Category Archives: SXSW

Katuwapitiya.com reviews SXSW 2013

Sixth Street, Austin

This was my second year visiting Austin for SXSW. Last year, I was given a wristband by the festival. I had it all planned out, previewing and interviewing a bunch of bands beforehand, I had a hostel booking, a printout map, American currency, the works. I packed 2 sets of shorts despite my hatred for shorts, sunscreen despite my sunburn-proof dark skin, hell, I might as well have packed a fanny pack.

This year was different. Having become so busy with school, it was very much a last minute decision to decide to go to SXSW again. As I met some great folks out there last year, I found myself with the opportunity to crash on a couch, wristbandless and badgeless. I took it.

When I have to describe SXSW to someone who has never been, I struggle. That may sound ridiculous considering I’ve been attempting to write about my music experiences here for 5 years now, but it’s true. What I (and Pitchfork and SPIN or every other blog/magazine that goes out there) would try to describe is its awesomeness, its scale, the cool bands we saw, the interesting crowds, and how the city is so cool and non-stereotypically Texan. There’s the other side too, complaining about how it’s not as good as it used to be, how the lines are too long, how they didn’t get to see the band they wanted (getting to a small venue Flaming Lips show 1 hour before with a badge does NOT guarantee entry, much to surprise), etc.

My suggestion would be: Go.

Book a flight now if you have to.

You don’t need to know anyone. You don’t need to have anything but a little bit of foresight and the ability to go with the flow. If I knew it last year, I wouldn’t have even bothered with a wristband. You can RSVP to the bigger shows of the year (names like Fader Fort, Hype Hotel, Spin at Stubb’s were some I loved this year) but outside of that, all you need to do is get there and find a place to sleep.

It’s everything and anything. It’s an entire city swallowed by the sound of any type of music you can imagine. If you took Bourbon Street and replaced “Jazz” with “everything”, you’d have Sixth Street. If you replaced the bulls in Pamplona with indie kids and hip hop heads, you’d have most of Austin in its chaotic evenings. It’s new bands hoping and dreaming to be seen and noticed. It’s well-established bands suddenly coming together to play again. It’s food trucks, everywhere. It’s walking into a place, being given free food and drink, striking up a conversation and having a blast. Every single day.

Few friends in Toronto really know about SXSW. They know about Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Osheaga, etc. The magnitude of SXSW is so much greater than those other festivals. It’s one thing being at an all day festival behind 50,000 people while a band plays a sound that isn’t suited to an outdoor venue. It’s another to be able to go door-to-door and hear perfection.

With that off my chest, I hope you’ve booked your ticket to SXSW 2014. If anyone tells you something other than what I said, it’s because they didn’t plan enough, they planned too much, or they want to keep it to themselves because they’re still pissed off at what happened to Kings Of Leon.

Here are some of the best bands I remember hearing at the festival:

Solange

Solange at SXSW

Absolutely gorgeous, phenomenal voice, great dance moves, basically the total package. She blew me away. It won’t be long before she’s the queen of R&B. Sample.

Diarrhea Planet

Diarrhea Planet

As hard as I tried to write them off based on their name, their brand of indie-punk brought me back to the first time I heard Titus Andronicus (edit: I just found out that they’ve toured together and that Titus is a big fan of their music, what a coincidence!). So much raw potential, energy, and skill. The recordings capture about a fifth of their live energy. Sample.

Flume

Flume

An Australian friend told me about Flume a few months ago and I’m glad he did. This producer’s brand of electronic hip hop inspired instrumentals got the crowd in a frenzy and made them all into instant fans. Sample.

Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick

What can I say about this dude besides the fact that he’s the best rapper hands down in hip hop right now?

Here he is during Spin @ Stubb’s:

Palma Violets

Palma Violets

An incredible pleasure to see them at a house party near UT campus but such is the craziness of SXSW. Met the singer beforehand and talked about how their big hit “Best of Friends” was actually initially written by the band as their “shitty song” and they called it that until coming up with a proper name for it. Seeing as how I’m already loving Diarrhea Planet, I guess my music taste has turned to shit. Here it is. Decide for yourself. I’m sorry for the pun.

Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings

I saw these guys at the exact same venue last year (The Mohawk) and was literally the only person dancing in a crowd of 200. This year, they received the moshpit they deserved. Their age and noticeable improvement has me excited for their future. One refrain that stuck out from last year was “I thought I would be more than this.” and as they sung it this year, it seemed like much taller an order. But I believe it. Sample.

Local Natives

Local Natives

One of the best bands in indie right now. Did not disappoint. Sample.

CHVRCHES

Sort of like Elie Goulding meets Grimes. Except their few official recordings lean more towards the poppy side. I would stay tuned to them. Sample.

CHVRCHES

There’s more but who cares. You’re still reading and that makes me think you haven’t loaded up how much a flight to Austin costs in March 2014. <Everest Guy:> Just go already, you’re just sitting there reading about a music festival, get out of your computer chair, MAN! </Everest Guy>.

Shout outs to Sidecar for helping me get around the festival for free. Riff Raff for being as bad as I thought he’d be. East Side King for living up to all expectations. And most importantly my awesome hosts, Stephen, Patrick/Katie and their crew at Lucid Routes, and every single person I met in Austin for not changing my perception of the place one bit.

East Side King

East Side King

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#SXSW Photo Recap: March 17th, 2012

Featuring:
Mog @ The Mohawk: Gary Clark Jr, The War On Drugs, Blitzen Trapper, Cloud Nothings, Bob Mould, The Roots
ACL Live @ Moody Theatre: Sleigh Bells, Nas

Look out for:
-crazy tuba solo in the crowd
-DJ Jazzy Jeff joining ?uestlove for a drum solo
-too many amps on stage with Sleigh Bells
-some dude asleep in the VIP mezzanine during the impossibly loud Sleigh Bells set
-the craziest stage set-up for a rap show that I’ve ever seen (including Kanye)
-Nas performing while both Pete Rock and DJ Premier were on the 1’s and 2’s

See my review here.

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#SXSW Recap: March 17th, 2012

My final day at SXSW Music started off at popular Austin venue The Mohawk to see a hell of a lineup for the MOG.com party. Unfortunately, this RSVP-less free show also meant there was a hell of a lineup to get in. Gary Clark Jr. started off the day and was electric. His bluesy sound and unparalleled guitar work blew me away even while I was standing in line to see him from outside the venue. Definitely one of my favourite discoveries of the festival.

Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs followed with a swell indie rock sound. Kurt Vile and co. got the crowd moving and, at times, their sound was bit like a stripped down Arcade Fire. Excited to hear more from them.

Blitzen Trapper was next and having not heard their recent material, I was surprised to hear that they switched from their folksier sound to more of a classic-rock vibe. Though throwback is in right now (re: Sheepdogs), I kind of feel like it all sounds a bit generic. After a few songs, I headed over to the other stage to check out the much-hyped Cloud Nothings.

Cloud Nothings did not disappoint. Their brand of low-fi indie punk is impossible not to get caught up in (unless you were the crowd at The Mohawk that day, but I digress). Yelling out “I thought I would be more than this!” reminds me of when I first yelled out “You will always be a loser!” at my first Titus Andronicus show. Just awesome.

I was so caught up in that euphoria that I missed most of Bob Mould’s set but not being familiar with his work, I decided to leave that up the mass of older folks who were clearly there for him and him only.

The Roots closed out the day and everything I had ever heard about their live performances rang true. They were incredible. From tuba solos, to busting out classic tunes like “Sweet Child Of Mine” on guitar, to seeing legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff join ?uestlove on stage for a drum solo, to the impeccable delivery of Blackthought, they blew the packed crowd away. Consummate professionals. Possibly the best band I saw in Austin.

I decided to close off my night at one of the coolest venues I’ve ever been to, the Moody Theatre (where they film Austin City Limits). The acoustics in there were unbelievable and I was lucky to get a great spot on the balcony.

The crowd was ready for a loud night as Sleigh Bells strutted out in front of 12 massive amps. The noise was loud enough to drown out everything, including any clarity in Alexis Krauss’ delivery. That was probably for the best as I don’t think that she was offering much. Now this might sound a bit like “Get Off My Lawn” talk but I just don’t get it. The problem with this sort of music is that it feels a bit superfluous if the lead vocalist isn’t either: a) completely magnetic or b) contributing to the instrumentation. There were songs when she was solo on stage singing to a backing track, something normally reserved for “singers”. Instead we were stuck with what seemed like a poor man’s Alice Glass (of Crystal Castles).

