SXSW: The Final Day

I woke up on the last day of South By Southwest to the sound of rain, a sound alien to many Texans. I found that after talking with the house owners, this is the Southern equivalent of snow, which calls for not doing anything and staying inside all day. After a week of no sleep, barely food, and walking eight miles a day, I was ready to do nothing. Still, I had one more day in Austin to complete and this one was the most arduous of them all.

I had to find a ride to the airport that morning since according to then, my flight was still at 6:15am. I had to bring my luggage downtown to my friend’s hotel, since she had a ride lined up that I asked to be on. Thankfully, I was able to get a ride with one of the house owners to downtown with all my luggage and things. That would have been such a burden to carry six records, a week’s worth of clothes, and all sorts of other junk three miles just to find my friend with her hotel key.

One function I found only on the last day was the Chevy Rides service at the convention center. It was a free ride service where all you had to do was get bunched with some people that were going to vaguely the same location and then you got a ride by someone in a new Chevy car. The best part of this was that the people driving didn’t hound the passengers about Chevy or other brands, unlike all the other sideshow attractions throughout the festival. I was able to get a free ride across the city and back with all my luggage, which was the savior for the day.

After that, I ran over to Hype Hotel to catch Machinedrum, an electronic producer that made one of my favorite albums of last year, “Vapor City.” He played a lot of sets throughout the week, but only some of them were strictly Vapor City sets. Fortunately for me, this one was one of them. This was my first time at the Hype Hotel and it was a pretty cool venue. It seemed to be in some kind of warehouse type area, with projections of the sponsors lining the walls. At this party, Taco Bell was the main sponsor and they were giving away free tacos. I hadn’t had any sustenance all day at that point, so a free taco wouldn’t hurt, I thought.

After waiting in line for about 10 minutes (a recurring theme for the week) the Taco Bell booth shut down for the day. I guess the slogan “Live Más” only goes to a certain point.

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After that, I needed to sustain myself, so I went over to my usual restaurant spots and nabbed some sushi. This place that I ate at was, in my mind, quintessential Austin. It was a nice restaurant, with tasteful wood accents everywhere and a central sushi bar for those who wander in from the festival, malnourished and a bit tipsy. The first thing that I noticed about the place, though, was that they were playing Yuck’s first record in its entirety throughout my meal. This is a nice looking restaurant playing a great, edgy 90s rock sounding record from 2011. That blew me away. Also what surprised me was that they were playing the record just straight through. This wasn’t just a Dinosaur Jr. Pandora station; they were legitimately going for the whole deal. The second part was the sushi – it was a fairly normal roll, only it was topped with pico de gallo and white truffle oil. How crazy is that?

The next event that I went to was the showcase that one of my promotion companies, Planetary, was throwing. It was being held at a deceptively large venue, Maggie Maes, and I had trouble locating it at first.

The venue was on 6th Street, which if I had not already written, was the insane epicenter of basically everything going on in Austin at the moment. It was blocked off for the entire week and I don’t think it was empty for a single minute. Getting down the street resulted in having to shove your way through rappers passing out their mixtapes, drunken hordes of University of Texas students and festivalgoers, and other people just trying to hop from show to show.

When I finally make it to the venue, I stop in a concert area that I thought was the showcase, but actually turned out to be an Australian artist showcase on the lower level of the venue. The first act was a solo performer that went by D.D Dumbo. He utilized a loop pedal to make artful collages of sound with purely a floor tom drum and an electric guitar.  I was really impressed and ended up downloading some of his music after getting back to UConn.

I eventually found my way up to the Planetary showcase just as the first act, Tough Age, was going on. They were a fiery garage rock act that blazed through a quick set. The majority of people there were getting their feet moving and their heads bobbing, so it was clear that they were digging it.

After Tough Age, though, I had to scoot off to catch Trust at a goth club named Elysium. There was no line and I walked right in. It was a dark, hot, sweaty place with a small stage area that was in a pit-like area. Trust came on at about 9:30pm and they made the crowd sweat. Trust is a dark synth pop group from Toronto with really unique vocals. The entire stage was engulfed in fog, only leaving the lead singer’s silhouette visible onstage. They mostly played songs off of their new album, “Joyland,” along with some of the hits off of their debut, “TRST.” It was definitely one of my favorite sets of the week, even though it was one of the shortest.

