Wednesday, March 20, 2013

SXSW 2013 Wrap-Up Vibes: Bloggy Is Snobby

SXSW is what you make of it. It's that simple. I've seen lots of post-festival coverage railing against the corporate-vibes, the platinum-artist-vibes and the festival's authenticity. To which I say, that's your fault. You don't jump through all of the hoops to get into the Justin Timberlake show then complain about how it's detracting from the focus of the festival. You jumped through the hoops, you stood in lines, you wasted an entire day of the festival to get your ass in that door. Accept that you ruined it for yourself and move on.

So, before you ask or wonder, no I didn't see: Usher, Justin Timberlake, Green Day, Prince, Third Eye Blind, Dave Grohl or even Local Natives. I spent my SXSW at smaller events, trying to catch up-and-coming and/or under-discovered artists. I snobbed-the-fuck out and I am SO happy that I did. I'm proud of all of you for getting to share intimate experiences with multi-platinum selling artists but I was watching bands who are hungry. I'm sure Justin Timberlake put on a great show but that motherfucker is far from hungry. He is about as well-fed as you can get and he doesn't need any of my time, money or attention now or ever. Of course I'd love to see Prince in a venue the size of La Zona Rosa and I invite him to do another pop-up show in our fair city any other time of the year he chooses but SXSW is my time to see International acts in tiny clubs. So, I'm going to focus on that.

D I A N A - Born Again video via YouTube

Just like last year, I did a blend of day-parties and official showcases at night. Each year I become more disillusioned with day-parties and unofficial events though. There are always bands I want to see who are playing the parasitic events surrounding the festival and I'm drawn to them like a moth to a flame. Then, after standing in horrifically long, sweaty lines amongst people who should have been aborted, I get into an overcrowded space surrounded by drunken assholes who couldn't care less about what's happening on the stage.

I adore the band, Inc. and I think they have released one of the best records of 2013 so, when I saw they were playing the Fader Fort I planned my day around their set time. Sadly, they started around 5pm which means the crowd had already indulged on free alcohol for several hours and they couldn't care less about Inc.. Even with my earplugs and intense focus it was difficult to enjoy the set surrounded by 1000's of drunken neanderthals.

This brings me to another point, which is that the sound-mix at most of these unofficial events is reprehensible. Fader Fort is known for bringing out big or up-and-coming hip-hop acts so, their sound design is set up to have a HUGE low-end. This means that a band like Inc. sounded completely muddy and out-of-balance. This problem is not exclusive to Fader or day-parties in general. Lots of the sound during SXSW sucks ass and it's not entirely the fault of the sound engineer. Sometimes it's the equipment, sometimes it's the space, sometimes it's the band itself. If you're playing in a tiny room and your guitar amps are mic'd then you don't need to crank the amps up. If you have your amp on 8, then you stick a mic connected to the PA in front of it, do you think anyone's going to be able to hear the vocal? If you answered yes to this question, you're wrong.

So, let's get to the point shall we? We all know that no one has the attention span to read all of these words regardless of how much I enjoy writing them so, here's ten artists that made 2013 one of my best SXSW festivals to date:
Some of these artists, like Orthy and Caveman I had seen before and I was pre-disposed to like. Others I had listened to extensively but had not seen perform and a couple I didn't expect to be good ended up completely blowing me away.

When people ask me, who was my favorite act this year I tell them without hesitation that it was Diana. I had only heard one song from Diana and it's good but the recording doesn't give you any indication how spectacular they are live. This band hails from Canada and features zero members named "Diana." I saw them at Empire Control Room Wednesday night and it was one of the most magical experiences of my life. This band is the reason I love SXSW. Each year there is at least one set that gives me an epiphany moment and I find myself contemplating what I can do to make this band famous. Diana was the first band to trigger that irrational thought-process this year and they became the high mark that all other sets had to live up to. I can't even describe what was so arresting about their set other than to say it was visceral, it was groovy and it was the coolest.

Blue Hawaii was the other band that truly blew me away this year. Dan from End of an Ear had suggested I listen to them because he is a fantastic record-shop owner and he knew I would like them based on other things I've purchased. When I listened to the record I wasn't really impressed. I thought their name was too precious and their music was too sterile. I popped in to catch their set at Swan Dive on a whim. Their soundcheck was truly bizarre as these two figures shared a mic to communicate with the sound-engineer trying to tweak their sound until it was just right. As their set started I wasn't immediately drawn in. The thing that really got me about Blue Hawaii is how primal it is. It's almost as if you don't notice the song at first but before you know it you're entranced and dancing uncontrollably. Their set progressed like a fantastic DJ set, with the whole thing building toward a mid-set climax that had the entire room screaming, jumping, dancing and clapping. By the end of the set the crowd erupted, cheering, clapping and screaming for more. Those of us who were at Swan Dive for Blue Hawaii Friday night truly shared a moment and I can not WAIT to see this band again.

Since my SXSW was so highly curated, I had very few low-lights. I did my research before hand and I wrote out an achievable plan each day. I saw many of the artists I wanted to see and didn't waste a lot of time moving between venues or standing in lines. The only major exception to this was seeing Brooke Candy. Somehow, I had never heard of this person and my world was better then. I arrived too early for XXYYXX and was subjected to this fake, plastic bitch. At first I was enjoying the incredibly shallow songs I was hearing and then I started to really look at the stage. I noticed that Brooke was barely even trying to mime along to the tracks. Basically, the audience was "treated" to Brooke's songs being played from a laptop as she stalked around the stage looking like some sort of Mad Max prostitute with a Mic in her hand mostly for show. Her songs professed her realness while everything about her and her performance stood in stark contrast to that message. Do not support this fake-ass, art-school-project, faux-feminist, Daddy-didn't-give-me-enough-attention BULLSHIT! I would have preferred a performance from Brooke Hogan to a performance from Brooke Candy.

So, there you have it. If you get the chance to see any of the ten artists I highlighted above I STRONGLY URGE you to do so. Conversely, if someone tries to get you to attend a "performance" from my one low-light artist tell them you'd rather contract an STI. I had lots of fun with Instagram at SXSW this year so you can find some fun pictures over there.