by Morgan Davis
Photos by Andrew DeThomas
It’s not often that an indie-leaning hip hop night in Austin is well-attended let alone packed, but Yoni & Geti’s recent tour stop at Sidewinder was a very welcome break from that tradition. The supergroup pairing Yoni Wolf and some of his Why? bandmates with Chicago oddball Serengeti brought out a passionate, lively crowd and local groups &More and Space Camp Death Squad blossomed under the increased attention.
On the local front, &More came as the biggest surprise. Scuare and no1mportant have been collaborating for some time, but their exclusive partnership in &More brings out the best in both of them on their recordings. They’ve struggled to really translate that into the live experience, though– Scuare’s gangly posture and lovably awkward moves frequently clash with no1mportant’s more confident delivery. But as they’ve done more shows, including a recent regional tour, the pair have started to really gel, with their Sidewinder performance unquestionably being the best show I’ve seen them put on. Scuare in particularly has become more comfortable alongside no1mportant, turning his lanky frame into an asset on stage, catching audiences by surprise with his hyper dexterous flow and how at odds it seems with his physical movements. The pair have also nailed down their back-and-forth patter and the crowd was clearly entranced by their unique style and chemistry.
Space Camp Death Squad, by contrast, are seasoned performers who were only facing the obstacle of a long hiatus between recordings and performances. The group has been in limbo since releasing their excellent self-titled EP a little over a year ago, but you wouldn’t know it from their opening performance. Ryan “Doc Brown” Darbonne, Protextor and Secret Levels are a force to be reckoned with under the SCDS flag, particularly in a live setting where crowd confusion over their satirical edge tends to ramp up the energy rather than distract from it. Opening with the Bird Peterson produced alternate reality hit “Chuck Roast,” SCDS provided some welcome bombastic energy between the dreamier sets of &More and Yoni & Geti. Sidewinder’s sound slipped a bit at the start of the set, with Secret Levels’ opening verse being mostly muted and the group’s addictive fuck everything chorus sounding a little out of whack, but they overcame it and had the crowd worked up to an absurd degree by the middle of the set. SCDS is an intriguing group because while their lyrics are hyper-literate and too clever to properly digest in one sitting, they deliver them with the flash and bravado of a major level act. It doesn’t hurt that they have some of the best beat taste in all of Austin, either, with Marcel Andrei’s French pop sampling giddy debt kiss off “Joe Dassin” in particular striking a chord with the crowd. That said, Secret Levels’ attempts to breakdance on the overcrowded stage might have won the biggest cheers of the night.
Still, it was obvious that the crowd really came out for Yoni Wolf. The audience frequently shouted “WHY?” and “YONIIIIII,” either not getting that Yoni & Geti was an actual project rather than a clever way of marketing dual headliners or just not caring. Wolf, who is soft-spoken and withdrawn and almost disappeared inside a much too large band shirt, took it in stride and mostly stayed on the far corner of the stage, focusing on playing the drum machine and backing up Serengeti rather than putting himself in the spotlight. And Serengeti looked ridiculously thrilled to be there, making his later statement that this was the best audience they’d played to on the tour all the more genuine. The band was refreshingly loose and jovial, keeping an eye on Serengeti’s akimbo style and trying to follow him down whatever sonic rabbitholes he wanted to explore. The effect was more playful than the frequently complex sounds of Testarossa, the concept album the group was touring behind, but no less entrancing.
“Madeline” was the high point and centerpiece, offering the best showcase for Yoni & Geti’s twin melodies and curvy narrative. But not a single moment of the performance lagged or fell flat. Selfishly, I’d have loved to have heard clearer harmony work from Yoni & Geti, but it was great to see a group deconstruct their material in a way that made it a totally different experience from the album. Even the encore was a bit unexpected, with the band leaving the stage so that Serengeti could perform a few classics from his back catalog, including “Rhythm of Devotion” from Sisyphus, the supergroup project that brought Serengeti, Sufjan Stevens and Son Lux together for some avant dance pop– Serengeti’s vocal impression of Sufjan Stevens (and his dance moves) was one of the highlights of the night. All in all, the show was a wonderful surprise, a perfect showcase for the unique directions Austin hip hop is taking.
Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City, the multimedia collective he co-runs. When he isn’t doing that, he gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.