Amyl & The Sniffers, Speedy Ortiz, and More: Highlights from Levitation Festival 2023 Select Levitation Acts On October 28, 2023
AUSTIN, TX- Levitation is an independent festival and is held in the Red River Cultural District in downtown Austin. TX, in the city’s best venues including Stubb’s, The Mohawk, Empire, Hotel Vegas, Parish, Antone’s, and more featuring a variety of musical acts that have roots in psychedelic/experimental rock. Our contributor roamed the streets of Austin to find the acts that spoke to her.
In the heart of the vibrant L.A. hardcore scene, Militarie Gun stands out as a force to be reckoned with. This relatively new band, birthed during the tumultuous days of the pandemic, recently graced the stage at Stubb’s, unleashing a set that can only be described as a levitation of militaristic fervor and abrasive energy. Between short hooky punk anthems and fuzzy alt-rock riffs, Militarie Gun managed to maintain an unwavering sense of aggression, creating an electrifying experience that was a non-stop discharge of adrenaline.
By blending elements of hardcore punk with classic alternative and indie rock, Militarie Gun has carved out a territory of their own. The band’s refusal to conform to genre norms is evident in their music, which comes across as authentic as it can be.
From the intimate confines of the Ballroom where I saw them over a year earlier to the big, mainstream stage at Stubb’s, it was exemplified the tremendous strides the band has taken in a short span. To their credit, they’ve not only refined their musicality, but also their ability to connect with a growing and diverse fanbase while maintaining their characteristic emotional range.
I first saw Amyl & The Sniffers at Goner Fest 2018 in a relatively tiny room, fully packed with a rowdy and eager audience eager to see the band for the first time. I managed to not get crushed with my camera and was able to stay up close to their insane energy, probably for the last time, as they quickly grew out of small venues.
When Amy Taylor, Bryce Wilson, Declan Martens, and Gus Romer hit the stage, it was a whirlwind of feral energy. They moved fast, played hard, and sounded loud, embodying the essence of punk rock. Despite the seemingly chaotic nature of their performance, there was a methodical choreography to their madness. Each note, each jump, and each lyric was delivered with precision, creating a raw yet well-crafted strike.
At the forefront of the madness was Taylor, the charismatic and dynamic frontwoman. With her unmistakable mullet and unapologetic stage presence, despite her tiny frame, she led the charge, engaging the audience with her infectious energy. Her banter between songs provided a glimpse into the band’s irreverent humor and laid-back attitude.
In her words: “In Australia, we call poppers amyl. So you sniff it, it lasts for 30 seconds and then you have a headache – and that’s what we’re like!” This description, though perhaps not entirely accurate, captured the essence of their performance. The hour-plus set didn’t leave the audience with a headache but rather a craving for more of the uniquely invigorating Amyl & The Sniffers.
Quite the stylistic changeover after the previous set, King Woman, led by the ethereal Kristina Esfandiari, mesmerized the audience at Empire with their characteristic heavy and dramatic vocals. Stepping forth from the shadows, bathed in dainty blue lighting that seemed to reflect the otherworldly essence of their music, Esfandiari calmly initiated their set with the confidence of an artist who effortlessly assumes various musical personas.
Known for her versatility and ability to traverse diverse musical landscapes, Esfandiari’s artistic journey has seen her evolve through projects like Whirr, Miserable, Sugar High, and NGHTCRWLR. However, it’s under the King Woman moniker that she truly embraced an identity that transcends traditional genre boundaries.
As the ambient lighting enveloped the stage, creating an atmosphere that seemed to suspend time, King Woman’s performance took on an almost supernatural quality. Esfandiari’s haunting vocals filled the room, echoing like incantations, while the music resonated with a unique blend of doom metal, shoegaze, and rock.
The set unfolded like a ritual, with each song building upon the last, creating a sonic tapestry that transported the audience to otherworldly realms. The graceful quality of King Woman’s music was elevated by Esfandiari’s commanding stage presence, which held the audience in rapt attention.
In the heart of the Austin music scene, where creativity and diversity may or may not flourish depending on who you ask, one band has risen to prominence with a celebration of their fiercely independent and DIY ethos. Skeleton, a locally beloved trio, graced the stage at Empire bringing a show that was nothing short of brutal and furious discharge, weaving primal energy with skillfully melodic undertones.
From their humble punk roots, Skeleton has steadily evolved into a force to be reckoned within the metal scene. Their music is a cacophony of influences, seamlessly blending the aggression of hardcore, the intensity of thrash, and the atmospheric darkness of black metal. The result is a raw and unique sound that captivates listeners from the first chord.
One of the defining characteristics of Skeleton’s performances is their unrelenting energy. There isn’t one low-energy song in the bunch. With their ability to weave together contrasting elements seamlessly from the first note to the last, the band maintains a ferocious intensity that demands the full attention of the audience.
On the Halloween-esque night of Levitation day 3 at The Parish, music enthusiasts gathered to witness Palehound’s performance, marking one of the final acts of the evening. Originally conceived as a solo project by the immensely talented Ellen Kempner, Palehound’s evolution into a complete band has brought a new dimension to their already captivating sound for a while, and that evening showcased a band that was not only comfortable in their vulnerability but also embraced a fierce camaraderie reminiscent of a group of best friends.
The wiry indie rock, infused with poignant reflections and Kempner’s skillful guitar playing, complemented a seamless fusion of instruments that brought more layers to a sound that was both intricate and powerful, with space for deeper exploration.
In conclusion, Palehound’s live performance showcased a band unafraid to delve into the depths of their artistry, pushing boundaries and inviting the audience along for the ride. The eagerness and enthusiasm of the attendees mirrored the anticipation for what lies ahead for this remarkable musical project—an appreciation the band didn’t fail to express.
As the final act of the day, Speedy Ortiz took the stage with a flair that immediately captured the audience’s attention. Clad in costumes reminiscent of the unsettling twins from the classic Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”, the band’s commitment to the theme and the ongoing visuals set the tone for a performance that would be as visually striking as it was musically engaging.
Singer-songwriter Sadie Dupuis had recently released the band’s latest album, “Rabbit Rabbit,” recorded with the touring band’s rhythm section just a month before the Levitation festival. This marked the band’s first album in five years, making the occasion all the more special for fans who had eagerly awaited new material.
The album’s title, “Rabbit Rabbit,” draws inspiration from the superstition that saying “rabbit rabbit” on the first day of the month brings good luck. With this new release, Speedy Ortiz introduced a shift by featuring long-time touring mates such as Audrey Zee Whitesides, Joey Doubek, and Moholt as full members and contributors.
Speedy Ortiz skillfully blended their new tracks with their classic repertoire, showcasing their evolution as a band while maintaining the intricate and captivating arrangements that have defined their sound for over a decade.
In addition to delivering powerful lyrics and intricate guitar riffs, Dupuis took the time to address critical social issues, including the ongoing situation in Palestine. In a heartfelt and sincere manner, she shared her thoughts on the matter, using the platform to raise awareness and encourage dialogue about the complex situation and offered information on nonprofits the audience could donate to. The band also brought a donation box of their own.
Speedy Ortiz made a significant impact on the local community by supporting a harm reduction organization. Throughout the venue, Narcan, a life-saving medication used to reverse opioid overdoses, was prominently displayed and made available for free to attendees. I took one for the first time, and now I carry it in my purse, hoping I never have to use it, but having it available if needed.
Despite the fatigue setting in after a full day of music, the crowd’s energy was rejuvenated by Speedy Ortiz’s captivating performance, with Dupuis driving the entire set with confidence and conviction.