by Chris Conde
The crowd at Cheer Up Charlies Monday night was mixed with bearded queerdos, club kids and punk rockers dancing in cool outfits in front of the outside stage. This venue is sort of the alt-gay bar to the top-40’s-type-club atmosphere you might find at say, Rain on 4th. Pharmakon, an industrial-noise artist from New York known for her in-your-face performances was set to close the night out after a slew of experimental electronic artists also featured on the line up.
On the bill of off-beat electronic artists was Russell E.L. Butler, an avant-garde techno act from Oakland who was in the middle of his set. The crowd danced to Butler’s glitchy, atmospheric club jams that sounded sort of like if Aphex Twin was remixing a hardcore techno song from the 90s as a vile of alkyl nitrates or "poppers" was passed between a small group of people noticeably intoxicated in front of the stage.
After Butler’s 30 min set, Pharmakon took to the stage. “She’s about to clear everyone out of here” a dude next to me said as we watched Pharmakon setting up her gear.
When Margaret Chardiet sets up her gear before a performance Monday night inside Austin's Cheer Up Charlies, it looked like she was about to set up a bomb or hack into the Matrix. Sprawling cables looped over each other across a white table holding pedals, a mixer, and other noise-makers.
The New York industrial-noise artist, who performs under the name Pharmakon, is known for her in-your-face performances. As her set commenced, a slow rumble crawled through the speakers and the audience inched closer. Harsh drum samples and looping sounds started to echo over the dance floor as Chardiet paced back and forth on stage — then she started screaming into a microphone. Several times through Pharmakon's set, she'd walk into the audience and shout at people right in their faces, her microphone cord tripping people up as she dragged it behind her. The crowd looked uncomfortable, it was noisy as fuck, and punk rock as hell.
Pharmakon might have been the weirdest performer that night and maybe even the entire festival, but the control she displayed over her sound and interaction with the audience proved that Chardiet isn't just a playing around; she's an artist who will make you feel shit, even if said shit is uncomfortable.
The New Yorker plays Paper Tiger this Saturday for one of the coolest SA spillover this South-By season, so if you're staying in SA during the festival, go see Pharmakon. Weird, confrontational electronic music never felt so good.
With Institute, Sex Ray Vision, Afflictive Nature, Tohu, 7pm, $10, Paper Tiger (Small Room) 2410 N. St. Mary's St.