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SXSW Wrap-Up: The End

I hesitated, spun around on the spot and snapped a couple quick photos. Almost immediately his focus changed as he stared into the camera lens, the slightest smirk hardly visible under his hedge-like beard.

“Do you want a hug?”
I lowered the camera, “Absolutely” I grinned.

He was a good hugger, surely from experience, and with a hearty chuckle and a couple pats on the back I felt the loneliness wash away, if only for a moment.

It was at this point I realized I’d spent the entire festival taking shots of artists and venues, while completely ignoring the most quintessential element of SXSW. The people. The majority of my time was spent people watching and navigating the massive crowds. Groups of friends stood on every street corner, laughing and slapping shoulders, retelling the events of the night before. Old friends stumbled into one another, eager to share their experiences and compare them to previous years. Droves of fantastical lunatics dressed like peacocks wore vibrant displays of colors and clothes, desperate to attract the attention of a suitable mate. While street performers garnered small crowds as they put on eclectic pop-up shows. The streets were constantly abuzz with life, laughter, and of course, music, and the city of Austin was undoubtedly alive.

I decided on the final day to drink in the atmosphere and turn my lens to the people and places of Austin. As such this post wound up being something a little different, and is more akin to a photojournal than a blog post.

Despite the clouds, it was another warm day at South By, and everyone was in good spirits in the early afternoon, eagerly anticipating the inebriated evening events that were only hours away. This was the scene at East 6th, the heart of SXSW.

The city of Austin was bursting at the seams, and high-end apartment complexes were in construction all over downtown. This particular high-rise was on the west end, on my way to the Quantum Collective Day Party on top of Whole Foods.

At first I had no idea who this woman was, until she played the iconic song “Tom’s Diner”. It was none other than singer/songwriting legend and the “Mother of the MP3″ Suzanne Vega. The song she wrote back in ’81 was about Tom’s Restaurant in New York, famously known as ‘Monks’, the frequent meeting place of Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer on Seinfeld. It was a bit of an eerie moment for me as she shot a look into my eyes.

Suzanne Vega – Tom’s Diner

The scene atop the Whole Foods was very mellow; kids ran about in the background while soccer mom’s mingled with the peaceful, yet strinkingly alternative music crowd. There was free soda pop and coconut water abound, and it was the most serene moment of the festival. Eventually, by will of the sheer good vibrations, the sun poked out of the clouds, and as I sat in the mulch behind the stage I began to deal with another wave of nostalgia from my time at the Calgary Folk Fest last August. This was the closest atmosphere to the Folk Fest, and a much needed afternoon of calm, musical therapy.

From Suzanne Vega in ’81 to electro-vets from 2001, the scene suddenly jumped twenty years as Dirty Vegas showed up to play an energetic set consisting of old hits and new material. Once again, I wasn’t even sure I recognized the English duo until they busted out their smash-hit “Days Go By”, a song that garnered a huge following more than a decade earlier.

Dirty Vegas – Days Go By

The feature performance of the Quantum Collective Day Party was one of my favorites, We Were Promised Jetpacks. After missing the first few songs of their set the other day, I elected to go out of my way to catch them play in their entirety. I also took the opportunity to approach Adam Thompson, shake his hand, and introduce myself as equal-parts blogger and rabid fan.

We Were Promised Jetpacks – Moving Clocks Run Slow

We Were Promised Jetpacks – Roll Up Your Sleeves

It was an energetic set in front of the free-spirited, peaceful afternoon crowd. Kids bounced on their parents shoulders and late-twenty-somethings stood misty-eyed as they recalled their infatuation with indie-rock before their iPod’s took a dramatic turn towards Jack Johnson and the like. The performance was capped off by a rare, yet hilarious mistake, as Adam fumbled his chords several times and proclaimed “Whoops” mid-verse. The band was still busting a gut as the song ended, mouthing “Whoops” to one-another and enjoying a full-bodied chuckle.

The sun began to sink as I started the long walk back to the heart of SXSW.

One thing I noticed about the street culture of South By was that it was very difficult to discern between the homeless man and the street performer. This gentleman was accepting donations in the form of phone numbers, and surely had stable housing considering his twitter account.

The value of social networking was very evident, as street performers often broadcasted their twitter and instagram profiles. Charles drew a modest crowd as he plucked the neck of his guitar with great finesse.

The crowds became much more viscous as the sun began to set on Austin, one last time. Although the majority of festival-goers weren’t stumbling just yet, there was certainly a buzz that proliferated throughout the crowd.

I caught this gentleman in the middle of a very intense “guitar” solo. He actually had a pretty sizable stack of cash in his “tip box”, and was generous enough to pose as I strolled by.

Surprisingly, not every show in the middle of the street was allowed to continue. Officer Beck shakes hands with these unknown artists as they are forced to pack up their performance. In all fairness, they had a full band playing in the middle of the road, but the attitudes of the police were still quite accommodating throughout the run of the festival. I took note of the artist wristband on the bearded gentleman, and wondered who they were.

Pedicabs were the only logical way to get around town. For a modest fee of ten dollars, you could enjoy the serenity of a quick ride from one end of town to the other. The driver’s themselves were often quite eclectic, and at times would wear outlandish costumes and dress up their cabs with flashing lights and booming speakers in order to attract potential clients. The few pedicab drivers I spoke to were quite annoyed with this practice, and although business was booming for South By, both Manny and Ian had informed me that it was extremely difficult to make money due to the sheer volume of pedicab drivers.

They would park at the end of Red River Street near Rainey, and wait upwards to an hour to catch a fare. Despite appearances, the pedicabbies were quite organized, and fare’s would be doled out based on which driver had been waiting the longest.

