SXSW 2016: Obama, House Parties And All The Action From Day One
16 Mar 2016
Rockfeedback's sister company, the mighty Transgressive Records, report on all the unmissable action from SXSW 2016 and the bands you need to listen out for right now
SXSW Music is yet to "officially" commence and already we've snuck into events from Willie Nelson, The Arcs, and, erm, President Obama. New music, meanwhile, comes courtesy of our paradYse Records vs Sports Day Records event at dilapidated student digs, the Pearl Street Co-Op. God bless Austin, Texas.
As if having a tech conference (Interactive), a movie festival (Film) and full-on aural assault (Music) wasn't enough, SXSW's 2016 goes pretty darn deep on the big guns. It's Friday before anyone's really in town, or even awake, but out comes a relaxed, tieless PRESIDENT OBAMA - a matter of days before the First Lady produces her own speech. The guy's almost out of office, his reason for skipping Nancy Reagan's funeral left somewhat unanswered, but here he is to tell us something simple and important: use technology, ideas and innovation for good, for salvation; not merely an IPO. It's pertinent as a message, whether or not it's truly taken on board.
Such is the scale now of what was once a humbly college-vibed and themed music festival event - something about newness and emergence - that we can now even reference an undisputed World Power Figure kicking off events. It's f**king bananas.
But, with major brands also taking things to gargantuan new heights - whether it's Samsung whisking The Strokes, Sia and Lil Wayne / 2 Chainz' new project ColleGrove into town for one-off "secret gig"-extravaganzas, or whomever else - one must accept, much like the violently rapid gentrification of Austin itself, that things have very much changed at this festival.
So, the big (annual) question: does this mean that SXSW no longer holds the discovery zeal that it once did? Or the gravitas / kudos for sexy first plays?
Nah. It's fine. Stop worrying. You've got 2,000 artists, a bloody beautiful town, and an excellent city of people. Things are fine. Whether it has the surprise elements that once made it magical - for instance, the previously-sketchy East Side is now rather delightful, and perhaps less "random" in its debauched party-throwing - is questionable, but now SXSW becomes more than ever about the standard of the music.
Which is or should be, quite frankly, all that matters.
At one of these aforementioned branded bashes, we get a glitzy opportunity to spot Dan Auerbach's new project in a rare US sighting. Full of voluptuous guitar noodles and intricate refrains, THE ARCS take his mainstay Black Keys' template to a new realm, and yet doesn't alienate. It's a rare moment where "side-project" transcends to something far more majestic and melodic. An audience that doesn't know a note is suitably confounded.
"Maybe I didn't love you... quite as often as I could have...' Christ, anyone that's not crying is clearly not really here. WILLIE NELSON, Austin legend/archetype/spiritual leader, headlines Spotify House's first big night, and it's magical.
With the sun seemingly setting all around us, we hear a contemporary cacophony of country bangers that unites young and old alike, with modern classics such as his definitive take of 'Always On My Mind' and 'On The Road Again' proving mesmerising. 82 years young, his singalong proposition to 'Roll Me Up & Smoke Me When I Die' pledges allegiance to his cheeky punk spirit, rife throughout the set, not least through his aggressive, distorted, gain-y acoustic guitar, where failed solos or aborted rhythm accompaniment become an essential part of the show. Willie really is a class act - typified by his Elvis-like exit, where the backing band is still mid-song long before his chauffeur-driven car whizzes him out of the venue, dust hitting the exhaust fumes. It may seem old school, but it has never seemed more youthful in spirit.
Similarly imbibed with a sense of shifty anarchy, RFB's record label Transgressive's little brother ParadYse Records (how's that for a family tree?) wants to wreak havoc on Night 1 of SXSW Music, with its good friend Sports Day Records.
Taking over the Pearl Street Co-Op - a perilously putrid living spot amidst the student campus district of Austin - our rammo House Party gets off to a nasty start (in a good way) with THEE MVPs. Their opening ramble is a loose punk jam with little form or care. Then they explode into a nasty, hooky number that recalls early 2000's East London art-noise. Befittingly, they announce, "We're a rock 'n roll band from London, England," before bolting into a barrage of cheeky, swaggering gems.
Clearly, the only thing more squalid and disturbing than Thee MVPs, is the choice of location: our delinquent student dive-hovel with a questionably purified swimming pool, and local amenities including a buy-by-the-gallon liquor store. It's safe to say - we're truly home now.
As second act JOY AGAIN set up their instruments, a hippie that looks like a surfer Jesus walks in and randomly starts swinging bits of wood around to the DJ's choice of Outkast. Minutes later we discover him outside throwing fire by the pool. What a night. What a place. What wonderful people. What are we all doing?
Soon ensues a brand-new artist back-to-back that creates an emotional hurricane for the viewer: MIYA FOLIC, whose affecting storytelling and crunchy chords are a mesmerising, moving display; then Australia's JULIA JACKLIN, whose vocal possesses something soulful and perplexing amidst exquisite band backing. Each individually unique and beguiling, it's a lot to take in.
Our faithful Transgressive brethren COSMO SHELDRAKE - via uniquely sampled electronica breakbeat - and noisy wunderkinds BLAENAVON ensure that our bulging, red cup-clinging faithful are full of chaotic, moshing vibrancy. LA's PARTYBABY continue the spirit - quite literally, sharing a mammoth bottle of tequila with more-than-willing audience members. Their Pavement-meets-Weezer squall is endearingly accessible throughout, and sets us up for a final, knockout set from NYC's bright hope, JIMI TENTS: a rapper with so much promise, and killer tunes/stage presence/forceful energy, we might just have to see him another 10 times this week.
It's early still, for sure. But it looks like SXSW 2016 is already making a potent mark.
All photos by Dan Harris