another, and the band engaged us in multiple call-and-response chants that even the most cynical wallflower couldn’t resist. Never mind the rain outside; on this cozy indoor stage, SIP SIP brewed up a perfect storm of its own.

    SIP SIP at DTF Fest. Photo by Bryan Rolli

    SIP SIP at DTF Fest. Photo by Bryan Rolli

  3. Rap collaborations are actually still cool. Eric Mikulak, who goes by the stage name Click-Clack, clearly demonstrated this when he called fellow MC Jack Leahy (AKA Ice Cream) onstage during his 1 a.m. set on the first Saturday of DTF. Together, the duo tore through a yet untitled tune, and Mikulak’s smooth and self-assured flow provided the perfect backdrop for Leahy’s manic, rapid-fire delivery. The two MCs were complementary, not competitive, and rather than adopting the boneheaded macho posture of most mainstream rappers, they simply focused on having a blast while spitting their best verses. The fun onstage was infectious, and the audience went berserk for the performance, as well as the remainder of Mikulak’s dynamite set. (If you’ve never witnessed a Click-Clack show, it is mandatory that you attend the next possible one, if only for the charming anti-Rick Perry sentiment at the end.)

  4. Giant unicorn masks with flashing eyes do not make a compelling stage show on their own. Disappointing, I know. Unfortunately, Total Unicorn just didn’t deliver on the infinite promise their outrageous stage outfits held. The lights dimmed, the projectors showed hellishly psychedelic images on multiple screens and the trio stood silently onstage, their eerily blinking eyes the only sign of activity. Finally, a wave of contorted dance music overtook the audience and for the next 30 minutes … the group just stood there. BORING. Yes, the audience was enrapt, and everybody was guilty (myself included) of dancing in ways unsuitable for human eyes. Still, it was impossible to shake the fact that Total Unicorn’s stage presence was a total drag. They simply fidgeted with their knobs and keys throughout the entire set and occasionally left awkward gaps between songs — a no-no when your success depends completely on audience interaction. Total Unicorn has already nailed the visual gimmickry, but they must improve their onstage persona to make their set a knockout.

    Total Unicorn at DTF Fest. Photo by Bryan Rolli

    Total Unicorn at DTF Fest. Photo by Bryan Rolli

  5. Roger Sellers is NOT a DJ. Hell, his stickers even proclaimed it. Truth be told, I’m not sure what he is. His music is a surreal combination of spacy keyboards, thunderous, tribal drums and fluttery vocals that suggest a man constantly on the brink of an emotional breakdown – all recorded, warped and looped multiple times to give his songs a haunting, ethereal vibe. Sellers wasn’t the most energetic or technically accomplished performer at DTF, but something about his set was unexplainably compelling. Maybe it was the way his hand shook as he wailed into the microphone, pulling it away from his face at the end of every crescendo, allowing the echo and looping to keep the sound alive. Or perhaps it was his total disengagement from the audience and utter absorption in his craft. The man was making music solely for himself, and if we chose to stick around and enjoy it, good for us. I still have no idea how to identify Sellers. And I think he likes it that way.

    Roger Sellers at DTF Fest. Photo by Raw Paw

    Roger Sellers at DTF Fest. Photo by Raw Paw

As for that reaffirmation… 

  1. Austin has the most exciting, diverse and supportive music scene I’ve ever witnessed, bar none. I’m from Philadelphia where nobody has the time of day for any artist that isn’t indie pop-rock or hipster rap (whatever that even means). We northerners like our music spoon-fed to us in a safe environment, never daring to step outside our comfort zone if we can help it. Moving to Austin taught me that this “comfort zone” is just a platitude for the creatively illiterate. If artists have a dream in this city, they can chase it. If listeners are craving something new, they can find it. The incredible give-and-take between both groups ensures new life is breathed into the local scene. Austin is a sanctuary for risk-takers and trendsetters. It earned the title of “Live Music Capital of the World” for a reason, and it’s our duty to keep it that way.

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