This was my home away from home, The Art of Tacos on Rainey Street. I ate here every day, sometimes twice, and was always greeted with a smile and a laugh from the people running the small food truck. They were very hospitable during my stay, and served up a generous amount of meat and toppings every time I ordered. I absolutely loved these guys, and I made sure to shake some hands and say goodbye before they packed up in the morning.

I went back to my hotel for one final recharge before heading out into the night. Lady Bird Lake was a most gracious host, and I sat in the park overlooking the water on several occasions throughout the week. I was always struck by the juxtaposition between the madness of the festival and the park I had to walk through to head home.

The garbage, much like every festival I’d ever attended, had reached a critical mass in the evening. However, as a testament to the spirit of SXSW, people did whatever they could to avoid actually littering, including precariously setting their garbage on the edge of the bin. Although I made note of the ecological impact, when I awoke the next morning I rather shockingly discovered that every trace of the festival had been removed. Apparently, teams of garbage disposal men are sent out on the last night around 4 in the morning and they swept the streets from top to bottom. It was quite incredible, and aside from the odd poster here and there, it was a completely different city only a few hours after the last artist played the last set.

My other second home, The Hype Hotel, played host to an extremely bizarre performance by Sophie and A.G Cook. It was a strange piece to witness after the show by UK’s Miley Cyrus, Chloe Howl. Their unique electro-set nearly tore the roof down while a hired model stood in a blow-up pool full of beach balls. With each song she moved on to another menial activity, playing with her hair, laying down and reading a magazine, or simply staring off into the crowd in no particular direction. I exchanged a lot of “What the fucks” with at least ten different attendees, and scribbled frantically in my notepad as I awaited for the final show of the festival.

This was not the bedroom chillwave I fell in love with. Ernest Greene took the stage sometime around one, and my curiosity about his live performance was immediately quashed upon the first song. It was upbeat, energetic, and every bit at place with a summer festival. I was completely blown away. The presence of actual instruments had a massive influence of the sheer sound and relentless positivity erupting from the stage. Ernest was flanked by a handful of talented musicians, including his wife, and his performance was one of the most energetic and exciting shows of the entire week.

Washed Out – All I Know

I first heard “Feel It All Around” back in July of 2009. It was the start of my beautiful relationship with The Hype Machine just after I signed up for an account, and an inspiration for me to open up my world to the ever-expanding universe of new music. “Feel It All Around” was the definition of chillwave, an emerging subgenre of tranquilized synthetic bedroom pop, and audio-therapy for anyone prone to stress and anxiety. In many ways, my musical career is the result of this song, and even five years later it sits atop my “Most Played List”, still as fresh and as poignant as ever. To hear it live on this day, at the Hype Hotel, was poetic justice, and although the pace was quickened and the sound wasn’t the same song I’d heard over 250 times, hot, fierce emotion pumped through my veins. In that moment, I lost myself. I was music.

Washed Out – Feel It All Around

“I hope you’re not all sick of live music” an out-of-breath Ernest Greene quipped to the crowd.

After seeing somewhere between 30-50 bands (I lost count quickly), in many ways, I was becoming a bit jaded with the performances. However, Washed Out was at the top of my “Must-see” bucket-list, and despite the exhaustion of a week-long beer and taco binge, I was bouncing on my heels the whole set. Seeing an artist live can yield a number of different results, but sometimes, the live set transcends the music you know and love, and becomes something wholly larger than the mp3′s you loop in your iPod. This was one of those shows, and Washed Out had uncorked pure, emotional bliss.

It was the only performance I’d seen all week that had an encore, and unfortunately one of the negatives of being at the very front-and-center of a set is that you have access to the set-list taped to the floor in front of each musician. Although I wasn’t surprised, I was thrilled at the opportunity to enjoy an elongated performance by one of my favorite bands. Ernest was constantly working at his craft, and throughout the night he delved into every EP and LP he ever released, adding new layers and fine-tuning instrumental elements of some of his oldest songs. It was as if his music was constantly evolving, and the emotional peak of the performance hit with his last song, “Eyes Be Closed” from 2011′s widely successful album, “Within and Without”. It was a full-blown sensory overload, and I let the atmosphere completely overwhelm me.

Washed Out – Eyes Be Closed

The walk home was a high like I’d never experienced. The drunkards were in great spirits as they wandered back to their hotels, and the entire week began to flash through my memory. From the nervous first few hours and the conflict with the hotel, to the Mel Gibson look-a-like and the tragedy only a few days ago; it was all capped off with one of the most energetic, emphatic shows of the festival. The feeling was bittersweet; my time at South By had come to an end, and I was met with mixed emotions as the reality began to set in. I had one more full day in Austin before my flight back home, and I knew the view from the very top had come to an end. Until next time Austin, you were a most gracious host.

(Much love to the volunteers and festival organizers who surely endured more stress than they deserved. Thanks to Elizabeth Derczo and the Press team for the opportunity, thanks to Anthony V of the Hype Machine for the last-minute VIP ticket, and a special thanks to all the people I met, and those who may or may not have read my massive wrap-ups.

And of course, thanks to James and Damon, without whom none of this would have been possible)

———————-

Stay tuned for my final word, coming up in the SXSW Epilogue.

3. Washed Out - Feel it All Around (58 Plays)

Rarely, someone stumbles upon the perfect sound, the quintessential song that captures all of their emotion, talent, and vision. Ernest Greene was fortunate enough to find that song very early in his musical career, turning the heads of early chillwave fanatics back in 2009 with his single “Feel It All Around”. I happened upon the song in July of 2009, and I credit Washed Out for single-handedly opening my eyes to the ever-expanding universe of new music. My life change the first time I heard this song, and without it I wouldn’t be where I am now; traveling to music festivals with a press pass and making a name for myself in this convoluted industry.

