I last spoke with Dusty Brooks and Dorian Domi in January 2020, when they'd recently announced an evolution of their 3-year-old Austin Terror Fest with the new name Oblivion Access. For an absolutely landmark rebrand year, they'd booked Lil Ugly Mane – whose 2015 album inspired the fest's new name – alongside an impressive lineup of cult favorites and rising rarities in the realm of heavy music. Naturally, it didn't happen.
The June 2020 festival was postponed, re-announced for 2021, and then pushed back again.
Two years delayed, no one would fault the independent fest for returning on its last legs. Rather, Brooks and Domi spent isolation plotting bigger acts across rock, punk, hip-hop, electronic, and experimental. Expanding to four days, May 12-15, Oblivion Access adds over 50 acts from 2020, totaling over a hundred across Downtown venues.
On getting the comeback together, Brooks recalls: "At that point it had been two years. People had been waiting. Some people were getting pissed. It was like, 'Let's go big or go home. Two festivals in one. Let's try to knock everyone's socks off. Come what may.'"
Alongside previously booked artists like rapper Lil Ugly Mane and punk representatives Converge and Youth of Today, new additions of Blonde Redhead, Danny Brown, the Microphones, and Grouper push the festival where it's never gone before. (Find a thorough rundown of lineup recommendations here.) With no question of their return, Brooks and Domi spent the pandemic swapping YouTube videos and lineup ideas.
"Our 2020 lineup was bringing our past audience over from Austin Terror Fest, but this year is about doing exactly what we want," says Domi, wearing a Massive Attack T-shirt and a silver pentagram ring. "During COVID, we were both wide-eyed. That's what brought us to this lineup – dreaming and isolation. We're not really into moving laterally with this festival. It's about forward movement."
"You don't get anywhere running side to side," adds Brooks, in one of many East Texan quips following his partner's sentiments. His big silver ring has a marijuana leaf.
The odd pair, over a decade apart in age, both originate from the metal scene. They connected over a booking spat in 2017, when Domi stole a Conan show out from under Brooks with a better offer. An Austin native, Domi studies contemporary music and visual art at NYC's New School and navigates the festival he co-founded as a teen clashing with spring finals. Brooks, after booking the Lost Well for years, now works days as a cowhide rug-maker. He had to speed away from our interview, in his copper-colored vintage van with a star-shaped porthole, to sell an amp to a member of the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
So how does an eclectic festival without any outside investment survive a pandemic? Postponing, rather than canceling, to rollover 2020 passes was essential to keeping the business afloat. Oblivion Access did offer refunds after the 2022 lineup was announced, but the majority of fans held on. Additional four-day passes sold out in under 30 minutes, mostly to the festival's growing out-of-town audience from Japan to Australia.
With many tickets still available for individual showcases (at oblivionaccessfestival.com), walk-up tickets will also be available for sold-out sets at the door, space permitting. The Tetris game of venue capacities, across Empire, Mohawk, the Belmont, Elysium, and Valhalla, led to separate ticketing at Central Presbyterian Church. The unorthodox setting hosts the Microphones' first local performance in over two decades, as well as the set I'm personally most excited for: Grouper. The rarely seen ambient project of Oregon's Liz Harris hasn't played Austin since 2013, also at the church for Chaos in Tejas – a cited inspiration of Oblivion Access.
On arranging Grouper, Domi says: "I remember when we talked to the agency, they were like, 'Either you guys are going to book them or no one will. There hasn't been a ton of interest from other promoters to bring Grouper to Texas.' That's one of the reasons we wanted to do it."
With growing national interest, the fest teams up with recognized names like Revolver Magazine, BrooklynVegan, and The Hard Times. They also collaborated on Friday's Mohawk lineup with A2B2, the creative agency of Andy Morin from Death Grips. Domi exchanged emails with the producer at A2B2's Night of Fire festival in New York, ushering Morin's first Texas solo set. The organizer knew they'd work well together after reading an interview in which, Domi paraphrases, Morin said something like: "We don't really worry about money. We just worry about the lineup and people will show up."
There's many other specialties in the underground assembly: a solo set from rapper Billy Woods, also on the bill with troupe Armand Hammer; Full of Hell performing the entirety of Trumpeting Ecstasy; a rare Texas reunion of death metal band Massacre. The bookers mention Xiu Xiu includes drummer David Kendrick, a former member of Sparks and Devo.
"We've always dreamed of having a band play an album in its entirety or do some crazy stuff," says Brooks. "They're catching on to, 'Oh, this festival is kind of going to let us do whatever the hell we want.' Within your allotted set time, as long as it's legal within the state of Texas, have at it. It's really cool to give a band creative control."
With artist reps now reaching out to them, Brooks and Domi's plan for 2023 is already shaping up. For now, find more activations in the mix below.
NIGHT SHOWS: Details still TBA at print time, Oblivion Access will host nightly aftershows from 11pm to 4am off the Red River grid. Saturday night, Lil Ugly Mane offers a noise set in addition to his headlining hip-hop booking. The secret-location party in an airplane hangar was planned in collaboration with Austin's Death of Affect Booking (@doa.booking on Instagram).
FREE VENDOR VILLAGE: Thursday through Sunday, Eastside hangout Native Hostel hosts the free-for-all festival headquarters from 2 to 6pm. Night Swim Project, a women-run print shop out of Minneapolis, pops up with artists Thomas Hooper, Jacob Bannon, and Keenan Bouchard screenprinting on-site. For vinyl fans, Revolver Magazine curates a record shop, alongside the official merch store with festival and performer goods.
RON ATHEY: One heavyweight hides at the bottom of the poster for Friday at Mohawk. During the Andy Morin-headlined show on the outdoor stage, brave fans can venture inside for the intense, sometimes bloody artistry of Los Angeles-based Ron Athey. Toting decades of highly influential work in the realm of extreme performance art, the 60-year-old's prickly live productions often play with masculinity and religious iconography. In addition to Xiu Xiu's Saturday set, band members back Athey in a special collaboration.
HARD TIMES COMEDY: Thursday, May 12, 7-9pm, punk-beloved satirical outlet The Hard Times curates a stand-up showcase at Valhalla. Hosted by site founder Bill Conway, comedian and character actor Eddie Pepitone headlines with a résumé spanning Bob's Burgers to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Texas favorites JT Habersaat, the McCuewans, Ray Porter, and Arielle Isaac Norman join. The event is open to all festival badge holders.
Check out our breakdown of the bands at Oblivion Access here.
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