As Index Fest’s second year comes to a close, there are definite praises in order. The opening year provided a sturdy foundation to off which to work, and its significant changes—including the noticeable addition of Elm Street bars and clubs—provided a comfortable experience for attendees. If you’re of the opinion that a festival is only as good as its lineup, then Index Fest delivered with a varied mix of mostly independent acts across multiple genres. Here are a few we had the chance to experience:
Run the Jewels
Probably the most obvious injustice of the night was Run the Jewels’ attendance count. The duo’s set sat right in the middle of the Friday rush hour, and so the resulting body count spread itself out in several chunks opposite the Red Hook stage. For the rest of the day, I am an audience, much to the dissatisfaction of several attendees who missed the set due to transportation troubles. One woman makes an exaggerated sad face and presses me for details when I describe the set to her later that night, and it’s then that I wonder just how different the set would have been with more people in attendance.
If El-P or Killer Mike noticed the disparity in attendance, they never showed it. They rocked the crowd thoroughly, while coupling hilarious stage banter with quips about intoxication and drugs. Killer Mike, at one point, informs the crowd that “[El-P] is druuuuunk,” and later pokes fun about his kids asking for El-P as their “white uncle.” Aside from the music, the real jewel lies in the relationship the two rappers share: there’s no inbred hostility or a need to dominate each other’s space. The two physically and figuratively work around each other, feeding off of each other’s jokes, wit, and energy. When El-P precedes “36 Inch Chain” with a speech about self-actualization, Killer Mike looks on in approval; when Killer Mike breaks into a dance during “Get It,” El-P and the crowd cheers him on. The easygoing nature is the result of not only long months of collaboration on one of hip-hop’s popular releases of the year, but also a friendship that makes itself known on stage.
A personal joy was finally being able to see Killer Mike live after a childhood of Trina and Bone Crusher features and an unfortunate missed connection at 35 Denton. On stage, he is a non-stop ball of energy and smiles, proclaiming everything from his intoxication to humorous remarks about child support payments. When the set’s 45 minutes are up, it feels much too soon. The crowd’s shuffle over to Devotchka is lethargic.
“I FEEL LIKE I’M GOING ON A SAFARI AT ONE IN THE MORNING,” was the first of several texts I sent to a friend during Datahowler’s Prophet Bar set. The Dallas native, paired with a live drummer and visuals, does make the sort of quietly thundering music for late night explorations, which might explain the subdued reactions from the growing crowd throughout the set. Unlike the other shows I visited, there was little cause for applause or crowd commentary during the set, but there was no doubt that onlookers enjoyed the vibe and felt fit to settle in for what later turned into an excellent end to the night at the Prophet Bar.
The last time I saw Dessa perform, I was a freshman spending her first night in Denton and simultaneously experiencing her first Doomtree performance. In time, much has changed. I’ve grown to love Dessa, Denton, and Doomtree (say that three times fast). Also, Parts of Speech, Dessa’s 2013 effort, appeared to critical acclaims. Parts of the album made their way into her Index set, but most of her performance featured Doomtree favorites and previous work.
The crowd was pleasant, tolerating superfans that crowded around the stage or otherwise politely nodding along. Dessa remained open and inviting long after the show, and didn’t hesitate to meet with any fan that crossed her path. Even as she made her way out of the Prophet Bar Ballroom, she found time to indulge me in a warm handshake and smile as I thanked her.
After Dessa’s set, I am still lounging around when the woman next to me taps my shoulder. “Do you think Erykah Badu will show up?” she calls, an obvious reference to the Badu’s backing band. Over the course of the set, I am asked the same question three more times, each time with similar justifications: “Erykah just, you know, shows up everywhere.”
Badu does not make an appearance, but nobody (especially The Cannabinoids themselves) is worse off for it. Those who do join the band on the stage – including local favorites Sam Lao, -topic, and Sarah Jaffe – delight in their own special way, but the heart of the performance lies in the funk and groove mix the Cannabinoids guide us through. Several times we hear from lead vocalist Picnic that the Cannabinoids do not rehearse, and yet the band is so tight that the claim seems dubious. Perhaps what they mean is that you just can’t rehearse this kind of cool.
