Like a Haight-Ashbury acid trip circa 1969 combined with a futuristic view of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the multi-sensory, multi-media arts and music gathering Dream Machine made a definitive statement and an inadvertent play as savior of the local scene this past weekend.
The recent question on the mind of local contemporary art lovers and music aficionados has been whether or not Houston still has what it takes to support a large art and music festival. It’s an honest query after the unceremonious dissolution of artist-centered Day for Night and the unfortunate end of the one-and-done In Bloom music festival (announced on Monday).
So when the BamBull Black arts collective, comprised of Dom Bam, Hannah Bull, and Black Cassidy, brought us their third volume of Dream Machine at the GarageHTX space on Oliver Street this past Saturday, it felt like a clear answer that yes, there is more than enough demand for an event of this caliber.
Sound-wise, the first surprise of the night came in the form of Expensive Genes, the three-piece’s loud-soft dynamic recalling the best of ‘90s noise-rock of Trail of Dead and Butthole Surfers. The playfully heavy tones of the mysterious three-piece left many of those who showed up early wanting to know and see more.
Bayou Vimana brought the metal, or as one band member commented before their set, “freedom music,” with their Iron Maiden-esque riffage fitting the industrial surroundings perfectly. Next up, Galaxy of Trees recalled the atmospheric soundscapes of Godspeed! You Black Emperor or the lighter side of Mogwai.
A DJ set from Avery (aka Avery Davis of local faves Wild Moccasins) finally kicked the rave into full gear, featuring a funky and inspired mix of electro and house. Glitter and sequined dressed party-goers responded en masse with their best dance moves.
The most remarkable performance at Dream Machine came from raucous Austin riot-grrl-meets-rockabilly group Sailor Poon. The all-female act, decked out in killer costumes not out of place on an episode of their band name inspiration, Sailor Moon, dug into guttural and gritty Southern fried punk rock tinged with the humor of Weird Al — if he was a die-hard feminist. The moment charismatic lead singer Billie Buck picked up her saxophone, the crowd was putty in her hands. Sailor Poon simply ruled over Dream Machine. A massive singalong cover of Cher’s “Believe” was simply icing on the cake.
A tough act to follow, psych-rock collective Golden Dawn Arkestra more than made up for it, bringing their brand of Austin weird to an enthralled Houston crowd. Part ’60s cult, part Star Trek sci-fi, and all sorts of awesome, the massive, pastel-costumed coterie filled the stage with almost every instrument imaginable, and we were all the better for it.
Art pieces were a perfect symbiosis to the musical experience in the main warehouse space, most notably Tim Steinke’s projection map sculpture of crystals emerging from the warehouse floor — dirt and rebar included — in addition to Vincent Fink’s moon piece. A side room held more wonders, including a circuit board that queued up strobe sequences from overhead lights that attracted a steady crowd throughout the evening.
The frigid temperatures and heavy winds meant crowds huddled together as the night wore on, nowhere more so than the VIP tent, where DJs FREDster, Kenny, and E$ brought the beats and the heat, building an enthusiastic dance floor throng in the process.
It’s hard not to compare previous, similar events, and maybe it’s not fair to do so. But in many ways, the Dream Machine distilled the true essence of what Houston’s recently defunct festivals were trying to accomplish. It succeeded in drawing local and regional talent, featuring imaginative, transcendent art installations, cozied up next to new and more established music performers. It served as beacon of hope for the Houston scene that has taken a few big hits over the last year or so.
We can’t wait to see what the Dream Machine team comes up with in 2020.