The idea behind Denton’s NX35 music festival, now in its second year, is nothing short of genius. With dozens and dozens of bands making their way to Austin’s South-by-Southwest (SXSW), why not give them a place to stop off on their way into town and get in a gig? Call it leaching off one of the world’s premiere music festivals. Who cares? The northern part of the state gains by leaps and bounds, and this year’s festival has grown similarly in ambition. To preview this year’s fest, which features nearly 200 acts, we’ve pulled together some highlights.
The centerpiece of this year’s festival is the mammoth and free Flaming Lips/ Midlake show, which will take place at 6 p.m. on Saturday at The North Texas Fairgrounds. To get a sense of just how huge this “get” is for NX35, listen to how the stress of pulling it off seeps into this update on the NX35 site:
We’ve also discovered over the course of weeks that all of you are “excited” about the show. You find it “exciting” something like this is happening in Denton. And why wouldn’t you, but for us those e-words had become off-limits in our office. All the details––regardless of our staff’s rather broad range of production experience––have been hard to scale in light of the behemoth place this show occupies in our minds. The details begin to get in the way of the warm platitudes that poked and prodded us such a short time ago to try to stage something like this.
And that kind of sucks, because this stuff is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be a celebration of Denton’s unsinkable music culture. It’s supposed to be something that’s hopeful for better things in this place despite the regular challenges of covering the rent.
One of NX35’s highlights is its panels. This is, after all, a “conferette.” This year’s topics include:
A Keynote address from Steve Albini: The famed musician, engineer, and writer who helped craft the sounds of seminal albums like The Pixie’s Surfer Rosa and Nirvana’s In Utero.
“From the Physical to the Digital:” A look at the transition in how music is stored and transferred.
“Drink and Think: Is Midlake Better than Miley Cyrus?” Attempts to answer this question: Are the merits of indie music more important than the merits of pop music?
“The Ever-Changing Live Music Landscape in DFW:” Does the proliferation of house shows in the area represent a new and profound shift in how live music is presented, performed, and promoted?
“The Changing Nature of Music Journalism:” A gathering of local music scribes will discuss the impact new media is having on old, dragging up those old questions: what are blogs, journalists, twitterers, etc.?
Bands to Take a Chance On
There are a number of local acts who stand out in the festival line up, including Neon Indian, Sarah Jaffe, Mathew and the Arogant Sea, Fergus & Geronimo, Telegraph Canyon, and Lips/Midlake. Here are some other bands that I think are worth checking out:
Electric Electric (Friday, Mar 12 at J&J’s Pizza, 118 W. Oak St.)
The only problem I have with Electric Electric is that I am not about eight years younger, heading to their show at NX35 with a bottle of vodka in my back pocket ready for a night of trance-induced madness. Via Strasbourg, France, Electric Electric’s dance-rock sound is heavy and hypnotic; their instrumental song/compositions kick-in and drive hard and then drive harder until you find yourself moving towards frenzy. Cathartic.
These guys from Denton have made it onto the bill of a couple of Gorilla vs. Bear-promoted shows in the area, and while there’s a hint of that very GvB 1960s-laced dream-pop here, PVC has a straight-ahead punk aggression that balances-out the influences. How very Denton of them.
Dear Human (Friday, Mar 12 at The Boiler Room, 101 W. Hickory St.)
I indulge in a little King Crimson from time to time — a little guilty pleasure. So Denton-based Dear Human’s prog-punk-emo (am I allowed to say that?) hits me somewhere. I caught their very first show last year by chance, and found these guys monstrously talented. At its best, their intricate, odd-timed syncopation sounds like how I imagine a Cornelius sound check.
Indian Jewelry (Friday, Mar 12 at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, 411 E. Sycamore St.)
Electro-goth with a bit of an industrial mixed-in (think Lo Fidelity Allstars’ Battleflag, only darker), according to the band’s MySpace page they hail from Houston via Afghanistan. There’s an anger in their songs to prove it – manic compositions that rumble and explode, every so often revealing the tinge of eastern influence.
Hotel Hotel (Friday, Mar 12 at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, 411 E. Sycamore St.)
I’ll just share what I wrote when I caught them at the Annex House last year: “Hotel Hotel creates a swelling mass of noise that mixes the harmonic sensibilities of Euro-bands like Sigur Ros and Mogwai with something hauntingly Texan – like strange overtones of a vacant landscape, an abandoned town. Unlike fellow Austin ambient rockers Explosions in the Sky, Hotel Hotel seem content to create great moments of introspection which swell and expand, creating drama in their volume instead of resolving in riff-based jams. Ed Warga’s drums pound out a delicate balance in the soundscape, providing not so much a unifying groove, as a beating heart.”
And heck, I used to play in bands with Warga back in high school (we’re both Wrong Island exiles in Texas), so I’m going to tell you to go support them.
Summer of Glaciers (Friday, Mar 12 at Banter, 219 W. Oak St.)
San Francisco jam dance band mixes a mess of synth loops and ambient, shoegaze-y guitar work over IDM-inspired beats on a live drum kit. They play at 8 p.m. on Friday, though they would have been a good 1 a.m. band.
I Heart Lung (Saturday, Mar 13 at Texas 8 Ball, 218 W. Oak St.)
I Heart Lung seem to answer the question: what if Sigur Ros had played on Miles Davies’ Bitches Brew? I know, who asked? But this band decided to answer it nonetheless. John McLaughlin and Brian Eno fans may also be happy with what they find in this Pasadena-based jazz-ambient crossover ensemble.
The Walkmen (Sunday, Mar 14 at Hailey’s, 122 W. Mulberry St.)
The New York-based band won a great deal of critical acclaim with their 2008 release You & Me. What gets me is the reverb-drenched, Phil Spector-ish wall of sound that the indie blog darlings have blaring behind the Dylan-esque vocal lines.
French Horn Rebellion (Sunday, Mar 14 at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, 411 E. Sycamore St.)
A good-time sounding dance/funk band that draws on Daft Punk and a little Jamiroquai with a melodic sensibility reminiscent of Phoenix’s Alphabetical. They throw in enough euro-dance camp to keep the sound fun and bouncing. If you were into last year’s brilliant effort by Empire of the Sun, you will not be disappointed with French Horn Rebellion
FUR (Sunday, 14 at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, 411 E. Sycamore St.)
Some Additional the Local Coverage
Hunter Hauk interviews The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne (and adds 10 must see acts at the fest), and this exchange from the interview pretty much sums up why something like NX35 is so important to this area:
Q: You are headlining NX35. Have you spent enough time in Denton yet to tell me your impression of the place?
Coyne: You know, I’ve probably been through it 5,000 times, but I’ve never really stopped there. There’ve been a couple of shows that my wife and I thought about going to when we were in Dallas, different times. But it didn’t happen because of timing or other reasons. I just know that people talk about Denton as more of “the spot” than other places in the Dallas area.
And in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Preston Jones sums up the Austin overflow that will play in Dallas.
Photo: The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne. Mrmatt via WikiCommons