Austin Death Fest: Interview With Jason Dahlke

Earlier this year, a new festival popped up on my radar: a new death metal festival in Austin, Texas!

This year marks the first-ever Austin Death Fest, being held on April 27 and 28 at Mohawk, and features basically the top-tier of modern, contemporary death metal. For real, nearly all the big names that emerged over the last decade will be there: Tomb Mold, Mortiferum, Witch Vomit, Outer Heaven, Phobophilc, Maul, Mortuous, the list goes on! So I decided to contact the festival’s founder, Jason Dahlke to learn about how it all came together. In particular, I wanted to know about the penchant for newer acts, without relying on a bigger band to anchor the event. I also was eager to hear about his vision for the future, as this is surely just the beginning.

Check out our discussion below, and go here for info on tickets in case you’ll be in the area!

First off, tell us a little bit about yourself and Southern Death. How did you come to be in the position you are now, about to launch a new fest for the Austin area?

Really appreciate y’all having me! Southern Death came about after touring in my own band (Left to Rot) and seeing so many friends and bands I respect on the road come through Texas but skip Austin. I started it with hopes of helping to grow the scene in central Texas and attract more touring acts to stop in Austin as opposed to driving right through. There are a lot of really talented heavy musicians in Austin and I really just wanted to help shine a light on the scene out here.

How did the idea for the fest come about? Were you inspired by what Baltimore and other locales do? And what made you choose the venue, Mohawk?

The idea for the fest came to me after seeing the countless festivals in Austin that most of us loved become over commercialized or drop off due to the high cost of doing anything in Austin. There is also a wide net cast by many festivals that incorporates multiple genres, and while they curate amazing lineups there isn’t anything that focused anymore. It’s generally more about drawing the most ticket sales as opposed to putting together the best lineup.

The bigger festivals have always inspired me. The amount of amazing bands crammed into a single day never ceases to amaze me. One of my biggest inspirations for ADF were the early Milwaukee Metal Fests. They showcased the best contemporary artists at the time and looking back now you can see how many legendary acts shared the stage. Had they not been willing to do that we wouldn’t have these absolutely insane flyers to look back on and wish we could have attended. I was also inspired heavily by Chaos in Tejas which was a festival that used to be put on in Austin. They had some amazing bands play, and while they were also multi-genre, that inspired a large portion of younger musicians to get out and start bands. There are thriving death metal scenes in most bigger cities in Texas, a lot of which can be directly attributed to Chaos in Tejas, and I’m just hoping to similarly get people excited again. Austin isn’t currently known for its death metal but there are a handful of us in the city trying to make a positive change in the right direction.

I chose Mohawk because in my eyes it’s the best venue in Austin. It captures the rawness of the underground in a great sounding environment that showcases bands on a killer stage. There’s a big pit area with no barricade but there’s also multiple mezzanines that provide a great view of the stage. The staff there is great, a combination of musicians and metal heads, and some of my favorite shows I’ve ever been to were at Mohawk. When metal bands come through town and they play that stage they know they are doing something right.

The festival’s lineup is a who’s who of modern death metal luminaries. What made you decide to take it in that direction?

When looking at most current metal festivals around the globe there is always one constant — legacy acts on the top of the flyer with all the new bands crammed underneath. This is a relatively new “problem” — we didn’t have bands touring and putting out music for 20 or 30 years, especially in extreme music, until recently. We can see this in all guitar-driven music genres. How is a new band ever going to overtake Slipknot as a headliner? Simply put, they won’t be able to. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the longevity we are seeing with bands and the return of amazing musicians that should be playing shows, but this has created a very over-saturated market in metal. There are bands that are putting out top-tier albums that will always be eclipsed if you put a band like Cannibal Corpse as a headliner (nothing against them of course, I absolutely love CC,) so I chose to put together what I thought were amazing bands that aren’t so long in the tooth and try to prop them up on a cool stage where they may normally be relegated to direct support.

Do you have a band on this lineup that you’re especially stoked to have? I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Phobophilic tear it up!

Phobophilic are such great guys who put on an absolutely brutal show, you won’t be disappointed. I’m honestly just grateful anyone was willing to come down to Austin and play at all. Tomb Mold hasn’t been down to Austin forever and I’m looking forward to hearing their new material. Witch Vomit also has a new album coming out that is sounding devastating, so I’m hoping to hear some new tunes there as well. Civerous is also gonna have a brand new album out right before the fest – so lots of new music! Outer Heaven has riffs for days and I haven’t had the opportunity to see them live yet, so that will be a good one. Can’t forget Lunar Chamber‘s first ever live performance, very honored to be able to have them come down for that! There won’t be a disappointing performance on the lineup. I’m really stoked to be able to have some bands I’ve toured with come down and play — Sentenced 2 Die, Maul, Morbid Vizions, Mutliatred — just a ton of extremely heavy bands who don’t get south often. Keep an eye out for Ritual Fog, an absolutely crushing live set!

What is your vision for the fest over the long-term? Are you hoping to one day expand it to include some of the bigger, legendary acts to draw more people in?

I’d certainly like to try and make the festival an annual event. This is strictly being put on for the culture of death metal and to showcase up-and-coming bands who are putting in the work — releasing music, touring, and supporting the scene. I wouldn’t be opposed to having legendary acts come out and play, but I’d probably have a legacy day or something along those lines so that a younger, unsigned band isn’t competing with a tenured major-label juggernaut. Those types of bands don’t need someone like me to put on for them, they’ve already earned their stripes. With that being said, if Grave wants to come play, hit me up and we’ll work something out haha. I’ve already got a list of potential bands for 2025, but if someone is interested, please reach out to me. If you think playing a festival like this is something you’d like to do but you aren’t currently playing music, pick up an instrument and start a band! You never know where you’ll wind up.