Concert Review and Photos: Chaos in Tejas Festival’s Unlikely Spillover Into Taqueria El Picante

As I mentioned yesterday, the annual Chaos in Tejas festival, like every other large-scale Austin event, had a profound impact on North Texas music in the past week. But what separates Chaos from, say, the relatively lukewarm booking of last month’s Psych Fest, is that C.i.T. is not afraid to dip into the extremes.

This was obvious early in the week, and the influx of quality acts even seemed to scramble habits a bit, since Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton hosted the kind of punk show that Taqueira El Picante might also feature on any other day, while the DIY taco venue hosted the kind of prickly lineup that RGRS has welcomed for years.

The Discipline Collective, which holds a monthly DJ night of the painfully obscure, booked the show, and it featured six acts and yet stayed relatively ahead of schedule. Most of the artists had just performed at Chaos in Tejas and were from such exotic locales as Denmark, Sweden, and Arizona.

Frederikke Hoffmeier aka Puce Mary was one of these artists, who was here all the way from Copenhagen. Throwing her head back in-between giant blasts, she was proactively theatrical, confronting the crowd at every opportunity and making a small room feel minuscule.

Then came the smoke, and the feeling was a little claustrophobic. By the time they went on, Tempe Arizona’s Marshstepper was playing through a generous and sickened plume that engulfed the room. Not only was I worried that smoke might be overkill in El Picante, the band opened with an overly long intro that promised little initially. That was before the beat, menace, and endlessly echoing vocals butchered the smoke effect, chopping the mood into more succinct and danceable moments.

Though they are known for staging some pretty wild, if somewhat expected performance art (sometimes  involving fire or incorporating dominatrix culture), Marshstepper came off less confrontational than most of the other acts. Instead, they relied on the beat—a true, unapologetic dance beat—more than any of the other musicians. No matter how tortured they seemed, or how often they would slip back into droning, the beat kept the set in an unwavering upswing. In some ways, this made the group the most accessible band I saw, their set unfolding like a truly thought-out full-length entity, as opposed to a series of singles.

New York’s Pharmakon took an opposite approach, jumping right in with planet-sized jolts, intermittent screams, and little buildup. When performer Margaret Chardiet’s set dipped into less defined methodology, there was a harmonic weirdness that came off as more melodic than most of these tangential deviations tend to be. It helped the technique seem more like a plan and less like an afterthought, which was appreciated. Those soft moments were short-lived, however, and the set whiplashed back into the anguish, the spare rhythm, and, ultimately, an actual payoff. Pharmakon juggled the low throb and the high pierce with a staggering balance.

I’ll often sit through sets wondering why people are so animated when the music is so obviously dull. This evening was the opposite. The crowd was neighborly and polite all while being poked, prodded, and intimidated. It’s not always that way at shows of this genre, but everyone was at full attention, with the confidence that comes with knowing a roster like this doesn’t just roll through town every week. The venue was perfect, allowing the full attack and display, but its size prevented it from ever becoming indistinguishably overwhelming. You could—visually and aurally—make out every dot of static, even through the smoke.

All photos by Andi Harman