Scenes from Austin Psych Fest, Day One
Photo courtesy Jonathan Patrick
Reptilian croaks -- guitars distended through echo effects -- tickle the ear; I've been offered a pharmacy's worth of chemicals and pot smoke is a potpourri that clots the air. I've arrived at Austin Psych Fest 2014. There's every shade of weird here, and every shape of fascination. Each person is clad in flowing dress or cut at eclectic angles. The sun peaks and sprays through tree branches, dust speckles each ray of golden light. Low-hanging planes roar overhead.
Light. That's a big part of what goes on here. It drapes every scene in a surreal sort of laminate. Walking through the Psych Fest grounds is a procession of scenes like stills from car commercials, with painterly backdrops ripped straight from pastoral '70s dramas. The sunlight paints everything a crisp hue of yellow, then the stage lights remake the landscape with phosphorescent streams of turquoise. Cosmetically, it's quite impossible to impart how portrait-like this place is today.
First big fish on the agenda is Peaking Lights and they are every bit as brilliant as I hoped. Their set starts early on the elevation stage -- a plane of Technicolor spotlights and billowing fog -- which seems to hover over Carson Creek. The background is a lush tree line that, tonight, doubles as a projection screen. It's a clever use of scenery that's downright majestic; the sense of walking through movie moments never lets up. Syrupy purples and phantom blues ooze offstage and spill into the crowd, casting the bouncing skulls stage side in glittery shadows. As the figures onstage swivel mechanically, the water and trees, like organic mirrors, come alive with reflections.
The sound is every bit the sights' equal. The trailing vocals of Indra Dunis and arpeggiated coding of her husband, Aaron Coyes, seem to shimmer in three dimensions. The sonics are at once crystalline and velvety. Like an ode to Oneohtrix Point Never -- whose set was, sadly, canceled earlier in the day -- peaking lights play through a left field gambit of glassy synthscapes that unfold not unlike OPN's early work. Geometric keyboard patterns marry to echo-chamber reverbs as the duo search sounds both spacey and aquatic.
The more angular cuts are fragile and vivid, like panes of stained glass writ in Kraftwerkian electronics. On record, the duo is uniformly lo-fi, but live, Peaking Lights are all HD sculptures and icy clarity. I miss the close of their set as I head over for the Zombies, but I glance back the scene, smeared with plumes of pot haze framed in ocean-green, is one of an audience utterly arrested with satisfaction.