Secret Levels
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Secret Levels

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"Cats and Battle Raps"

"And make no mistake: The fact that the first three performing groups (-topic, Space Camp Death Squad and Fat Tony) all hailed from Texas -- and pulled large crowds throughout the night -- reiterated our belief that the local underground hip-hop scene really has its shit together these days.

But, really, there was nothing ordinary about last night's show, which was filled with fun-sized bags of Doritos, a fierce trio of bizarre rappers and, in an extremely bizarre turn, a cat.

The night started out easy-going enough. Unlike the scene at Rubber Gloves, there seemed to be no worry about capacity issues at Hailey's. Still, a steady audience formed when Dallas' -topic took to the stage. Partnered with Kool Quise, -topic easily awakened the crowd, and, almost immediately, had a few fans singing along to his poetic raps. And, although he seemed to be randomly picking and choosing songs to perform, mixing in with requests from the audience, -topic's performance at this show was perhaps best to date. During his fan-loved "I Just Wanna Chill," he and his fellow Team From Nowhere comrades launched free fun-sized bags of chips into the audience. It was awesome. But there also just seemed something new -- something more -- to this showcase.

Next up was Austin's Space Camp Death Squad, which features three emcees (P-Tek, Doc Brown and Secret Levels), a drummer and a DJ. Com[pare them a bit to the Beastie Boys -- with a little of Kid Cudi's style thrown in along with the best bits of a beloved hip-hop mixtape. Their energy was ridiculously hyper; during their set, all three emcees bounced around the stage -- sometimes shirtless, always engaging, and trading mics throughout. They cracked jokes. They got real. The audience was in love. At one point, they asked their audience to suggest a word or phrase that the group could use to start off a freestyle. The chosen phrase was "blue-green jizz," and, honestly, the freestyle was one of the smoothest and well-delivered any rap fan's likely to ever hear.

Sometimes, a festival is about seeing an act that's well known and sought after, but other times, it's about discovering a new one. And, if Space Camp Death Squad was somewhat a lesser known act before, they certainly became well-known -- and respected -- in Denton last night. The trio was feverish in their delivery, and the rapid speed at which the emcees could spit their rhymes (while remaining audible, at that) kept the crowd fired up. There was never a dull moment."
- Central Track

"earache! 35 Denton (Fifth Annual)"

35 Denton (Fifth Annual)
Little D’s music festival remains fun and a bit funky
By Zoe Cordes Selbin, 4:20PM, Tue. Mar. 12
With South by Southwest in full swing, all eyes are on Austin. I saw a window of opportunity in the crush of local events and took off SXSW Interactive weekend, heading north for 35 Denton.

This was my third year attending the weekend festival, and while I certainly don’t need to travel to find live music, the chill and intimate vibe of the event keeps pulling me back. Coming from a business perspective, I’ve always been attracted to 35 Denton aesthetically and conceptually. The branding is simple, geometric, and bright, roping in the Apple fanatic generation that craves clean lines and easy imitation.

It’s also a chance to have a gathering that’s not overcrowded and overly stressful. The festival offers two phases; daytime and evening host two main stages, which are flanked by shopping booths and food trucks serving up everything from espresso to curry. If you get bored of the tunes, there’s a few music panels with advice and conversation for artists and entrepreneurs alike.

Later, when the clock strikes 9:30pm, the headliner ends and everyone goes rushing to the many venues around the square hosting four or five acts nightly. Like SXSW, some bills are themed; I attended the Burger Records’ showcase Saturday. Other line-ups are clustered by genre based on the venue. Hailey’s is usually good for electronic and rap music; Rubber Gloves provides excellent garage and punk shows. This year also featured the debut of Denton’s largest venue, a 12,000-foot warehouse called the Hive, which hosted Saturday’s Killer Mike and Solange sets when the weather went rogue.

While venues are often packed late at night, one-in/one-out policies ensure most people see everything they want. This year was also the first time unofficial showcases popped up; I attended one put on by A DIY set-up behind the Denton Record-Chronicle looked slightly shabby, but featured some of my favorite sets of the festival. Son of Stan delivered dreamy garage pop with self-aware lyrics and a fun persona. Another favorite was TIGERTOOTH&PAW, who performed a stripped down set reminiscent of the National.

While the festival was heavy on Denton and DFW area bands, Austin had a great showing as well. On Friday, I caught a set by local rappers Space Camp Death Squad, which alternated between hard, intense verses and lighter fare like reading from Goosebumps books. They had the crowd bouncing the entire time. Excellent hip-hop continued with Astronautalis, whose tight freestyle combined crowd shout-outs for the phrases “couchsurfingdotcom,” “crunchy peanut butter,” “rooster claw,” “hologram Hugo Chavez,” “cuties tangerines,” and “Germany.”

My festival highlight had to be the Killer Mike/Solange double header. Although plagued by delays and venue confusion due to a tornado warning, the performers didn’t show a hint of fluster. Killer Mike put on the most positive and smooth rap performance I’ve ever seen; he spoke about how being at a rap concert was how he felt close to God: “We can all walk on water if we don’t fear the sea.” Killer Mike was difficult to follow, but Solange delivered album-perfect vocals and swinging beats that kept the crowd booty-shaking.

While the fest still has some work to do – better communication in times of evacuation or set changes would be ideal – Denton 35 remains a funky and fun festival. This past weekend was a great reminder that Austin isn’t the only weird outpost of Texas.

- Austin Chronicle


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