10 Essential Showcases to See at Oblivion Access

Unpacking the unclassifiable experimental music festival, show by show

Agriculture (photo by Milan Aguirre)


Empire, Thursday 15

Meandering through buzzing electronics, hypnotic atmospherics, and ethereal vocals obscured by grating distortion, piecing together a multihyphenated subgenre proves pointless for Philadelphia trio SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE. "Whenever we go through the Canadian border, the border police always ask us what kind of music we play and I always am nervous and I always say something like 'rock music' but that seems to be a fine answer," emails bassist/vocalist Rivka Ravede. Read our full interview with SOTB – who plays with downcast San Diego rockers Duster, alt-metal Houston quintet Narrow Head, synth-punk Mississippians MSPAINT, and more – here.  Wayne Lim

Midwife, Street Sects, Elizabeth Colour Wheel

Elysium, Thursday 15

Midwife, outlet of multi-instrumentalist Madeline Johnston, shows the multifaceted nature of noise music in mixing slowcore sensibilities and fairylike shoegaze. Recent album Orbweaving features the typical doom and gloom of Johnston coupled with a meatier rock core via collaborator Vyva Melinkolya. The noise gets noisier, however, with the heavy punkness of Elizabeth Colour Wheel and the adrenaline rush of Street Sects intersecting on the same night. The latter's songs, like "X Amount," mimic the anxiety of a chase with a ravenous wolf. All three acts run with the Flenser label.  Adam Cherian


Cloak, Noisy Neighbors, Trench Warfare

Valhalla, Friday 16

Austin Terror Fest evolving into avant-experimental cornucopia Oblivion Access doesn't preclude its foundations: razor's-edge metal. Atlanta's gothic black metal fourpiece Cloak sweeps in on the Icarus wings of third LP Black Flame Eternal, a majestic tour de force of immortal extremity: orchestral sweeps, subtle string arrangements, and Scott Taysom's vocal command. War beats, blitzkrieg guitars, and stormfront bass mosh momentum and adrenaline, a battering ram of contemporary, top-tier USBM. Brand it in now: a 2023 best-of. Satan Tonio D-beat/grindcore trio Noisy Neighbors support alongside the local twofer of power-hatred fivepiece Trench Warfare and death metallers Death File Red.  Raoul Hernandez

Have a Nice Life, Sprain, Agriculture

Mohawk, Friday 16

Packing nine acts in seven hours, Friday night runs the longest of three showcases presented by San Francisco-based "dark music" label the Flenser. Cali foursome Agriculture opens with a defiant brand of black metal, juxtaposing swelling harmonies, bright tremolo picking, and exuberant shrieks in latest single "Look, Pt. 1," ahead of a self-titled full-length release in July. Los Angeles slowcore quartet Sprain follows, oscillating between cathartic screams accented by screeching feedback and distant whispers hanging above gently picked guitars. Headlining, Connecticut duo Have a Nice Life closes with growling distortion, drawling shoegaze vocals, and gloomy atmospherics.  Wayne Lim

Yellow Swans, John Wiese, Blank Hellscape

Elysium, Friday 16

After announcing their dissolution in 2008, Portland-based tape fanatics Yellow Swans posthumously released Going Places, an equally meditative and tumultuous master class in experimental noise. Fans were distraught – would they ever experience the album's crunch and catharsis live? Their wait comes to an end on Friday when the duo reassembles for their first live performance in 15 years. Former collaborator and connoisseur of radical grindcore composition John Wiese joins, while brutal noise threepiece Blank Hellscape contributes locally sourced chaos. Genevieve Wood

Earth (photo by James Rexroad)


Central Presbyterian Church, Saturday 17

Imagine heavy metal stripped down to nothing but the riff and the power chord: no rhythms, no vocals, no discernible song structure. Earth mastermind Dylan Carlson made that notion a reality on debut Earth 2 and invented an entire genre: drone metal. Without Earth 2, there's no Sunn 0))), no Khanate, no Skullflower, no Bell Witch – no all-enveloping, strangely soothing blanket of grunge. Over the years, Earth itself has morphed into a more spacious, expansive, and atmospheric beast, but Carlson brings it back home for a special 30th anniversary performance of Earth 2, featuring a quadraphonic sound system and special guests.  Michael Toland

Thou, City of Caterpillar, Cloud Rat

Elysium, Saturday 17

Slithering out of Baton Rouge covered in mascara and sludge, Thou visits visceral Southern gothic on local ally Elysium. Pandemically prolific, collaborative, they brewed the witchy May Our Chambers Be Full with Portlandian muse Emma Ruth Rundle, emanating like a dark night of the soul at Anne Rice's compound in New Orleans. Also 2020, Thou's Blessings of the Highest Order slam-danced 16 Nirvana covers. Last year summoned a writhing collabo with USBM Oregonian Mizmor, then a video game soundtrack sync with Gewgawly I on NORCO. Richmond, Va., post-hardcore millennials City of Caterpillar; Mount Pleasant, Mich., grindcore crazies Cloud Rat; post-metal Baltimoreans Desist; and Atlanta alt-rockers Votive add to the drama.  Raoul Hernandez

Faust, BEAK>

Empire, Saturday 17

During a three-year, four-album run in the early Seventies, Faust didn't simply challenge musical conventions, they exploded them. The German ensemble's novel approach – sometimes drastically changing tempo, key, and genre multiple times within a song – proffered a collagelike psychedelic rock sound. Their intrigue and influence were only compounded by disappearing from 1975 to 1990, after which combinations of the krautrock clan continued, including a 2016 South by Southwest appearance with drummer Werner "Zappi" Diermaier and multi-instrumentalist Jean-Hervé Péron that went off the rails. The mesmerizing moods of BEAK>, led by Portishead's Geoff Barrow, leads a choice undercard with Scottish ambient veteran Drew McDowall and onetime Swans fixture Jarboe. Thor & Friends and USA/Mexico prove the brilliance of homegrown experimental minds.  Kevin Curtin

Gel (photo by Angel Tumalan)

Drain, Drug Church, Gel

Mohawk, Sunday 18

An all-ages hardcore Sunday matinee should be mandatory at any genre fest – for stage dives are sacrament – and this one's loaded: Santa Cruz's Drain surfs a feel-good blend of thrash and hardcore on recent Epitaph Records release Living Proof, Drug Church's passionate post-hardcore sing-alongs are equally catchy and concussive, and Magnitude opens up the pit with inspirational straight edge with a Nineties feel. Gel arrives on the heels of the fierce, thunderous, and in-your-face new LP Only Constant; meanwhile, Restraining Order is a must-see if Minor Threat is your favorite band. Mugger loots visceral hardcore punk in bedazzled masks, and fellow Austinite crew Black Mercy thumps chests with cathartic power violence.  Kevin Curtin

Godflesh, Ludicra, YOB

Empire, Sunday 18

Arguably Birmingham's finest ear-bludgeoning export bar Black Sabbath, the mighty Godflesh returns to the U.S. after four years, fielding new album Purge. Lead single "Nero" fronts prime GF: sledgehammer guitar grunge, coldly punitive machine beats, and Justin Broadrick's desperate roar. (Broadrick also opens the Tim Hecker show with his ambient side project Final.) The duo joins San Fran's Hammers of Misfortune-connected black metal band Ludicra (reunited after 11 years), Oregon doom avatars YOB, Little Rock doom proggers Pallbearer, San Antonio blackened sludge act Crawl, and mysterious extreme metal polyglots Parasiticide. Hit both stages for a night of deep heavy.  Michael Toland

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