It’s no surprise that “Feel It All Around” sits near the top of my most played list every single year. Last year it sat in the fourth position with 47 plays, and the year prior it was right up near the top. I’ve listened to this song over 150 times in the past three years, and it still remains so fresh, so poignant, and so relevant. I consider it one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, and after finally seeing Ernest Greene perform in live back in March at SXSW, I can truly say that i’ll die happily.

Washed Out will be playing Sasquatch this year and i’ll probably shove my way to the front once again.

Now sit back, relax, and drink a cold, crisp, glass of chill.

22 plays

Artist: Washed Out Album: 2009 Track: Feel It All Around

4. Black Marble - A Great Design (51 plays)

It’s kind of hard to imagine that a song would actually gain momentum after being in my rotation for a few years, but Black Marble’s ‘Great Design’ climbed 24 spots this year on my playlist to number 4.

I was born in 1989, and before I even developed a concept of music and the sounds I like, the 80’s synthetic movement was long gone. But as we are all aware, the synth has seen a massive re-emergence across pop and indie genres. This particular song, a lo-fi twilight dreamer, has always hit me in just the right way. It’s simplistic, mysterious, and undoubtedly, 80’s as fuck.


40 plays

Artist: Black Marble Album: A Different Arrangement Track: A Great Design

Beach Fuzz Premiere: Amarachi

The landscape of alternative hip-hop is forever changing, no longer are artists pigeon-holed by the narrow definitions of mainstream rap music. With labels slowly losing their stranglehold on the industry, the bottleneck has widened to allow for new sounds to emerge. The hegemonic masculine narrative that dominated hip-hop is being slowly pushed out of the limelight, and as a result new stories are being written by artists who are genuinely focused on honing their craft. Which brings us to our featured musician, Amarachi.

‘Barman’, the first official single off his upcoming EP ‘Black Sheep’ blends elements of fast-paced pop-hop with an expertly crafted atmospheric sample from Active Child’s ‘Hanging On’. Inspired by Omar LinX’s single “You and I”, ‘Barman’ on the surface appears to be an ode to the oft-appreciated alcohol abuser, but upon further inspection reveals a story about inner-conflict and self-reflection.

“It’s a song about the conflicts we have within ourselves, and the way we choose to deal with it.. which in most cases, unfortunately, is to get fucked up”.

It’s a solid entry in the growing body of atmospheric rap first penned by Kayne West’s ’808s and Heartbreak’ and adopted by industry heavyweights Kid Cudi, The Weeknd, Drake and many others. The movement away from the mainstream formulaic rhetoric of hip-hop has been well documented as of late, and Amarachi is the product of the diverse climate of hip-hop artists embracing the indie in the face of monotony. ‘Barman’s tension gradually mounting metaphorically represents the bubbling emotions of the narrator as he spins further and further into self-depreciating inebriation. We all put on masks to hide our inner emotions, something Amarachi admits he sees a lot when he moonlights as a bartender in the bustling downtown metropolis of Calgary.

“And as I talk to this stranger he’s got fear in his eyes/I think he’s fucked up but it’s a mirror in sight”

Stylistically, there’s a lot to admire about Amarachi’s unabashed honesty. Music is his bread and buttter, and his personal tastes traverse all genres from the soulful bedroom synthetics of Conner Youngblood to the up-beat kinetic electro-pop of Glasgow’s CHVRCHES. Amarachi is rarely seen without a pair of headphones around his ears, and his heartbeat truly pumps with the pulse of new music. When music dorks turn to recording, the results are almost instantaneously informed and magical (Re: Belgian Fog), and although you’d be hard-pressed to have any hip-hop artist identify themselves as a dork, Amarachi is undoubtedly so deeply immersed in the music scene it’s hard to argue otherwise.

Keep your eyes peeled for future releases as Amarachi continues production on his debut EP ‘Black Sheep’. Give him a follow on soundcloud, Facebook and YouTube below.

Soundcloud

Facebook
YouTube
Website

10 plays

Artist: Amarachi Album: Black Sheep EP Track: Barman

Music is often an outlet for my emotions, and recently my emotions have been on a very unpredictable roller-coaster. I’ve been up to my eyeballs trying to cover the SXSW music festival, as well as a backlog of 50-plus music submissions over the past month. I’ve got two research projects due in a matter of days, and every time I sit down to work on school work my mind just can’t seem to focus. To top it all off, I think my significant other and I are falling out of love.

Inadequacy isn’t a feeling I’ve harbored very much in the past few years. Everything from school work to my professional life has been progressing swimmingly, but all of that took a very twisted turn just two weeks ago. Lately, the woman I love has been going out with her best friend to the bar several times a week. This was never an issue in our relationship in the past, she always wanted to feel the heartbeat of the city while I was content to watch from a distance with my music and my thoughts. But lately, something has changed, and I fear I might be holding her back from the experiences she truly desires.

The fast life. Money, free drinks, engaging conversation, drugs, drunken sex. That’s the dream for everybody in their early 20’s, and I’m becoming a road-block with no detour. Who wouldn’t want to spend their evening in swanky downtown bars being swarmed by suave businessmen making hundreds of thousands of dollars and spending the majority of their lonely life with strange women and cocaine? It’s hard to imagine from a guys perspective, but if I was greeted by a batch of beautiful, rich women lavishly showering me with free drinks, drugs, and most of all, attention, how long could I toss-up the inevitable cock-block and say “I’ve gotta get home to my boyfriend and my cat?” Who wants to be that person every time they go out, ruthlessly inviting attention only to turn it down in the end? Honestly I don’t think I’d last, and as sad as it seems I might just be the worst thing in her life right now. If I was enough, she wouldn’t want to go out, she’d see through the trivial materialism, she’d be content with our love.

