Music review: Fast Forward Fest proves intense, and fun

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Kraken Quartet

(This review is by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Luke Quinton.)

Keep an eye out, concert goers: here come the breweries.

Walking into the humid corner of 4th Tap brewery in North Austin on Saturday night, as the Kraken Quartet finished a propulsive, rhythmic set, the crowd’s focus was intense: Knife-cuttable.

Kraken Quartet

Kraken Quartet

This was a new concert by Fast Forward Austin, one marking a shift in their usual programming. They’d abandoned the day-long music marathon (for now) and opted instead for a smartly selected evening of just four ensembles.

The brewery venue was new for them too, and it seemed like the kind of space Austin’s new music crowd has been waiting for, with a towering ceiling, the concrete absorbed moody yellow lighting, and then lost it to darkness around the L-shaped warehouse. (Line Upon Line Percussion have also begun a concert series at 4th Tap.)

There were people standing next to sacks of malt next to tanks of beer (try the Double IPA), and a full house packing the chairs fanning out from the “stage.” This was a come-and-go event, some standing, some sitting, some out in the hall just drinking beer.

I wish I’d caught more of Kraken Quartet, an Austin-based percussion four piece who are super intense on stage, in constant eye contact with one another as waves of quick beats blended with more delicate melodies from a glockenspiel. Gorgeous.

If Kraken were intense, Battle Trance were here to knock you out.

They’re a sax quartet from New York, but on stage they might have been on Saturn.

They began by playing one chord … then, nothing. As though they were merely clearing the air. A pause like this has never felt so justified. Soon they began a slowly crescendoing series of repetitive arpeggios, which built to freak-out key change, and eventually they resolved into this slow-motion commiseration, a shiva of saxophone tones mourning what have you: the death of a family member, the aftermath of a deadly storm, whatever you read into it.

And their playing was, in fact, trance-like — their eyes were closed almost the entire piece, yet at points they were miraculously stopping in perfect unison. Were they improvising and counting? Or just intuiting?

And that was just the first section, of what is a single, long work called “Palace of Wind.” Later they continued in that building/destroying pattern, climaxing into a straight up heavy metal burst of power burst. A visceral experience.

Austin’s Cordova Quartet began the evening, and Jason Treuting from So Percussion ended it. Treuting wrote the final work (and the concert’s namesake) “Amid The Noise,” which begins with singing cultists (students from Baylor’s and UT’s Percussion ensembles). The singing then led to a full on jam by Kraken Quartet, followed by Asian temple bells.

It was eight pieces that offered a little bit of everything. Contemplative work with gentle melodies, frantic work with jittery rhythms, work for quartets and some for sprawling ensemble. Treuting himself hopped on the drum kit at one point, crawling all over it with a satisfying solo.

Despite the students there to play, it wasn’t just a young party scene. The audience was young and old.

It’s also worth noting that Fast Forward has made the evening free. That never hurts, so long as it’s sustainable.

This was a concert that thought about the audience in the space, about giving the crowd an intense, physical experience with music on the artsy side of the spectrum. This was Fast Forward as it set out to be years ago in the small, steamy venue on East 12th St.

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