This weekend, Utopiafest kicks off its seven year with an impressive line up of local favorites and big name touring acts. Unlike so many other Austin festivals, Utopia wisely keeps its line-up relatively slim, but even so it can be difficult to decide who you should see and whose set is better viewed as an opportunity to take a nap and/or indulge in some psychedelics (there are no overlaps at Utopia, so really, you could catch everyone). So here are our 9 picks for the best acts at this year’s Utopia.
Austin has a long history of incredible instrumental bands (as Utopia headliners Explosions in the Sky handily prove) but Chipper Jones stand at the vanguard of a new wave of Austin post-rock outfits. Unlike so many of their delay pedal fetishizing peers, Chipper Jones are a duo that keep rhythm at the forefront, making for uniquely groovy post-rock that’s perfect for an event as focused on good times as Utopia.
Chipper Jones play at 4:00 pm on Saturday at the Arrowhead Stage
Utopiafest vets Holiday Mountain are one of Austin’s premier live acts, putting on shows that are stylish, sweaty showcases for their mutant party rock. This year their EP You Be You brought them more national attention, yielding coverage at Spin and NPR, the latter of whom debuted the video for their irresistible single “Get Really Freaky.” You never know what will happen at a Holiday Mountain set but you can be sure that it will involve plenty of opportunities to get really freaky.
Holiday Mountain plays Saturday at 8:30 pm at the Cypress Stage.
Speaking of incredible live bands known for freaky happenings, Of Montreal are essentially peerless, their shows outstripping even the Flaming Lips, in my experience. I mean, as far as I know, Wayne Coyne has never ridden a horse while singing on stage but Kevin Barnes definitely has. I doubt that there will be any equestrian activities from Of Montreal this year at Utopia but nonetheless, they will be a tough act to beat, especially since their new album Aureate Gloom is a disco rock extravaganza that seems well suited to live performance.
Of Montreal plays Saturday at 9:30 pm at the Arrowhead Stage.
Explosions in the Sky
Hometown heroes Explosions in the Sky are making Utopia one of their few North American shows this year, taking a break from scoring seemingly every indie film on the festival circuit, including David Gordon Green’s new Al Pacino-starring flick, Manglehorn. The band’s moody, droney music is a perfect way to finish up the first night of Utopia and while the band hasn’t released a new album of non-soundtrack material since 2011, given their propensity for four year gaps between albums this performance might offer a glimpse at what’s on the horizon for the band. Either way, the band is touring less and less frequently these days, so you should be sure to stop by the Arrowhead stage to catch them in action.
Explosions in the Sky play Saturday at 11:30 pm at the Arrowhead Stage.
Intergalactic power popsters Milezo are an excellent choice for the late night bill at Utopia, as their spacey take on Elephant 6 studio trickery is perfect for auditorial hallucinations under the stars. The band is about two years removed from their last album, Pathways but the material still sounds fresh, a bright and cheery departure from the bulk of Austin psych. And with their new album set to drop this Halloween, this Utopia slot will likely be heavy on previously unheard songs from the band.
Milezo play Saturday at 4:00 am at the Goodtimes Tank.
Riders Against the Storm
As perhaps the most celebrated hip hop act in Austin at the moment, Riders Against the Storm are a tour de force, bringing their air of celebration and positivity everywhere they go. Though they’re still hard at work on a new album, the “Booty Sweat” video makes it clear that the finished product has a strong chance at being the Austin hip hop release that finally brings the city some national attention. Still, the band’s live shows are where they shine brightest, even when they’re playing bigger festival stages, whether it’s the X Games or the more pastoral setting of Utopia.
Riders Against the Storm play Sunday at 3:15 pm at the Cypress Stage.
They may be a long way from their days as a heavily touring act clad all in white, but Man Man still know how to create a spectacle, mixing odd costumes and a big chaotic sound. Their newest album On Oni Pond expands their already big sound, making it brassier and funkier, making it less claustrophobic than the tightly wound cabaret style of their earlier work. Out in the open expanses of Utopia, that sound can get even bigger, so expect Man Man to bring some early evening stomp to the final day of Utopia.
Man Man play at 6:30 pm on Sunday at the Cypress Stage.
Before RJD2 became synonymous with Mad Men, he was simply one of the best beatsmiths in the world, a lounge music pillager who stood out as a more prolific inheritor to DJ Shadow’s jazzy throne. This year, RJD2 has opened up his sound in a big way, offering up horn-filled beats for Sugar Tongue Slim for their STS x RJD2 project. That material is an evolution of the film score-sample and synth heavy More Is Than Isn’t from last year, which showed that RJD2 was as capable of getting dance floors moving as forcing cratediggers to nod their heads. RJD2’s Utopia set will likely be a mixture of More Is Than Isn’t work and RJD2’s greatest hits but regardless it will be the most stylish party of the weekend.
Naysayers may have preemptively written tUne-yArDs as a one trick pony but the pop experimentalist has blown her sound wide open in the years since her debut, with her newest LP Nikki Nack dropping the guitars for wobbly synths and R&B melodies, like The Blow and Janet Jackson collaboration you never imagined. In a live setting, tUne-yArDs has historically gone punkier, but with the twist her new stuff has taken, it’s anyone’s guess what the liveshow will be like, though one thing’s for sure, it certainly won’t be boring.
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.