A blazing blend of hip-hop, Latin, rock, and gut-punching punk is a stellar way to celebrate HOCO Fest’s 13th year. The annual Tucson throwdown is anchored at the Hotel Congress, but a handful of the events happening during this five-day soiree take place at nearby spots like Can’s Deli and 191 Toole. When you’re not checking out music, there’s plenty to keep you busy, including pool parties, DJ sets, a music poster art show, and clothing and record sales.
The mix of artists turned out just like the crew in charge hoped. For the last two years, it’s a new team that has been curating the HOCO Fest; a combination of music promoters, musicians, and Congress staff.
“There are many positive reasons this festival happens,” Josh Rodriguez, a Phoenix-based promoter who's also part of the HOCO team, tells us. “We want to celebrate Hotel Congress and the Tucson community, because they’re both great."
Keeping the assembly of performers diverse is key for the organizers. “We really want to always be a festival for music lovers,” Rodriguez says. “Last year, we watched people move from room to room, some getting blown away by bands they already loved and others going crazy for bands that were totally new to them.”
This year's fest boasts an unbelievable roster — headliners include Lil B, Andrew W.K., Bad Gyal, and Kyle Kinane — so we thought we’d give you a rundown on 10 of the many who will take the stage between August 29 and September 2. Amy Young
Honestly, I feel like Lil B is the greatest living rapper. Kendrick's alright, but he never delivered a line as inspired as "I'ma go to Starbucks in the morning for some coffee / If it ain't a girl there, I won't buy no damn coffee," did he? No, he didn't. Because he doesn't have the same #rare and #blessed mind that the Basedgod possesses. You think I'm being ironic here, but I'm not. That line is truth, and truth is hard to come by these days. We all have desires. Some are as simple as getting your venti latte served by a beautiful female barista that you respect utterly. That's what Lil B is about, being honest and true. He calls it "based." If only the rest of us were so enlightened. Anyway, go see him and jump up and down when he drops "I Own Swag" and "Like A Martian." Thank you, Basedgod. Douglas Markowitz
As a producer, Dean Blunt has worked with the likes of A$AP Rocky, but that’s not at all the most interesting about him. His own recordings are known for their stark and lo-fi qualities. One track might feature Blunt doing some soulful crooning over soft melodies while you stretch to hear if that’s a waterfall in the background. Press play on the next song and get experimental noise from front to back. Another testament to his restless nature, Blunt is also known for pulling silly pranks, like sending his bodyguard to accept his NME award. Amy Young
Alex Zhang Hungtai
I am a great admirer of Alex Zhang Hungtai, not only for his arresting music, but also the way he lives. In the early 2010s, he released a series of albums under the name Dirty Beaches that earned acclaim from music websites like Pitchfork. But rather than chase this success, he ended the project with a record called Stateless, a mournful, sweeping album of wind instrument drones that makes me think of looking at the ocean, yearning for what's on the other side. He continues in this vein on his 2018 album, Divine Weight, released under his own name. He also now performs all over the world, never staying in one place for very long, although last year he did pop up in a band called Trouble from a small town in Washington state called Twin Peaks. Doug Markowitz
If you like electronic music that makes you dance, catch a set by this Boston-based duo. Don’t expect them to have you flailing around the room in a beat-driven frenzy, though. Their style is more reflective of ‘80s industrial dance acts like Sleep Chamber than the snappier synthpop bands of that decade like Flock of Seagulls. The way they don’t rush things is a treat. The contained persistence creates a haunting tension. A song may run a solid seven minutes and the steady beats lock you in place as you follow the low hum of Jae Matthews’ voice as it delivers oft-chilling lyrics. Amy Young
If I had one word to describe the work of M.E.S.H., also known as James Whipple, it would be "subterranean." His techno and ambient explorations on the Berlin label PAN — Damaged Merc, Piteous Gate, Hesaitix — sound a bit like a party in a dungeon, only the dungeon is located in a very glitchy copy of Runescape Classic. He has been described as one of the vanguards of the international movement known as "deconstructed club," whose flagrantly post-internet M.O. seems to be mashing together every pitch-shifted pop song, bizarre drum pattern, creepy synth voice, booming techno bassline, and oddly familiar stock sound effect into a righteous musical bitches' brew. It owns, basically, and it will rock your world if you let it. Douglas Markowitz
“Frio Severo” is a song you could, and should, lose your head to. It’s a carnival of eclectic sounds and rhythms that exemplifies why people often call music hypnotic. Its power is tripled when Carolina Oliveros starts singing. Part of Combo Chimbita’s magic is their ability to pull you inside the song. As that aforementioned track continues, you go where it leads. It’s a parade you hope won’t end too soon. This New York band’s sound comes from a fusion African, Latin American, and Caribbean styles. The band refers to their music as “tropical futurism,” and that’s accurate. Diverse rhythms and funky beats are the heartbeat for the sometimes breezy, other times psychedelic and experimental melodies that sweep through their tunes. Amy Young
Hey, here's a home team you can root for! Noise-rock band Destruction Unit hail from right here in the Valley, which you may already have known from our previous breathless coverage of them (I didn't! I'm new here! How ya doin', boys?!) Around the time we called them "Arizona's loudest, most uncompromising band," they signed to the Sacred Bones label and started releasing nationally recognized records that were just as face-melting as the ones they put out when they were a local concern, mining the desert haze for inspiration. Now you can relive the come-up and see them again, just in a different city. Douglas Markowitz
“I don’t care about your shit face / The street goes down two ways / Don’t worry ‘bout the way I’m going / Don’t worry ‘bout the fuck I’m doing.” When you hear that last line from Lindsey French, a.k.a. Negative Gemini, off her song "Don't Worry Bout The Fuck I'm Doing," it’s easy to get lost in her sugary, ethereal voice. Landing on that hammock of delicate vocals propped up by soft beats isn’t a bad place to get stuck, but catching her sting offers a nice polarity to the mix. Not everything she does is quite so subtle, another track from her most recent release Bad Baby, “Infin Path,” is musically chaotic, with elements of pop music twisted into hyper-percussive beats. Amy Young
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S U R V I V E
Yes, these guys do the Stranger Things score. Ooh, synthy! Ooh, arpeggios! Ooh, so '80s and retro! Yes, all that is true, and it is why the remarkable music in that blockbuster TV show is the best thing about it. But there's more to it than base nostalgia — S U R V I V E's music, especially their non-TV records, has a fascinating complexity to it, from the instrumentation to the composition. If you are a fan of this type of retro, analog synth exploration, you'll want to know two things. One: S U R V I V E runs a record label called Holodeck that's full of the stuff. Two: they'll probably pull from that catalog, and their own, I'm sure, at their HOCO Fest DJ set. Douglas Markowitz
One of Tucson’s finest, this group led by Sergio Mendoza (vocals, guitar, and piano) play what they call indie mambo. Their sound is a combination of cumbia, ranchera, and psychedelic indie rock. The instrumentation includes horns, accordions, and percussion, and together it all boils down to fun, well-crafted, brilliantly executed music. Mendoza formed this group as part of a tribute project focused on Cuban master of the mambo, Perez Prado, whose spirited legacy continues to be a musical inspiration. Amy Young
HOCO Fest. August 29 to September 2 at Hotel Congress, 311 East Congress Street, Tucson; 191 Toole, 191 East Toole Avenue, Tucson; Hotel McCoy, 720 West Silverlake Road, Tucson; Cans Deli, 340 North Fourth Avenue, Tucson; other venues TBA; hocofest.com. Tickets are $20 to $125, full schedule and ticket info available at hocofest.com.