Faster Than Sound: Infinite Hellscape Brings Austin Eclecticism Into Focus Under West Texas Stars
Camping at the first-year Austin/Marathon/Ft. Davis fest
I almost couldn't stomach Blank Hellscape's brutal industrial clamor for the third time in three days. Maybe it was the Last Supper-ish long table setup, with precariously stacked amps behind and Andrew Nogay pontificating out front. Maybe it was the surrounding mountains and crystal-clear Milky Way above, where Felt Out's Walter Nichols showed me Saturn's rings through a telescope. Maybe it was the integration of techno beats, but just before midnight outside Ft. Davis, I got into it. Festivals ideally present an environment to pay attention, which meant scurrying dogs and a musician-heavy audience of some 150 on the final night of the first-year Infinite Hellscape.
Under painfully blaring sun and then cool pitch darkness, the intense setting boosted Austin familiars to play the best I've seen from them yet: like locked-in Alexalone – announcing their last show with Lomelda's Hannah Read as third guitar, violist/vocalist More Eaze – previewing a new solo LP come November, or electro-pop engagement from aforementioned Felt Out. After recent years of packed Big Bend reservations limiting my typical westward excursions, the best find was the willingness of a generally insular Austin scene to travel six hours to hang out, use port-a-potties, and camp next to each other in a long row next to harvested grape vines. The Saturday event finalized a three-day run across Austin's Kinda Tropical, Marathon's the French Company Grocer, and finally Ft. Davis' Château Wright Winery, whose spring-fed swimming reservoir and food trucks helped sustain a full day and night in the desert.
The concept of the festival grew from a shared bill between Blank Hellscape and the Infinites last summer at French Co., an ideally stocked general store and patio combo with posters for Butch Hancock, Ralph White, and a John Prine tribute on the bathroom walls. The venue – worth a stop on a West Texas musical itinerary with locales like Terlingua's Starlight Theatre or Marfa's Lost Horse Saloon – felt receptive to the fest's intense-leaning eclectic choices beyond singer-songwriter. The guy grilling tacos, after the burgers ran out, shouted along to rowdy area troupe Trunk (connected to Austin label Digital Hotdogs). Upon returning to the grocer for substance the next morning, before the hour drive to Ft. Davis, I overheard a cowboy-hatted local: "You should have seen last night. This place is going to smell like Downtown Austin for a month."
Trunk and Plastidip repped a run of fest-participating affiliates of Austin-launched symphonic network Mother Falcon, a few of which made a group move to Alpine. The soft ambience of Greenwood, new ensemble of Falcon principles Clara Brill and Nick Gregg, marked my favorite West Texas-sourced encounter. Infinite Hellscape also invited an Alpine-relocated edition of longtime-local hazy country crew Marijuana Sweet Tooth. Alongside the prominent ex-Austin contingent, Saturday brought unheard-to-me capital-sourced acts into focus.
A.L. West soothed with indie rock shagginess led by Daniel Bryson, formerly of Dude Elsberry. After dark, Heavy Meddo debuted a new collaboration between longtime experimental compatriots Ethan Smith, Jordan Johns, bow-playing guitarist Jonathan Horne, and vocalist Bill Baird, who immediately broke the mic stand and toyed with various rock-flavored tracks on a laptop laid in the dirt. The fest's substantial curation in the noise arena also provided my first experience with Austin's Shit and Shine, frequently Euro-touring project of sound-collaging Craig Clouse (USA/Mexico) with live drummer George Mayo, who flew down from D.C.
Before the festival's West Texas component, I played viola with La Femme Solitaire at the local Kinda Tropical kickoff – also a chance to experience new Austin hardcore project Heaven, helmed by Chronophage's Casey Allen, who kept called the venue "sorta mid." The parking lot show started nightly performances by co-presenting festival namesakes Blank Hellscape and the Infinites, with percussion for the latter provided by central organizer Sam Jordan.
The type of person who would probably manage to stay upbeat for the entirety of a family vacation, and also drums in Alexalone, Jordan's emphatic cheers cut through the crowd for every band ("Go Felt Out! Woohoo!"). Jordan hopes to hold another Infinite Hellscape next year. With recent-memory area musical convergences like Terlingua's Spatula City Limits and Marfa Myths seemingly on pause, the team may be onto something, especially as Texas Monthly recently called Ft. Davis "the destination for people who can no longer tolerate the escalating swishiness of nearby Marfa."
Can sponsored music competitions save us? In a wave of matching food & beverage companies with local industry, Wild Turkey reenlists Matthew McConaughey in a new partnership with nonprofit record label Spaceflight. Until Oct. 19, artists can enter via social media "for a life-changing chance to be mentored by Spaceflight Records." The brand also promises bar proceeds from an Oct. 8 Downtown pop-up concert – featuring Heartless Bastards, Greyhounds, and Kalu & the Electric Joint – as well as an undisclosed "further donation … to help emerging artists build out their careers." Over at Hopdoddy, the burger bar specifies "$50 thousand in grants to local musicians in Austin and other cities" via a new Tuned In campaign in partnership with Austin-launched nonprofit Black Fret. The public can vote through Oct. 25 among nine pre-picked artists from different U.S. cities, with Bonnie Whitmore representing Austin. Based on votes, each will receive a grant from $4,000 to $10,000. Desert Door Texas Sotol wrapped their "semi-battle-of-the-bands" concept with Texas promoter Resound Presents last week. At a seven-act Parish showcase, Animals on TV won a fully produced music video via audience vote, with both Animals and runner-up Texas String Assembly earning an opening slot for a national touring act at Mohawk. The event also benefited Desert Door's conservation nonprofit Wild Spirit Wild Places and Black Fret.
Antone's Records, former label of the Austin blues nightclub, quietly relaunches with the announcement of Angela Strehli's upcoming album Ace of Blues. Started by Clifford Antone in 1987, the label later declared bankruptcy and changed hands in a complex legal saga, finally ending in acquisition by New West Records in 2010. The label's website reads: "New West Records is proud to announce the revival of Antone's Records and the renaissance begins with Angela Strehli, one of the most legendary and iconic members of the Antone's blues family." The album, out Nov. 11, offers her first solo release in 17 years and her first record with Antone's since 1987's Soul Shake. A New West Spotify playlist uses the logos of both Antone's and Nineties Austin label Watermelon Records, also acquired in the sale as part of Texas Music Group.
Hotel Magdalena off South Congress will soon host a new vinyl bar in the basement. Equipment Room plans to open at the end of December on 1101 Music Ln. The hi-fi listening concept stems from Mohawk owner/Hot Luck co-founder James Moody, as well as Breakaway Records co-owners Josh LaRue and Gabe Vaughn. Further involved parties include the managing Bunkhouse group, upscale speakermakers Klipsch Audio, and snacks/cocktail plans from Magdalena chef Jeffrey Hundelt.