In my adventures of 2013, I managed to get myself along to the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. As a first timer, I was somewhat overwhelmed with the sheer size of this event – you couldn’t cram more music related events into 5 days if you tried. Over 2000 bands, industry folk and music fans alike take over the streets of Austin for 5 days of music showcases, live gigs and panels. It takes a few days to get your bearings really. Nonetheless, my time in Austin was brief, so I charged ahead for two full days of all things music.
I got to the Austin convention centre nice and early for the keynote speech by Dave Grohl and scored a seat in the second row. Before the speech, we were treated to a music showcase by the very talented Black Violin. They were epic – the best of classical and rock music in one.
Next up, the charismatic, charming and very funny Dave Grohl took the stage. He had big shoes to fill – The Boss was the keynote speaker for the previous SXSW. And he delivered. He recounted his lifetime of music through a series of hilarious anecdotes, starting with the first time he heard Edgar Winters “Frankenstein” when he “gave it all up for a fuckin riff”. He continued on to give a demo of his home bedroom two-track method, which included two tape decks, two tapes and some lo-fi guitar and vocals. Then there were the Kurt days – you could have heard a pin drop in that room when he spoke about the tragic passing of Kurt and losing all motivation to make music. Then one day, the passion to make music returned and he went out and singlehandedly made the first Foo Fighters album. H also spoke about his latest endeavour, a directorial debut on the documentary “Sound City”.
Grohl’s closing words revolved around finding, cherishing and nurturing your voice in music – the musician comes first.
As I was leaving the keynote speech, I came across Australian songstress Emma Louise doing a music showcase in convention centre. Her atmospheric and waify music was just a little too mellow for me after the excitement of the keynote speech, but nonetheless I stuck around for a few dreamy moments.
Next up were the MTV Woodie awards, where it became very apparent that it was Spring Break time. Funnily enough, the first band that I saw play here were a bunch of Aussies named Atlas Genius. They were fortunate to have a massive crowd for their set, not something that every SXSW performance is blessed with (I heard that 360 did a set to around 20 people the previous night).
There was some random bitches and hoes stuff going on on one of the stages – sounded pretty terrible to me.
Lots of kiddies were running around indulging in free Doritos, Reese pieces and alcoholic beverages. Big companies really seem to have muscled in on the marketing opportunities presented by SXSW.
Alt-J did a set in the searing afternoon heat. I felt like their chilled blend of electronic, ambient music would have had more impact in a dark, moody indoor environment, but I was still glad to finally get a glimpse of what all the fuss was about.
6th street was abuzz with people and music throughout the whole festival.
I’m going to apologise in advance here for all the Ryan Lewis & Macklemore pics. In the two nights I was at SXSW I caught them twice and both times they were incredible. Macklemore has so much energy onstage, and it was a real treat to see the guest performers who sing all the catchy hooks in their songs.
Ryan Lewis & Macklemore
Wanz came in to do his “I’m gonna pop some tags” line for “Thrift Shop”.
And Mary Lambert did her part in the song “Same Love”.
Owour Arunga – trumpet player with Ryan Lewis & Macklemore
Later over that evening I headed over to Viceland for some rasta vibes at Lionfest. It was the reincarnated Snoop Lion’s comeback gig. I got there too late to see Major Lazer, but I caught the other support act, a Jamacian dude by the name of Mavado.
I must say, the new Snoop was much the same as old snoop – he still had his hot lady dancers and “Snoop Dog” diamonte encrusted microphone. He just threw the word “rastafari” into his rhymes a whole lot more.
Snoop Lion and Mavado
The next day, I got to the convention centre early to see a panel about Australian and Kiwis making music and how they have made an impact internationally. It featured a number of esteemed music journalists and band/label mangers. There was a lot of discussion about bands needing tour in the US (and not just do one show at SXSW) to get a US fan base and crack to US market.
“Wild About You” panel
Later in the day, I took some time out from bands to see the sights of Austin. The weather was beautiful, and I stopped for lunch at this pub on South Congress.
Austin is a beautiful city – and what better way to see it than in a bike taxi?
I spent the afternoon at Red 7, seeing some bands of the indie variety. I saw “Merchandise” and “Parquet Courts”, two indie rock bands that had good energy and were fun to watch.
Something definitely needs to be said here about the queues to get into gigs at SXSW. When I left Red 7, the queue to get in was out the door and around the corner. This was a pretty typical scene. If you ever get to head along to SXSW, be prepared to have to wrangle your way in, or have some extreme wait times in queues. It is a shitfight, make no mistake.
Next up, I headed over to Auditorium Shores stage for a big outdoor concert featuring Jim James and The Flaming Lips. It was a lovely afternoon.
Jim James is one unique character,that rocks out to his own phsycadelic beat.
He kept placing his hand on this golden bear at the back of stage and having meditation moments throughout the set.
Jim James and his golden bear
As for the Flaming Lips, I didn’t get to photograph them due to some ridiculous first in best dressed policy for the first twenty photographers in the photo pit. Ah well, it’s probably better I don’t spoil it for you – Wayne Coyne will no doubt be touring his wacky new show in Australia soon enough.
Last but not least, I headed to the Clive bar for an energetic evening of Andrew W.K. and Ryan Lewis and Macklemore. It was a really small venue and stage – I felt like I was almost on the stage. Andrew W.K’s set was wild- all I can say about it is “Party, Party, Party!”
Andrew W.K’s wife Cherie Lily
Owour Arunga – trumpet player with Ryan Lewis & Macklemore
Well that about sums up my whirlwind two day experience at SXSW. Needless to say I slept well on my 15 hour flight home to Sydney. Overall, SXSW was great – I loved the 24-hour non-stop experience of all things music. But a word of caution – it is BIG, and if you want to go to the popular gigs you need to plan ahead,wait in line and potentially not get in. Bernard Zuel sums up the experience well in his SMH article here: “so many good moments, some have to be missed.”