Monday, March 23, 2009

SXSW 2009 Summary

Every March, the music industry takes over Austin. There’s around 1,700 official showcasing music acts, and probably about the same amount in town doing unofficial shows. Every stage becomes a premium venue and every park, parking lot, or floor-space becomes a makeshift venue. Pizza joints, barber shops, and vintage stores even throw parties with national touring acts. Every hotel room in the city is booked by January. There are some pretty big fests that run within the SXSW chaos including the Austin Electronic Music Festival, The Red Gorilla Rock Fest, and the Mess with Texas Fest.

All in all, SXSW is the biggest music-related festival around.

I will try to briefly explain how SXSW works for music fans. There is a badge available for around $600 that gets you into every venue plus the films and interactive panels. Then there is a wristband available for around $175 that gets you into all the music events. Plus there are plenty of free unofficial day-shows that exist to get the bands and sponsors recognition. These usually require an RSVP and are favorites of locals that don’t want to buy wristbands.

Now, you’ve got to consider how SXSW a big money-making racket. It is really hard to travel from venue to venue, even with a bike. The venues are spread all over the city and bands only get 20-30 minute sets. So instead of buying a wristband and trying to bounce all over town, I advise people to just pick one showcase per night and expect an $8-$25 cover. Or just concentrate on the free shows if there are not specific bands that you are targeting. Either way, you are spending far less than $175.

Now, last year was my first SXSW and I hit it hard. I saw all my top picks, plus many more. I actually went to a lot of the official showcases and I never paid cover, instead using either my wit or my charm to gain entrance every time. The 2008 experience was pretty exhausting. I would drive downtown and park the Shaggin Wagon somewhere on the perimeter. I’d then take out my bike and start hitting the day parties around 1PM. I’d meet some cool people and check out the bands I wanted. Then around 8PM, it was time to pick my showcase. With no badge or wristband, I’d creatively find a way in.

This year, I wanted to relax a little more. Biking around for 14 hours a day allowed me to see a lot more bands last year, but man, was it straining. Plus this year, I was playing tour guide and social host with some uninitiated out-of-town guests. I wasn’t flying solo like I generally prefer. So it took some more coordination this year, as I couldn’t just spontaneously call the shots.

Overall, I am pleased to say that I saw 9/10 of my top picks. The one band that I really wanted to see and didn’t was Pendulum from the UK. They were here doing only one showcase and it conflicted big time with another I didn’t want to miss. Oh well, I’ll cross my fingers and wait for another US tour. I did catch the three official showcases that I anticipated the most, plus we drove to San Antonio to catch an intimate SXSW one-off show with my number one pick Tricky.

Monday 3-16 Flosstradamus

Caught the mashup DJ duo at Beauty Bar for a promotional party. The music portion of SXSW doesn’t start until Wednesday, but there are always a couple parties as early as Monday. Flosstradamus always brings out the scenster chicks, so it was a good time. I was hosting a workshop too, so I never made it next door for Yarah Bravo.

Tuesday 3-17 The Egg/ Kraak & Smaak

Incredible show. Fortunately, I networked with the tour manager for The Egg and got myself and a friend in, avoiding a cover of $25 apiece. UN-fortunately, however we were obligated now as photographers to stay until the 3AM end, thus missing all the St Patrick’s Day parties that were going on. Kraak & Smaak is one of my favorite live bands. They bring this raw mix of funk, electronica, soul, and rap. I had seen them once before, not long ago, on 11-11-08, also at The Parish. The headliners, The Egg, I had never seen before, but I was thoroughly impressed. They are a UK “jamtronica” band that bring the two scenes (fans of jam bands and ravers) together nicely. They are the British counterpart to some of my US favorites like Particle, Lotus, Future Rock, and Pnuma Trio.

Wednesday 3-18 Tricky/ Dredg/ Pelican

Tricky – yes the UK trip-hop Maxinquaye Tricky – was my top SXSW pick. Earlier I had discovered that he was only doing one officials SXSW showcase (most bands come here and do 3-6 both officially and unofficially). But... he was doing another Texas date... down in San Antonio at the Scout Bar. In fact, he was doing this SXSW one-off show with the prog-rock legends Dredg and the post-rock instrumental favorites Pelican. Holy shit that is a lineup! So the decision was made to go down to San Antonio with two friends to see Tricky and his band perform for an hour and a half, rather than fight the SXSW chaos for the mere chance of seeing a thirty minute performance. Best decision of the whole week – and best show of the year! (And that’s saying a lot coming from me. I go to tons of shows.)

