Georgetown, Texas, home to Southwestern University, is located just slightly north of Austin. It is close enough in proximity for students of Southwestern to still enjoy everything Austin has to offer but far enough that it is still not considered a true Austin suburb by many. Most Austinites probably have no reason or desire to travel to Georgetown. Why would they when all the epic live music, local and non, happens in the city. Well on April 29, Southwestern University hosted the best little music festival most Austinites missed, Cluster Fest.
With a lineup that included the best of Austin’s local indie scene and popular touring acts, this small festival on the campus of one of the most forgotten about or ignored universities in the area offered something for everyone. A feat rarely accomplished even by the major fests, Cluster Fest’s lineup included The Black and White Years, Bright Light Social Hour, Mexican Institute of Sound, The Octopus Project, Del The Funky Homosapien and Matt & Kim.
Austin’s answer to a young Devo or Talking Heads, The Black and White Years were the first to perform after DJ Flying Turns spun a few tracks for the students who arrived early. There was a period in time a couple years ago when The Black and White Years were everywhere and had the same mediocre single overplayed on a local alternative radio station, so I took year break from listening to them. Hearing them again after so long made me realize (again) how good they are. It was a treat was hearing new songs like “Cold” and old favorites like “To Modern Science.”
Bright Light Social Hour followed and unofficially served as Southwestern University’s ambassadors, given that some of the members went to school there. The large crowd proudly cheered on their fellow Pirates as they introduced themselves. Being another of Austin’s biggest buzz bands, gracing an Austin Chronicle cover completely nude recently and winning multiple Austin Music Awards, BLSH effortlessly proved they are worth the hype. Combining blues, electronic indie elements and man-sexy mustache power, BLSH brought the house down with ” I Need Your Love” and “Back and Forth.” Attendees danced and sang along proudly.
Going in, I perceived Mexico City’s Mexican Institute of Sound, or M.I.S., to be the wild card of the night. What I mean is the crowd in attendance did not have a lot of Latinos present and no one seemed to know about M.I.S. I was curious to see how a group of mostly white college students would react to a band who performed in Spanish and in a genre — Latin alternative — they weren’t used to hearing. M.I.S. blends traditional sounds of Mexico, such as cumbia, with electronic dance music and hip hop. Those musical elements transformed into quite the party starter and eliminated any chance of the audience disliking the language barrier. Frontman Camilo Lara’s humorous English language banter in-between songs was a great ice breaker. Performing songs from all three albums, M.I.S. gave the non-Latino audience a great sampling of what the new wave in Latin music is all about.
After M.I.S., The Octopus Project took Cluster Fest to a whole other level. A mostly instrumental, electronic indie band, Octopus Project brings their music to life live with incredible visuals. The four-piece group is fronted by Yvonne Lambert, who steals the show with her ability not only play but nail the theramin, even while beach balls are bumping her stand on stage. Their Cluster Fest set was nothing compared to their live Hexadecagon shows or outdoor festival performances, but the audience loved them nonetheless. Performing mostly new songs from their latest album, Hexadecagon, and a few select older hits, attendees got a good sampling of their catalog’s best.
Del The Funky Homosapian was next, always a safe bet for a hip hop show in Austin because he appeals to the party crowd, back-packers, hipsters and non-hip hop listeners for some reason. The Oakland-based emcee is best with a live band backing him, but at Cluster Fest he only had his hype man and a DJ. For the students watching, it didn’t matter. All they wanted to hear was his verse from the Gorrillaz hit “Clint Eastwood” and some songs to make them dance and nod their heads. I will say it was the most sober crowd I’ve seen watch Del. To know he still rocks crowds that are sober is yet another testament to his underground star power.
After watching five bands in a huge gym, it was time for headliners Matt & Kim. The gym where Cluster Fest was held was at its highest capacity of the night and filled with rabid fans that knew almost every word to their songs. The indie-pop duo is a band whose live shows put their mediocre albums to shame. What make Matt & Kim so popular is their personalities and their inner need to be hip hop stars. The best part of their set was their banter between songs and their taste in hip hop music they put on display as introductions to their own songs. As you may have seen in pictures and video all over the internet, drummer Kim Schifino was dancing all over the place and standing on her drums throughout the set. She loved to shake her booty to hip hop beats, but took it up a level when she did so on the hands of audience members. Aside from the stage banter and booty shaking, Matt & Kim treated fans to favorites like “This Is All Me,” “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare” and “Lessons Learned.” Unfortunately for fans, there was no encore due to time constraints.
Given the variety and quality of bands showcased at Cluster Fest, I can honestly say this was the place to be on April 29 for those not interested in Austin Psych Fest happening the same night in Austin. Each group that performed could have headlined their own shows at any Red River venue downtown for the most part, but they somehow were put together to perform at a small liberal arts school in Georgetown that didn’t allow for alcohol sales. The bands may have even been too hip for most of the students watching, but both will be better off for having been there. Cluster Fest was the best concert without alcohol sales I have ever attended.