Alongside traditional artistic hubs in the U.S. like New York or Los Angeles, Austin has recently become a destination for rare performances by experimental electronic musicians. In the past year, many European avant-garde artists like The Field & Demdike Stare have played Austin in one of their only U.S. stops in addition to major cities like NYC or Chicago. The city has become a hotspot for these infrequent performances, the latest of which is a show tonight by European experimental artists Helm from London and Damien Dubrovnik from Copenhagen.
Helm is the musical project of Luke Younger, a British artist who creates abstract pieces of ambience and noise that are often unsettling. His work has been covered by music websites like Pitchfork and Fact Magazine, and he has been releasing albums since 2006 on various labels, including Alter, one he runs himself. This past winter, he released his latest EP, The Hollow Organ, which contains four tracks of haunted and complicated music that marks his third release on the British label Pan Records. Compared to the methodical approach he utilized before, the recording process behind his latest record was much more spontaneous and fluid.
“The Hollow Organ came from sessions where I was essentially experimenting and messing around with equipment that I had in hand and ideas that came to me in the moment.” Younger said.
For his new tour, Younger has adapted his set-up from prior live performances to include equipment necessary to play the new songs, making for a very different live experience.
“My set up has minimized slightly, but the new equipment I’m using has enabled me to become more involved with my material and versatile in the way I present it.” Younger said. “I’m using less, but able to get more from it.”
Tonight’s show at the North Door, presented by Chaos in Tejas and Houston booking agency Odd Hours, marks Younger’s first show in Austin as well as his first time ever coming to Texas. A big part of that is because of Timmy Hefner, the founder of Chaos In Tejas.
Chaos In Tejas is an annual Austin festival that specializes in metal, punk, and hardcore bands, often featuring reunions and special appearances by cult favorites like Framtid, Youth of Today, and Moss Icon. Hefner also puts on one-off shows throughout the year that are presented by Chaos. In the past two years, Hefner has expanded Chaos to include shows by European experimental musicians like as Helm. While Hefner describes these types of shows as “hard sells”, these experimental shows draw a steady audience of fans across the state. Hefner explains that each of these shows typically draw around 75-100 people that make up a close-knit community.
“It’s not going to be a huge show, but there’s definitely people in Austin that are excited about it and it’s starting to spread.” Hefner said. “People know these shows are rare and the artists aren’t going to come back soon, so they travel from Houston and Dallas.”
This expanding scene in Austin is partly what drew Younger to play tonight’s show.
“I have been in contact with Timmy over e-mail and admired his diverse and ambitious programming of the Chaos in Tejas festival from England.” Younger said. “I am definitely excited to play in Austin for him and am glad there was the interest.”
In addition to these touring acts, a group of talented electronic and noise artists like Survive, ssleeperhold, and Troller have been developing in Austin, releasing music on local labels like Holodeck and opening for international touring acts. While they don’t get as much attention in Austin as indie rock and folk bands, that style of music is steadily growing a fan base in town. At the least, they have people like Hefner supporting them.
“I think a lot of the local bands like Survive and ssleeperhold should be way more popular than they are, especially locally.” Hefner said.
Between European experimental musicians playing rare shows like Helm and a variety of avant-garde local acts, Austin has emerged as one of the premier U.S. cities of showcasing experimental electronic artists.