SxSW 2013 – The Lowdown!
Austin’s city slogan is Keep Austin Weird, so I knew I’d fit right in. At this, the marathon of music festivals, I made friends with oddballs, drank my way through hundreds of dollars of free booze, saw countless bands I loved, fell in love with new ones, scored a free hotel room in the downtown Hilton, took advantage of the ‘not illegal to go topless’ law, broke the law, met some of my some of favourite artists, hung out at a hippie commune, was given Transylvanian quartz to protect me from vampires… I could carry on, but then I’d never get around to talking about the music.
Before we look in South By’s dirty laundry bag, let’s talk about who killed it. Impossible to rank, but here’s the best of the best, in my humble opinion.
Haim - Hair. Girls. Balls. Attitude. Mastery. There was a huge amount of hype surrounding these long haired lovlies, and rightly so. They are going to take over the world. Never seen a band like it. Girl fucken power.
Slow Magic – an electronic producer from California fully aware that it can be dull to watch artists in his genre, solves the issue by bringing along some drums and fancy dress. And them jumps into the crowd to really rev the vibe up.
Ólafur Arnalds – not ashmaned to admit that the beautiful loops and beats of this Icelandic artist made me cry behind my sunglasses…
Local Natives – my favourite indie band of the moment. Quite simply – amazing musicians. I had goose pimples head to toe for the whole set, not just the epic track, Breakers.
Autre Ne Veut – I was wetting my knickers at the thought of seeing this guy live. Taken aback by his look – baseball cap not quite on his head properly (think East 17 circa 1993) looking all rude n stuff. He writes about anxiety and deep emotions – watching him live you can literally feel what’s happening in his head. Powerful stuff. And proof that rude looking folk having feelings too.
Ghost Beach – slapping smiles across hungover faces with slap bass, this is some of the best synthy/samply/feel-good stuff around. Plus I have an affinity with anyone with pink hair.
Other acts I loved and will be reviewing as soon as I get a minute to myself are Mø, Wildcat! Wildcat!, Sizarr, Man Without Country and Tan Frio el Verano. Patience, please.
And back to the dirty knickers/panties…
Austin is a circus, and when South By comes to town the lion tamers and ring masters take time off. The streets heave with not just with musicians, industry types and very high decebels, but freaks, tricks, treats, madness, craziness, insanity and everything in-between. Navigating this bedlam is a skill that comes with practice (I lost my way frequently), and although there are no rules here, there certainly are things to abide by…(religion most certainly not being one of them, unless your God is a DJ.)
Using the ‘official’ South By app, I constructed an impossible time table of talks about music supervision, lectures from Dave Grohl, a few hundred gigs, free BBQ’s (unemployed + coughing up $650 for a badge means trawling the streets for freebies). The likelihood of death by musical consumption/exhaustion looked worryingly high. So imagine the odd mix of terror and pleasure I felt on arrival in Austin to find the streets covered in posters for hundreds of events and bands not even in the official app. As with so many areas of life, It’s all about the underground. The official shit barely scratches the surface.
Bravely staring death in the face, I started taking pictures of posters, scribbling things in my note pad, adding reminders in my phone, scrawling on my hands. SO MANY GIGS. Things were getting out of control and it was only Monday and I wasn’t drunk (yet). As my sweat patches grew, and my anxiety levels rose to something akin to a 3-day drug binge with no sleep, I released I had some options.
a) let my hair turn white with stress worrying how I would make it everywhere/anywhere/somewhere
b) defy laws of science and biology, splitting myself into multiple pieces and time travelling, or
c) chill the fuck out and go with the Texan flow.
I chose option C: IT’S THE ONLY WAY. After this decision, things ran smoothly. If you miss your favourite act of the night. So what. you’ll find a new favourite. Print your schedule before you arrive leaving space to add your new finds by hand.
Rumours circulate the streets like world champion cyclists. Daft Punk on the steps of the Capitol? Justin Timberlake and Usher making surprise appearances? I saw a lot of different band members wearing ridiculous Timberlake/N-sync t-shirts and thus had an inkling early on that something was going down. Finding the truth in the rumours is a case of who you know, and being at the right place at the right time. I choose to skip Usher. Call me crazy but I had better things to do.