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A great thing about Austin is that there are so many venues with quality concerts, you don’t have to go far to see killer shows. For me, all I had to do was go right around a street corner to catch Anamanaguchi at the Empire Control Room. There are two parts of the Empire venue – the Control Room and the Garage. There were insanely long lines for both, complete with yelling, stressed SXSW volunteer workers trying to corral festivalgoers by status (badge, wristband, or nothing). Thankfully for me, the badge line was pretty short for the Control Room, but what I found after going inside was that there was another line going into the performance area, regardless of badged status.

One bright spot about waiting in the second line was running into Bob Boilen, the creator of NPR’s program “All Songs Considered,” who recognized me before I had a chance to see him coming. I had previously met him last year at CMJ in New York and at the Team Clermont showcase on Tuesday. He said that “waiting in two lines is not what I signed up for” and he showed me the rest of his proposed schedule, with the band Melt Yourself Down included. I highly recommended them to him and he said he’d go check them out. Fun fact: in his SXSW wrap up, Boilen cited Melt Yourself Down as one of his favorite acts he saw this year at the festival. That’s right, I’m going to take a little bit of credit for that.

After getting through the second line, I caught about half of Anamanaguchi’s set. Anamanauguchi is a chiptune (retro video game music) influenced rock band from New York City and I’ve wanted to see them live for a long time now. Their live setup was awesome: they had fluorescent light poles around them and cartoonish projections on the walls behind them. Combined with the colorful music, the vibrant walls amped up their already hyper performance. Definitely one of my favorite shows of the week as well.

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The next scheduled event I had planned was Washed Out at the Hype Hotel at 1am and when I left Empire, it was around 11pm. I had some time to kill, so I decided to meet one of my promoter friends over at Hype Hotel early to get a good spot for the Washed Out show. I came in during a set by Chloe Howl, a pop act that said that they were performing at their first SXSW. They were pretty average but it seemed like they had a really dedicated audience; I saw many people mouthing along with the lyrics and at one point a ton of people in the audience started throwing playing cards on to the stage. Needless to say, I was a bit confused, but I wasn’t upset. That’s a good thing.

After Chloe Howl, I met the lead dude from Anamanaguchi, Pete, and talked to him for a little bit. He told me that the next act was mysterious English electronic producer Sophie along with AG Cook. In the huge SXSW manual, there was nothing listed for the 12am slot at Hype Hotel that night, but I was really glad to find that it was Sophie.

Sophie only has around three songs out right now, but the hype is strong. His tunes are on some other next level. He and AG Cook started doing their thing, but a really strange part of the performance was that there was a model of sorts at the front of the stage for the entirety of the performance, doing relatively normal acts like slowly drinking from a soda can or sitting in a blow-up plastic pool. She had long blonde hair and a menacing, blank stare. She would be combing her hair with her fingers while staring out into the audience while this super hyped-up pop electro music was playing – it was a really intimidating experience, oddly enough.

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The last act I saw at my SXSW experience was Washed Out, a chill, indie pop favorite of many since 2010. He released his breakout EP in 2009 and I saw him last in 2010, where it was just he, his computer, and a small keyboard. Now, in 2014, he has a five-piece band that each plays different instruments. They played the majority of the newest album, “Paracosm,” which sounded the best with the full band. His other songs from his 2011 album and the 2009 EP sounded strange with the full band, since on the record the songs were so simple and had a handcrafted sound. There were also two guitar solos, which were unexpected, but again, I’m not upset about it.

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I headed back to the hotel where my promoter friend was staying at and I met Nardwuar the Human Serviette, the legendary interviewer that has an intense amount of knowledge and gifts for whomever he’s interviewing. That was definitely a high point of the week as well.

I was awake for the full 24 hours from Saturday going into Sunday due to a bunch of flight problems, but once I got onto the final flight to Hartford, my entire body just shut down. I thought that I would have been able to control my sleep state, but I was unconscious through takeoff and well into stabilized air travel. To say that I was tired before that point would be an understatement. I was in that odd state where I had crossed the plane of conventional tiredness and entered into the new dimension of consciousness, functioning on some cosmic energy being pumped in through the fluorescent lights of the airport terminal and the same Coldplay song that they had on repeat. The week tuckered me out, but it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. If I ever get the chance to go again, I’d most definitely take it. And you should, too.

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