Written and Photographed by Oscar Moreno.
This year’s Levitation in downtown Austin, TX marked the festival’s 10th anniversary. Over those ten years, the once small, independent, word-of-mouth gathering has blossomed into an internationally acclaimed, full weekend destination with the help of its once-in-a-lifetime lineups and its intercontinental and intergenerational programming.
Originally founded by members of The Black Angels and friends in 2008 under the title Austin Psych Fest, the event has since garnered world-wide accolades as one of the most inspired annual musical gatherings. Since its inauguration, its presence has inspired the development of similar psych fests and like-minded events around the globe. The gathering maintained its original title of Austin Psych Fest until 2015 when the organizers decided to rename it Levitation in honor of Austin’s psychedelic rock pioneers, The 13th Floor Elevators, who reunited and performed at Levitation 2015 for the band’s 50th anniversary.
The first performance we had the pleasure of witnessing was that of the Golden Dawn Arkestra at Cheer Up Charlies night club. As the lights died down, a Golden Dawn dancer levitated toward the crowd, smudging the entire venue with sage. The entire orchestra, dressed in gold robes and headdresses reminiscent of Sun Ra aesthetics, performed an absolutely mind-melting afro-psych set, aided by the visual assistance provided by non other than Mustachio Light Show. A street down at the Empire, Ariel Pink took to the stage in a fashion that only he could. It was not long into the set that the crowd surfing commenced as Pink sweetly sang material from his latest album Dedicated to Bobby Jameson.
Golden Dawn Arkestra
The following day, we made our way to Emo’s where we were met with the brooding entrancement and raw anguish of Chelsea Wolfe’s mesmeric vocals. Her set consisted primarily of material from her albums Hiss Spun and The Abyss, with an indescribably breathtaking finish with Hiss Spun final track, ‘Scrape’. As the lights faded to black, the audience bellowed a roar of chant and applause as the doom metal maiden walked off stage. Afterward at the Empire, we caught the ritualistic electro performance of Al Lover as he kicked things off in the Control Room. Then came the unmistakable and unreproducable stylings of Butcher Bear as their vibrational slew captivated the audience, along with their eerie, signature bear costumes that have become synonymous with their tonality.
Next in the Empire’s Control Room came the performance of Botany as Spencer Stephenson conjured an ineffable improvisational set alongside drummer/percussionist Sam Chown of Shmu. Their musical syncopation, as well as their palpable connectivity, made for a truly surreal experience. Across the street at Barracuda, high intensity psych rock outfit, Pearl Earl melted faces with energy, style and grace. Meanwhile, on the Courtyard Stage, Holy Wave treated the audience to new material off of their latest LP with visual aid from ACID Light Show, one of few mainly-analogous light shows in the festival.
The next performance we attended was that of The Octopus Project at the Empire where the multi-instrumentalist quartet filled the room with their vibrational tonality, absolutely slaying their set from start to finish. Everyone in sight stood in total captivation as they were trying to comprehend the power and might of what they were witnessing. The home-grown band is currently setting their sights on an international tour in the days ahead.
As their set concluded, the legendary Dan Deacon set up his equipment while sharing with the crowd a hilarious dream he had about the Predator, which set the tone and served as ongoing subject matter throughout his performance. The lapses and neurotic nuances contained within the Maryland producer’s setlist caused the entirety of the venue break out into a dance; tame at first, until the groove escalated and transformed the crowd into a full-fledged, uninhibited dance party. Baths then closed the night with a hypnotic and impassioned set to remember, primarily performing material from his late 2017 release Romaplasm.
Sunday at the Mohawk, showgoers were charmed by Bedouine’s calm and dreamy vocals as her eclectic folky style quickly dominated the atmosphere of the venue and the moods of the listeners. At one point in the performance, Bedouine brought both Alynda of Hurray for the Riff Raff and Katie from Waxahatchee to perform a cover of Big Star’s ‘Thirteen’; a remarkable interpretation, to say the least, by the three powerful and remarkably talented vocalists.
Despite the chaos, ruckus and commotion now taking place in the streets outside the venue, Hurray for the Riff Raff’s mighty tracks quickly drowned the sound as Alynda’s vivid messagery of equality and youth advocation resonated through the crowd as they roared until performance’s end. Shortly thereafter, Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield began their performance with an impressive solo set, soon to be joined by the rest of the group. Their performance consisted primarily of material from last year’s Out in the Storm, as well as a few from their critically acclaimed Cerulean Salt to make for a truly unforgettable performance, and a flawless conclusion to 2018’s Levitation.
Hurray for the Riff Raff