Inadequacy. That’s the emotion I feel more than anything else. All i’ve got right now is my writing and my music, and the impending feeling of doom coupled with the deep-seeded pain of not being good enough.

I’ve had Talos’ “Tethered Bones” on repeat the past week. It just seems to sound right.

40 plays

Artist: Talos Track: Tethered Bones

SXSW Festival Wrap-Up: Day 4

“Could I just get like..” I hesitated, “… a plate of bacon?”

Even my snappy attire couldn’t bemuse the fact that I wore last night’s events in the dark crescents under my eyes. It an attempt to disguise my beleaguered state, I sported a pair of cheap aviators. Although my effort at camouflage didn’t have the desired effect, you see, there is no sign more universally indicative of a hangover than a pair of shades… indoors. Desperate to shake off the cobwebs, I knocked back as much orange juice as they’d let me, and set out back into the madness in the mid afternoon.

The Mohawk was an absolute zoo for The Windish Agency’s annual day party. The general admission line stretched hundreds of legs, and even the VIP’s around the corner were bickering with security. “Don’t swear at me!” deeply offended, a man held his hand over his breast as he recoiled his head in anguish. Desperate to keep a clear exit, the security had taken to screaming in people’s faces, even those unlikely enough to be caught in the web of the scatter-plot crowd dotting the VIP entrance. The venue was at capacity, and there wasn’t a single snob with a superiority complex capable of circumventing the dreaded Fire Marshall. I elected to wait in line and enjoy the spectacle as the cops showed up, shoving oblivious new arrivals off the street and out of the way of passing vehicles. A rattled festival organizer bellowed at the lines, her hair frazzled with early morning sweat, urging everyone to “fold” the line to save space on the sidewalk. It was a stressful time for everyone involved, and an unpleasant scene as the weight of the festival seemed to buckle unto itself. I could hear Jungle’s “Busy Earnin” echoing from the interior, and the afternoon forecast called for a huge bust on my behalf. There was no possible way I was getting in, and I heaved a heavy South-by-sigh at the lost opportunity to see Phantogram, Wet, Tove Lo and the aforementioned Jungle. “Catherine,” I eyed the badge of the distressed festival organizer as she shot me a look “… you’re doing a great job.” I smiled. For a micromoment I saw the relief in her face as she flashed a quick smile and thanked me, only to snap back into her drill sergeant persona barking orders over my shoulder.

After scarfing down a modest BBQ pulled pork “sandwich” (sandwich in quotations to signify the fact that it was a brick of shredded pork slapped on a piece of plain white bread and folded like a taco), I crept back into the Hype Hotel dungeon of horrors to catch synth-pop act HAERTS play out their set.

HAERTS – Wings

Modestly, Nini Fabi the lead songstress of HAERTS was an absolute gem behind the microphone. A steady and strong voice, Fabi was the type of person who had groomed her vocal range to utter perfection. Moaning and “woah”-ing over the John Hughesian soaring synths, Fabi rather calmly asserted herself as an harmonious angel, fully capable of belting out ballad after ballad. The content of the music struck many of the same chords and themes of 80′s pop-melodrama, both in sound and substance, only with a glimmering sheen of polish thanks to classically trained Pianist Ben Gebert. Maybe it was my state of mental incapacitation, but I almost swore I saw a 22-year old Molly Ringwald flailing her limbs under a small curtain of red hair somewhere near the right speaker.

HAERTS – Call My Name

As the set finished, I became acutely aware of the prevalence of young women surrounding me. They applauded fiercly, and with looks of consternation they began to jostle for position as each individual attempted to inch themselves closer to the stage. There was a hormonal yearning that had washed over the crowd, girls clamored and elbowed their way through one another, and I found myself caught in the most aggressive crowd I’d been in all week.

Tech-hands scurried across the stage like ants for nearly an hour, and the anticipation was clearly having an effect on the crowd. The girls were completely blue-balled, writhing in discomfort as the burning in their loins became almost unbearable. One hipster chick beside me was concentrating so intently that she wouldn’t even break her stare from the stage as we conversed about the lengthy set-up time. Finally, much to the delight of everyone including the musicians themselves, The 1975 took to the stage, and if one were to listen very carefully, they could hear the microscopic sound of a couple hundred eggs dropping.

Even I could admit that Matthew Healy was an absolute dreamboat. He possessed that rather unexplainable sex-appeal that belonged only to a very exclusive group of UK rock stars; a palpable physical energy that irradiated like radioactive lust from every movement he made. At the time it was quite jarring, I had listened to The 1975 alone in my car for over a year and a half back when the “Sex” EP dropped. The music was quite separate from the actual individuals creating it, and I had rather obliviously assumed they were relatively unknown. Trying to micromanage my dance moves while remaining deep in thought, I was reminded of a conversation I had the night prior with a German entrepreneur named Florian, who offhandedly remarked that artists like London Grammar and The 1975 were so ridiculously famous in Europe that they were practically old news. They’re like, the hipster One Direction… I quipped under my breath.

The 1975 – Chocolate

The performance was absolutely electric as the UK four-piece tapped into the core of rock thematically. Sex, drugs, love, and death. The old standard. It was noteworthy that their set was the only one with an actual ‘set-piece’, a six-foot tall glowing white box synonymous with the cover art of every album they’ve released. They were infectiously optimistic, skipping down-tempo atmospheric smashhit “You” and replacing it with up-beat pop-thumpers like “Girls” and “Settle Down”. It was almost hopelessly optimistic, exactly the type of music you’d expect to appeal to teenage girls, and I had to momentarily question my fandom as I danced emphatically with a gaggle of gals.

