Review and Photos by Ben Oliver, video by Caleb Dickerson
There are dozens of regional and local music festivals springing up seemingly nearly everywhere. We have been able to experience this first hand with one of the very best, 35 Denton. They are back in the news again. No, it’s not yet time for the 2013 line up yet! They instead threw North Texas the best end of summer party one could imagine. Taking place Saturday, September 1st of Labor Day Weekend, The Hot Wet Mess was a small but impressive line up that featured The Black Lips, No Age, Reggie Watts, Big Freedia, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The one day mini fest was rounded out with inclusion of local acts Fergus & Geronimo (now Brooklyn based), RTB2, and A.Dd+‘s own DJ Sober. The carnival/state fair like atmosphere boasted a four story high waterside, food trucks, a half pipe with skating demos, and even a wrestling ring with grudge matches! The scorching temperature soared upwards of 105 degrees,but it wasn’t enough to keep away this crowd, which probably numbered around 1500.
We arrived in just enough time to watch our first band of the day,and one of our favorites, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Most everyone should be familiar with their story by now. Lead singer and creator Ruban Nielson, formerly of New Zealand’s The Mint Chicks, posted a single called “Ffunny Ffrends” to a bandcamp account in late 2010. Now based in Portland, he teamed up with friend, producer, and bassist Jacob Portrait, also in the band Blouse, and promptly released their self titled debut, followed by relentless touring. They have toured with Portugal.The Man, Yuck, Smith Westerns, Liars, Girls, Lower Dens, Grizzly Bear, Toro Y Moi, and more since then. No strangers to the North Texas area, having already played here several times, they fit right into this quirky, unconventional extravaganza. Having just played the annual Pitchfork Festival last month, the set stumbled out of the starting gate with a bit of technical difficulty and awkwardness. The trio made a quick recovery however, and adjusted amazingly well. Their new drummer Gregory Rogove added another level of skill and complexity to their already cachet sound. He has played with Beck and Paul McCartney before, according to Wikipedia. The souped-up psychedelic, fuzzy vibe that is their trademark was in full effect. Their set list included their most popular songs, including “FFunny FFrends”, “How Can You Luv Me”, “Jello and Juggernauts”, “Nerve Damage!”, “Strangers Are Strange”, and more. They probably would have drawn a larger size audience if they had been scheduled later in the day, but they refused to let anything get in the way of a stellar showcase. They ended their short time (35-40 mins) with a new song that isn’t on their album, or perhaps it was a cover song.
There was approximately 20-30 minutes in between each performance, as the crowd continually grew larger and larger throughout the day. There was only one stage, and the next scheduled guest sought to see just how much excitation that stage could literally hold. Of course I can only be referring to the one and only Big Freedia. An accomplished “Bounce” Rapper who lives in New Orleans, she can perform up to six or more times a week in various venues throughout the city, and has already worked with other artists like Diplo. Bounce is an original urban music rising up from the intimate and fun-loving nature of the housing projects which dominate the city’s street culture. “Sissy Bounce” is the informal name for a derivative of Bounce that has risen to prominence in recent years and features explicitly gay and cross-dressing musicians and themes. Big Freedia is at the forefront of this movement, and isn’t new to the festival circuit, having already made appearances at CMJ and Fun Fun Fun Fest. There were probably four back up dancers on stage, then during the 2nd or 3rd song, the invigorating entertainer invited fans to participate in the frivolous festivities by joining them. Dozens jumped the security fences and crashed their way into the photo pit for a chance to get on stage and shake their shit. This was only for one song, the infamous “Azz Everywhere!” A local critic probably best summed up the set by describing it as “nothing but ass and sex. “
Big Freedia is probably one of those acts that no artist wants to have to follow. I can’t think of anyone that would be a better fit next than comedian and improvisational musician Reggie Watts. The New York resident who counts LCD Soundsystem founder James Murphy as a friend, is very familiar with Denton, even name dropping the city in his recent Pitchfork 5-10-15-20 video segment interview. A veteran of the 35 Denton festival, he proceeded to capture the crowd’s attention immediately, and never let go of it. Reggie has appeared on The Conan O’Brien Show, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, HBO, and Comedy Central. His hour long set, one of the day’s main highlights, seemed to fly by the fastest. For those of you who don’t know, his live act consists of off the cuff freestyle lyrics over beats made spontaneously with a drum loop machine. Some of his songs today referenced technology, reminding us that it can hinder our spontaneity. He also poked fun at the Whole Foods/organic food trend by singing about the compulsion to buy the best eggs, bread, and soy milk. He also tried to tell a couple of intentionally cheesy jokes, which were mainly funny just because they weren’t funny! Make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to see Watts live when you have the chance.
After Reggie Watts was by far the LOUDEST act of the event, Sub Pop Records’ No Age. They could undisputedly be heard across the entire fairgrounds, and more than likely even further beyond. The pair from Los Angeles, a drummer and guitar player, make up for in volume what they lack in members. Maybe size doesn’t matter after all, since their stage presence was as impressive as anyone’s. The guys not only had some fans in attendance that had also caught their live act in Austin the night before, but also count members of Deerhunter and Radiohead as fans also. The rowdy duo provided the soundtrack for the rambunctious gathering, culminating unsurprisingly in the first moshing of the day. Drawing comparisons to another So Cal band, Wavves, the bands share more than just home state in common. Like Nirvana before them, both groups have carved out niches for themselves and built their reputations on blending both their punk rock sensibilities with strong melodies. This powerful sound proved too much to resist–you can’t blame the crowd for wanting to dance! Their live version of songs took on an intensity unmatched from just listening to the band digitally.
It could go without saying, but there probably couldn’t be a better band to follow No Age then the one and only Black Lips.The four piece hailing from Atlanta was the event’s uber popular headlining act that no one wanted to miss. Taking their places just as the sun was finally setting, their reputation for being mischievous preceded them. Anticipation had been steadily building throughout the day and now into the night, and they would leave everyone captivated, and no one disappointed. Even the lone stage diver who was tossed out didn’t seem to regret his choice. The other stand out highlight of the day, the guys kicked off an incendiary set of their “Flower Punk”, complete with flying rolls of toilet paper tossed into the audience, and silly string slinging. The security guard in the photo pit explained to me before the band started, as extra security was being added up front: “they have been waiting all day to try and tear this place apart during this last band”. The hired help had to physically try and hold up the fence, trying their best to push back against the momentum from the masses. The moshing and dancing that began during No Age reached their heightened climax as the Lips put on the hell of a show that is
expected demanded of them. They cycled through hits such as “Hippie Hippie Hoorah”, “Time”, “Bad Kids”, “O Katrina!”, and more, much to the delight of fans. Rumor is that is was their first time in Denton; let’s hope it isn’t their last.
In conclusion, the new trend of local/regional music festivals is ripe for an unprecedented explosion of growth. We will continue to see more and more of these popping up worldwide. The staff of 35 Denton is ahead of the curve and will be leading the way. The one day mini fest lived up to it’s name, and was hot, wet, and messy! They have already begun to tease a possible sequel for next year. Will the next time be hotter, wetter, and messier?