Festival: Sound On Sound Festival, McDade, Texas
Despite Heavy Rains, Sound On Sound Festival Surpasses Expectations With Three Days Of Camping, Music, and Art
Sound On Sound Festival is a music festival 35 miles east of Austin, Texas in the Lost Pines region of central Texas. It is situated in the middle of the Sherwood Forest Faire, a year long renaissance faire complete with castles, prop convenience stores/pubs, and knights (really, there were knights walking through the campground!). The festival was originally known as Fun Fun Fun Fest up until last year when founder Graham Williams decided to bring the eclectic gathering over to McDade, TX. Accompanied by a name change, the festival booked a wide variety of talent such as Beach House, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Explosions In The Sky, Run The Jewels, Denzel Curry, Young Thug, and Courtney Barnett. We made our way down to Austin in order to experience the festivities. Here’s how it went:
As we arrive in Austin we were greeted by a friendly staff of SOS Fest employees to pick up our media wristbands at Mohawk (a rustic dive venue in downtown Austin.) From there, we board a bus to McDade.
Just five minutes into the drive, it is evident that we are not in Austin anymore. Looking out the window, we can see farmland after farmland pass by as we prepare interview questions. The mood on the bus was expectant; the majority were eagerly waiting Fun Fun Fun Fest 2.0. Lo and behold, upon stepping off the bus, our first impression of the festival was remarkable. The stages were large and well organized, the attendees were dressed to the nines in fantastic festival attire, even the security was amiable and professional — a tell tale sign of a festival that knows what the hell it is doing. Amidst incidents like the situation with Boiler Room in Lake Harmony, Pennsylvania we felt refreshed to be able to cover the festival in a safe and accepting environment. We would like to extend a huge thanks to the security and staff at the festival for being so wonderful.
Our first stop was at the festival’s Globe Stage where we sat down for an enriching conversation between Anthony Fantano of TheNeedleDrop and experimental hip-hop group, clipping. During the conversation, the four touched down on some prominent ideas surrounding today’s hip-hop scene. They chatted about how clipping. incorporates elements of noise rock into their music. Namely, how the appreciation of noise music starts as a fascination with unusual sonics, but slowly turns into an appreciation of aesthetic and taste. They conversed about the idea of a sonic canvas in hip-hop: a large metaphorical canvas in which you mix and match sounds to create something new and different. Maybe most notably, they talked about the differing ideals of the new school vs. the old school. They mentioned how there are people like Lil Yachty who make it a part of their brand to reject old ideals and bring something completely new to the table, but then there are hip-hop purists such as Chuck D who believe the old school is still an essential part of today’s hip-hop. Then, maybe the most interesting part of the conversation, was when clipping. remarked how there are also these “cool uncles” of hip hop such as 2 Chainz and Juicy J who are always trying to figure out what new flavor the youth is trying to bring. It was an interesting take on the ever-changing hip-hop game from a group that is currently neck deep in it.
After we conducted a brief interview with James Alex of Beach Slang, we made our way over to the Forest Stage to see the aforementioned experimental hip hop powerhouse, clipping. The group consists of MC Daveed Diggs and producers/DJs William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. The trio puts on an incredibly vibrant performance, full of radiance and colorful energy. Daveed spit dizzying bars while the production half of the group spun their noisy beats, and the chemistry was remarkable. The crowd already had a substantial amount of energy for being so early in the night, which was really only a precursor for how the rest of the fest was going to play out. It was turning out to be a pretty eventful festival. As we danced to Daveed’s “Get that work, make that work,” we immediately realized we were already embodying the aura clipping gave off. Yes, we were there to work, but we were going to have a damn good time while doing it.
Denzel Curry was arguably the highlight of the weekend as far as hip hop goes. The twenty one year old rapper is making his rounds with performances all across the country and his set at Sound On Sound could only be accurately described as energetic: from pulling off stunts like bringing a mom and her three kids on stage to dancing all over the stage from left to right, right to left. Denzel Curry absolutely smashed The Keep stage in, what he likes to call, “daemon mode” fashion. This can only be described as how we feel when we heard him perform “Ultimate.” If you haven’t heard the track yet, throw on your Sennheisers and let it rip.
Next, we almost encountered mortality. Have you ever been to a show and thought to yourself “I might not make it out alive.” Well, that’s kind of how we felt at Death Grips on Friday. Don’t get me wrong, we loved it, but we had our doubts about our survival. Death Grips somehow managed to put a spell over a crowd through their experimental production, harsh tenor, and off kilter drums that embody a hardcore performance. It was everything people had hyped it up to be and as I watch MC Ride bellow his lyrics and Zach Hill destroy his drum set, we notice a gigantic mosh pit beginning to form in the middle of the crowd. “Oh shit, it’s coming toward us,” we screamed. And sure enough, about a minute later, there we were in one of the largest pits we had ever witnessed at a festival. This wasn’t just any old mosh pit, this was a Death Pit (pun intended).
As we ran through the pit, we inadvertently ended up smack dab in the front of the crowd for the next show, Run the Jewels. After an initial technical blunder, Killer Mike and El-P came in with a bass so hard it itself knocked our neighbor’s hat clean off with ‘Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.’ As Death Grips was manic energy, Run the Jewels was controlled chaos. Everyone around us belted the skull-crushing lyrics, echoes could be heard at every stage. Mike and El built off this energy with one of the greatest no-bullshit performances we have ever seen. They came, they saw, they conquered. It was a fantastic way to end off the hip-hop gauntlet we handled our first day.
