Every year in March the masses migrate to Austin, Texas for South By Southwest. Industry execs, musicians, and bloggers all congregate to the eclectic city for four days of non-stop music. It is the only place you can find your stereotypical hipster enjoying a Shiner Bock right next to a CEO of a major record label. I consider myself a veteran of the SXSW circuit now, so I am always prepared for the what goes down, I have gotten used to walking around town from venue to venue briefly stopping to eat bland pizza by the slice on Sixth Street (although I did try Stony’s this year and was pretty satisfied). This year was one of the most productive, as I was able to catch more bands than in years past. This year seemed more chaotic; it seems that this festival continues to grow and grow every year with the number of corporate sponsorships exploding at an unparalleled pace. It still, however, will be my favorite festival and this year received my stamp of approval.
South By Southwest is always about trying to discover that hidden gem, but it is also about watching established artist and bands in a more intimate setting than we are used to. The whole ecosystem of South By Southwest is interesting. One can say if you play your cards right and effectively manage your schedule, you can manage to catch your favorite artist one way or another. I always make a list of 4-5 “must-sees” every year, and since these artist play 4 or 5 times during the festival, chances are you will probably get to see them at some point. Word to the wise if your artist is playing a 3 o’clock set and are considered “buzz”, arrive at noon, trust me you don’t want to be waiting in the hot sun with others hoping you will get in.
One of the bands on my radar this year was Grimes. The Canadian duo has been creating an online buzz recently so I wanted to see how that translated to live sound. The venue was at The Google Play Lot, which also included a line up of Jimmy Cliff, Talib Kweli, and The Shins; not a bad way to spend my afternoon. Grimes reminds me of a throwback synth sound that I grew up to listening to with bands such as New Order, Aphex Twin, and newer artist like Crystal Castles. In fact it is as if Sleigh Bells took a muscle relaxer and turned the amps down six notches to create the Grimes sound. The performance left me a little bit disappointed as it seemed like singer Claire Boucher was having vocal problems, making sure the audience knew about it. It got to the point where I was looking forward to the next act on the bill: the legendary Jimmy Cliff.
Another band I was looking forward to seeing was Fun. Currently sitting atop the iTunes charts with their number one single “We Are Young”, they remind me a lot of what Vampire Weekend was a few years ago at SXSW, the band everybody was eager to catch. Fun is a project by former members of bands The Format, Anathallo and Steel Train. They played a short acoustic set at the Time Warner Sound Showcase presented by NIkon. I was very impressed with their performance as was the limited capacity crowd who got to witness them in a small intimate venue.
I can go on and write about all 48 bands that I saw but will give you a small run down of the hits and misses.
Bands I considered worthy:
The Drums, Fun., The Shins (new stuff will blow you away), Of Monsters and Men, Guards, Dives, Mr. MFNEsquire (this year’s Odd Future), The Roots, Air Dubai, Politics
Bands who I considered un-worthy:
Grimes (too much complaining), SBTRKT (not enough energy), Wiz Khalifa (we all thought you were going to rap, yet you didn’t), Dragonette (meh), Neon Trees (can you say sellout)
Band I wish I would have seen:
Cults, The Oh-Sees, Youth Lagoon, Radiation City, Fiona Apple. Alabama Shakes.
Stay tuned for followed posts about performance highlights and more photos!