Welcome to Trevor’s SXSW Diaries, a day-by-day recollection of events that the WHUS Music Director attended.
The first day of SXSW has been basically what I expected in some aspects: it’s a giant festival, which means that there’s a ton of hip looking people roaming around the streets of Austin, looking especially hip and aloof. I immediately think that the coolest looking ones are in bands, which is an interesting thing to imply. Isn’t it the stereotype of young, new bands that they don’t have any money and they’re working on a shoestring budget?
Money. That’s the other thing that stayed in line with my expectations coming in to the festival. The con is gorged on advertisements and sponsorships. There can’t be an event or showcase that goes without a “Taco Bell” or “Doritos” throughout the festival.
But one thing that did surprise me was Austin as a whole. The city is clean and actually smells good in some areas, just naturally or something. The house that I’m staying at is about 2.5 miles from downtown and the convention center is about .5 miles into town. Thankfully, there are bike paths basically everywhere, so I had a stress-free trek into the city.
After getting to the center, I picked up my badge and putzed around the center for a while. There were no panels going on at that time that even remotely interested me, so I decided to go to the Hype Hotel location to pick up my wristband. The Hype Hotel series is a week of concerts put on by Hype Machine, a sort of streaming service, supplied by the bands and not record labels. Each day of Hype Hotel is sponsored by a different media organization. Today it was radio promotion and all around music industry juggernaut Syndicate, and later this week blogs like I Guess I’m Floating and Gorilla Vs. Bear will be hosting shows featuring some of their favorite bands.
The wait for the wristband was about thirty minutes and the realization of me forgetting to bring sunscreen was finally coming in to play. I didn’t realize my flesh was burning until about five hours later, when I would walk into the bathroom and see some sort of embarrassed lobster humanoid staring back at me in the mirror.
Nevertheless, I tried making my way back to the convention center but failed pretty bad. I actually ended up where I came in to the city. Damn you, Google Maps. What’s so interesting about this festival is that it centers around media and technology, and the people attending are pretty focused on their technology as well. This is probably the most I’ve seen people on their phones or tablets just walking around the convention center or in the streets.
With people using their technology all day, their phones or tablets are bound to die relatively quickly. All along the main floor, people were lining the walls next to chargers. I can say that I was one of those people, after using Google Maps to try and find my way downtown.
But let’s get into the good stuff, yeah? The first panel I tried to go to was the Portlandia talk with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, which was full twenty minutes before the panel started. Shucks. I ventured down to the large ballroom for a panel featuring Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, where he talked about how he’s using culture and the arts to change the economic standing and social standings of Chicago. There was a ton of people in Austin who were very into Chicago.
But the main event for Tuesday was Neil Young talking about his new portable, high-quality music player called “Pono.” It’s a new device that will supply digital versions of vinyl quality music that you can hook up to speakers in your house or in your headphones. Young said that music of today “didn’t have balls anymore,” meaning that the mp3 quality has become more about convenience rather than quality. He hopes to bring quality back into the picture with this new device.
After, I had dinner and went over to my first shows of the night. Team Clermont, a music promotion company, and Hometapes, a record label, were throwing a showcase featuring some of the bands that they service. It was at Old School Bar and Grill, right in the middle of all the insane SXSW action.
The first band to go on was Star Rover, a two-piece rock group that utilized various time signatures and brought a sound that sounded somewhat improvised but totally structured, kicking off the party well.
The second act was Spaceship Aloha, a one-man electronic music act. This dude is also a part of the band Man Man, so it was interesting to see him make very hype electronic music. He got everyone dancing and I really enjoyed myself during his show.
The third band, Landlady, was another Man Man side project, this time with a different member. This was a lot like Future Islands in a sense that the singer put in so much emotion and strength into his voice. He really orchestrated the band and the crowd. Excellent performance.
The fourth band, Leverage Models, was a funky, groovy, 80s harkening space oddity wherein the singer used a ton of wacky effects on his voice. The performance was fantastic and vibrant and the lead singer even said he had laryngitis but he powered through the set. Boom.
The last band I stayed for was Pattern Is Movement, which was a two-man groove fest. One dude was on drums and the other on synth. There was a lot of pre-recorded stuff going on in the performance, but both of the guys were really, really into it, which improved the immersion of the performance.
I tried hailing a cab back to the house, but no cab would drive me that far without requesting some exorbitant amount of money. So, with my blistered feet and all, I walked home in the black night with only the moon to be my guide.
I’m guessing that today will be very similar to that. We’ll see and I’ll keep you posted.