On Friday, thousands of fans will be flooding into Carson Creek Ranch in Austin, Texas for what has become the preeminent psychedelic music festival in the world. Levitation which used to be called Austin Psych Fest is in its 9th year and the organizers went all out this year.
For its 2016 edition, the Levitation lineup boasts unprecedented musical diversity; Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys will be playing Pet Sounds in its entirety for its 50th anniversary, the recently reunited Ween will be performing on the main stage, and Flying Lotus will bring his audio-visual spectacle to Carson Creek for the first time, among many others.
This marks a very definite growth spurt for the festival which in its first year was held on a single day at The Red Barn, a venue in North Austin progressively growing every year since then but more especially in the last two. Since 2015, Austin Psych Fest has partnered up with Transmission Events (the same organizers of Fun Fun Fun Fest in the fall) and the festival has seen some big changes, namely more attendees and bigger artists.
“So much money goes into throwing one of these. People don’t even know! But as you strive to get your favorite artists on the lineup, the costs of the festival become larger,” says Alex Maas, one of the main organizers of the festival who has been right from the start. Indeed no expense was spared this year.
Maas, who is also the singer and keyboardist of The Black Angels, the Austin band spearheading the whole thing, truly understands both sides of the story. Or are there three? Well, first and foremost, he is without a doubt a music fan. He’s also a touring musician having been in his band for over 12 years. And finally, he became a festival organizer beginning with APF 1 in 2008. Here is a guy that really understands how the industry works.
“When I consider attending a festival, I don’t think of the ticket price as a way for the organizers to make high profits anymore. If you divide it by the number of artists on a lineup, it comes out to a few dollars per artist. You can easily spend more at a bar. It’s become one of the few ways for you to help fuel the careers of your favorite artists in a time when they aren’t being fairly compensated for their music.”
Yes, it’s true. Musicians struggle everyday to make ends meet because the industry is so unbalanced. Artists are being undersold by corporations that provide streaming services.
“These companies do a great job at promoting the music but they have taken the value from music and instead placed it on a subscription service they can sell,” says Maas who claims to have seen very little in return for almost 140,000 streams of one of The Black Angels’ songs.
Soon to be three-time Austin Psych Fest/Levitation performer and frontman of The Brian Jonestown Massacre Anton Newcombe expresses similar thoughts in a later conversation.
“Musicians are making very little off their music with their record labels handing over the rights to big streaming companies who of course have decided the actual music doesn’t have any value. Their service holds the value now.” says Newcombe. “I have only respect for Alex Maas and the rest of his organization (The Reverberation Appreciation Society) and all they have done for musicians.”
Austin Psych Fest which was rebranded to Levitation last year, has a history of fostering a sense of community for the music scene of Austin as well as being the epicenter of a series of festivals that have spread around the world. Some more legitimate than others…
“That is partially what inspired the name change. There were many other “Psych Fests” popping up and people thought we were somehow related. When the disastrous “Berlin Psych Fest” happened and many artists got ripped off, we decided we didn’t wanna be confused with these people.”
So they renamed the festival Levitation after Austin legends The 13th Floor Elevators’ song of the same name. This allusion to Austin’s music heritage is a reflection of how much love they have for this kind of music and its history. At the same time, Maas along with the rest of the Levitation team have showed a real sensibility for satisfying the many different aspects of what people nowadays consider “psychedelic music.”
In past years, the festival has hosted artists of many different sizes and shapes such as British 60s psych rock pioneers The Zombies as well as German hard rockers Kadavar. This year is no exception with Animal Collective, Nicolas Jaar, Courtney Barnett, and Ty Segall all taking the stage during the three-day fest. While this year’s lineup features the largest names the festival has ever hosted, it also features a wide variety of smaller but equally great artists from all over the world.
Like I said, all different shapes and sizes. La Luz, Boogarins, Mild High Club and Dungen will all be dropping into Austin to deliver all sorts of different sounds. The festival also does an amazing job at cultivating Austin’s own music scene with bands like Holy Wave and Christian Bland & The Revelators returning for yet another appearance this year.
“What I like about this festival is that it really feels like it shows a sense of musical community that inspires other people to get into music,” says Newcombe.
And what we at Tropicult, like about this festival is that it doesn’t merely shout into the metaphorical echo chamber of festivals.
Ahh that reminds me!! Melody’s Echo Chamber finally arrives at Levitation this Sunday after having to cancel last year’s performance! But I digress… What I was getting at is that Levitation does a good job of offering an alternative in an era when most other festival lineups are homogenized.
“There’s good festivals but It’s always the same bands,” expresses Newcombe. “Except for Levitation.”
“Growth is a challenge. It’s hard to grow and still maintain the identity the fest is loved for,” say Maas. “But we don’t want to become just another corporate festival. We’re ready for the challenge.”
I believe him. Finally, Maas says he is extremely excited for the future of Levitation.
“I can’t quite reveal anything yet but we have some really special things planned for the Tenth Anniversary of Psych Fest… I still call it Psych Fest.”