Faster Than Sound: Unpacking Harry Styles' Austin Run With the Professor Teaching a Class on Him
Texas State's Dr. Louie Dean Valencia offers a crash course in the Harry-verse
Prepare for an influx of feather boas and bell-bottoms later this month. September 25 through October 3, UK superstar Harry Styles graces our shiny new Moody Center with a run of six performances – upped from five by demand for one of the planet's most popular musicians. Austin steps up beside New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Chicago on the block-booked dates around the former One Direction member's third solo record, Harry's House. Launched around $100, very limited Ticketmaster availability now hangs around $600 a pop.
For some insight on local convergence of the Harry-verse, "Faster Than Sound" turns to the world's first-ever professor of Styles, Texas State's Dr. Louie Dean Valencia. Though the associate professor of digital history's course doesn't launch until this spring, the announcement grabbed international headlines. As most of us won't be lucky enough to win a spot in Valencia's class or Styles' ecstatic audience, study up below. (This conversation took place before the star may or may not have spit on Chris Pine at the Venice Film Festival.)
Austin Chronicle: How many nights are you going?
Dr. Louie Dean Valencia: Three nights. So half of them, which I thought was reasonable, sort of. I'm working on a book on Harry right now, and I want to compare audience experiences, so I have one day in the pit and two seated.
AC: His North American tour is made up of 42 shows in just five cities. Why might this residency format appeal to him?
LDV: He hasn't actually had a solo tour stop here in Austin [since 2017 at the Moody Theater], so I think that's part of the intrigue. Houston, San Antonio, Dallas – they've all had shows [in 2021]. A lot of musicians right now, including Harry, are trying to think about how to tour more ecologically. One way is staying put in one place, and having people come to you at their own pace. I know people from other Texas cities that are planning on driving in. It's a little bit of a fight, because of the tiered ticket pricing.
AC: I saw the "dynamic pricing" of Bruce Springsteen tickets. How did it play out here?
LDV: It's a new model to limit scalping, or at least it's Ticketmaster's way of accommodating it. Say you were interested in pit tickets – you could either go for the lower-priced one or the higher-priced one. They were all released at the same time. If you went for the higher-priced one, you were more likely to get it because fewer people were willing to start out high. It stressed a lot of fans out, seeing the chatter online.
It's official, official. I'm teaching the world's first ever university course on the work of #HarryStyles is happening Spring 2023 at @TXST University (see description).— Louie Dean Valencia (@BurntCitrus) July 16, 2022
This is what tenure looks like. Let's gooooo! 😊 pic.twitter.com/1z3vMZoxRV
AC: In July, your Twitter post announcing your class went viral with over 10,000 likes.
LDV: The course is called "Harry Styles and the Cult of Celebrity: Identity, the Internet and European Pop Culture," and the fact that so much attention was garnered for a class of 20 students shows the power of the celebrity. Last I saw, it was covered by over 200 major mainstream media sources worldwide: BBC, NBC. These sources knew: that's clicks. The class is [about media], so there's definitely going to be a week focused on the class' own announcement. It'll get kind of meta.
AC: What makes this Harry's big moment?
LDV: He's probably been the most active touring major artist of the last two years, and has two major motion pictures about to come out – Don't Worry Darling and My Policeman. [In Dec. 2020], he was the first guy to be on the cover of Vogue solo, and wearing a dress. He's on the pulse of what people are thinking is the future for masculinity, but also making public statements about social issues, like he's pledged roughly a million dollars from this American tour to gun violence prevention. He's not the only person saying these things, but he's a big voice.
AC: How does Harry relate to his Texas fans?
LDV: When Harry was in Texas last fall, he donned a pink cowboy hat that a fan threw on stage – which I noticed [kept happening] at almost all the European concerts. This summer, I went to concerts in Manchester, Paris, and Madrid, and I was shocked to see hundreds of fans wearing pink cowboy hats. That's one very specific "Texas to the world" thing we can see.
AC: The New York Times was mildly critical of his recent Madison Square Garden dates.
LDV: Oftentimes critics say, "Well, this is not the show that you thought it would be." For example, I love Adele, and you go to an Adele show to listen to her. A Harry show, you're going there to interact with him – which are totally different types of performers. So if you expect a sort of pin-drop attention to the music, Harry might not be the best concert for you.
First-Year Infinite Hellscape Fest Links Austin and West Texas
Displaying the tendency of band names to lean either dreamily cosmic or punk-ily dejected, when Austin troupes the Infinites and Blank Hellscape teamed up for a show in West Texas last summer, they jokingly called it the Infinite Hellscape tour.
The act of friendship and cross-state musical solidarity expands to the first-year Infinite Hellscape Fest next Thursday through Saturday. Three days of road-tripping gigs stretch across Austin (Sept. 15 at Kinda Tropical), Marathon (Sept. 16 at the French Company Grocer), and Fort Davis (Sept. 17 at Château Wright). Austin and Marathon shows offer separate tickets for $10, while the main event in Fort Davis runs at $40 with discounts for West Texans.
Featuring food trucks, free camping, and swimming at the vineyard's reservoir, the main Saturday event leads with Little Mazarn's minimalist folk and Alexalone's heavy soundscaping. Austin's Shit & Shine, More Eaze, Felt Out, God Shell, and more span 2pm-1am.
Naturally, Thursday's local kickoff features surfy guitar-pop specialists the Infinites – including fest organizers Sam Jordan (Alexalone), Jared Leibowich (The Zoltars), and Dan LeVine (Ghetto Ghouls) – alongside industrial noisemakers Blank Hellscape. The latter band features fellow fest-runners Ethan Billups, Max Deems, and Andrew Nogay. Other Kinda Tropical performers include La Femme Solitaire and Heaven ahead of the festival's main mission: getting a bunch of locally loved acts to convene in the desert.
"The festival focuses on fostering connections between the creative communities of Austin and Far West Texas," writes Marfa-based artist Shea Carley. "These two regions are hotspots for art and music, and we wanted to unify these communities and celebrate the unique qualities of each ... including post punk, experimental electronic, hardcore, singer songwriter, rock, and ambient folk."
Organizers Carley and Michael Stangl provide the westward connection, alongside artists like W. Creeves, Ross Cashiola, Andrew Weathers, and the relocated Marijuana Sweet Tooth. Infinites drummer Jordan adds: "The point is not to make a profit, but to provide a safe environment for friends and artists to experience music, art, food, and nature."
I'm split between an excited Bowie or sad Alex G ("I don't like how things change") nod for this note, as I'm feeling them all. Our ever-charismatic Chronicle Music Editor Kevin Curtin is stepping down to focus on his family (but luckily continuing to write for us). As such, I'm stepping up – but not until the Sept. 29 issue, where you'll hear more on the behind-the-pages shift. Until then, the music news continues!