Fantastic Fest 2013: My Playlist
Fantastic Fest 2013 finally arrives this week. And as hundreds of film fans and critics descend upon Austin, TX, hoping to lay eyes on the next great cult film (or just “great film” in general, as last year’s Holy Motors proved), it’s impossible not to wonder which songs each of them picked to be their journey’s musical accompaniment. Every life has a soundtrack, and special occasions like this require a carefully picked playlist; sonic fuel to help the feverish Fest goer power their way through two, three, four, and sometimes even five movies a day.
Now, before I go any further, I have one small caveat — Fests are social events. Don’t be the guy/gal furtively idling in the corner, ear buds in as you wait for a Norwegian feature about Brony serial killers (there actually isn’t a film at Fantastic Fest 2013 that features this, unfortunately). TALK TO PEOPLE. The best part of Fantastic Fest is the fact that you’re surrounded by amazing people who all share the same damn interests as you. These suggestions are simply for the slow moments in-between making new friends, pounding beers and (most importantly) watching some damn good movies.
And for those unfortunate souls who aren’t attending Fantastic Fest 2013, might I suggest popping your headphones in, firing up some of these records I’ve recommended, and starting to plan your trip to Austin for next year’s shindig. Trust me, it’ll be the greatest money you’ve ever spent.
My absolute favorite record of 2013, Deafheaven’s Sunbather is aggressive, melodic metal that finds hope in even the darkest of places. Warping black metal, shoegaze and Explosions In the Sky style post rock to fit their own personal sensibilities, Sunbather’s seven tracks fuse together to form a 60-minute suite that moves from light to dark and then back again — all in service of singer George Clark’s personal narrative about poverty, depression, love and the sins of the father. It’s an incredibly moving work of art, made that much more affecting once you parse through the screams and open the liner notes to see just what Clark is going on about. Much like Swans’ The Seer, this is experimental rock of intimidating scale, dousing you with flames only to help you up out of your own ashes; an assurance that everything, in the end, is going to be OK.
I need this record when I fly, as cruising at 33,000 feet is much more relaxing when you have Jónsi Birgisson’s voice in your ears. Many dismissed Valtari as being “too floaty” when it came out last year, pleading for Sigur Rós to return to the soaring, bombastic glory days of Ágætis Byrjun and Parentheses. But what those critics were missing is one of the more stylistically zen records to be released in some time. Valtari is musical valium, and for a jittery passenger like myself, comes in handy when you’re asked to cram into that Greyhound of the Skies and simply stare at the clouds as they pass for a few hours, praying that you touch down safely.
I don’t think anybody’s going to be offended if I point out the simple fact that most film geeks lack any kind of discernible rhythm on the dance floor. This is no more apparent than during the Opening Night Party (themed this year to honor the fest’s opening film, Machete Kills), where a bunch of hefty, sweaty geeks, stoked off of too much Tito’s and getting glimpses of Robert Rodriguez, make their way to the dance floor for a “truffle shuffle” that would put Chunk to shame. Autre Ne Veut’s Anxiety is the perfect R&B record for the awkward, embracing pure emoting and even a Broadway sense of the theatrical over booty shaking bass. A set of songs that causes everything to move in slow motion while you make your way to baggage claim at Austin-Bergstrom International, it’s a reminder that not all R&B is made for the floor.
There are really two generations who attend Fantastic Fest: Gen X-ers pushing (or are already) 40, and a crop of Millenial film fans, which the “older” crowd sneers at relentlessly. Depeche Mode feels like the perfect band to bridge the gap between the two, as their singles are recognizable and accessible to both sets (“Personal Jesus” would be a kick ass cut to rock at the “Chaos Reigns” karaoke party). You can tell a lot about a person simply by their favorite DM single, and those who don’t have one are either lying…or folks you want to avoid in general.
Because what record is more thematically fitting for Fantastic Fest than a pop opus about a Japanese schoolgirl who battles giant pink robots? None I say. And if you’re lucky, you can catch a toke with a few of the “stonier” heads who attend the fest while figuring out their favorite Lips work. I still stand by my assertion that this is the best Lips record, blending their uncanny knack for writing catchy hooks with a love for the absurd, all without sacrificing any of the heart that made The Soft Bulletin such a titanic work of psychedelia. While their last two proper records (Embryonic & The Terror) have been great in their own regard, their cold, metallic sound and darker subject matter made me yearn for the technicolor, over-the-top embracement of the giddy that is Yoshimi.
One of the things I’m most looking forward to at Fantastic Fest 2013 is seeing Cheap Thrills with a packed, rowdy crowd. E.L. Katz’s tiny, brutal movie is easily one of the best pieces of exploitation filmmaking from the past decade, with Pat Healy and Ethan Embry (yes, the very same one from Can’t Hardly Wait) delivering two of the year’s strongest performances. And once that first screening is over, I suspect Agent Orange’s “Bloodstains” is going to find its way onto quite a few playlists. A sneering, punk rock middle finger, it’s the track Katz sends the audience out of the theater on — jolted, nervously giggling and (hopefully) completely blown away.
Returning to Japan (and metal), Envy creates some incredibly heavy sonic tapestries on their extremely cinematic Recitation. Recommended to me by a good friend (who I actually happened to meet at last year’s Fest, despite the both of us living in the Philadelphia region) after I told him how much I loved Deafheaven’s Sunbather, the record’s a similar mix of the punishing and the beautiful. There’s more post rock than metal here; an attention to creating landscapes using deafening guitars and haunting pianos. Perfect listening for those feverish attempts at finishing a review before your next film, Tetsuya Fukagawa’s vocals will drown out even the drunkest patrons of Alamo Lakeline’s Glass Half Full bar (R.I.P. “Old” Highball).
The Fantastic Debates are just one of the highlights of the Fest, and while most will probably try and tell you that they’re there for the intellectual sparring, they’re really just hoping to watch Man of Tai Chi star Tiger Hu Chen whip the shit out of Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League. And what better music to get hyped up for an ass kicking is there than El-P and Killer Mike’s collabo record? Sporting the same apocalyptic boom bat beats El-P unleashed on last year’s Cancer 4 Cure (and I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and Fantastic Damage) and the same hot fire Mike spat on his own R.A.P. Music, Run the Jewels’ first self-released LP is a barrage of shit-talking fight music. God help whoever steps into the ring with the man using Get It as his entrance track.
Drake — Nothing Was the Same
Dropping while the Fest is still going on (September 24), it’s going to be hard for me not to stop and take a moment to soak in Drake’s latest. “Hold On We’re Going Home” is possibly my favorite song of 2013, and “Started From the Bottom” is a reminder of the rapper’s anthemic instincts. Yes, he’s become over-saturated in the last year, turning in guest spots on even the lamest of tracks (Bieber anybody?), but Take Care was utterly stunning and made me a fan for life. Potentially the mainstream pop record of the year.
As Willie Nelson once sang: “turn out the lights, the party’s over.” At the end of Fantastic Fest, most are bleary eyed and hungover, the flow of weirdness and liquor too much for their brains to take. So it’d probably be good to have a record full of muted techno and Brian Eno inspired piano music on hand to help you ease back into “real life”. Hopkins’ Immunity is a work of clear-eyed hope; lovely and delicate while never once feeling cloying. And while you mourn the end of the Fest and say goodbye to the new friends you just made, let his airy melodies score your bittersweet end.
Until next year, Alamo Drafthouse — its been real.