MD Contributor Stephen Bidwell Tackles Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, Texas
We’re quite spoiled as music lovers in Austin, Texas. Touring bands don’t really skip our city, and we’re treated to several major festivals a year. While I enjoy all of them, Fun Fun Fun Fest has become one of my favorites, and this past November I got the chance to get backstage to sit down with a few of the drummers appearing at the festival.
Most of my favorite sets of the weekend happened on the Black Stage, where much of the harder music was programmed. I was treated to a barrage of thrash in the following order: the Dwarves, Municipal Waste, Napalm Death, and Converge. I took trips across the grounds to see bits of Bob Mould playing all of Sugar’s Copper Blue, El Ten Eleven making magical dance-rock, a good bit of Tomahawk’s set, some Superchunk and East Texas rapper Bun B, and a few classics by X, who were performing their Los Angeles LP. I also got to stand very close to the first Run DMC show in over a decade.
I talked with Tim Fogarty of El Ten Eleven about several drum-centric topics, like his affinity for Rototoms, and his favorite instructional drum videos. “I love [Rototoms],” says Fogarty. “They sound great miked up, they’re easy to tune, and you only have to buy one head. The floor tom–sized ones are harder to tune, but my sound engineer can make them work. I think I have all of them except an 18″.” Fogarty said there may be a Missing Persons–era Terry Bozzio phase behind Rototoms being in his setup, plus they save room in the van when you have a big light show to travel with. He also claimed that the Ginger Baker instructional video used to fly off the shelf every time it was played at the LA drum shop he used to work in. I’ll have to track that one down.
I spoke with Ben Koller from Converge about his pre-show warm-up routine, which involves several minutes of yoga and stretching and about thirty-five minutes on a pad. Converge’s set may be equivalent to running a marathon in the drum throne, and Koller was an absolute monster behind his aluminum Trick kit from start to finish. “On this tour we’ve been playing longer than ever, ninety-minute sets,” says the drummer, “so I’ve been thinking about how to not burn myself out too fast. I may take a few deep breaths, relax, think about what my hands are doing, and maybe use more wrists than arms.”
After catching a bit of a reactivated Braid killing it with Damon Atkinson behind the kit, I ran back over to the Black stage to check out locals the Riverboat Gamblers. Later, I got to talk to drummer Sam Keir. Humble to a fault, Keir swore he hadn’t had much relevant experience prior to being in the band. “I idolized Abe Cunningham from the Deftones and came up in more of a metal scene,” he says. “When I joined the Gamblers, I had to learn both the subtleties of punk drumming and how to restrain myself behind such a high-energy front man.” Experience aside, Keir was an absolute punk-rock machine.
A definite highlight of the entire festival was seeing Refused. Their drummer, David Sandstrom, sounded every bit as tight as he does on the records. Other highlights included local metal giants the Sword with current drummer Jimmy Vela III, while my inner fourteen-year-old-hardcore-drummer got to cross Youth of Today off the bucket list, and I can now say I’ve seen Johnny Lydon (with PiL).
The surprise discovery of the weekend was Valient Thorr. They brought the rock of Thin Lizzy and some ZZ Top boogie, with a half-insane front man. Valient Thorr drummer, Jason Aylward, played a really sweet-looking C&C kit, as did a lot of drummers at the fest. As it turned out, Jake Cardwell of C&C had come down from Kansas with a truck full of backline kits. I later tracked down Jake, and he explained that Jason’s kit was an attempt at mimicking the tones from Nick Mason’s Live at Pompeii kit. The maple-poplar-maple shells featured an eye-catching blonde diagonal stripe that wrapped around the mahogany-stained shell. (You can see this kit on Jake’s Tumblr page, along with a bunch of other C&C creations.)
To take a break from the Texas heat, I talked with the new drummer in Turbonegro, Tommy “Manboy” Akerholdt, in the lobby of a hotel. I was hoping he would have some hilarious story about getting an audition with the notorious deathpunk legends via the Oslo Craigslist. But no, he had been a drum tech for the band and had opened for them many times while he was in the Norwegian punk band Silver. Akerholdt’s backstory was very fitting. His father bought him a drumset, and he was around music his whole life. He liked straight up rock, like AC/DC as a kid, but then his dad gave him the first Darkthrone record, which spurred a death-metal phase. Then after hearing Nirvana, Akerholdt refocused on more primal rock. “I started learning blast beats, but then Nirvana came and destroyed my interest in being a good drummer because I thought Dave Grohl just played so cool and hard,” he says. “I’ve always loved very straight-ahead rock drumming.” All of this makes Akerholdt a perfect fit for Turbonegro, whose new material was pure rock hilarity, depending on your sense of humor.
I also caught sets by Between the Buried and Me, who were doing their awesome techy-prog metal thing on a single-day stop between Asia and Europe. I also experienced the noise bombast of And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, local psych revivalists the Black Angels, Toronto’s F**ked Up, hip-hop heroes De La Soul, local post-rock favorites Explosions in the Sky, and psych-folk group Black Moth Super Rainbow. I regrettably missed shows by Red Fang, my personal local favorite Ume, and Nomeansno who delivered what some claimed was the best set of the festival. While it probably took a solid three days for me to physically recover from the fest, the resulting inspiration from a weekend like this is always worth it.
For more on Fun Fun Fun Fest, visit funfunfunfest.com.