SXSW Music 2013
14 Mar 2013: Austin, TX
I sort of came out the door swinging, so I guess maybe it’s embarrassing to say, “I’m cool now.” But really, a good show is all I needed to suck the Interactive brand venom out of my soul. I was in Pussy Riot mode, but now I’m back to giggling when I hear the word pussy. It’s not hard to enjoy Austin the moment you take the pressure off. When it’s got a schedule, it’s a job. People forget a lot of simple pleasure shit when they do SXSW and it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m totally clear about the line after which I no longer enjoy having visitors here, and I love you guys. Seriously, it’s hotness for miles out there. But the exact moment I’m host-fatigued is Friday night—you’re Hulk drunk and throwing up like the shit scene in Bridesmaids. Fish and pukers, you know how the old saying goes.
I caught the last few tracks of the Criminal Hygiene set. They were raw and discordant, floor-to-ceiling ripped chords blasting from the moment we walked in. It was like everything that worked in the pre-Winona Ryder Replacements. It wasn’t her fault, I was just trying to bookmark the time period. It’s basically Good Morning America hours if it’s before 2pm, so the fact that they were rattling the floorboards before noon says something about their festival constitution. On the other side on the venue, we watched Sam Flax’s set. I absolutely love the Age Waves LP, but the whole band had sunglasses on and that possibly overbooked look. I almost never want to blame a band for their set here. This was early in the day and they were playing to a trickle of a room, many of whom were just stuffing cargo shorts with free red bulls. So that’s why people wear cargo shorts. Mystery solved. It was nice to hear “Fire Doesn’t Burn Itself” live - every track with its mix of Gary Numan, Marc Bolan and a few great, doomy 80s notes, played solidly, but they just seemed either tired or beaten down. Who knows? Bands work harder than anyone else down here and I’m still not convinced the math works in their favor. Perhaps it’s the good time that balances the equation.
I wandered over to see Cosmos People play at the Duma Taiwan Day Party. One of the aesthetic curses of SXSW can be the shitty soundcheck. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, or sometimes some dude in your band is trying to get it so perfect that he does not realize how depleting it is to reset an (overindulged festival) audience’s enthusiasm several times. Ever have someone keep skipping stations on the car radio? Once they dug in, it was wonderfully bright, quick clipping, sometimes Mayer Hawthorne, and sometimes just pop, whose roots I could not identify. I said the world adorable and someone I was with told me that there were racist implications when using the word adorable when talking about people of Asian descent. What if it’s the Crayola bright suits and the Catholic school boy haircut that is adorable? We live in confusing times.
My highlight should have been the only thing I bothered doing. The Scratched Vinyl Showcase put on in conjunction with my favorite local radio show, Hip Hop Hooray, was the kind of show you should hunt for when you’re visiting here. It wasn’t downtown, so you aren’t going to get the “wastoid walkers” doing that deer legs stagger with “free” in their eyes. It seemed like these artists knew one another, respected one another, and the room was filled with cool, laid back people who loved the music, singing along, leaning deeply into the call and response. See the photograph of Alexander Coles, the one where the light looks like someone just put on some Marvin Gaye vinyl. He’s a videographer who also ran the decks for Signif. That photograph was the vibe: a portrait of sexy, mellow pleasure.
I already love Leah Manner’s show. I think she’s one of our city’s DJ’s who actually has a vision of good taste and intelligence. She has unapologetic principles but complete social elegance. I knew her party was going to be flawless. The space, the attitude, the music, everything was just beautifully aligned. The weather, the breeze, the open face of the bar, everything had sync. The atmosphere was one steady thump of laid back head-nod while amazing emcees jumped in with the loving crowd, who rose halfway up to meet the performance. It was just miles above anything I saw that day. People laugh about the word “curate” because it’s now simply want you put in front of something you’d like to make more expensive. It’s why I also call myself a secretary at my day job, because I know Administrative Assistant is just a phrase raise. But in good hands, it can mean someone with a clear aesthetic who can shape the tone of your experience. I can’t imagine seeing anything better here.
The Backburner Crew took turns owning a few feet of space but projecting attitude and skill off to low orbiting satellites. I did not know them before, but absolutely must find out now. I came to see Brooklyn by way of Milwaukee rapper, Signif. She flows with tight incisions. There were so many times where I would be left breathless just trying to follow one of her thoughts climb a hot rhythm knot. She had real artistic space and definition; it was amazing to watch her unravel syllables with heavy intellectual freight on board. The best moment came when she freestyled acapella. She broke down the preconceived notions people might have about her unassuming image: the cardigan, the comfortable moccasins, all bookishly trend immune. It was a volcanic unforgiving hammer through the insubstance of style. I felt kind of guilty. Still, I love my shoes made from ponies, Signif’s awesomeness be damned. You don’t get to see a performance like that every day. I don’t think Signif is even referencing a scene or is in dialogue with anything other than her own intelligent talent. If I had to make a reference, I would say Bahamadia or KRS-One, but maybe only in purity of intent. She has an acrobatic knife of a mind. I’d be cool if this were the only thing I saw here.
// Notes from the Road
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