by Brian J. Audette
“Just because you’re not 21,
That’s not supposed to mean you can’t have any fun.
So, come out and raise your fists high,
Stage dive, and forget about what they say.”
– Kid Dynamite, Cheap Shot Youth Anthem
After Monday night’s single venue SXSW warm up at Spiderhouse, I was ready for the real deal. You see it’s not just the music and performances that I love about SXSW, it’s the walking. Maybe that seems odd, but during the better part of 10 years living in the heart of Boston, MA I grew to love walking through urban landscapes. When SXSW comes around the venue hopping inherent in my schedule isn’t a grudging activity for me, it’s half the fun.
For this first evening of official showcases I had more than my share of walking to do up front. The weather was still warm and from my usual parking locale to the “Hype Hotel” in the 1100 block of E. 5th was a walk that proved a sweaty bit of musically motivated exercise. It was my intention to see a band by the name of Diet Cig, an indie rock outfit that before I had begun my SXSW prep was unknown to me, but that reminded me a little of a cross between Lisa Loeb and Rainer Maria. When I arrived at the Hype Hotel’s warehouse location I saw that the night had other plans for me. I’m not sure whether there was someone famous playing the venue later that evening or whether the venue was letting free RSVP’s in as well, but the line to enter stretched down most of two blocks. I did some quick math and realized that by the time I got in Diet Cig would have been done or nearly done and rather than wait around I decided to meet up with my friend Andrew at Cheer Up Charlie’s on Red River, where we intended to catch Anamanaguchi at 9pm.
After another sweaty walk I arrived at Cheer Up Charlie’s in the middle of a set by a Japanese electronic artist by the name of De De Mouse. Andrew had staked out a table near the stage where I was glad to rest my feet for a bit despite De De Mouse’s frantic gesturing for people to dance, an invitation to which most of the crowd happily acquiesced. As it turned out, De De Mouse wasn’t just the usual J-Pop, but rather an interesting fusion of house music, chip tunes, and experimentation. De De Mouse himself expressed thanks and humility to the crowd in broken English between songs with surpassing sincerity. I was informed afterwards by a fan who arrived late to the set, that this was apparently De De Mouse’s second US show ever, SXSW offering him the opportunity to bring his music to an all new audience. While De De Mouse was a little clubby for me, it was still fun and if anything, I felt happy for his finding an engaged audience here in Austin that night.
Anamanaguchi went on next at Cheer Up Charlie’s for what turned out to be a DJ set. While I would have preferred a regular band set, the guys spun some decent tunes so I couldn’t complain. Having seen the chip tune wizards with the full band almost every other year at SXSW and not 6 months ago at FunFunFunFest, a DJ set really wasn’t too much of a let down. With nothing in my 10pm slot and opting not to stick around for more electro pop, Andrew and I decided to head on over to The Sidewinder after Anamanaguchi where I planned to catch Ume at 11.
When we arrived at Sidewinder’s outside stage Akina Adderley & The Vintage Playboys (a soul funk ensemble complete with horns and a smoky singer) were setting up. This group ended up illustrating one of my favorite things about SXSW: the unexpected discoveries. I may prepare like crazy for SXSW, but there’s no way I can hear it all and even if I could, something would fall through the cracks. Akina Adderley & The Vintage Playboys are not the kind of group I would normally put on my “to see” list, but they are the kind that given a chance to see what the night brings, I’ll always stick around to see. In the end the group brought some much needed funk and soul to the evening and they’re from right here in Austin, so check them out sometime.
Next up at Sidewinder was Ume, one of my local live favorites and one of my SXSW staples 4 years running. As always Ume rocked the room with their unique brand of Riot Grrl Grunge and front woman Lauren Larson leaving it all on stage, a whirlwind of hair and face melting guitar licks. The Digital Wild followed this with their unique fusion of dusky soul, pop, and rock. Last year I had happened to catch part of their set at Red 7 between acts on my list and something about their performance had stuck with me. Given the chance to see them on purpose this year, I knew I had to check them out. While I’m more of a fan of a few isolated tracks as opposed to their entire catalog, I was definitely entertained and would see them again.
