By Bradley Barnes
Psychedelic music, by its very nature, is constantly evolving, changing and adapting. In the 1960s, psychedelic rock began as an experimental form of rock and roll, and proved to be an influential sub-genre. Shoegaze, heavy metal, punk rock, progressive rock, space rock, and hard rock are just a few of the sub-genres that can trace their roots back to psychedelic rock. Bands as diverse in sound as Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, and Sly and the Family Stone all helped shape the visual and sonic aesthetics of psychedelic, and influenced countless bands in the process.
“That’s all well and good, Bradley, but what does that have to do with Austin,” you might ask? To answer that question (which I’m just going to assume you actually asked), I have two words: A LOT. The 13th Floor Elevators (led by the late, great Roky Erickson), are believed to be the first rock band to specifically call themselves “psychedelic rock,” and even carried band business cards as early as January 1966, referring to themselves as such. Janis Joplin briefly considered joining the band, before she joined Big Brother and the Holding Company in San Francisco. Janis lived in Austin for a number of years, and even performed at the famed Austin venue The Armadillo World Headquarters, which shuttered its doors in 1980. Prior to The Armadillo World Headquarters, Austin had another popular venue called Vulcan Gas Company, which hosted early performances from bands such as The Fugs, Steve Miller Band, and Shiva’s Headband. Shiva’s Headband were, in fact, the first Austin-based rock band to release a record on a national level, with 1969’s Take Me To The Mountains being released on Capitol Records.
While the psychedelic scene isn’t quite what it used to be in the 60s and 70s, the effects can still be felt in Austin to this day. Starting in 2008, Austin hosted a 3-day music festival called Austin Psych Fest, featuring a number of local and international psychedelic music acts. In 2015, the festival was renamed Levitation, in honor of The 13th Floor Elevators, with the festival name being a reference to the band’s song “I’ve Got Levitation.” In celebration of the psychedelic music scene in Austin, as well as the life and influence of Roky Erickson, here’s a list of five artists in Austin that still perform psychedelic music.
Formed in 2006, White Denim play a form of garage rock that incorporates elements of blues, funk, prog, dub and psychedelic rock. The tunes are incredibly catchy, with walls of psychedelic noise and jazzy horn sections washing over the bluesy grooves. I can’t imagine anyone sitting still during a performance. If you took some Tame Impala, The Black Keys and Ty Segall, stuck them in a blender, then added a few dub and electronic influences in the mix for good measure, you might get an idea of what White Denim sounds like.
The Octopus Project
The Octopus Project, formed in 1999, really keep the experimental nature of psychedelic music alive, by bringing it firmly into an electronic music setting. The synthesizers used in each song sound like the music you’d hear in an original NES video game, along with traditional instruments like drums, guitar, and bass. Sonically, The Octopus Project have crafted a sound that is twee, hypnotic and joyful, all at the same time. To get the full experience, though, you have to see them live, with some shows transcending the normal concert experience, and going into more of an interactive performance art exhibit, complete with a mind-blowing psychedelic light show.
Heavy metal was born out of the psychedelic rock movement, with bands like Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, and Cream bridging the gap between the two genres, at least in terms of sheer volume. The connection is even more evident in early pictures of Black Sabbath, with the barefooted, smiling Ozzy Osbourne holding up the peace sign, and looking every bit like a “Flower Child” of the 60s. That’s where Duel comes in. Formed in 2015 by two former members of Scorpion Child (another 70s influenced metal band from Austin), Duel play a heavy, fuzzed out form of stoner metal. Bluesy solos, a thick low-end tone, and gruff but melodic vocals come together to create a sound that wouldn’t be out of place alongside bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Hawkwind.
Golden Dawn Arkestra
Possibly the most unique act on this list, Golden Dawn Arkestra came to this planet in 2013, choosing Austin as their home base. With outlandish costumes reminiscent of the Ancient Egyptian-influenced stage gear worn by jazz legend Sun Ra and his band, Golden Dawn Arkestra could qualify as a psychedelic band based on stage presence alone. Then the music starts. Afrobeat, jazz fusion, blues, soul, funk, new age synth and psychedelic rock all combine to create some of the most unique music you’re likely to hear. For fans of Sun Ra and Acid Mother’s Temple, Austin’s Golden Dawn Arkestra are worth your time. Even if you don’t see them live, the music takes you on a cosmic journey. Warning: you might want to decorate your room with fuzzy posters and lava lamps after listening to this band.
The Black Angels
If for no other reason, The Black Angels make this list for performing as Roky Erickson’s backing band on a West Coast tour back in 2008. Performing since 2004, The Black Angels named themselves after a Velvet Underground song, and have a similar tone to bands like The Warlocks, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and The Black Keys. Moody, shoegazey, and hypnotic, The Black Angels are a captivating listen, giving you the feeling you’ve taken a time machine back to the hey-day of psychedelic rock back in the 60s. Having performed at multiple Levitation/Austin Psych Fests, The Black Angels have become psych rock royalty in Austin, and help keep the psych tradition alive!
Featured image courtesy of Creative Commons.