The 1975 – Settle Down

I dismissed my feelings of awkwardness and elected to embrace the music I had previously only loved in private. Undoubtedly, their sound was incredible, far exceeding the sounds of any file or format, and propelling the music into the stratosphere. I made note to buy tickets for their Calgary show in late April.

The 1975 – Sex

—————–

Admittedly, a four hour break between shows was probably the death of my Friday night. The exhaustion of the night prior was starting to wear on my body, and the sheer proclivity of live shows began to work against my appreciation for the music.

“Vatican Syndrome” I scrawled in my notepad.

In one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life, I went to the Vatican on a scorching hot summer’s day in Rome. Every hallway was adorned with priceless piece of art, one after another. An endless line of marble Roman busts, intricately woven rugs draped the walls, and the floors and ceilings were constructed with rare precious metals and painted by Renaissance artists and other timeless geniuses. All of these phenomenal pieces of art, taken individually, were quite astonishing in their brilliance. However, when stacked one after another (and pilfered by the Catholic Church from their historic origins), they seemed almost mundane. How many sculptures can you view in one room before you don’t give a shit about sculptures? It’s hard to appreciate a singular diamond when you’re swimming in a pool of them, and this feeling I had dubbed the Vatican Syndrome.

Something similar was happening at SXSW. I’d already seen half of my iPod live, and with five more shows back-to-back-to-back set for the evening, I was beginning to succumb to the staggering weight of the festival. Pure exhaust was pumping through my veins, and I spent the bulk of my four hours standing in the shower with the water cranked to a boil.

Eventually, the familiar motivational voice crept into my mind and whispered softly.. Yolo, and after a date with a baby-sized (the size of an actual human baby) burrito I wandered off into the night to catch Giraffage’s set at the Windish Agency’s nighttime showcase. Haven was one of the furthest venues from my hotel, and without a drop of alcohol in my system (aside from the lingering bits from the night prior), my motivation began to tank. What had begun as an inner dialogue of disappointment was then played out on stage, as Charlie Yin started his set by remixing obscure 90′s dance fodder and Justin Bieber’s “Baby”. It was an awful experience, not because his talents were poor, but because the music choice was atrocious. I had specifically chosen this set under the assumption that it wouldn’t be a DJ set, as confirmed by Charlie’s facebook account, but upon arrival it became painfully obvious that he wasn’t going to play any of his actual material.

It would go down as the only disappointing show I’d see at SXSW, and the only show I’d leave early. After making the painstaking walk back to Rainey, I elected to skip the rest of my late evening plans and recharge my batteries for the final day of the festivities, cursing under my breath for missing the Gorillaz reunion show at the Fader Fort.

—————–

Keep your bananas peeled for the final installment in our coverage of this year’s SXSW Music Festival. Featured in the last batch; Free Hugs! Air guitar! Soccer moms listening to alt-rock! Washed Out! And of course, a comprehensive analysis and critique of the festival, answering the questions “Has SXSW gotten too big?” “Should iTunes fuck off?” and whether or not the slew of journalists whining about ‘lines’ and ‘things being different’ are justified are just plain annoying.

5. Washed Out - Soft (44 plays) - last year Ranked #1 with 52 plays


Every April Fools Day, I snap a screenshot of my iTunes “Most played” list and hit the reset button. I then save each list in a special folder, and i’m left with a snapshot of my favorite songs for each particular year. When I listen to music, I mainly do so in my car, and I keep my iPod on shuffle at all times in order to randomize my listening experience.

This year saw a ton of new music as my library expanded further and further, but one thing that didn’t change much was my love for Washed Out’s album Within and Without, and specifically this song. It’s tranquil melodies were often a calming source of peace and happiness, and it’s no wonder “Soft” found it’s way back onto my Top 5 this year. After sitting in the number one spot, the track from the 2011 album slipped slightly to number 5, however it’s quite a magnificent feat for a song to stay so prevalent in my rotation. I update my music on a weekly basis, but sometimes it’s the old jams that I still love the most.

Stay tuned as I count down the other four songs that were the soundtrack to my life this past year.

4 plays

Artist: Washed Out Album: Within and Without Track: Soft

People of SXSW 2014

This is a photoset of pictures I took on the last day of SXSW, highlighting the people and places of Austin. Music aside, there was always a show going on in the streets, and from a purely observational standpoint it was an ethnographer’s wet dream.

You can view the entire photojournal here

SXSW Festival Wrap-up: Day 3

Victor was running his ass off. He must’ve had twelve tables, and when you’re doing full service (even at a breakfast buffet), twelve tables can be feel like half of Austin. Back home, I made coin serving and bartending at a theatre restaurant, and I could appreciate hard work when I saw it. The service was poor, but I slipped him an extremely generous tip regardless. Ever since I woke up, my eyes were glued to the twittersphere as details about the tragic events the night prior kept pouring in. The gravity of the situation was difficult to comprehend, but the outpour of support for the victims, their families, and the city of Austin left me misty-eyed. And the beat goes on.

