25 shows over 4 days. Dozens of Tecates and whiskey-cokes. A broken point and shoot camera before capturing ANYTHING. Blisters on every angle of my feet, and now, to top it all off, a head cold. But it was oh-so worth it. Just as every year’s festival comes and goes, leaving me wishing in a masochistic kind of way that SXSW could be a way of life instead of a once a year festival, I took the time to sit down and recap and reflect on everything we discovered and enjoyed, and hated….
By and large the winners of this year’s festival for me were Stars of Track and Field, who played a closing show Saturday night at The Parish. Maybe it was the lights, the venue, the aesthetic brilliance of the show, or the monstrous amount of whiskey in my blood that influenced this experience, but it was easily the best of the fest for me. The band put on an amazingly tight performance; it was high-energy and the players were all completely in sync with each other (insert joke about the computer generated bass line here). The chemistry was impeccable. Everything about that show was gorgeous. Bravo. Listen to MP3, “Racing Lights”
Another standout, and wildly unexpected hit was Austin-based L.A.X. I went into this show expecting your run-of-the-mill electronic band. I assumed it would be typically bouncy and upbeat, danceable and fun. I was blown away by their unusual hip-hop infused electronic rock. That’s the only way I can think of to describe it– the combination of the sassy dueling female vocals with the snarky metal-looking dude playfully singing with autotune (yeah seriously) was excellent. Add to that mix several crazy looking fellows banging their hearts out on drums and guitars, and you’ve got this wild tribal electro-hop madness. They established and maintained a serious dance party vibe that ended up enveloping the entire venue. Completely interesting, innovative, and exciting. I absolutely recommend checking these guys out, especially if they have to cram onstage at Lambert’s again. It was a great intimate venue for this vibe of show. Listen to MP3 “Something to Say”
A group that I had high expectations for, which were then swiftly exceeded were Imagine Dragons from Las Vegas. There isn’t anything particularly outstanding about their compositions. It’s pretty rudimentary catchy pop rock. However, the lead singer took it to the ninth degree. To put it simply, he was insane. If he wasn’t on seven different kinds of drugs than I hope he’s got a good therapist, because he was simply out of control. His high energy spectacle was captivating, and made you feel stupid to just stand there and stare. Listen to MP3 “I Don’t Mind”
Finally, another act I had high expectations for was Minnesota’s Swimming with Dolphins. Austin Tofte (named after our fine city!?) brought the heat. His dreamy ambient electronic dance music, apparently inspired by oceanographic technician and filmmaker Jacques Costeau (also the inspiration for Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic. Similarities anyone?), set a warm and fun atmosphere. My only critique is that he sing into the microphone more. He’s got this wonderful voice that needs to be showcased more. Thanks for rocking out, and for being so humble, Austin — you put on an excellent show and we’re super excited to see what you come up with next. Listen to MP3 “Everything’s a Miracle”
One of the things that establishes SXSW as one of the more unique (**best**) festivals in the country is the sheer proliferation of music available during the three long days of the music festival. This isn’t your typical, “let’s sit in a field and listen to hours of music that some PR person somewhere says we must enjoy because we’re good Top 40 consumers…” kind of festival. SXSW is a smorgasboard, a buffet for the open-minded and the finicky music listeners alike. Music is lined up everywhere — from the official venues (bars) to street corners, parking lots, park tents, and rooftops. It’s physically impossible to see little more than a tiny fraction of all the music the fest offers. And with this mass cacophony of tunes is the opportunity to discover new favorites. It’s as easy as stumbling into a random bar, or showing up early for your carefully planned showcase. This year we discovered several new acts that stood above the rest…
Scars on 45. Classy, relaxed indie pop from the U.K. that adheres to the Grey’s Anatomy sound of Chop Shop Records. Atmospheric guitar riffs and simple compositions dominate the tracks, resulting in a solid presentation of indie rock.
Anya Marina. Another Chop Shop darling, Anya Marina is a package of cute — a tiny kind of whispy chick who seems all innocent until she opens her mouth. This cute little thing has deep raspy vocals, and an attitude that results in dark snarky pop. She’s got a naughty side and imagination behind the blond facade. check out her tongue in cheek cover of “Whatever you Like”
Steve Aioki. Easily the greatest DJ set we’ve experienced. Aioki put on a hot and heavy set with nuanced and surprising mash-ups. Really got the crowd all into a tizzy.
Robert Francis. Imagine Heath Ledger plus Hayden Christiansen wrapped up into a musician’s body, with the skill and vibe of other folk rockers like Ryan Adams and (maybe) Jakob Dylan. Only downside of seeing him live is the creepy girl singer. Seriously some backwoods shit going on in her brain. The rest of the band is unremarkable, but Francis himself is a diamond in the rough, refined voice and commanding stage presence. Listen to “Junebug”
All in all, it was a fun couple days of excess and great music. Looking forward to next year already.