Hair Ties and Wet Willies: Our Journey Inside Sound on Sound

by Zev Powell

Photos by Ashley Bradley and Casey Holder

Sound on Sound

Music festivals of 2016 be warned—particularly ones with field parking and tent camping—you are the embodiment of manifest destiny to attract torrential storms. It’s uncanny. There must be  a recurring wet willie bully out there. Sound on Sound’s first year at Sherwood Forest Faire trod on through a muddy downpour during Sunday’s rains. The difference between SOS—Sound on Sound is the manifestation of a faction that splintered off from the now-defunct Fun Fun Fun Fest—and other recent fests was that the event organizers, however stressed they must have been, held their pants up and very diligently reassured the fans that the fest would continue after it was deemed safe. No campers were going to float away in Noah’s Ark this time. But the faint-hearted didn’t make it through Sunday. Timid and weary, many of us turned away from the foreboding skies above Paige, Texas. So in lieu of a full recap, this piece is meant to focus on some interesting encounters of the festival on Friday and Saturday, and an account of our envy of those who braved the tempest on Sunday.

The layout in the Sherwood Forest Faire very blatantly created two massively different worlds. The three small stages were tucked into the cozy woods of the fairgrounds while the main stage was erected like a far off behemoth in the open field beyond the wooden gates. There is always a distinct attitude and expectation when you walk into different calibers of festival stages, and I appreciate that it was very easy to get an idea of the options available at SOS. Although the set times were stacked over one another making it hard to decide between two great acts—Fidlar stacked on Thee Oh Sees was a mistake—you could make up your mind by the time you had seen three shows as to which stage would be your go-to spot. A Feng Shui favorite was The Keep stage. It felt like an enclosed courtyard. Although it was roofless, it kept in sweat and sound like an intimate dingy renaissance music club.


Thundercat on The Keep stage

In the spirit of the renaissance I decided to bring some themed tarot cards and try to engage the artists in the backstage throne room off of the media area. I didn’t have any interviews set up and I defeated the confusing maze to find my way to the artists’ lounge. I definitely wasn’t supposed to be there. Not only did I get uneasy and insecure about my obliviousness as to the meanings of tarot cards, I felt a little weird approaching musicians on such a false prophetic level. I did catch the Spaniard girls from HINDS sitting at a long pub hall bench before I decided to scratch my project.

Bassist Ade Martin was the first to speak up. She told me she was scared of tarot cards and wouldn’t let me read hers. Very understandable. After awkward deck shuffling lead singer and guitarist Carlotta Cosials decided to pull her card. Page of Swords. I sat there mumbling through the description on the tarot pamphlet. Even though English isn’t her first language I think she grasped the message better than I did. Divinatory meaning: “A passionate young person given to seeking out the heart of the matter, even to the point of spying.” Cosials retorted, “So, does that make me a spy?” I didn’t have an answer. I caught the HINDS set later that night. The Madrid garage pop four-piece managed to masterfully balance an endearing act with their high-pitched feedback.


Hinds enjoying their SOS time

Death Grips, Run the Jewels, Young Thug, and Big Boi were reasons enough for rap fans to show up for SOS. Aesop Rock’s thought-hop appealed to the diehard lyricists. Denzel Curry was an all out phenomenal performance. He was more engaging as a hip-hop performer than I had ever seen, and stage presence means so much to that genre. Talking to Curry after his set, he seemed genuinely bashful over his recent run of success and wasn’t bored by questions about where his tour was taking him next. After devouring a taco salad he blurted out, ”You want to go see Death Grips?” At a very fast clip to the main stage he asked me if I had a hair tie. Curry wanted to dive right into the crowd without being recognized for his standout hairdo. He confided in me, “You know why I wear my hair this way? Slipknot.” I wasn’t expecting that.

I knew nothing about Youth of Today before seeing them on Saturday, nor am I usually prepared for such thrashy music to come out of a group of middle-aged men. After the first song I was bewildered. And then after lead singer Ray Cappo’s first Hare Krishna monologue I was downright curious. It turns out Youth of Today hail from a pocket of straight edge hardcore punk coming from New England during the mid to late 1980s. They embodied a different punk ethos called “Youth Crew” which embraced sobriety and vegetarianism; general kindness in the stark contrast to angry punk at the time. While their message doesn’t dabble in disgruntled politics I can’t help but think about my childhood admiration for System of a Down. The optimism of Youth of Today is an absolute paradox of the aggravated perspective of SOAD. In light of the gloomy Election Day that followed SOS weekend, I reflect more deeply on the intense delivery of their moral agenda that was so niche in the market of punk hatred during the 80s. And just as Youth of Today have been resurrected for their reunion tours, there is breaking news System of a Down are to release a new studio record. Whether or not you like the aggro bands it may be an important time for their alternative lifestyles to be trumpeted.

It’s futile to name-drop every single local band that graced the stage last weekend. But it would be more shameful to not mention that Sound on Sound did a good job of putting local music on the bill. Having come from the ashes of Fun Fun Fun Fest, a festival that had to shut down by 10 pm for curfew, the campgrounds were a new factor in the equation. It’s really unique to prominently feature hometown musicians at a large scale camping festival, no matter how early in the day. And Austin has the kind of crowd that will show up for those early sets.


BoomBaptist playing one of the last local sets before the skies opened up

I am one of the feeble ones who bailed on Sunday’s fiasco before it had ever happened—It turns out the fiasco was more of a warning shot. My emotional investment in live music did not yield enough optimism that day. As soon as I decided to stay at home the clouds parted and it no longer rained spaghetti and meatballs. I did my best to avoid the barrage of Instagram Stories and Snapchats that reluctantly landed in my social media. My friends were comfortably front row fanboys at shows that would usually draw crowds of thousands. Maybe I’m a new curse to music festivals. Now that the Chicago Cubs have finally broken the curse of the Billy Goat, Zev is taking over the reins of musical weather terror.

RIP Leonard Cohen.

Zev Powell is a creative problem scientist. To find out more about him, check out his website.