Back at the Hype Hotel, the hot piss stank of the night prior was appropriately sanitized, and the bartenders crossed their arms and exchanged strenuous glances; the storm was about to hit. Some band was playing some indistinguishable chillwave as I sat in a corner and hastily scribbled into my notepad. Chet Faker was the first artist of the afternoon, and I was elated to see the soulful Aussie play some material from his upcoming (and highly anticipated) first full-length. I sat patiently as the electro band behind the nondescript noise nervously flitted with their equipment, apologizing to the modest crowd about ‘sound difficulties’. I checked my phone, they were eating into Chet’s timeslot. Shit. Late shows and cancellations weren’t uncommon throughout the week; it’s hard to blame the festival venues or the organizers considering the sheer size and scope of this year’s SXSW. Although on every corner of the internet, one could listen to early chatter about how this year’s festival ‘sold out’, ‘got too big’, and was akin to some sort of corporate Frankenstein turning on the town. Only a few days in, it was hard to argue that everything had gone to shit, but as the week unfolded and the runaway clusterfuck kept chugging full-stream ahead, the slow chatter certainly evolved into 140-character yelling. We were supposedly entitled to a corporate-free week with all our favorite artists leaving their record labels at home, as if SXSW existed in some sort of anti-American non-capital vacuum. Unfortunately, Doritos was handing out free chips and booking Gaga. It didn’t bother me too much; while thousands of unfortunate souls waited in line for six hours to see a pop superstar perform a rushed set, I managed to slip in and out of smaller performances on a whim. Ever the optimist, I was just happy to be in Austin, despite the sizable hole in my tip jar.

I’d been keeping my eye trained on Chet Faker since he teamed up with fellow kangaroo-jockey Flume on the Lockjaw EP, a small release that garnered millions of listens on soundcloud alone. His discography was modest at best, gaining critical praise in Australia but yet to drop anchor in North America. From the moment he turned his first knob, I knew he’d struck gold.

Chet Faker – Talk is Cheap

Chet was a soulful man, with roots deeply ingrained in R&B and vocal Jazz, he bled his heart into his music. After each song, the ever-humble Aussie would put his palms together and bow slightly to the audience, mouthing a quiet ‘Thank you’ with great appreciation. Behind the scraggly beard, Chet came across as the type of man who deeply cared about his craft; the down-tempo keys and 90′s circa bass lines, there was an unmistakable sensuality in his music. At SXSW, you could find an answer for every genre of music, and Chet Faker represented a revival in the dying art of pop-driven R&B. His music was undeniably good, regardless of which ear was listening, and it certainly wasn’t created for the sole purpose of selling cars with kitschy commercials (catch that grenade already Bruno). Keep an eye out for Built on Glass, set to release April 11.

Chet Faker – Melt (feat Kilo Kish)

Some brutish Texan in a cowboy hat blinked his flashlight at Chet’s feet, signaling the premature end of his set. With one final bow, Chet Faker left the stage and the team of rabid mustacheod tech-hands went to work dismantling the set in preparation of the arrival of the Dum Dum Girls. Three years ago living in a dingy residence building on campus, I stumbled upon the song “He Gets Me High” leading up to the EP release of the same name, and ever since the Dum Dum Girls have enjoyed a healthy rotation on my iPod.

Dum Dum Girls – Bedroom Eyes

Stylistically, the Dum Dum Girls are all about cultivating a certain image, and that image can be summed up with ‘not giving a fuck’. Building off the mysterious 60′s-era goth rocker chick motif, the girls stood practically still as they ran through a heavy set ripe with hits from their past few albums. Surely, they were trying very hard to not enjoy themselves. It should also be noted that the Dum Dum Girls weren’t all girls, despite every effort to remain a femme-fatale fourway, a sizable portion of the guitar-work was done by a mysterious man with long hair hidden stage right towards the back. One couldn’t help but feel like they tucked this guy in a corner, and ideally he’d be off-stage all-together if the size of the venue permitted, however if one were to blur their eyes (or simply watch from a distance) his soft features and long hair could be easily mistaken for… well..

One of the girls doing her best attempt at playing in front of a live audience while looking miserable

It was difficult to pinpoint the exact niche the Dum Dum Girls were trying to channel. Were they drawing on the pro-feminist Riot Grrrl movement of the 80′s and 90′s minus the rhetoric? Were the aliases simply supplemental to the rockstar mystique? The message was unclear, but imagery aside, the music was excellently executed and a true testament to lead singer/songwriter Dee Dee Penny’s ability to weave elements of hopeless romance and broken-hearted harmonies with retro-wavey garage rock.

Dum Dum Girls – Lost Boys & Girls Club

Although I was somewhat put-off by their image (the steely looks the girls kept shooting me every few moments were certainly adding to my general discomfort), there was no denying Dee Dee’s talents as a musician and an artist. Once the set was finished, I spotted the girls smiling and joking outside Hype Hotel as they hoofed it to their next show, and I wondered if the whole act was just a melodramatic farce. On a personal level, I’d already established that their music was fantastic without witnessing their live personas, and surely they wouldn’t shed any fans if they took those backstage smiles with them to their next set, but who am I to argue with the way an artist presents themselves? On stage, they looked cool as fuck, tapping into the teenage apathetic in us all, speaking firmly and clearly with only their eyes. We just don’t give a fuck. I wonder if they smoke cigarettes?

The pace of the day was starting to pick up as I “jogged” to the Flamingo Cantina to catch the daytime headliners, We Were Promised Jetpacks. Out of all of the performers I was looking forward to seeing over SXSW, I was only versed on the entire discography of a select few. The Scottish five-piece was one of those bands. Since their debut album “These Four Walls”, I’d been obnoxiously belting out their tunes in the comfort of my four-door for five years. Their most recent release, “In The Pit of the Stomach” was already a toddler at three years old, and I was eager to see if WWPJ had any fresh material.

When I got to the Cantina just a few blocks away from Hype Hotel, the line for entry stretched down the street. Without any priority given to badge/wristband holders, I attempted to charm my way past the doorman. Dropping buzzwords like “Press”, “Coverage”, and “Necessary”, but it was all for naught. The small bar was at capacity, and the Fire Marshalls had already shut down a slew of shows for violating their largely ambiguous rules. With little else on the docket as the day shows wound down, I elected to wait in the line despite the set time starting in only five minutes. I shot the shit with a traveling skateboarder and a couple dudes from a marketing firm, and eventually the four of us found ourselves at the very front of the line. I cringed as I could hear lead singer Adam Thompson playing the first notes of “Sore Thumb”, one of my all-time favorite songs, and the pain of waiting was excruciating. Suddenly, shadows emerged from inside, as four people squeezed out of the Flamingo Cantina. With their exit, the four of us exchanged elated looks like giddy school girls as we half-ran into the venue.

