The sprawling, dilapidated Seaholm Power Plant on the southwestern edge of downtown Austin, Texas is an ideal venue for a haunted house—or, incidentally, for the purpose it served on the weekend of April 29th; the creation of a dark, otherworldly atmosphere to celebrate the current resurgence of psychedelic music and commemorate its Southern roots. The vast cement edifice, its original purpose defunct since 1986, now serves as a occasional venue for performances, festivals and other events, resting dormant for the remainder of the year. For this year’s Austin Psych Fest, the Seaholm plant housed two stages, a sweeping bar, a band merchandise area, several local vintage clothing and record-vending stands, an outdoor food court where one could procure face paint, henna tattoos, feather jewelry or a massage, countless mazelike passageways leading to various vacant, roped-off chambers and a private upstairs area decorated with giant dream-catchers, draped string lights, communal hookah pipes, plush fur rugs and sunken couches for artists, their guests and members of the press to unwind in.
Upon entry, we descended into a hypnotic, cavelike haze of smoke, fog and ethereal technicolor lights. The immense, dimly-lit industrial space was interspersed with mind-expanding, optical-illusion-inducing installation art pieces by Austin-based contemporary artist Jeremy Earhart (a collection of moving images projected onto a “wall” of moving mist, several arrangements of meticulously carved, seemingly undulating mirrors and transparent, fluorescent-colored acrylic and plexiglass lit with strobe lights). Over the course of the three-day festival, we met some fascinating characters and listened to an array of incredible music performed by an eclectic mélange of bands hailing from all over the country—ranging from Roky Erickson, one of the founding members of original 1960’s psychedelic band 13th Floor Elevators, to cult experimental Spacemen 3-offshoot Spectrum, to sugar-coated electronic psych-pop-synth group Black Moth Super Rainbow, to breakout neo-psych bands such as Crocodiles and The Soft Moon.
The Black Angels
Christian Bland, lead guitarist for Austin-based headlining band The Black Angels, founding member of the Reverberation Appreciation Society and creator of psychedelic art & design collective Bland Design, was able to answer a few questions for us about his fourth year curating and participating in the burgeoning festival.
ANNABEL GRAHAM: The Black Angels curated Psych Fest. It seems like you guys had a significant impact on the aesthetics of the festival. Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement? What was your experience in curating the show this year and in forming such an environment for your music?
CHRISTIAN BLAND: We started the festival in 2008. After touring the US, Canada, Europe and the UK since 2005, we've met hundreds of like-minded bands. We figured what better place to bring all our friends’ bands to town for a psychedelic weekend than the place where psychedelic rock was born. The first 3 years I did most of the booking, but this past year we've been so busy touring that Rob Fitzpatrick (one of 4 members of the Reverberation Appreciation Society) did 90% of the booking for APF 4.
GRAHAM: As demonstrated by the festival, the genre of psych-rock is undergoing a major reemergence. Psych Fest is one of the only modern-day festivals dedicated purely to the genre of psychedelic music. What are your views on the manner in which the genre is reemerging in relation to its past (similarities/ differences)? What are your predictions on the future of the genre?
BLAND: It seems like psych rock is gaining more popularity than it has since the late 60's. Hopefully it'll take over the radio waves; then we can start the revolution. I honestly don't think the masses are ready for psych rock to hit the mainstream. It almost seems psychedelic rock is meant to live underground. Maybe one day it'll boil over and take over the world, but I think it'll take a re-awakening of some sort.
GRAHAM: How did this year’s Psych Fest compare to previous years? It’s definitely grown in size and notoriety since its founding in 2008.
BLAND: This was the biggest year yet. Every year it’s grown more and more. It seems to be a testament to the rising popularity of modern psych rock.
GRAHAM: I’d love to know a bit more about your solo endeavor, Christian Bland and The Revelators. How is that developing, and how is it different from your work with The Black Angels? What new avenues or directions has it allowed you as an individual musician?
BLAND: If the Black Angels could put out and album every year, then I probably wouldn't have a side project. It's really an outlet for me to put out as much music as I possibly can. I'm constantly writing new songs, so I need different avenues to release my music other than The Black Angels. I've got another project called The UFO Club with Lee Blackwell from The Night Beats as well.
GRAHAM: The city of Austin has a rich history in the realm of psychedelic rock. In your opinion, in what ways is Austin a prime environment for the reemergence of the genre? Do you think that Psych Fest’s location has contributed to its success?
BLAND: Yes, for sure. It’s the reason we have Psych Fest in Austin, and the reason The Black Angels started there. We owe it all to the 13th Floor Elevators.
GRAHAM: I’m sure you’re still cooling off from this year’s Psych Fest, but any ideas brewing for next year?
BLAND: The 5th anniversary’s gonna be the best year yet. Hopefully we can get all the bands we've wanted over the past 5 years, but haven't been able to get.... Clinic, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Zombies...
Text byAnnabel Graham
Color photography by Annabel Graham
Black and White photography by Sebastian Spader