When people think of music in Texas, Houston tends to get overlooked. Austin is a world-renown music mecca, but its reputation precedes it. Festivals like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest are becoming commoditized and inaccessible to average fans due to high ticket prices and large crowds.
During the weekend of Oct. 21 and 22, Houston hosted a festival called End Hip End It, a psychedelic rock and doom metal festival. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the festival shifted into a benefit for Hurricane Harvey victims.
Many Houston fall music festivals and conventions chose to cancel after the hurricane. The Houston Open Air music festival, Index Fest, the Showcase vape convention and Life in Color were all canceled, leaving Houstonians with few choices for fall entertainment.
Organizers of the End Hip End It festival were faced with the same decision – call off the festival or push forward. They decided to rebrand the festival as a benefit, asking bands to play for free. Danielle Renee, lead singer of the Houston-based, psychedelic rock band Only Beast said musicians jumped at the chance to support Houston.
This year marked the second iteration of the End Hip End It festival. End Hip carries a distinctly underground and DIY aesthetic. The festival is organized by fans of the genre, not corporate promoters.
As I walked up fashionably late to the festival, a wave of anxiety washed over me and I hesitated. I showed up alone. The hum of the down-tuned guitar and heavy bass drew me in, ameliorating any doubts I had. I turned the corner into the festival and saw them, my people. I was home.
Doom metal has a distinct place in my heart. Most of the articles I have written at The Signal were produced with the help of the song “Dopesmoker” by Sleep. With a length of 63 minutes, slow progression and sparse vocals, the song is an entrancing epic of meditative harmony; it is perfect for focusing while writing.
Contrary to what the name of the genre might suggest, doom metal is the softer, slower tempo cousin of traditional metal. There is no moshing or hardcore dancing at a doom metal show; just slow head-banging. That’s how the band knows the audience is into the performance.
The first day of the festival took place at Sigma Brewing Company in Houston’s Second Ward. Two stages were set up, allowing for a nearly seamless and constant flow of music of the 25-band lineup.
Shortly after I got into the festival, Funeral Horse took the stage with a vengeance. They ended up being one of my favorite bands that I discovered during the festival because of their showmanship and blending of punk, psych rock and doom.
Other bands like Pyreship, Greenbeard, Eagle Claw, King Buffalo, Mothership and Elder focused on the fundamentals of doom and psych, taking the crowd into a trance-like journey of the mind and ears, across the landscapes of the self. That’s what allows doom and psych rock to resonate so deeply with fans, it is cathartic and meditative.
With the Astros in the playoffs against the New York Yankees, at the time, and the beer flowing freely, only the most die-hard doom fans lasted until the grand finale. They were rewarded with a rare performance by the legendary doom band Acid King, who last played in Houston in 1999.
As the band took the stage, the crowd moved in close and paid unwavering attention. Acid King represents the quintessential bass-heavy, down-tuned guitars, slow drums, ethereal vocals and layered sound that defines doom.
“I think what’s kept us around is that I don’t feel any pressure to put out any records, to go out on any tours or to become some big rock star,” said Acid King singer Lori S. “I just do what I do.”
When the final notes of music faded, the crowd erupted in appreciation. There were no calls for an encore because it was obvious to everyone that it couldn’t have ended better.
Tired and sore from the previous day, I headed out to Walter’s downtown for Day Two. With rain in the forecast, all the music was moved inside.
Soon I realized Day Two would focus on psychedelic rock. What immediately struck me about the scene there at Walter’s was the openness and diversity in the crowd.
I arrived in time to catch the emotive performance of local Houston psychedelic rock band Only Beast. With three members and no bass player, I was immediately intrigued. Looking closer, I realized that the guitarist was playing a foot keyboard that created the bass sound. The singer, Danielle Renee, delivered powerful vocals reminiscent of Janis Joplin.
“It’s a scene of collaboration instead of competition,” Renee said. “If you look around everyone is here to enjoy the music and everyone is able to enjoy the music because the atmosphere is very relaxed. The atmosphere is very safe and it’s very accessible.”
L.A. Witch is an all-female psychedelic rock band from Los Angeles. Their performance was nothing short of phenomenal. Much like Acid King the night before, L.A. Witch represents the quintessential sound that psych rock developed in recent years. Their music recalls the classic, spacey vibes of the psychedelic era.
As I came out of the festival I felt changed, awakened to a new world of music and people. The kindness of everyone I met made as much of an impression on me as the music did.
“That’s what it is all about for me, the backbone to our philosophy,” said End Hip End It organizer Tobin Anthony. “Creating a great community atmosphere, building a new community and expanding it with ‘everyone is welcome’.”