We Were Promised Jetpacks – Sore Thumb

I’d been to a handful of festivals in the past few years, but nothing was quite like SXSW. It was by far the easiest festival to push through to the front, in fact, not much pushing was necessary. I would often hold my camera slightly in front of me, and after a few “Excuse me’s” I’d be center stage. We Were Promised Jetpacks had played nearly half their set; forced to hear some of my favorite songs from the street, I wasted no time ‘excusing’ my way to the front.

The first song I heard had me completely forget I was a journalist of some sort. I shouted and screamed, danced and shook my head violently. WWPJ finished the piece with a wall of sound and reverb, and Adam Thompson thumbed his way through a few indistinguishable chords, effortlessly slowing the pace and setting up for the final song. The crowd roared as they recognized the direction Thompson was taking us, and with his first verse it became apparent that everybody in the building knew the words.

Right foot, followed by your left foot/Guide you home before your curfew, and into your bed

I tried suppressing a hearty laugh listening to all the fake Scottish accents behind me. I was surrounded by people singing along in their own perverse dialects, some were quite accurate while others clearly had never left the comfort of their owner’s vehicles or showers when they sang to themselves (and maybe shouldn’t have). The tempo picked up and I could feel the ground vibrating beneath me, Thompson was mounting tension, Your body was black and blue/It struck twice there’s nothing new, waiting to explode.

We Were Promised Jetpacks – It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning

Eruption. That feeling of pure bliss swam over me as I completely lost myself in the sound.It was moments like this, I thought, that make everything worth it. All the expenses, the nightmarish flights and bad sleeps, the creeping bronchitis and feelings of intense loneliness and alienation, it suddenly all seemed so necessary, so purposeful. Time stood still. I was awash in a wave of thought and emotion. I was experiencing the strongest form of nostalgia in real time. I wanted to remember this feeling. In my short career writing about music, there are a select few moments that stuck to my soul. If I ever make a career out of this, I never want to take it for granted. Often times it was difficult conversing with other Press outlets, bloggers were anti-social and endlessly tweeting, most photographers were there to simply document. They wore earplugs and watched the crowd with a quiet contempt. But for me, I was following my passion. And even if I grew up and found myself working some desk job for an Oil company back home, at least I lived that dream, I truly tasted the sweet fruit of deep-seeded fulfillment, if only for a short time.

I left the bar in a strange state. Any confidence I was lacking had completely gone the wayside, water-logged under a tsunami of purpose and self-worth. It was only 5:00 o’clock and I’d already witnessed a handful of phenomenal acts. I suddenly felt like I had an advantage over the more experienced writers and photographers. I had a grand epiphany. My decisive moment was now.

It was always a good idea to refuel around 6:00; the day shows had all wrapped up and the evening events were a few hours away from kicking off. I snagged a burrito on Rainey Street and sat in the park to watch the sunset.

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“Is there a limit on the amount of tacos I’m allowed to eat?”
“Nope! But you’re definitely winning!”

And winning I was. I finally managed to wrangle some free Doritos Locos Tacos courtesy of The Hype Hotel and Taco Bell, and after scarfing down four in under two minutes I decided to save some stomach space for beer. With my confidence at its peak, I finally shed my apprehension towards alcohol and began to indulge. The doors had just opened, and only about twenty people were in the concrete shoebox as Ejecta began to set up their equipment. After a quick soundcheck, I parked myself dead center in the front row.

The crowd was about fifty people large as Leanne Macomber nodded at musical magician Joel Ford to start the set. It was an intimate performance, and after a few nervous songs it became very apparent to me that Ejecta hadn’t played many live shows. I saw Macomber two years prior as a member of Neon Indian, but she took her emergence into the spotlight with an air of uncertainty. It was somewhat strange to watch her hesitation; considering a simple Google search of her name yields a gratuitous number of nude photoshoots, I assumed her confidence would flesh out into her performance. Ford was a rock of certainty, calmly playing bass and double-checking the laptop as he watched over Leanne like a mentor watching over their student. She made very few mistakes, but her closed-eyed approach only furthered the notion of self-consciousness.

Ejecta – It’s Only Love

After the set was finished I wanted to tell her that she needed to grab her music by the balls and belt it out. I ran through a few sentences in my head, but they all sounded pompous and borderline disrespectful. Macomber did a great job and maybe that’s all she needed to hear, so I extended my hand and introduced myself, offering simple words of encouragement and expressing my gratitude for her performance. After a brief meeting, I ducked out of the Hype Hotel and made my way a few doors down to the Swan Dive.

There was a four foot gap between the crowd and the stage, and one man in a leather jacket watched nervously with crossed arms. Vancouver Sleep Clinic was still setting up, some ten minutes into their set time, which was having a very noticeable effect on the man. Two beers in, I slapped him in the shoulder and went with my gut. “Are you the manager?” he looked somewhat startled, but after I introduced myself as a member of the press and as a fan, his demeanor quickly changed. I learned that he started his own company somewhat recently, despite his thick Aussie accent he identified himself as “From L.A”, and I started to piece together the internetal reasoning behind his intense apprehension. Vancouver Sleep Clinic was a band comprised of three 17 year-olds from Australia, it was painfully obvious that he had a lot riding on their first tour of the U.S. He bit his nails nervously, barking at the youngsters to speed things up as he tapped his watch with fervor. As soon as the set started, he disappeared, presumably to continue worrying over a half-pack of cigarettes.

