New musical discoveries, pizza and over-priced beer defined much of what Deep Ellum’s annual Index Music Festival consisted of for myself and many of the attendees. With three outdoors stages and six venues all within walking distance of one another, Index managed to exploit a formula that other festivals around North Texas have long been familiarized with, using three outdoor stages and six venues within walking distance to create a block party-style event.
Now in its third year, Index accepted a more ambitious task of integrating 40+ acts to the lineup, the majority of which were local. Giving Dallas’ talent the opportunity to share the spotlight with other national acts exposes them to new fans and music lovers. This was certainly was the case for Topic and the very exotic and sensual Jenny Robinson, whose sets at Three Links were displayed openly to the public passing by on the streets. One by one, bystanders (including myself) couldn’t help but push back our schedules for a few minutes and capture a surprisingly enjoyable set by the artists on stage.
Aside from small technical difficulties here and there, Index accomplished to lure big-name headliners like Local Natives and Future Islands yet managed to keep a certain level of loyalty to its town; and at the end of the day, that’s what really mattered to the small community of music lovers, who tend to view Index as hub for hidden musical talent.
We initially arrived at Trees, a venue predominately catering to hip-hop and electronic fans. As the soothing, angelic voice of Dallas’ own Sudie greeted us as she was finishing her set, we immediately regretted not arriving 15 minutes earlier.
British producer Ambassadeurs later took the stage at a time of the night where the alcohol levels were reaching obvious levels of desperation and anticipation for Washington-based electronic duo Odesza. Ambassadeurs’ experimental R&B tunes infected the crowd with a particular frequency that had everyone finding their own rhythm: members of the crowd could be seen banging their heads lightly, doing the hippie snake hand dance movement thing, and even some grinding… A very polite way to prepare Index for the beast that later came to blow our minds: Odesza.
Their set was full of original work from the new album In Return, along with popular remixes featuring Odesza’s unique sound. With a simple and elegant LED adornment on the face of their DJ booth and a heavy mist of smoke (I still question whether that came from a machine or the tokers behind me), Odesza had the crowd rhythmically tweaking in a communal way where every one was in sync with the music and each other. A prolific way to conclude the first night of the event indeed.
Learning from previous mistake the night before, we arrived early enough to catch White Denim and Lord Huron at the outdoor stage, located beneath a highway bridge against a backdrop of the city’s skyscrapers. White Denim maintained a soulful southern nature to their sound — raw, dirty and with enough grunge to inspire an erratic thirst for some good old whiskey (which was, by the way, not available at the Index bar tents). Lord Huron delivered a quintessential performance that still shared that southerly feel but with more charismatic uplifting chants, sensational melodramatic harmonies that felt just right under the Dallas skyline on a midday afternoon.
Later on when we arrived at Club Dada, we encountered the most atypical demographic I’ve seen yet for individuals with all kinds of styles, trends and shapes gathered for this showcase to rage communally as Blue the Misfit e and partner rapper X the Misfit delivered the most energized set of the night. No one in the crowd was really all prepared for what the Misfits had coming, yet they were all clearly captivated by the force of Dallas rap.
If anything was cleared in conclusion to this night, it was that there will never be a dull moment when producer and rapper Brandon Blue takes on any stage, and that his most recent release clearly deserved to win a “Best Album in North Texas” award this year thus far.
Dallas rapper Topic, whose radical fashion and lyrics immediately demanded my attention, I could not help to get lost in the words of this sophisticated urban poet, raise my hand and wave it up and down in a smooth flow to express my amusement. Then, as if I’d stumbled into a magical portal with some kind of time reversing capabilities, I followed the sound of music resembling of a mid-50s rockabilly vibe. Inside the venue and its retro, rock and soul-infused atmosphere, Lee Fields and the Expressions were showcasing the purest form of music I’ve probably ever heard live. Fields took a mid 90s generation back to the roots of Soul music, providing a time-traveling experience that exists only in dreams and history books for the Millennial generation of music fans.
Much like a young Mumble from the animate film Happy Feet discovering his contemporary dancing skills, Lee had my feet shuffling so fast I thought I might have been born for this moment. It was an almighty experience everyone deserves to witness at least once.
Day Three was the most energetic, with Doomtree bringing their Bangarang sound to the main stage with real time beat mixing and strong metronomic rhymes that demonstrated he professional chemistry within the group, and the ways in which they complement one another’s talents and technical mannerisms.
With a welcomed cool breeze in the afternoon Dan Deacon took the stage, announcing his excitement about performing on an outdoor stage instead of the club scene where he’s known to play regularly. Five minutes into his set, a soul train and dance-offs inside a giant circle emerged from the audience, with specific instructions from Deacon to let loose and get involved in the dance party. The afternoon felt like a hyperactive field day, but with more funk and substance involved.
The last festival headliner was Local Natives, celebrating the end of their Hummingbird tour with a breathtaking jam session and suddenly everything made sense: The stage located perfectly beneath the lights of the Dallas skyline, the long hours that built up to this moment. Joined by hyper-kinetic drum beats and effortless, sophisticated guitar riffs, three tantalizing voices harmonized from every end of the stage to capture all the evening’s energy and compressed into easygoing wavelengths of purity. It felt like a moment that makes you question your own surroundings, as if you doubt whether you deserve such an experience.
There’s only a handful of names I can personally think of that can achieve such a reaction. Local Natives are professionals at last, and deserve all the recognition ever appointed to them.
-Manuel Frayre // Photos by Shane McCormick Photography