Austin, Texas boldly bills itself the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Home of SXSW and loads of bands playing everything from country and indie to hip hop and blues, they might be right (I’m biased, but Montreal must be an honourable mention). So, with Austin’s reputation as a music hotbed in mind, I rolled up to Théâtre Fairmount for the Rad Drugz Tour featuring three of the Texas capital’s hottest acts.
When I think of Austin, the first thing that comes to mind is Willie Nelson in late night re-runs of Austin City Limits on PBS. But there’s much more to the city than stoner-friendly country. The duo Swells, for example, opened the show with slow-burning electronic pop tunes like their new single “Lights Out.” The band consisted of Drew Walker on guitar, synth, and trumpet and Taylor Baker, whose soulful, dreamy vocals and sensual dancing put the few who showed up early on this rain-soaked evening in a trance.
Rap fans know Texas is famous for more than cowboys and country music because the Lone Star State has some big-time players in the game. So, I had a feeling Blackillac would be a highlight of this Austin-centered event. The duo, comprised of Zeale and Phranchyze, had everyone bouncing to their tag team style and deep and dirty bass lines.
In fact, this was the loudest sound I’ve heard at Fairmount and it was impossible to talk over the spine-tingling beats. Blackillac’s hard and fast rhyming totally hyped up the crowd before the headliners but didn’t steal the show, the mark of a great opening band. Tracks like “6 Ringz” sounded like the best of southern rap– low key, deep and dirty beats under an aggressive yet smooth vocal style. They ended on the excellent “Juice It Up.”
When headliners Missio took the stage the atmosphere immediately picked up and the small but passionate crowd came to life. No matter how many people are at Fairmount the room usually feels like a half empty theatre and this night was no different. Still, there was clearly some hardcore Missio fans, many wearing baseball caps with the band’s name and a few super-fans with “Missio Mafia” jackets.
This was the Rad Drugz tour so, of course, there were plenty of drug references sprinkled over 80s-inspired synth pop. The chorus of “Rad Drugz” repeated the line “your momma does drugs, your daddy does drugs, everybody does drugs… I keep fuckin’ up my life with rad drugs.” Not subtle, but an ironic take on our shallow, hypocritical society. On “Everybody Gets High,” the glitchy beats and Matthew Brue’s high-pitched voice suited the dystopian and druggy lyrics. Imagine American tweakers go to the UK and hear dubstep for the first time.
Missio was hard to classify in a good way. At times, the dark analogue sound reminded me of the Prodigy’s big beats, especially on “KDV” otherwise known as “killing Darth Vader.” Other tracks like “Middle Fingers” sounded like big crowd participation pop anthems.
This should have been called the Missio Mafia Tour because it was an all-Austin crew on the road and, as Brue pointed out, “the bands involved are all friends.” With this tight-knit energy, I expected some good on-stage collaborations between the artists. It was no surprise the highlight of the night was during Missio’s set when Blackillac came on stage for “Shimmy.” The killer combination of Blackillac’s tag team spitting and Missio’s heavy dance sound had me booking a ticket on the next flight to Austin.
Written by Rob Coles
Photography by Marc-Antoine Morin
*edited by Mike Milito