SXSW: Days 1 and 2

14 Mar 2013

RFB and Transgressive man Toby L drew the short straw and is now being forced to nurse frozen margaritas in the Texas sun. Read the first part of his report on this painful tribulation here.


The annual mecca for achingly new music, bloated industry chatter and fantastically sized, sunburn-inducing queues, SXSW has already resulted in my being stolen by a green bus offering free headphones, and friends misusing a can of spray paint on its ceiling as a 'thank you'. Favourably, it seems that there's as much exciting stuff off the beaten track as there is via the hellish Internet buzz waves.

Tuesday = arrival, plus the wondrous Roc Nation party and an endless float of rich cocktails during sunset. Jay Brown and friends hosted an angry yet impassioned and sensational Haim who performed just three songs due to gear failure (the classic Austin regime) and a need to run across town for a VEVO party shortly afterwards. Short but exceptionally sweet. The rest of the time, comfy couch chats and views of the greatest Texan city dominated attention, until we were invited into the neighbouring Arlyn Studios at kick-out time, where (holy shit!) Willie Nelson and his son Lukas Nelson performed an impromptu set of dizzying, foot-tapping tuneage. Not a bad end to a first night.

Day 2 of SXSW Music kicked off with the gloomy, Austra-like thunder of Feathers, a group that understands aesthetics and unnerving, rumbling bass lines. However, brooding, electronic songwriting didn't necessarily nestle with the blaring sunshine and bare rock backdrop of Club De Ville, but it's testament to their catchy refrains that this was calmly surpassed. Then came Torres in a dank bar across the road. A cowboy hat-wearing singer possessive of extravagant hints of Sharon Van Etten filled the air, disrupted only by the whiff of every British record label scout and booking agent imaginable. This is by no means a bad thing, but it was too early for me to  emote deeply. I felt the need to get some air and then did the thing that one dreams of: walk past a spluttering air of melodious noise from a nearby bar and wander in randomly to see a really good band. Cue Snowmine - a sensational dollop of wafting synths, serenading vocals and bombastic rhythms. It was kaleidoscopic dream pop of the highest, most accomplished order.

Empress Of

Empress Of

Refreshed by this sense of spontaneity, I somehow turned up back at the previous venue to see a blog favourite, Empress Of, with an altogether more healthy perspective. It was a synth-driven, colourful pop racket, with some potent vocals courtesy of Lorely Rodriguez that collectively hinted to some promise. A quick traipse in the wrong direction didn't prevent a small British media horde from missing fellow local writer SOHN who produced deeply emotive, beauteous beats alongside arresting, gorgeous vocals. A sublime late-afternoon blast, it set the tone for the entrance of the evening, where The Orwells (freshly signed to Atlantic) performed a frivolous and sexual punk-rock set of gnarly rock 'n' roll. I saw them two weeks before SXSW and they absolutely annihilated a sold out show at the Echo in Los Angeles, closing with a devastating version of 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' whilst looking like they were ten years old. I bought a cassette at their merch stand that night. A very exciting new rock band: period.

However, nepotism consumed me and ensured that I went to see a Transgressive-signed act that I'm lucky to work with, the Australian breakout success story of the decade, Flume. I was heartened to see a one-in-one-out policy an hour before his set, let alone whilst he was onstage, and his multifarious, groovy electronic synth-hop-wave certainly didn't disappoint. It was loveable to see a first half of cautious bopping turn into relative bedlam. The night could only be capped with another Aussie act - the impossibly sharp and playful Flight Facilities who mish-mashed their own creative output with ageless classics from Daft Punk and Stealers Wheel (yes, that track), plus some sublime vocal accompaniment via George Maple. In a proper-bling club too.

Then the bus hi-jack episode occurred. I wonder what I'll spray paint Austin with tomorrow (I just found the can in my bag).

Bring on Day 3. Good night for now.

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