Oblivion Access 2023 Brought Heavy, Experimental, And Unclassifiable Music To An Impossibly Hot Austin

Godflesh (Robert Hein/Oblivion Access)

Oblivion Access 2023 Brought Heavy, Experimental, And Unclassifiable Music To An Impossibly Hot Austin

Godflesh (Robert Hein/Oblivion Access)

This weekend, the nascent Austin festival Oblivion Access returned for its second outing. Though originally plotted to debut in 2020, rising from the ashes of Austin Terror Fest, Oblivion Access got put on hold during the long pandemic wait for live music to properly return. Now that it’s been able to kick off in earnest, it’s begun carving out a strange little corner for itself. Oblivion Access is a small, venue-based event that highlights things that would either be niche or completely unrepresented at more mainstream fests. Its overarching ethos is heavy and experimental music, leaning towards metal and hardcore or generally abrasive outsiders from the indie and rap worlds. But even those descriptions are not satisfactory. Everything at Oblivion Access is something-adjacent. It’s a place where all the most weirdo iterations of a genre or style can thrive.

City Of Caterpillar (Andrea Escobar/Oblivion Access)

The festival featured four nights of music, starting with a smaller Thursday night warm-up confined to just Empire Control Room & Garage and Elysium, and then spreading out across a few other clubs up and down Red River — or, if you wanted to brave the 100-plus degree weather in the daytime, you could also catch acts at the Central Presbyterian Church. (The weekend also had a series of bonus programming at Chess Club, featuring performance art, sound baths, films, and other odds and ends depending on the day.) On any given night and at any given venue, you might find a sort of mini-festival happening within Oblivion Access, places dialing in to one vibe or another for the evening. In that sense, Oblivion Access not only had enviable booking, but also some smart curation.

Spirit Of The Beehive (Renee Dominguez/Oblivion Access)

Amidst Thursday’s more contained layout, that curation actually resulted in an exciting form of whiplash. Early in the night, Deep Cross performed a trippy yet foreboding set, while Spirit Of The Beehive followed with their customary shape-shifting freakouts. MSPAINT gave one of the best performances of the festival, the unclassifiable band recontextualizing their scorched-earth synth-punk first into something more accessible, and then into something more apocalyptic as their set went on. Playing in Texas for the first time ever, Duster’s languid, fried dreamscapes were perfect of the late-night humidity. Then, as Thursday yielded to Friday, Texan heroes Narrow Head brought their slick-but-bleary alt-rock hooks and Chat Pile performed the first of two sets over the weekend.

Chat Pile (Robert Hein/Oblivion Access)

Oblivion Access had some rough luck with the weather. Though June in Austin already sounds hot, there was an unseasonable wave of extreme temperatures that barely broke all weekend. On Friday, another issue almost scuttled the festival’s plans. During Mamaleek’s set at Mohawk, sudden and severe flashes of lightning started arcing through the sky. Eventually, the festival had to shut everything down and usher everyone inside. For a moment, it seemed as if Friday night might be off. But the storm passed, the temperature mercifully plummeted what felt like a whole 20 degrees, and Chat Pile took the stage for a second time, their grinding fury feeling all the more urgent in a moment where it had seemed the shows wouldn’t happen. Though Oblivion Access certainly skewed towards the aggressive and the distorted, they made room for some outliers, including brooding synth acts like Drab Majesty and TR/ST. The latter’s stage setup was simple, but it provided a throbbing, goth-y dance party to wrap up Friday night.

Mamaleek (Robert Hein/Oblivion Access)

Insofar as Oblivion Access ever has big-name headliners, they are still of the cultishly-beloved variety. But within that, Saturday had a lot of firepower. After a meditative string-based performance from Thor & Friends, the mainstage at Empire featured the one-two of Beak> and Faust, who are on the road celebrating their 50th anniversary. The prevailing tone at Empire that night was psychedelic, with Beak> and Faust both expertly balancing hypnosis and catharsis. Aside from some amped-up grooves from Beak> and some caustic outbursts from Faust, that was also a mellower affair compared to the other venues. At Mohawk, Clipping. performed a visceral, noise-blasted set to a sweat-drenched crowd. There’s precious little rap at Oblivion Access, but they choose well, whether a (seemingly, hopefully) triumphant set from Lil Ugly Mane — who provided the namesake for Oblivion Access with his 2015 album — or seeing Daveed Diggs tear through some of Clipping.’s more crowd-pleasing tracks. At the very end of the night, a totally different scene was unfolding at Elysium, where Thou roared through a set for all the metal devotees at the festival.

Thor & Friends (Robert Hein)

The next night, for its finale, Oblivion Access doubled down on the heaviness. Like Thursday, Sunday evening shrunk back down to just a couple rooms, meaning there were a ton of people crowded back into Empire Control Room & Garage for a run of metal bands including Ludicra, Pallbearer, Godflesh, and Yob. It was also the hottest day yet, the heat wave somehow continuing to one-up itself until it hit 106 degrees. The employees at Empire busted out a giant bucket of cold water with cloths inside for people to take and pat their faces off with. They meant business. Everything about Sunday was intense.

Cloud Rat (Andrea Escobar/Oblivion Access)

While that began with people cramming indoors for Pallbearer’s set, it was hard not to view Godflesh as a main event — not even just for the night, but maybe even the festival entirely. This was Godflesh’s first appearance in Texas in nearly a decade, and the momentous occasion was met with one of the bigger crowds of the whole weekend. (There was also a slight audience changeover from night to night, and you got the sense that a whole lot of Austin metalheads came out specifically for this.)

Drain (Andrea Escobar/Oblivion Access)

In hindsight, there were lots of loud bands playing surprisingly quiet sets — not in terms of energy, but the volume was actually somewhat moderate. That was not the case with Godflesh. Their industrial metal comes with a whole lot of thunderous low end and crashing beats, and you could feel that in a very bodily sense throughout the set. Bass reverberated, rattling your chest. The whole thing sounded monolithic, blistering, an indomitable force ending the weekend with a hurricane. (Technically everyone stuffed back inside for an awesome Yob set afterwards, but, again — it felt like Godflesh were the big headliners.)

Yob (Robert Hein/Oblivion Access)

Godflesh’s set was relentless. There was almost never much of a pause between the pummeling noise of one track and another. It took until maybe a third of the way through, and then Justin Broadrick did take a breather to address the crowd. He explained they were jetlagged and generally out of it, and were just noticing that their lights were the wrong color, and their projections weren’t working. He also explained that the airline had lost all of their equipment and they were muddling through figuring out rented gear. Everything was wrong, but you would’ve had no idea from their performance; nor would you have had any idea from people’s fervent reaction to their set. “But against all odds,” Broadrick deadpanned. “We’re trying to have a good time.” At the end of the weekend, constantly fighting off the oppressive heat but having seen a dizzying array of mind-bending music, it felt like as good a summary as any.

Godflesh (Robert Hein/Oblivion Access)

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