Faust And Beak Bridged The Experimental Rock Generation Gap At Oblivion Access
Because of the variety inherent in Oblivion Access’ lineup, it’s almost like little pocket festivals develop each night. At one venue, you might have hardcore night, and at another a few more metal-leaning acts might be grouped together. Sometimes the artists don’t have a home in any one aesthetic, which is also the point of the festival. Last night, at Empire, there was a lineup that sort of split the difference.
Saturday’s mainstage offering at Empire was a powerful three act collection: Thor & Friends, Beak>, and Faust. Everything on that stage, in some form or another, was psychedelic in nature. Thor & Friends’ set was a spacious, string-driven performance – a meditative lead-in to the experimental rock bug-out that would define the night.
Having Beak> and Faust together didn’t just feel like bands semi-logically grouped together on a festival stage. It had the effect of creating a specific show atmosphere within the overarching architecture of the festival. (Even when I popped out briefly to catch fragments of other sets, it felt like I returned to an ongoing piece where I had now missed part of the story.) Though there are a lot of threads in Beak>’s music, krautrock is certainly a foundational one, making their pairing with Faust a bridge between generations of weirdo rock seekers.
Beak> have always thrived onstage. Their albums are cool, but the hypnotic rhythms and frayed textures alike come alive differently when you watch them playing off each other in person. By nature, they are dialed all the way in, working grooves until they are coiled tighter and tighter, yet still somehow moving with a liquid ease. Some songs amped up their synth backdrops and became almost dance-y, some just locked you into one pulse and kept you there, mesmerized. As has often been the case with Geoff Barrow, there’s an amusing disjuncture between his cantankerous online persona and the serious and/or darkly spiritual music he makes. This continued onstage, with a good amount of shit-talk (often directed at other band members) in between songs that, otherwise, shot for the stratosphere.
A band like Beak> wouldn’t exist without a band like Faust — a whole lot of bands wouldn’t exist without bands like Faust. The iconic krautrock group’s appearance at Oblivion Access is part of an ongoing celebration of their 50th anniversary. (The band was founded in 1971.) But if you knew none of that history and there was less grey hair onstage, you would have no idea. If a group of young people were onstage playing what Faust played last night, it would still sound all the way out there.
With a mixture of founding members and younger auxiliary musicians, Faust powered through a set that sprawled well past its assigned ending. There were long zone-outs, then the customary kosmiche grooves, and moments where the serenity was ruptured with gibbering, spluttering freakouts. Opposite Clipping.’s bracing set down the road at Mohawk, Faust weren’t an obvious Saturday night pick even given their legacy. One act was a party, and the other presented you with a late-night journey. The crowd gathered was a bit smaller though devout, hanging on every strange turn in Faust’s music.
This isn’t to say Faust’s set was lacking in any drama or exhilaration of their own. As it drew towards its close, the band broke down into a foreboding death march, drones creaking and rattles hissing among drum strikes that had all the power of an ominous bell tolling. But after that, it wasn’t over. A few band members left the stage, mimicking an encore break. When they returned, Jean-Hervé Péron addressed the crowd. They were visibly animated by celebration, and he said they’d see us next year, and the next 25, before he made an important stipulation.
“We don’t play rock ’n’ roll,” he said. “We play krautrock!” As if to drive the point home, Faust glided through a finale of “Krautrock,” riding off into the thick Texan night.