Faster Than Sound: Unlocking Oblivion Access
Leaving the Austin Terror Fest title behind, Oblivion Access partners Dusty Brooks and Dorian Domi reach for new horizons
According to co-runners Dusty Brooks and Dorian Domi, Saturday of the final Austin Terror Fest presented a test case.
Last June, inside Empire Control Room, New Jersey industrial hip-hop duo Dälek expanded the boundaries of the metal festival ahead of Chicago doom act Indian. Outside, Machine Girl's youthful breakcore made way for TR/ST and Lightning Bolt. In between, Houston's Daikaiju set fire to their instruments.
Hitting an attendance peak behind the weekend's supreme performances, the experiment succeeded. After three years as Austin Terror Fest, Brooks and Domi push forward with a total rebrand as the more genre- neutral Oblivion Access, due June 5-7.
"I feel like our festival has maintained its quote-unquote 'metal legitimacy,'" says Brooks of the pair's game plan for 2020. "We were never going to stray from that, but what's wrong with broadening your horizons?"
This year's lineup pops megawatts Swans, Converge, and Lil Ugly Mane, whose 2015 album inspired the fest's new name. Anna von Hausswolff, True Widow, Despise You, Primitive Man, and Bastard Noise add on, with some 40 more TBA.
"We're bringing the bands metalheads don't admit they like," adds Domi.
The quick rise of the local event, which doubled ticket sales and budget each year, expands to Mohawk this year. Occupation continues at Barracuda and Empire as well. In exiting the Northwest Terror Fest umbrella, the organizers found booking agents were more generous with marquee talent outside the metal box. The final nail in ATF's coffin came when sponsors worried that "Austin Terror" delivered Google results on the local package bombings of 2018.
For his part, Domi relishes the new brand's bright pink aesthetic. The 19-year-old local recently began studying contemporary music at The New School in NYC and draws a thoughtful through line between the partners' divergent bookings. That's illustrated in mercurial Richmond, Va., rapper Lil Ugly Mane (Travis Miller), whose LP Oblivion Access probes grief.
"A lot of the music we book explores death, trauma, or existentialism," explains Domi, meeting up while home for winter break. "The way to remove dissociation and depersonalization in life is not to deny it, but to strive in it. Oblivion Access, for us, is to go deeper and get more in touch with yourself."
Domi and Brooks, 34, who curated at the Lost Well for years as Wounded Earth Booking, make an odd creative pair. The two connected contentiously in 2017 when Domi stole a Conan show out from under Brooks with a better offer. Domi then boldly added Eyehategod to the Barracuda bill, constructing one of his first lineups as Big Man Productions.
Together, the two built a truly independent, nationally recognized festival. When Domi moved to Brooklyn last summer, Brooks planned to pick up most duties for Oblivion Access. The plan altered abruptly in September, when Brooks awoke in the middle of the night with chest pains.
He'd suffered two separate heart attacks, compounding a near-death experience with meningitis years earlier.
"Being faced with your mortality twice in less than a decade sheds a new light on things," adds Brooks. "That really took a toll, physically and emotionally. But the festival kept me occupied."
In the months that followed, Domi booked the majority of Oblivion Access. In recovery, Brooks parted ways with the Lost Well. He now books regularly at Barracuda and Empire, and stays on his feet as a grocery shopper for Instacart. Domi says co-running the Austin festival is the perfect counter-balance to his college coursework.
"Ever since we started working together, we've tried to push it," he affirms. "In a way, we're still using the same tactic I did when I started booking: Taking it as big as you can, within reason."
Creative Space Recommendations Approved, New Blood Takes on HOT Funds
The first Music Commission meeting of 2020 proved a spirited occasion with a slew of new musician attendees hopping on the mic. Before the chatter, commissioners approved recommendations for use of a $12 million bond package for creative spaces.
The memo, created by a joint music and arts group, requests funds "be used to acquire, build, improve or repurpose" a city-owned property with rehearsal spaces, a performance venue, and arts studios, as well as gallery and educational spaces. Staff and administration should be at least 33% from marginalized groups or communities of color. Placement east of I-35 and west of 183 is the top-priority location.
Separate conversation continues on the use of some $3.4 million annually for commercial music under the Live Music Fund. Songwriter Aubrey Hays pushed for application of HOT funds toward a minimum musicians' wage modeled after Fair Trade Music Seattle. At the same time, Batty Jr. rep. Sadie Wolfe suggested a registry of working musicians and venues agreeing to fair practices, similar to the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians' verification process.
Many speakers wanted monies distributed among individuals, rather than through venues. In response, commission member Gavin Garcia pointed out that $3.4 million split between 8,000 HAAM members only leaves around $400 per musician annually. In response, Wolfe said her four-person band was recently surprised to be paid just $100 for a well-attended Free Week show at Mohawk.
"I don't think people understand how little money is being made for the individual band members," she explained. "Even $400 [per person] is still way more money than the $25 I'm making for a packed show."
Erica Shamaly encouraged all musicians to fill out the city survey on the Live Music Fund SpeakUp web page. A working group on the topic hosts its first public meeting on Feb. 3, 2-4pm, at the Economic Development Department offices on Ben White. For their own Feb. 3 meeting, the Music Commission plans to discuss musician pay in Austin and the "agent of change" principle.
Tommy Hancock, heralded as the Godfather of West Texas Music, died Jan. 1 at age 90. Born in Lubbock, the renowned fiddler led the Roadside Playboys and the Supernatural Family Band, then encored his playing days with hoofing it on and off stages around Austin. In 2014, the spiritual musician told the Chronicle, "You can smile your way into heaven. If someone bad-vibes you, smile. It fucks them up!" Read more on our Daily Music blog, or revisit our 2004 cover story, "Roadside Playboys and Texana Dames."
Rich Harney, a pillar of the Austin jazz community, died Jan. 5 at age 65. On the prolific composer and performer, Jay Trachtenberg wrote for the Chronicle in 2008, "Rich Harney's swinging, soulful style has made him a most in-demand jazz pianist for more than two decades, playing with everyone in town from Tina Marsh to Redd Volkaert." The KUTX deejay will tribute Harney on the airwaves this Sunday, 7-10am.