We ended our first night watching Phantogram from afar. Our decision to watch from far back was not because of a distaste for the group at all, more of exhaustion from an incredibly frantic, yet fun first day. As we lay in the grass and stare up at the stars, we hear the seminal ‘Don’t Move,’ play from a distance. We can’t help but feel a little emotional as we have ended our first day at this festival with one of the songs that started our appreciation of music.
Day 2 started with our discovery of Anya. Anya (Anastasia) is an Austin-based writer and thinker who channels her thoughts through introspective rapping. We walked by the Forest Stage around 1:30 en route to grabbing some food, when we heard her incredible voice. So distinct; so groovy. She demands your attention. We had to stay for the rest of the show. We were lucky enough to encounter her later when she was interviewed by Statesman Shots at the Globe Stage. She shared her incredibly refreshing worldview: radiate positivity while staying true to yourself. Check out her material here.
After an incredibly strange experience at the Air Sex Championships, we took a seat at Tim Heidecker’s show; one of the greater comedic performances we have ever seen. As Tim took the stage, he dropped the mic about three times and then proceeded to scream bloody murder at the sound guy. The stage was set for an icredibly hilarious nuance comedy routine and Mr. Heidecker covered it all: Trump, Depression, Millenials, and even Candles. The show was a hilarious way to start our evening.
From there we got some juice at the infamous, Austin-based, Juiceland (shout out to these guys and gals by the way this was a huge perk having them at the festival. Their juice is amazing!). We then proceeded to head over to the Dragon’s Lair Stage to see Big Boi (half of Outkast for those who aren’t in the know.) Big Boi had something for everyone in his set, moving quickly from old school Outkast classics, to the more modern Big Grams (Big Boi and Phantogram) tracks. The set was well curated and truly representative of the festival itself: eclectic, high energy, and piqued the interest of the entire crowd.
Next up was Beach House, this was definitely our most anticipated act the whole weekend and Victoria Legrand did not disappoint. The French-born singer wears a hood so as not to show her face on stage, which only enhances her marvelously melancholic tenor. To say that her performance was ethereal would be an understatement; songs like “Master of None,” “Space Song,” “Myth,” and “Zebra” were among the highlights. As we lay down and look up at the sky, we noticed something: here we are listening to Beach House perform live, not very far from the edge of the crowd, and aren’t even worried about getting stomped on or bothered by people passing through. The Sound On Sound crew definitely organized the event so as to make sure everyone was comfortable and had space to dance, lounge, and enjoy the music they had to offer.
The night ended with an interview with Alex Ridha (Boys Noize) before his set, which was one of the few EDM sets of the entire weekend. The fact that Sound On Sound choose their EDM sets so carefully was a blessing. Boys Noize and A-Trak were staple acts that are forces in their respective sub-genres. Boys Noize absolutely smashed the forest stage with off-kilter bass lines and flawless transitions from breaks to tech house to acid house to hip hop. It was a great way to end the evening. On our way out of the media tent we managed to catch the last few songs of The Dillinger Escape Plan and…..Wow! The set was a part of the band’s farewell tour and was one of their final performances ever, it seemed like their final scream before ending it all for good.
Sunday, unfortunately, was plagued by thunderstorms. The front moved in at about 2:30pm, which caused the emergency crew to evacuate the entire area. The festivities were suspended from 3:00pm – 6:30pm, which was admittedly a bit of a bummer for attendees wishing to see acts like Wale, Old Man Gloom, or Open Mic Eagle. But, in true Sound On Sound Festival Spirit, the atmosphere at the festival shot right back up again once 6:30 came around.
Fresh out of hiding in our tent during the storm, we made our way over to Dragon’s Lair Stage to see Thursday. Thursday, coming off of a five-year break, was playing one of their final shows of what may very well be their final tour ever. And whatever notions you may have about a band playing one of their final concerts ever were alive and well: Geoff Rickly grabbed the audience with his fiery vocals, Keeley and co. were spectacularly in tune, and the band as a whole was just clicking left and right.
It’s important to note at this point: the ground was, as one festival-goer put it, “chili.” Walking through the grounds, you would sometimes step in inches deep mud. It was as messy as could be, but what struck us was everyone’s attitude towards what was happening. People did not mind in the slightest, they just wanted to see their favorite bands perform. Maybe this can be attributed to people having the true festival spirit, or maybe it was due to the spectacular ambiance at the fest. Either way it was considerably gratifying to see everyone still having a great time through questionable weather.
After Thursday, we stayed put at Dragon’s Lair to see Courtney Barnett absolutely tear it up. Her set had a defining quality, as if it were put on by the indie rock gods. Courtney’s stage presence was half fuck-it, half crowd engaging. She embodied the type of musician who was just there to do her own thing and have a great time. Her pitch and her band’s playing was sometimes out of tune, but no one seemed to really care. Everyone was just enjoying the night, glad they had overcome the storm, and glad that Courtney was with them. The set only furthered our vision of Courtney Barnett as a modern day indie rock staple.
We ended up having one hell of an experience. We have been to a good amount of festivals before, but there was an unstoppable force of nature that carried Sound on Sound Festival to new heights. The split between a Renaissance Fair and Music Festival brought many new, interesting people. The lower-bill acts came with a vengeance and the headliners all brought their A-game. The festival-goers were especially friendly and the staff was as accommodating as could be. We will fervently be on the lookout for the 2017 lineup release, and you should be too.