Thursday 3-19 Brother Ali/ POS/ Eydea & Abilities/ Abstract Rude

I spent around six hours in the Emergency Room with a friend who was having an allergic reaction to his prescription medication. Dude’s totally fine, but it was a big hassle to say the least. As it was getting later and later, I wondered if we were going to be able to get into this official showcase. You see, when the badge-holders and wristband-holders show up, they are admitted with priority over paying customers. I was already tired, and I didn’t feel like hustling my way in, but this Rhymesayers showcase was such a priority that I didn’t want to miss it either. Needless to say, I got in no problem. However, the Habana Club was at capacity soon after, and I had some friends show up only to be turned away. I missed Toki Wright's set. Then, I got to catch I Self Devine, one of few artists on Rhymesayers that I hadn’t seen before. But he rocked the stage with his streetwise rhymes. Then came Abstract Rude. This was my fourth Abstract Rude show, and he kicks it smooth everytime. He had one guest song where Busdriver and Myka 9 got up with him and did a Project Blowed joint. Next up was MC Eyedea & DJ Abilities. This was my second time catching them since they did a small show at the Beauty Bar last year on 8-15-08. They played three of my favorites, “Birth of a Fish,” “Man Vs Ape,” and “Paradise.” Now, if things couldn’t get any better, POS takes the stage and even plays guitar for two songs. He debuts some new stuff plus the crowdpleasers “Half Cocked Concepts” and “De La Souls.” He also performed a song with fellow Doomtree member Dessa Darling. Okay, shit’s not over yet. The one-and-only Brother Ali takes the stage with his DJ BK One. Brother Ali hasn’t been through Austin since 5-16-07! This puts him at the top of my list, and of course he didn’t disappoint. But check this out. The showcase is still not over. Rhymesayser superproducer Jake One comes on with an MC called Freeway. I gotta admit, I had never heard of Freeway, but come to find out that he has been around, just in a different wavelength of the hip-hop spectrum. He has two albums out on Jay-Z’s Rock-A-Fella Records. Now Jake One is his producer so we can look forward to a Rhymesayers release. It’s also worth mentioning all the other underground hip-hop notables that were mingling around this show, including Dose One and Jel from Anticon, Josh Martinez, Astronautalis, plus all the cats from Strange Famous.

Friday 3-20 Kid Sister/ Asher Roth/ Lady Sovereign/ Cage

I got into Club Deville right as Cage, aka Chris Palko, was taking the stage. This guy has a deep history in the underground and I believe he was the only Def Jux artist at SXSW this year (no wait, Mr. Lif was here). He has been on my list of MCs that I’ve never seen but have wanted to see for a long time. And I finally got my chance. It was another short set of maybe five songs. They were heavy, loaded with emotion, and he had the guitarist from Hatebreed playing with him the whole time. The only regret here is that I never got to take a cameo photo with Cage. He seemed really elusive after the set. Next up was Amanda Blank. I’d never heard of her before but she’s worked with Spankrock and Santogold. Then was the Canadian rapper/ DJ duo Thunderheist. They kicked out some sexy club-rap songs. Then it was time for a real treat... UK grime rapper Lady Sovereign. She played “Public Warning,” “Love Me or Hate Me,” and just a couple others. Even though SXSW sets are short, it’s really a great chance to see a lot of top artists at once. Especially those international artists that don’t tour the US often. Okay, the next performer, I am almost embarrassed to say that I have never heard of – Asher Roth – he seems to be another one of those Web 2.0 success stories headed straight for the mainstream. But I have to say, his performance was really good – live drums and a high energy sort of suburban frat-rap. YouTube “I Love College” for proof. Finally, we had Kid Sister, a rap artist from Chicago. I can dig the sexy energy of club-rap, but I’m not really hip enough to really get into the scene. I like hip-hop that is emotive, intelligent, and clever. So while Lady Sovereign and Asher Roth really moved the crowd, fucking Cage moved my soul. That sounds cheesy, but it was a good party overall.