But don’t just listen to me ranting. Judge for yourself:

My anticipation for the act after Sleigh Bells probably didn’t help her cause. Nas followed up by performing all of his groundbreaking album “Illmatic”. Joined on stage by DJ Premier, Pete Rock and AZ, it was Nasty Nas in his element. Songs like “It Aint Hard To Tell” and “The World Is Yours” seemed to cross off a line on most of the crowd’s bucket lists. He also played some new material which sounded promising and other classics from his discography (“One Mic” and “They Shootin'” were standouts). Overall, an incredible way to end my SXSW experience.

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#SXSW Photo Recap: March 16th, 2012

Featuring:
Rhapsody Rocks 2012 @ Club De Ville: Caveman, Zola Jesus, Washed Out
Clive Bar: New Build, Grimes, YACHT

Look out for:
-Zola Jesus acting crazy + her hot violinist
-the crazy crowd inside and outside the venue for Grimes
-Grimes’ mic control technique while using her keyboard

See my review here.

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#SXSW Recap: March 16th, 2012

Rhapsody Rocks 2012

So my third day at SXSW got off to a rocky start as the late nights were starting to catch up with me. I sucked it up and headed over to Club De Ville for what looked to be a great line-up. Feeling in a bit of a daze, I missed openers Tanlines but I was able to shake off the cobwebs to catch a band called Caveman that I hadn’t heard of before. I’m glad I did because they reminded me of the first time I saw Grizzly Bear. Great harmonies and melodies and any song that they announced as a “new song” seemed really catchy and addictive, definitely a band to look out for.

After Caveman came Zola Jesus and knowing a bit of her discography, I had no idea what to expect from a live set. She ended up being a bundle of energy, rocking out in the crowd and on top of the speakers, and put on a hell of a show. Great vocal control and the music (indie electro with gothic influences?) actually translates really well. A very European sound despite her Wisconsin roots. I mean that in a good way.

Washed Out finished off the day and surprisingly performed with a live band. Their album, Within and Without, was one of my favourites of last year so it wasn’t too hard to dance to some chilled out music as the Austin weather was making the day a treat. Cobwebs became a distant memory.

Third Man's Rolling Record Store

Third Man's Rolling Record Store

After my time at Club De Ville, I tried to get into Jack White but found it was badges only, so instead was able to use that free time to visit the Third Man Rolling Record Store which had a lot of great merch, including a tricolour Jack White “Sixteen Saltines” single and an Insane Clown Possee single, another band signed to Third Man ಠ_ಠ.

Check out those rims!

Check out those rims!

I then headed over to Clive Bar to check out Grimes. Even at 9 PM, the line was massive, so the wristband came in handy. The first band I really focused on was New Build, an electropop steel-drum-infused enigma containing members of Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem. Though the crowd was clearly focused and ready for Grimes to hit the stage, songs like “Do You Not Feel Loved?”, had the crowd paying attention and, even better, dancing up a storm.

Grimes was next and there were a lot of factors that seemed to work against her right from the start. A quick festival sound-check for a girl who is so focused on creating an atmosphere with layers of precise music is not ideal. It’s even worse that she seemed to be doing it all on her own with a thousand people packed into a 400-person venue (people were legitimately jumping the fences to try to get in) staring intently and cheering for her to start. When it was clear that the sound-check wasn’t going well, I was worried to see her dive in regardless. It seemed like her mic was almost off to start with and it wasn’t until a few songs had passed that things really started sounding amazing. And then it all ended aruptly, the music cutting out mid-song due to another sound problem. Despite all the issues, there were flashes of absolute brilliance and in the proper setting, I would see Grimes again in a heartbeat.

Yacht, another electronically-influenced indie band, followed with a lot of energy but also suffered from the same sound issues that plagued the Grimes set. Lead singer, Jona Bechtolt, found a clever way to kill time while trying to fix the sound, opening up the floor to questions from the crowd.

Overall, a solid night at SXSW despite some let-downs. I recharged my batteries a bit too which was important because day 4 was set to be a busy one.

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