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‘Embracing the obscure and the unique:’ Austin’s extreme music fest Oblivion Access reaches beyond metal

Dusty Brooks, co-founder of the Oblivion Access festival, is pictured in his van outside of KUT Public Media Studios
Michael Minasi
Texas Standard
Dusty Brooks, co-founder of the Oblivion Access festival, stretches out in his van outside the KUT Public Media Studios.

“In a dissociative world, we must power through with art and self-expression to channel our frustrations, pain and confusion into a beautiful representation of what it means to be alive.”

Heady stuff – especially in service of a music festival. But Oblivion Access is an especially heady – and heavy – event.

Rechristened and returning after a two-year, pandemic-imposed absence, Oblivion Access is set to challenge Texas audiences with a confrontational blend of bands and genres, music and art. Over 100 bands and performers are participating in the festival, spread out over four days at seven venues across downtown Austin.

Veteran Austin music booker Dusty Brooks founded the fest with co-conspirator Dorian Domi, initially with a different name and narrower focus: The festival’s first outing in 2016 as Austin Terror Fest featured plenty of names familiar to fans of extreme metal but didn’t stretch far beyond those parameters. As the festival grew to encompass multiple days, venues and genres, they figured a name change was in order.

Just as the first Oblivion Access was taking shape, the pandemic hit. “The 2020 lineup that has carried over was kind of a transition year … from just strictly heavy metal to branching out into other genres,” Brooks says.

That downtime allowed the pair to plan an even bigger return, combining most of the planned 2020 headliners with a slate of additional bands and attractions. Those additions to the festival run the gamut from art and screen-printing to transgressive LGBTQ performance artand experimental composers like William Basinksi, whose “Disintegration Loops” became a musical elegy for 9/11. Other headliners include well known-acts from the worlds of indie rock (Blonde Redhead) and underground hip-hop (Danny Brown).

But owing to the festival’s roots, extreme metal – death metal, hardcore punk and their scads of uncategorizable offshoots – comprise the lions’ share of the festival.

“We are passionate about exposing people to new and exciting things and seeing their old favorites,” says Brooks. Nowhere is that more true than the Saturday lineup pairing death metal originators Autopsy – who helped birth the genre back in 1987 – with Blood Incantation, a critically-acclaimed cosmic death metal band whose last album just happened to be a synth-based ambient record. A rare appearance by Blood Incantation offshoot Spectral Voice – even more rare for their daytime appearance – is indicative of the rare bookings Oblivion Access strives to offer. “Having them play is a rarity in and of itself,” Brooks says. ”Having them play a day show – you’ll never see that again.”

Oblivion Access runs from Thursday, May 12 through Sunday, May 15. Below, watch Brooks break down some of the bands and genres featured at the fest and talk about how metal is more than music with KUTX host Ryan Wen.