Saturday 3-20 Busdriver/ BOB/ The Bronx/ Japanther/ Abe Vigoda

This was a big free tangential festival at Waterloo Park called Mess with Texas. The headliners on the main stage were Black Lips and Circle Jerks, neither of which really captured my attention. We got there around 3pm, and we caught some of the indie/punk artists on the second stage including Abe Vigoda, Japanther, and The Bronx. We went to eat dinner and came back at 8pm to catch avant-hop rapper Busdriver. Everything was delayed and this group called BOB was just going on. They turned out to be okay. It was a live instrumentation rap group fronted by this guy named Bobby Ray who is signed to TI’s label. His whole band was full of energy, and they can definitely rock, though the whole set was a bit disorganized. Finally, Busdriver comes on, backed by two DJs… the usual Anti-MC, plus Nosaj Thing. This was my fourth Busdriver show and I was quite disappointed after waiting all day, only to see him perform five songs. I think all the day’s delays cost him most of his set as they were trying to make up for wasted time. It also caused me to show up late for the Strange Famous showcase way out on the east side.

Saturday 3-21 Sage Francis/ B. Dolan/ Buck 65/ Scroobius Pip/ 2Mex

By the time I got to the Scoot Inn, 2Mex had just started playing. This means that I had already missed Jared Paul, Cecil Otter, and Prolyphic. Hopefully we’ll get a tour from them soon. Anyway, 2Mex rocked the set and introduced his new band Look Daggers which features Ikey from the Mars Volta on keys. Their tracks were pretty strong. Next Scroobius Pip took the stage. He had to explain that Dan Le Sac, who does live programming and beats, could not make it to the US because he is sick. So, Scroobius Pip had to just play the instrumentals on a CD. I think it was another five song set, but we were at least treated to “The Beat that My Heart Skipped,” “Angles,” and “Thou Shalt Always Kill.” Without Dan, it wasn’t the unbelievable performance from SXSW last year, nor the intensity of their performance on 8-16-08. Next up is my personal favorite Buck 65. He opens his set doing a full cover of Devo’s “Whip It” then an amalgamation of old and new material including “Dang,” “Wicked and Weird,” and “Centaur.” Buck 65 was full of energy, eclectic dance moves, and bouncing back and forth between MCing on the mic and mixing on the turntables. When B. Dolan takes the stage, the crowd is hyped. B. Dolan assaults hard with slam poetry, intense lyricism, performance art, and spoken word. Then Sleep does an abbreviated set because his voice is shot. But he’s a dope lyricist and probably the fastest rapper around. That’s the thing with Strange Famous, the artists here are some of the most technically adept rappers and artful lyricists, as many of them come from the spoken word and slam poetry circuit. Finally, Sage Francis takes the stage and owns it. Last time he was in Austin was 6-9-07, making him another top artist late to return. He played a couple tracks from the last three albums, the classics “Makeshift Patriot,” and several new tracks which all seem to have been produced by Buck 65. Sage keeps it going for about an hour and concludes the night by doing this weird song called “Call My Cellphone” with the newest Strange Famous artist Curtis Plum.

Sunday 3-22 MC Frontalot/ MC Lars/ Terp 2 It

Most all SXSW stuff is done and people are headed out of town today. I spent a few hours with a friend at his birthday party on the roof of his condo. Great pool party, but there is one more showcase to catch. I knew the nerdcore guys had an official showcase on Friday, but I wouldn’t have known about this unofficial showcase if MC Lars hadn’t been at the Sage Francis show. So respect for that. I get the impression that a lot of the nerdcore artists and fans don’t associate much with other underground hip-hop movements, so it was nice to see him there. When I got to Spider House, Jesse Dangerously had already performed, and it was now time for Austin’s own Terp 2 It. He did a couple interesting things including an audience dance-off and “found hip-hop” where he basically read from a car user’s manual that someone had brought. MC Lars comes on with a live guitarist and drummer, and rocks now more than ever. He played mostly newer stuff, but not a lot of the ones I know except “Hot Topic is not Punk Rock” and “Mr. Raven.” I like the visuals being projected on top of the band; they are basically Google images that serve to punctuate all his lines. It works though. Then MC Frontalot comes on with his band and they play a lot of tracks off his new album, plus “Goth Girls” and “Bizarro Genius Baby.” This is actually my fourth Frontalot show, and it’s fun every time. Though, I must admit, MC Lars with his witty songs and rockin’ band, kinda stole the show this time. Sorry, Damien.

Phew! This took me a long time to write up. But I just wanted to make note of where I’ve been all week and brag about the top-notch talent that comes through for SXSW.

Now back to faking orgasm with women that can’t get me off…



Anonymous Jesse Dangerously said...

Damn, homie, your Saturday night looks exactly like mine - Busdriver keeping you from SFR until 2mex got on. Fucking amazing though, eh?

Shame you missed me the next night - I'm on that tip. I'm another big white dude with a beard who raps hard about real things, heh.

Ah well!

March 24, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great festival. I'm envious.

March 24, 2009  

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