The tableau couldn’t have been more surreal for those in Austin as a Super Full Moon hovered over infamous 6th Street on Saturday, March 19. The crowded thoroughfare was filled with more people than ever for SXSW’s 25 year anniversary and the SLUG crew was gunning hard to hit as many showcases as we could on SXSW’s final day. I had a chance to shoot pics of some of my favorite bands and meet some up-and-comers that only an event like SXSW can offer.
I lived in Texas as a toddler and later as a teenager. To say I was excited that the festival occurs in a place where shirts stick to backs with humidity would be a great understatement. I made my schedule anyway, boarded the plane with much air-phobia, and arrived with no limo waiting. They hadn’t heard about my homecoming, apparently. A shuttle ride later and downtown beckoned outside the hotel window with an amazing buzzing from the SXSW Interactive festival the week prior and the ramping up to Music week in full fervor.
I quickly learned on the ground in Austin that everything is on the ground—spread out over about 15 city blocks. The action begins as early as 10 a.m. and can last until 4 a.m. My feet got a pounding unless I payed for a pedicab ($20 average per person minimum). Real cabs were usually out of the question as they can’t quickly navigate the streets where most of the action is. Pedicabs were charging 100-300% more than they usually do. In the future I’m going to practice speedwalking 6-8 miles a day a few weeks out. I will also bring more pairs of comfortable shoes and more socks. I will practice more drills ducking and weaving while avoiding drunk people—very drunk people—while walking superfast. It seems most people at SXSW weren’t wearing wristbands or badges and were just there to get as inebriated as possible and maybe, maaybe catch a band they like.
The national and international bands were a pleasure to watch so were some locals we caught down there, like Gaza at the Brooklyn Vegan Day Party Showcase at Lovejoys. I’ve seen Gaza plenty of times, listened to all their releases and interviewed them for our paper. They did the Utah metal scene proud at Lovejoys with a rapt crowd fully engaged in their politics and music. Gaza was sharing the bill with Ringworm, a fantastic grinding, metal group. I wanted to catch that set but had to head across town again. I also caught localHip hop MC Pig Pen and DJ Street Jesus during the Kosher Dillz set at the Marq. Pig Pen and Street Jesus were fully engaged and had a big part to do with the success of the Dillz set. It was a really wonderful experience seeing familiar faces from the local scene and watching them excel down in Austin. Good job Salt Lakers for reppin’ the 801.
In case you thought it was all serious music action though, rest assured that I fit in a growing passion of mine—watching standup comedy. Doug Benson of the podcast “Doug Loves Movies” and the documentary Super High Me was at a venue doing tapings of his podcast and live versions of his Comedy Central show “Interruption.” I got to watch as Doug did his interruption sets with comedy behemoths Tig Notaro (The Sarah Silverman Show), Brody Stevens and Aziz Ansari (Parks & Rec., Human Giant). It’s kind of hard to explain the “interruption”-style to non-comedy nerds, but simplified is this: a standup performs their act as a very stoned Doug sits in a chair and comments on any thoughts related—or not related—to what the other standup is saying. Each comic’s set usually ends in a “Tweet Off” wherein Doug and the comic read their most recent one-liner tweets with hashtag punchlines. It was one of the best things about the festival and a good example of the synergy that happens when the SXSW Film and Music fests overlap.
Another highlight included Childish Gambino. Donald Glover, a.k.a. MC Childish Gambino, a.k.a. Troy on NBC’s Community, blew the other hip hop groups I saw out of the water (excluding the wonderful, aforementioned Kosher Dillz). I watched as Curren$y disappointed a crowd at a Billboard “hip hop” showcase with his laptop rap. I also watched as Odd Future threw a bitch move and walked off after only three songs at the same showcase. However, watching Childish Gambino lay down cogent raps and soaring vocals over a live band’s fresh beats proved that hip hop isn’t dead, it’s just being slowly smothered by the shitty music/disco the mainstream gangster rappers are glorifying.
Here’s Glover’s latest video, as his alter ego MC Childish Gambino performs “Freaks and Geeks:
The above is from his new totally free downloadable EP (available here). Do yourself a favor and catch Gambino when he comes to the Vertigo room at The Complex on 4.19.11.
There was more than comedy and hip hop down south, though. The ‘80s retro movement was in full swing in the right places. I’d heard about (and heard) Twin Shadow before his set at Maggie Mae’s rooftop and I was not disappointed by the live performance. It was like watching a young Lenny Kravitz, before his launch into the stratosphere of stardom, who has chosen to access the ‘80s and not the ‘60s and ‘70s with his guitar. Twin Shadow’s vocals were spot on as were his guitar skills and showmanship, making him one of the best things about the festival, by far.
The above video speaks well of Twin Shadow’s performance style. It’s playful and serious at the same time.
As a final note, I’d recommend tapping into the international side of an international music festival like SXSW. Sticking around a quarter of a century gives a festival notoriety and over time has attracted the best in the world to Texas (of all places). If you only stick to American acts while in Austin, you’re shooting yourself in the face, but not in the “good” way Cobain did. I enjoyed acts spanning from the UK to Norway, France and down to Mexico. I even got to catch one of my favorite Norwegian groups in Datarock and loved the shit outta them, as usual.
France’s Chateau Marmont amazed me with their French pop, similar to Air (one of my all time favs) but a bit dancier, and I would have never heard about them without randomly stumbling into a tent by my hotel during some French acts. I missed Tahiti 80 right after but having the experience of Chateau Marmont was amazing. Next on my list of unique bands is Mexico’s Mexican Institute of Sound.
I’m wearing the shirt pictured above as we type. I’m not big into merch (my wallet cries) but I dig the concept: “Yo Digo Baila Tu Dices Dance.” I didn’t understand most of the lyrics from this group, but I got the concept via the music.
The Brits really brought it at the festival and I’m glad the closest venue to our crash pad was the place they’ve chosen for a second music invasion. Latitude 30 has long hosted the showcases from the UK and they did it again this year. Wales, Liverpool, and Scotland, to name just a few, were all represented with showcases. I caught some of my favorite groups there like The Answering Machine, We Are Animal and one of my SXSW favorite finds, Kill It Kid. We Are Animal’s Welsh attack was tight, and very unique, as was the Liverpudlian band Kill It Kid—making them one of my favorite new, young bands.
Here is Kill It Kid’s latest vid for proof:
The Super Moon eventually dipped below the horizon, as I did after each exhausting day, but not without hitting an unusually high, high—sans beer and (too many) drugs. SXSW is even worth braving Texas for, something I don’t ever recommend, and that is the highest praise I could give to this spectacular week in March. Thanks for reading, visit Latitude 30 next year and hopefully we’ll see you there in 2012.