SXSW 2016: Charli XCX, Stormzy And All The Action From Days Three And Four
19 Mar 2016
Inside all the hottest shows from the last two days of the Texan music festival
Our Transgressive Records cousins report back on all the action from Days Three and Four of the Austin extravaganza.
Hey y'all. Peeling our eyes open and removing yesterday's wristbands, we run out the door to accidentally witness the most offensive set of the week. Rapper upstart REECE commands his terrifyingly impressionable audience to attack each other and chant language that is rather unpalatable back at him. Throw in a dose of frightening misogyny and that's your lot. And it's barely even midday. Jesus.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old wunderkind JIMI TENTS is currently NYC's hottest hip-hop property and an early afternoon performance indoors at Mohawk makes it perfectly clear why. In fact, our admiration for Tents begins about ten minutes before his set starts - not content with the three-quarters full room, he heads outside and rounds up fans with promises we believe he most certainly can keep. With the venue now full, he launches into one of the most energetic, fearless shows of the week - a true 'believe the hype' moment, with single 'Landslide' literally bringing the roof down as water pours from the ceiling and drenches the stage.
Never before has Lewisham received such praise out here in Texas, but with South Londoner ELF KID in town he's most certainly put it on the map. The young MC makes the most out of Austin's creative venue spaces and props himself up half crouched on a short ledge in front of the DJ booth at Plush before rolling into what may well have been the most exciting set of the day. Put simply, his energy is unparalleled - with bars and a natural flow to match it. It's perhaps even a greater credit to Elf - and the team at No Hats No Hood, who alongside PRS have worked hard to make this trip happen - to fully consider the achievement in bringing grime to this part of the world, without all the seemingly necessary US led co-signs, and to keep it as a raw, real and respected as it is back at home.
Our Transgressive brethren NEON INDIAN deliver such a sultry, sassy set at Fader Fort, that we're still grinning just thinking about. With the sun out in full, burning glory, singer Alan Palomo spends most of the set slinking on the floor, his fidgety shape-throwing and Prince-like hooks knocking us out, with single 'Annie' already standing out as the greatest thing he's ever done.
It then all gets a bit... sketchy. South-by, after all, is supposed to be about discovery - and that's not always down to brand-new artists; sometimes it's simply about being open to the spirit of drunken adventure. On a rare day off, FOALS - not appearing live at the festival - decide to text us with a tip-off and, before long, RFB is in the middle of a silent, seemingly-dead street. Until we knock on a door and... BOOM. House party.
A sleepy, suburban Austin street plays witness to a surprisingly well-produced/decent-sounding and extremely loud CAGE THE ELEPHANT performance, where the walls are dripping with beer and sweat, and God knows what else. It proves exciting to break away from the downtown streets and be part of something that feels like old school SX. As such, it suitably kick-starts a meandering, hazy, trippy journey that sees us take in FAUST at the outstanding Hotel Vegas venue, as well as the deeply industrial hammerings of BLANCK MASS, both occurring at the Levitation showcase. The tourbus calls, and our Oxfordian quintet bid us adieu, heading back into the further hidden depths of the US highways.
As severe weather warning signs hit smart phones and the poncho becomes uniform for a couple of hours, Brit youngster DECLAN MCKENNA sets up onstage at the ever-promising Neon Gold Party. Working through a set that sees the teenager bounce between Casio keyboards, looped guitar lines and half broken vocals, it's in set closer and single 'Brazil' that we truly see his full promise - a song as charming and considered as the 15-year-old that wrote it.
If SXSW is about creating moments, then STORMZYS early afternoon set at Fader Fort was most certainly up there. With Jamie xx in attendance and Dev Hynes spitting along to every word, the show further enforces the fact that grime is now making its way over to America in a big way - and there's room for more than just our man SKEPTA, who we see later on in the day en route to a discreet Apple Music party.
It's in fact at this latter spot that we see an altogether different proposition - BARNS COURTNEY, who delivers a brave, emotive acoustic strum-a-long as canapes and cocktails are devoured by the onlookers. Around this point, the heavens open and some violent thunderstorms break out - seemingly, the best environment for a re-staffed, ever-brooding CRYSTAL CASTLES. However, their set is not only delayed at the outdoor Stubbs, but also cut dramatically short, causing confusion. A shame, as the potent synth barrage, synchronized light rig and already-settled new singer Edith Frances seemed to be on the cusp of delivering something pretty epic.
US boutique label Northern Spy is making a name for itself with a string of releases from artists with truly original sounds, and it's ODETTA HARTMAN that truly epitomises this ethos. The singer and multi-instrumentalist - banjo, violin and what can only be described as a shoe tambourine - was captivating from the off, innovative and experimental yet impressively personal as a songwriter and warm as a character. It's a set that consistently delivers the unexpected, but makes it compelling every time - and whilst the influences of country, folk and R&B are placed effortlessly on her sleeve, there's something else at play that's rightfully unexplainable, and truly magical.
Strobes and fog usher in the next phase of CHARLI XCX. It's one built less on bubblegum, more chewing gum, as the pop star re-enters clubland with producer SOPHIE. The monochrome set, silhouetted by smoke, is framed by hands up across the capacity Stubbs crowd, glowing wristbands setting it off.
A reimagining of 'Doing It' shows what massive and immediate influence Sophie has had on Charli and the sound of new EP and direction found on 'Vroom Vroom'. The control has been passed over, or at least shared, with Sophie in this duo set-up, and that's perhaps the spirit of what nu-Charli is now wanting to do. With the Vroom Vroom label, she's putting her name behind new acts Cuckoolander and RIVRS alongside her own EP, moving away from the centre stage while repositioning herself in a more authoritative position.
The new material is far from Charli's straightforward songwriting, giving more over to the tuning in-and-out of ideas, warped by the Internet. Indeed, 'Paradise' is a song born of the Internet, of PC's and groggy weekends. It grants her access to a new cigarette-yielding, altogether more grown up crowd and yet it's the most modern she's ever been.
And if you can't be innovative, even within the sphere of oneself, at SXSW - when the f**k can you be? This might only be their second performance but already the pair have shown how to execute a precision gear change. One instantly accessible by the target audience. One clear enough to draw a line in the Austin dirt between the teenage girl bedroom soundtracks of 'SUCKER' and the abrasive, challenging unknown.