SXSW Diary: Pt. 2
Show-Crashing and Going Home Happy
By Wednesday I had settled into a routine of constant drinking during my waking hours. Meals had fallen by the wayside, replaced by a diet of cigarettes and free beer. I spent my time hopping between shows, prioritizing my schedule based on a delicate balance between venues with bands I really wanted to see and venues with an open bar.
That night I ended up at Barcelona, a tiny basement room with a sound system that rivals some of the biggest clubs I’ve ever been to. It’s the kind of system that’s so high quality that despite delivering gut-wrenchingly huge bass, it’s still possible to hold a conversation at a normal volume.
While I was waiting for some buddies from New York City to get to the show, a dubstep event headlined by Machinedrum, I was taken in by a group of locals who noticed me hanging out alone by the bar. I had been consistently surprised by the friendliness and generosity of Austinites during my short stay, and my new friends were no different. The NYC crew arrived late, finding me raging in front of the DJ booth with my face painted like a tiger.
I woke up the next morning with facepaint smeared all over my pillow and very little memory of the night before. It was Thursday, and the cumulative effects of three days of non-stop partying finally hit me like a brick wall. I needed some time to recover, so I skipped the downtown scene and spent the day sleeping off my hangover.
Having subjected myself to a relentless assault of bass music every night of the festival so far, I decided that a change of pace was in order, so that night I went to a local church to see Leif Vollebekk, an Ottawa singer/songwriter who’s been steadily gaining recognition on the international scene. The show was completely different from any other I had attended at SXSW; a captive audience of mostly older folk fans filled the pews, listening in complete silence as Vollebekk navigated a beautiful acoustic set.
By the time he put down his guitar and moved to the grand piano for his final song, I was overwhelmed by the authenticity and intimacy of his music. That night stands out in stark contrast to my overall impression of South as an environment that is drenched with hype and marketing.
This break turned out to be a very brief one, and on Friday I once again set out in pursuit of a hyped-up electronic music showcase. That night, Red Bull Music Academy was teaming up with Boiler Room to put on a secret show in a rented house somewhere in East Austin. After scrambling to find the address all day, I finally got a text from a well-connected friend with details on how to find the party.
My main reason for coming to the show was to see Hudson Mohawke and Montreal native Lunice’s new collaborative project, TNGHT. They were slated to play alongside a stacked lineup of DJ’s, including another Montreal representative, Jacques Greene. Unfortunately TNGHT never made an appearance, but Hudmo and Lunice both played killer solo sets, driving the packed house into a fervour that ended up causing the eviction of its tenants.
On Saturday, I joined a mob of green-attired hooligans that descended on the downtown core for St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Despite my honest efforts to get fucked up with the rest of them, I was still slightly nauseated by the sight of beer, so I spent what would be my best day at SXSW in relative sobriety.
I started off at a warehouse show where the ASAP crew was attempting to control a room jammed with drunk and high teenagers. I watched from a safe distance as 2012’s golden boy of hip-hop, ASAP Rocky, dodged water bottles and beer cans flung at him through a thick cloud of weed smoke. He managed to finish his set without incident, ending with his breakout hits “Wassup” and “Purple Swag”—the very next night a brawl would ensue between the ASAP crew and rowdy, bottle-throwing fans at the now-infamous Vice Kills Texas party.
I headed across the street for my next stop, this time to the Fader Fort for a bill of Southern hip-hop headlined by Rick Ross. While I’m not the biggest fan of commercial rap, especially the Maybach Music label, I was nonetheless swept up by Ross’ relentless positivity as he delivered his played-out but somehow inspiring message of rags-to-riches achievement.
The Fader Fort emptied out and I followed the crowd back to 6th St., where I found myself back at Spill, a venue dedicated to showcasing Quebec talent at SXSW. Producer/DJ Doldrums, a progressive electronic act who has gained recent fame after an official Portishead remix, was backed up by two live drummers for a percussion-heavy, eclectic set. Montreal MC Cadence Weapon jumped on stage for a cameo during the finale, which culminated with Doldrums, the latest incarnation of Toronto indie veteran Airick Woodhead, smashing a Macbook and tossing it into the crowd.
The show was a who’s who of the Canadian music scene, with Sarah Harmer and various members of Stars and Arcade Fire in the front rows partying harder than everyone else.
After Spill I took a short walk to Canada House to check out the Sheepdogs, an impossibly tight rock band from Saskatoon whose members look like they could have stepped right out of the 70’s. The show was a who’s who of the Canadian music scene, with Sarah Harmer and various members of Stars and Arcade Fire in the front rows partying harder than everyone else.
I ducked out of Canada House before Sheepdogs finished their set so I could make it to the Bandpage HQ in time to catch TNGHT, the Lunice/Hudson Mowhawke side project I had hoped to see at Boiler Room. Both DJs have made significant contributions to the progressive hip-hop genre in recent months, with production credits for huge names like Kanye West and 2 Chainz, and I was really excited to see what kind of stuff they were coming up with together. I squeezed my way to the front row just in time to see the two DJs chugging Four Lokos before starting their set.
As I listened to 45 minutes of mostly brand-new, unreleased material from two of my favourite artists, I couldn’t help but feel kind of special. I had spent so much of the week rushing around in a frenzied attempt not to miss anything, with this persistent feeling of paranoia that I was at the wrong party or the wrong show.
But at that moment, pressed up against the stage and banging my head with a crowd of strangers—the first people in the world to hear those songs—I got the feeling that I could finally go home happy.