Popping back to your hotel for a freshen up/disco nap after 6pm is a fatal error. A screamingly obvious one that I failed to recognise. You need to be early for every gig. Extremely fucking early. After trying and failing to see Shakey Graves (a local hero who has been awarded a local holiday by the Mayor – ‘Shakey Graves Day is on Feb 9th) at 930pm, I tried my luck for the 10pm slot at a near by venue for Haim. But I was shit out of luck. Queues so long you’d think ATM’s were giving out freebies. Big, burly doorman with thick waistlines thanks to the copious amounts of BBQs, cheese and tacos they consume, politely but firmly telling the hoards of gig-hungry hounds that it was one in one out and the crowd wasn’t moving. Waaaaaaah. (Thankfully I caught Haim on Saturday night at Stubbs BBQ – one of the biggest stages). If you need a disco nap, and $50 says you will, be back downtown by 7pm
The Hype Hotel, a place I felt truly at home being a blogger ‘n all, was in a new venue for 2013. Basically a big warehouse with some toilets fashioned together chip-board next to a bar – but it did the job as the acoustics were better than a lot of venues. I spent a lot of time in here (Bear Mountain being the highlight) – the line up was fantastic and lines always moved fast.
I was told by South By pros not to miss Fader Fort, but to bear in mind it was very hipster. They weren’t wrong. After walking past about 3,000 people in the line that wasn’t moving (complete with girls wearing heels), waltzing up to the Press/Vip wristband pick-up like I owned the place, I got in without too much bother. Amazing how far confidence, manners and a nice business card will get you.
So, The Fort. Imagine Crenshaw Boulevard with not just the rude boyz, black hipsters and rump-shakin’ tunes, but hundreds of white kids kickin’ it too. Painfully cool people, standing around in the painfully hot sun (people this cool don’t dance in daylight hours, apparently). This was a place created for folk who suffer from micro-boredom, a post-modern condition born from smart phones and instant gratification. Even the benches came with marker pens to scribble obscenities, tag, or shamelessly plug.
You could get gif’d up (remember everyone that’s cool needs a gif of themselves to put on their 20 different social media accounts), grab a free mohawke hair-do, swing on a tyre, buy merch, watch TV, pop to the phone store, get smashed on free whiskey cocktails. Shame the sound system was so average. I went to catch Disclosure, but as the place was so rammed, and the sound so crap, it really wasn’t great. Nothing to do with Disclosure themselves, but when the audience stands staring like an army of penguins awaiting an order to slide, it kinda lacks atmosphere. I have never understood why people go to see dance acts, only to stand still.
While we’re on the subject of large scale parties, let’s talk Boiler Room. What a joke. Shitty venue (metal rattling roofing), and they were running late. Half hour is acceptable, 45 mins is pushing it. But an hour and 20 mins is plain taking the piss. You have to run a crazy tight ship and time wasting like this means you miss other acts. I’d gone to see Shlohmo (my sexual soundtrack man), and I was so over the wait, that when he finally came on and dropped some shit rap track, I was outta there. Big parties are not what South By is about. I shouldn’t have bothered.
NOTE: The big parties are all for show – and you can do them anytime. Size certainly doesn’t matter here. Go take a peek (if you’re good at queue jumping), and be on your merry way. Do not expect your favourite producers to woo you live*. If you choose to see them, pick a small venue.
*unless it’s Slow Magic who could blow the minds of a crowd in a football stadium.
If you want to dance all day and night for a week, don’t forget your lesbian shoes – you’ll need them. And if you’re a chatty cat, you’ll never dance alone at this festival. Rather than just drug fuelled, huggy, you’re amazing, I’m so glad I met you type encounters, you will actually make solid friends, have meaningful conversations without drugs and learn a lot. I left Austin a little chubbier with an over flowing phone book, enviable, unbelievable experiences and some new ‘keeper’ mates.
It was the ride of my life – and believe me I’ve had a few – and I’m already counting down the hours until SxSW 2014. If you love live music, this is where you need to be.