Fresh on the heels of fellow Doomtree member Dessa’s performance, P.O.S—otherwise known as Stefon Alexander—warmed up the Red Hook stage on an early Saturday evening with some still visible sunshine. His set would go on to be peppered by playful chiding of the crowd: “You guys look bored” or “Everyone needs to take, like, fifteen steps forward.” But Doomtree enthusiasts needed no encouragement. As Alexander’s accompanying band, Marijuana Deathsquads, tore through hits from 2012’s We Don’t Even Live Here, fans shouted lyrics, pushed, and generally interacted with Alexander and his band. Confused or otherwise unimpressed onlookers received the most of Alexander’s commentary, but he still made time to announce his upcoming performance at Club Dada later in the evening. He also mentioned Marijuana Deathsquads’ pending remix album for We Don’t Even Live Here.
Easily the best performance of the set was “F-ck Your Stuff,” the Lazerbeak-produced four-minute taunt fest that lampoons materialism. This is the first time of the day that I see people do more than sway aimlessly on their heels. There is dancing, shoving, and actual cheers of approval from an instantly engaged crowd. Of all the things that can be said about Alexander, his glee is the least discussed. Yet, when you watch Alexander perform, one foot on a monitor, leaning in so close that you can see his grin, you get the sense that you are watching a man who truly enjoys what he does.
Fans had been lining the barrier of the Goose Island stage long before Warpaint made it onto the stage, and the dream pop quadruplet did end up drawing quite a crowd by the start of their set. Weather and stage placement aided the performance, though it was to the band’s credit that they, in turn, were the perfect accompaniment to the calm and cool evening. But their real power comes from the alluring pull of their soft melodies contrasted with complex drumming. Their crowd had various levels of engagement, from true fanatics who mouthed every word, to newcomers who liked what they heard and nodded politely. The highly anticipated rendition of the 2010 hit “Undertow,” went smoothly, and was preceded by other songs from their only release, The Fool. Other notable aspects included an inspired light show and running commentary from the band. “Wave your glowsticks like you just don’t care.” The crowd gladly complied.
It is to my deepest chagrin that I arrived half an hour late to Girl Talk’s set, but I can report that the forty-five minutes that I did get to enjoy were spent entirely on my feet. Girl Talk’s (actual name: Gregg Gillis) greatest strength is that one did not need the entirety of his 75 minute set to truly enjoy the show or his showmanship. Gillis’ transitions were as frequent as they were seamless, and the constant twists and turns drew one of the biggest, if not the biggest, crowd of the night. There are obvious reasons for Girl Talk’s broad appeal. Gillis’ extensive familiarity with pop music creates an atmosphere that doesn’t demand the prerequisite studying of that of a smaller indie act. You don’t even have to know who Gillis is, but the truth is that long before the efforts of other similar “party rock” staples, Gillis had scientifically dissected then recombined the elements of the genre, complete with on-stage dance sessions featuring full immersion of the DJ himself.
Some mixes from his popular Feed the Animals and All Day albums made an appearance to keep the festivities moving, but the majority of show featured the live mixing of today’s greatest hits, including well-placed sound clips from rap and pop behemoths. Accompanying the mix were completely expected party favors: giant confetti showers, beach balls, and strobe lights. Nothing felt cheap or tacky or essentially took away from the fun. Sometimes, all you really want is to dance the night away under a cloud of confetti. Perhaps Gillis understands this better than most of us.
For some festival attendees, the night ended with the last confetti blast from Girl Talk’s invigorating party-rock set. I ended Index Fest watching Ben Ivascu and Freddy Votel duly beat the hell out of their drums for Marijuana Deathsquads’ roaring set. Club Dada was packed in well before the band started to play, but I was still lucky enough enough to grab comfortable seating and a complete view of the stage. Watching Ivascu and Votel deliver the backbone of the sound was mesmerizing. It’s one thing to hear some of the most intricate drumming I’ve personally ever heard, but actually watching them somehow never even break a sweat, was a joy in itself. Rounding out the band’s unmatched sound was P.O.S. on the keyboards and vocalist Ryan Olson, whose warped vocals and energetic stage presence captured those closest to the stage especially.
Tracks from the band’s latest releases (Music Rocks I & II, Oh My Sexy Lord) washed over the crowd in waves of what seemed like one never-ending song. Even with an early departure, I could hear the drums trailing down Elm Street, only slightly muffled by the endless stream of fans still making their way inside.
All photos by Andi Harman.