Photo: Gary Miller/Getty Images
Behind Brockhampton's Texas Triumph At Austin City Limits Festival
Beneath the sweltering heat of the Texas sun, Zilker Park bristles with the tents, stages and sounds of the Austin City Limits Festival (ACL.) Every wristband and sign is a bright collage of colors and bold fonts, and every act comes onstage to the screams of fans so enamored by the music and culture of this festival that they are willing to brave the Texas sun. For fans and artists alike, ACL perfectly captures the feeling of Austin.
No act better encapsulates this mix of emotions, feelings and spirit than Brockhampton. The Internet generation's most prominent boy band has recently been rocked by controversy, album delays, album cancellations, and label signings, but they have come to the heart of the lone-star state triumphant on the heels of their No. 1 album, Iridescence.
Nine months ago, they were a different band. They were focusing more on rap lead by the cover boy of all three of the Saturation trilogy, Ameer Vann. Their sound was not mainstream by any stretch of the imagination, yet its roots were clearly in the emerging anti-pop rap of Tyler, the Creator and Odd Future. On Iridescence, Brockhampton has escaped all comparison to their predecessors. The sound is experimentally shifting from rap to electronic psychedelia, tapping into the same teen-angst that built such a loyal fan base.
Few other artists could claim a following so loyal—and at times impatient—as to complain about a nine-month wait between albums. The crowd made their thoughts clear: it was worth the wait.
Still prolific by most artists' standards, the gap grew to nine months as Brockhampton met challenges and controversy. Their frontman and cover boy, Ameer Vann, often touted as the most talented rapper of the group by leader Kevin Abstract, faced a wave of allegations beginning on Twitter of physical and emotional abuse. The band was quick to respond, kicking Vann out and disavowing his actions. Vann had been an integral piece of the boy band's image. They often stated that the quality of their music came from the quality of their friendship. So, fans were wary of the impact this would have on the mental-health and stability of the group. In many minds, this tour was Brockhampton’s response.
Taking the stage in all black, Dom Mclennon lead the group out to “New Orleans.” A technical difficulty stopped his mic from working for the beginning of the song, but didn't stop McLennon, who continued as if nothing happened. The show had begun, and Abstract proclaimed that Brockhampton is “The greatest boy band on earth” to the screams of the crowd.
When Kevin asked his fans to put their arms up “Like you’re on a rollercoaster,” the simile was followed by thermal point-of-view images from a rollercoaster displayed on stage. The level of intricacy and detail on the screen behind the band was almost as exciting as the artists’ wild dances across the stage. On screen were shadow-puppets, close-ups, and cartoonish font spelling “peanut butter.” Visuals switched between highly saturated thermal imaging and black-and-white to fit the mood of the music. Often members of the band would kneel while they were not performing. And, then suddenly the group would erupt in monsterish, bold dance moves feeding off the energy of the crowd and each other.
Some of the slickest twists were their performance of older songs. Instead of repeating the recorded renditions in a way that may clash with the new style of Iridescence, Brockhampton updated their classics to fit the tone of this new album and era. The greatest example was McLennon’s verse on “Bleach.” His call for moral action in an immobile society previously performed as pseudo-spoken word poetry turned to a soulful ballad.
“Boogie” was the finale of this lively ordeal. The light swoon of a violin introduced what is easily the group’s most rambunctious, least-classically inspired single, and still the violin somehow fit into the larger narrative the group weaved on stage. They may be wild, they may be crazy as the Lone Star State itself, they may even be eclectic but their music speaks volumes beautifully and directly to the internet generation.