Our weeklong adventure into the new music exploration exercise that is SXSW is coming to a close. You can say we did it all… and at the same time, we barely even scratched the surface of this behemoth of a conference.
We took meetings, attended panels, had bump-ins on the street, and most important of all: we saw as much live music as we could possibly cram into each and every day.
It was a real treat to be able to run around alongside Jason Bentley and Anne Litt all week as we explored new sounds, bands we’d been recommended, and some of that Tejas BBQ & queso.
But enough rambling, here are some highlights:
Not to toot our own horn here, but these were incredibly solid! Our night showcase was one of the first in this year’s program and each time a new act took the stage, a rapid influx of attendees would swell at Elysium.
Somewhat locals, Hovvdy, opened the night. They were followed by the sexy sounds of Jordan Rakei and then the enthusiasm of Jade Bird’s delectable twang.
Nilüfer Yanya brought poise and our first saxophone sighting. While Minneapolis based duo Now, Now, decided that SXSW would be played with a full band. And, well, it’s no surprise that Cut Chemist stirred the crowd into frenzy with his beat jugglin’ routines that included new tracks off his latest release. It was a great way to start the week off.
One of the most interesting things about Austin is the way any and every corner of the city can serve to accommodate a music venue. One of the more interesting repurposed spaces we saw was that of the Mexic-arte Museum. We were able to catch Puerto Rican via Brooklyn band, Balún, and we were not disappointed. Their new-wave inspired sounds peppered with hints of tropical-dembow and glitch sequences, caressed over the museum’s beautifully curated photo exhibits.
Even tougher than playing repurposed venues in Austin during the conference, would have to be playing a stage that is adjacent to two other stages. But that was no problem for the youthful trio from Tijuana, Mexico. Their melodic shoegaze enraptured the entire space and commanded the attention from audiences watching other bands only 10 feet away.
Mokoomba is a bit of a non-sequitur on this list, but then again the whole point of SXSW is to see a band you might of never been able to see otherwise. There’s many bands creating Afropop in the states but to see this band from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe was an absolute treat. Their vocalist has a tremendous range and the matching outfits helped set the tone.
Joe Crepúsculo was definitely one of my all time highlights from this week. The crowd was lukewarm when he hit the stage with his slightly dark, Iberian techno, but he would not be denied! His performance ended with half the crowd dancing on stage and Crepúsculo riding around on people’s shoulders, as the rest of the audience chanted along to his dark party jams.
Cuco’s live performance has a tiny bit of catchup to do with his meteoric rise. But there are hints of greatness there that shine through. He takes the cake, as I knew he would, for most enthusiastic fans. Hours before his show, you could see kids walking around downtown Austin with bright yellow CUCO t-shirts. Many even stayed and sang along outside the fence once the venue was at capacity.
Showcasing at SXSW can be a double-edged sword. On one side you can make a huge impact by performing 3-4 times a day, and on the other side, there is possibly a physical limit to scheduling so many shows. Vocal chords beyond tender from 5 different showcases in the past 24 hours – Chicago native, Knox Fortune, brought fervent energy to the Empire Control Room’s closing slot. Creating a crowd sing-a-long to help supplement the lyrics his body would refuse to sing. His funk, hip-hop, rock combinations made us forget 2am curfew was rapidly approaching.