Faster Than Sound: Levitation Returns for Halloween Weekend
A conversation with Botany and other cross-genre recs
After a year off, locally grown music convocation Levitation returns for its 12th edition. Incoming Thursday through Sunday, the grouping of gigs scatters across seven Austin music venues with a wealth of touring bands' long-awaited returns. From April in 2018, November in 2019, the not-exactly-a-fest tries out Halloweekend in its third year on the Downtown club circuit.
The former Austin Psych Fest continues cross-genre exploration with headliners Thundercat, Japanese Breakfast, the Hives, Yves Tumor, Black Midi, and local leads like fest-founders the Black Angels, Portrayal of Guilt, and Golden Dawn Arkestra.
Across locales, entry requires a negative COVID-19 test obtained within 72 hours or proof of vaccination. With four-day passes off the market, tickets to some individual shows are available at levitation.fm, with official resales at lyte.com/levitation-austin. At press time, nine of Levitation's more-than-20 concerts have sold out.
Free entry, the Levitation Lounge at the Green Jay (former Beerland) offers daily DJs and late-night shows, including Amplified Heat's Motörhead-covering alter ego Mean Machine and Daiistar, a new noise-pop project from Wurve bandleader Alex Capistran. Find more "Faster Than Sound"-picked recommendations below.
BotanyThu 28, Scholz Garten, 9pm
After 11 years as Botany, producer and multi-instrumentalist Spencer Stephenson says September EP Portal Orphanage may hang up the alias. The follow-up to last year's End the Summertime F(or)ever deepened the local's organically inclined beatmaking and sound-collage voyages with Austin label Western Vinyl. Botany still thrives Thursday, where Stephenson also joins headliner the Octopus Project as a new member alongside Deep Time and Moon Kissed.
Austin Chronicle: You posted about taking a break from Botany.
Botany: It felt like I was doing Botany because of the momentum of what Botany had come to be. The habits and tropes it fell into, especially with beat music and beat culture, I started to identify with less and less. I'm ready to go back to a time when I was not so habituated to genres of any kind. I wouldn't set music down in general, I'd start working under my own name or a different name. How old is that idea? Even the Beatles with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was their way of getting out of their own way.
AC: Will that impact your live show?
B: I want to have passages that are extremely guitar-centric and focused on organic performance, which I feel like is something I've hugely left out of my live presentation. There are a few artists that I admire [for] the purity of them being solo instrumentalists at heart with a really heavy sound design element, like Mary Lattimore with the harp and my labelmate Joseph Shabason, who builds these entire worlds around his saxophone. I may or may not [play guitar at Levitation], but that's where I am right now.
AC: Was guitar your first instrument?
B: It was, and I started playing drums around the same time. My parents made music really accessible. We had a cheap drum set when I was in elementary school, and my dad's a guitar player, so that stuff was always around. Because of what you can do with effects pedals, guitar was the first thing that made me say, "Okay, an instrument doesn't have to strictly sound like what you stereotypically think it should."
Even though a lot of the drums sound programmed on Portal Orphanage, they were actually played live on a hybrid drum set, combining MIDI drums with an actual set of hi-hats, snare drum, or whatever else. Trying to finger drum feels more foreign to me. Why don't I just fucking do the thing, instead of this simulation? That probably speaks a lot of my approach to electronic music as a whole. My music has always had a humanistic through line.
AC: I heard shared themes with your prior album End the Summertime F(or)ever.
B: In my mind they're not distinct projects. It was all made at the same time, and it felt like breathing them out. The core of these tracks was the result of daily exercise: I'm going to make a thing, not judge it while it's happening. I was at the height of beatmaking habits and able to execute everything un-self-consciously. If my last five or six albums are like a cave excavation, then the last two were me reaching the very back wall of the cave and being like, "Well, I guess I just turn around and walk out now."
CrumbThu 28, Stubb's, 7:30pm
Instant-classic 2017 capture Locket introduced many to the ooey-gooey, surprising, psychedelic rock sounds of Crumb. Formed while students at Tufts University, the fourpiece's trick effects hang at the edge of fever dream and soothing swoon. The band stayed independent for May album Ice Melt, finding streamlined experimentalism led by singer, guitarist, and songwriter Lila Ramani.
Ami DangFri 29, Stubb's, 5:30pm
In the interplay of North Indian classical sounds and immersive ambient electronics, find Baltimore artist Ami Dang's elegant, meditative links. After performing a shabad (or hymn) at a Sikh family holiday last year, the producer conjured four devotional songs as Meditations Mixtape, Vol. 1. Mind-bending sitar and Dang's haunting vocals guide.
Sun JuneSat 30, Mohawk, 5:30pm
Joint effort with local Keeled Scales and Boston-based Run for Cover, wistful Austin pop assembly Sun June found sophomore excellence with February's Somewhere. The stirring collection of semiopaque scenes fuels upcoming dates with Shakey Graves ahead of a European tour.
Pleasure VenomSat 30, Hotel Vegas, 9pm
The dynamically raging and all-around inimitable force of Audrey Campbell propels Pleasure Venom. The purveyors of dogged hardcore punk, at work on a new album, previewed ferocious developments with 2021 singles "Fascist" and "We Get What You Deserve." Campbell's hasty yelps, snarls, and takedowns shine on the new songs, perfectly sinister for spooky season.
SasamiSun 31, Stubb's, 8pm
Los Angeles songwriter Sasami's latest finds metal as an ideal conduit for Daniel Johnston's "Sorry Entertainer," a blowout on artistic desperation. Recalibrating from a celebrated self-titled 2019 shoegaze venture, the singer plays a prankster babysitter from hell in her new video with comedian Patti Harrison.
Sailor PoonSun 31, Empire Control Room & Garage, 12mid
The very last, latest, probably delightfully sloppiest time slot of the weekend belongs to Sailor Poon. In a belated summer release party for Sailor Poon's First Album, the always gregarious punk troupe performed out of the back of pickup trucks in front of Kinda Tropical. Next week, perhaps they'll play shriek-infused fest ode "Levitation" off 2016's Yeast Pigeon.