Fest 411: Metal & Beyond; Oblivion Access Fest Brings Indie To Austin

Dusty Brooks and Dorian Domi, Directors of Oblivion Festival
Dusty Brooks and Dorian Domi, Directors of Oblivion Festival May 2, 2022 Austin, Texas Photo by Jana Birchum, Austin Chronicle

Dusty Brooks and Dorian Domi had a slightly contentious first encounter. Brooks had booked British doom metal band Conan for a show, only to learn another independent promoter had swept them out from under him. Back then, Domi was still just a high school student who aspired to work in the music industry himself, and who looked up to Brooks. There would have been hell to pay, but instead one of Brooks’ friends encouraged him to take the kid, more than a decade younger than himself, under his wing.

“I was plotting my revenge and [my friend] was just like, wait a minute, how about you work with him?” Brooks, aged 37, tells Pollstar. “He’s clearly interested in what you’re doing and wants to do it, too.”

Six years later, the pair is gearing up for the return of Oblivion Access Fest, a multi-night takeover of several venues in Austin running from June 15 to 18. The event evolved from Austin Terror Festival, which Brooks had started several years earlier. The two find the time to put the event together between their day jobs, Brooks making high-end rugs and tapestries out of custom cowhide rugs (one of which hangs in Tommy Hilfiger’s wine cellar) and Domi, a 22-year-old student at the New School in New York City.

When they started promoting together, Brooks and Domi set out to create a metal festival throughout the city with bands that appealed to them. Several years later, they wanted to expand genres, creating a larger event that provided more variety in their lineup. This led to a complete rebrand that was also partially influenced by the 2018 suitcase bombing in Austin, which wound up being the top result when searching “Austin Terror” on Google.

They enlisted help from Lil Ugly Mane, who wound up inspiring the festival’s name change with his 2015 album, Oblivion Access. The event expanded to offer performances across experimental, metal and hip-hop acts, with 5,000 fans attending last year’s showcase. This year’s festival features sets from Faust, Duster, TR/ST, Godflesh, Tim Hecker, Clipping, Clams Casino and more.

“Around year three we wanted to start doing more and booking outside of metal exclusively and create something that encompassed more genres and sounds,” Domi tells Pollstar.

The year they started to go through with their rebrand was the year COVID-19 reared its head, putting all their plans on hold. Brooks and Domi were forced to navigate how to maintain fan interest for what was, essentially, an entirely new festival while abiding by regulations and shutting down their plans for two years.

“It was really difficult maintaining a brand change and keeping people excited while being a first-year festival,” Domi says. “Before the lockdown even happened, we were also already booking for 2021. So it became two lineups that had to be pushed together for postponement. We had 60 artists in 2021 with already a ton of new confirmations. It just became this huge event. Last year we had 110 artists. The biggest festival we had done before that had 30 artists. So, it was huge for us.”

Brooks and Domi call Oblivion Access their COVID baby. They speak of how it adapted and survived, the two considering it to be a miraculous accomplishment.

Oblivion Access takes over Austin’s Red River Cultural District with its numerous participating venues including Empire Control Room & Garage, Mohawk, Elysium, Central Presbyterian Church, Valhalla, Chess Club, 13th Floor and Club Eternal. Brooks and Domi were inspired by Austin’s psych rock Levitation Festival, hoping to encompass the dozen venues located within the district’s two city blocks.

While Brooks and Domi serve as Oblivion Access’ only year-round staff, they enlist help from numerous friends. Pat Lehman from Club Eternal and Death of Affect helps with booking the after shows, running a venue during the day. Dana McKnight also works with the pair curating all their performance and visual art through the festival, with Brooks and Domi sharing Lehman and McKnight make up the festival’s core team.

“We hire our friends to help us during the festival,” Brooks says. “It’s us at the helm then a bunch of our friends who have done merch professionally or owned a van rental company in the past. We have a good little network, but at the end of the day, with this name change, all our friends stuck behind us and supported it. Somehow we came out the other end of this a very small but mighty festival.”

Pulling off their own entirely independent festival in Austin, the backyard of C3 Presents, one of the largest festival promoters not just in the United States, but the entire world, is no easy feat. Both state they keep their noses to the grindstone, focusing solely on their festival and tuning out the rest of the city’s ongoings. They have found that asking for things believed to be out of the realm of possibility has led to their success. Their lineups start out fictitious, the two working their way down to the more realistic goals. This has led to them pulling off some rare performances, with this year featuring special sets from Faust (celebrating 50 years as a band) and Earth (performing their album Earth 2 in full at Central Presbyterian church).

“Every year we’re trying to improve on what we’ve done in the past,” Domi says. “This year, some of our earliest confirmations were Earth and [hip-hop act] Clipping, and that was something to work off of because we have noise, hip-hop, drone metal. A lot of what this lineup has become is an exploration of experimental throughout the decades in a sense of how it shows up now.”

By focusing on more “underground,” experimental music, they’ve also managed to carve out their own lane in the town run by massive acts. Brooks and Domi say their festival follows the old ethos of the city, keeping Austin weird “with a modern twist.”

Fans can both purchase tickets for specific shows and for the entire festival, however, passes providing access to all the venues are limited due to capacity restraints. They have 500 total passes between two tiers. The Blind Faith pass (sold for $295 plus taxes and fees) allows access to every venue and art gallery at the festival, including to the Central Presbyterian Church which has a smaller venue capacity at 350 people. The multi-venue pass ($225 plus taxes and fees) gets fans into most shows, with the exclusion of the church and other small venue capacities.

In addition to the main lineup, Oblivion Access features numerous after parties including performances from JK Flesh, Nedarb, DJ Manny, Justice Yeldham, Yawns, Casper McFadden and more.

There are no corporate sponsors to speak of. Instead, the two work with several local businesses and Co-ops, including Country Lau, Weird Water and Wheatsville Co-op.

“We have a couple of sponsors that we work with locally,” Brooks says. “But ultimately, at the end of the day, it falls on us. Win, lose or draw, it’s the two of us.”

While festival passes are already sold out for this year, walkups to shows are always welcome, with Domi emphasizing most shows will have some capacity at the doors up until the show starts. Prices for the rest of the shows vary, with some on sale for as low as $15, while the church shows sell for $83.62. Oblivion Access partnered with Dice for the entirety of the event’s ticketing.