With The Digital Wild wrapped up it was time for me to head back over to Cheer Up Charlie’s to close out my evening of music with The Octopus Project. I’ve been a fan of this band since well before I moved to Austin, having first heard them on a split with Black Moth Super Rainbow close to 10 years ago, but I’ve never seen them live. Maybe I was tired or maybe their music just doesn’t move me as well off the record, but I just didn’t get as into The Octopus Project as I had thought I would. To be fair, the band does put on an impressive performance with visual elements complementing the analog/electronic experimentation of their music and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. At the end of the night I didn’t regret staying out late for them, despite being less than moved than I had hoped.
My third night of SXSW 2016 was a full evening of unknowns for me starting with Michigan’s The Accidentals on the 18th Floor of the Hilton Garden Inn. This was one of those groups that ends up proving my SXSW selection process for me as they not only sounded great, but had a great stage presence as well. Composed of three multi-instrumental Michigan youths all under the age of 21, this band had a sound and talent beyond their years. Utilizing a combination of percussion, traditional strings, guitars, mandolins, and sincere vocals, The Accidentals played folky indie rock with confidence and precision. In addition to sounding and playing great, they had a business savvy that many veteran acts could learn from, offering free music and unique swag instead of trying to sell merch. Now, I’m usually the person who insists on paying when bands offer me free stuff, but my own morals aside, giving stuff away at SXSW seems like a good way to ensure that people remember you for more than 10 minutes after your set.
Leaving the Hilton, I headed over to Mohawk’s inside stage for James Supercave at 9pm, one of my friend Andrew’s picks though he was absent due to trying to get into a friend’s party where DJ Jazzy Jeff was spinning. I’ll give Andrew some credit as James Supercave were pretty good, sporting a well crafted brand of synth backed indie rock. As it turned out I actually found that I was more into them than the next band, my 10pm pick: White Lung. While overall decent, it felt to me like White Lung had a bit of an identity crisis on stage with standard rock vocals and rhythm fighting against post hardcore guitars.
Andrew and the rest of my friends out that night never made it into the at-capacity DJ Jazzy Jeff party and ultimately ended up at Stubb’s inside stage for several sets. I however made my way back to the Hilton Garden Inn for Chadwick Stokes, a singer-songwriter from my former home of Boston, MA. Taking the stage on the 18th floor with nothing but a beat up six-string acoustic guitar, Chad Stokes strummed out well-crafted song after well-crafted song to a room of fans and newcomers alike. By the end of the performance I would count myself among the “fan” category, my weakness for acoustic singer-songwriter sincerity and lyrics about New England getting the better of me again.
After Stokes I headed out once more, this time braving the throngs of 6th street to get to Tellers on Trinity. My 12pm slot held a Euro pop group by the name of Eau Rogue, whose M83/Washed Out reminiscent downbeat dance pop had intrigued me during my preparatory listening. Unfortunately they didn’t live up to expectations live. Really, the man bun should have been my warning. I decided to leave their set a little early to get over to Swan Dive’s patio for DJ Logic instead of sticking around.
I arrived at the Swan Dive patio just in time to catch the final moments of a set by Andy Frasco & The U.N., who I quickly realized were the band I should have been seeing instead of Eau Rogue. Part marching band, part rock band, with a sound both somewhere and nowhere in-between, Frasco had the crowd electrified, including any SXSW staff there who were obviously overlooking the fact that the band was going a good 10 minutes over their set time. Having arrived late however I was more than happy to hear the band go long, especially as they wrapped their set with a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of” that easily rivaled the original and gave me an all new appreciation for the role of the Tuba in rock music.
As the set ended, Andrew, George, and the rest of my friends finally met up with me and we settled in as DJ Logic went on. It had been a long night and a chill DJ set was in order, but what we got was something altogether different. While the set was good, I was a little disappointed in what Logic chose to spin. His original work is jazzy hip-hop in the vein of DJ Shadow: downbeat, trippy, cerebral, but what he was spinning that night was basically a crowd-pleasing club mix. It was quality turntable work and the crowd ate it up, but I would have liked to have heard something more original. At least it wasn’t dubstep.
With three nights down and three nights to go, Wednesday evening marked the halfway point of my SXSW week. The next few days were as packed as the previous and ultimately held their own surprises along the way so come back tomorrow to hear the rest. I won’t promise much, but if you’ve never seen 1930’s Russian sci-fi scored live, have I got a story for you.
Brian Audette lives somewhere in Austin within a pillow fort made of broken dreams. He only comes out to see shows and buy beer. He has a surprisingly well maintained lawn and is using it to breed an army of attack mosquitoes with which to take over the world. Brian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bjaudette.