Psychedelia seeps into the modern music underground at Austin’s Levitation fest

From the 13th Floor Elevators to the “13th Floor” venue, the music fest honors the psych past, present and future.

By Breze Reyes and Wells DunbarOctober 26, 2023 12:49 pm, , ,

Levitation is a psychedelic rock extravaganza that transcends musical boundaries.

As festival booker Rob Fitzpatrick puts it, “It’s a psychedelic rock fest, and we kind of branch out from there into all manner of indie music that we find interesting – whether it’s shoegaze, dream pop, electronic music, metal, [or] stoner rock. It’s all over the place. It’s essentially a record collection manifested into real life over a four-day weekend.”

The gathering began in 2008 when members of Austin rockers The Black Angels and their friends founded the event. Initially christened Austin Psych Fest, this independent gathering ignited a global trend, inspiring the creation of similar events around the world. (Levitation France, anyone?)

But the 2015 transformation into Levitation in 2015 marked a pivotal moment, beckoning a broader musical mandate while paying homage to what came before. The name change paid homage to the legendary psych rock pioneers The 13th Floor Elevators. The group, famously led by Roky Erickson, reunited and performed at Levitation 2015 to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary. (Erickson died in 2019.)

This musical journey isn’t just about historic or modern sounds either; one prominent showcase this year is a celebration of influential, unheralded 1990s bands, assembled by the archival experts at reissue label Numero Group. Their Thursday showcase features sets from indie rock pioneers Chisel, Codeine, Karate, and newly-reformed post-hardcore experimentalists Unwound.

“For folks who are record collectors and into the indie scene from the ’90s, these are very influential bands that spawned a lot of the music that we think of from the ’90s, like Pavement,” Fitzpatrick says.

The festival’s lineup is a result of an intricate process.

“We go out to agencies, artists, just send a blast and find out who’s available,” Fitzpatrick said. “And then we’re going to couple that with our wish list that we develop from asking our fans, our ticket buyers, who they want to see.

That is kind of tempered with reality and who’s available, who’s touring, and who isn’t playing a festival across the world that weekend. It’s a one-year to six-month process for every conversation starting. And it’s a lot of phone calls and emails and negotiation to get to this point.”

Held in Austin, the festival benefits from the city’s vibrant music scene and abundance of clubs.

“We have world-class venues within a stone’s throw from each other, whether you’re going from Stubbs to Mohawk. And then we’ve got great smaller venues like the 13th Floor, and everybody takes their venues and the sound and the experience very seriously.”

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