The girls behind me we’re swooning. “He’s so cute!” “Ohhh my goshhh!”, at one point I attempted to cool their loins “He’s seventeen ladies, calm down”, but they hardly seemed to care. Tim Bettinson had a distinct aura of charm and sensitivity. His down-tempo instrumentals were smooth and poignant when paired with his Justin Vernon-esque breathy vocals. It was bedroom music, wrought with intense emotions of loneliness and insignificance. Bettinson’s falsetto’s float in the clouds, accentuated by delicate synth compositions and the gentle kicks of David Lucha.

Vancouver Sleep Clinic – Collapse

Tim was a multi-instrumental prodigy, and I had no qualms telling his manager prior to the show that he’d struck gold. “This is our first time in the U.S” Bettinson blushed as the crowd roared “It’s just weird to play in front of actual people”. The trio were very humble, and I could only imagine the thrill of being so young and going from composing music in your bedroom to being center stage at the biggest music conglomeration of the year.

Vancouver Sleep Clinic – Flaws

It was a brilliant set, and I decided to introduce myself and leave with a few parting shots of wisdom. He leaned in, eyes wide, and nodded attentively as I spoke. “.. you’re an incredible talent and you’ve got huge potential” I assured him, “just try not to let that manager of your stress you out too much and have fun”. We thanked eachother and I shook his hand one last time, my mind already wandering to the next big act of the night.

Walking around SXSW was akin to listening to The Hype Machine’s Top 50, only live. At any given moment, a buzzband was playing a set in front of a modest crowd, and it took only a flash of the ID to gain entry and witness any number of rising stars. I peeked at my schedule and noted Roadkill Kill Ghost choir was set to play in under an hour back on Rainey Street. Already weary from the hot sun of a long day, I flagged down a pedicab driver and left him with a ten dollar tip before approaching the Blackheart.

The Blackheart was one of many house bars on Rainey Street, and was undoubtedly one of the most charming venues in Austin. All down Rainey, eclectic inner-city homes were converted to bars, with large backyards serving as the stage. The atmosphere at these venues was akin to something from the O.C, intimate gatherings of the young and beautiful, all cracking jokes and drinking from red Solo cups. Desperate to get lubricated, I asked the bartendress if they had any strong beer worthy of a Canadian, and two haggard Mexican bikers at the end of the bar blurted out “STONE IPA”. It was an investment to say the least, a 12 OZ cup of beer-on-tap for $8.50 hardly seemed worth it when tall-boys of Lonestar ran for three bucks, but at 5.4% and kicking like a mule, I knew I found my flavor.

I sat on a bench outside, hastily scribbling notes and wiping the foam from my upper lip with my free hand. Halfway through my beer and Roadkill Ghost Choir set to take the stage, the feeling started to take hold. People are hammered, is it my turn? I wrote ominously. My notes slowly began to deteriorate into nonsensical gibberish, bullet points precluded phrases like “THIS IS MY ANALOG SMART PHONE” and “No matter how many selfies you take you bitches are still ugly“. The booze was starting to take hold, right on time for one of the best shows I’d see all week long.

Roadkill Ghost Choir – Devout

Andrew Shephard sang like a damned banshee, quietly lulling the crowd into a false sense of serenity before hitting the boiling point and yelling with precision and control. The combination of lonesome steel guitar solos and heavy folk-rock Americana played beautifully into the gritty and dirty backyard scene of the Blackheart. I sat in the shale beside the main speaker and snapped shot-after-shot of Shephard looking positively ghastly behind a curtain of long, wiry hair. Having only previously heard one song by the band, I was completely blown away by the harmonic brilliance of their instruments and the passive-aggressive tension reverberating off every chord. I grew up listening to my dad’s country music, and Roadkill Ghost Choir seemed like the logical extension of my passion for music and my backwoods roots.

Roadkill Ghost Choir – Down And Out

I had to book it uptown to catch the last two acts of the evening, BANKS followed by UK royalty, London Grammar. Having access to the VIP entrance at Hype Hotel was a distinct advantage, and I stood inline for a mere two minutes before B-lining it for the free beer. Now a veteran at crowd control, I weaved my way through the largely drunken crowd and struck up a conversation with a young girl who was an Austin local. Only a few moments later, Jillian Banks to the stage to raucous applause.

BANKS – This Is What It Feels Like

BANKS was sultry and seductive, confidently flowing back-and-forth onstage like a model on the catwalk as her voice erupted over the crowd. She shot diamond-hard glances at everyone in the front row, and after only a few moments I became acutely aware of her 90′s R&B influences. BANKS drew inspiration from industry heavyweights Mya and the late Aaliyah, and you could easily see the influence in her stage presence alone. Not much was known about the young starlet, she came on the scene just over a year ago after her soundcloud account spread her hits like wildfire, and her social media persona was practically non-existent. But the mystery shrouding her meteoric rise seemed frivolous when witnessing her incredible talents live. She was a superstar in the making, and eventually made a direct allusion to her influences by performing a spirited rendition of Aaliyah’s “Are you That Somebody”

BANKS – Are You That Somebody

Gorilla vs. Bear had really outdone themselves with their set of performers at the Hype Hotel, and even the heavily intoxicated frequenters in line for more poison were in a frozen state of raised eyebrows. Everyone was talking about the BANKS performance, it was pretty clear that she seemed destined for a wide audience. I pondered the hipster-satisfaction of being able to say “I saw her BEFORE she was super famous” as I was handed my final beer of the evening. My notes had taken a severe nose-dive in quality and had turned the corner to illegible chicken scratch, and room was coated in a thick fuzz.

London Grammar was next as time seemed to lurch forward awkwardly. I talked politics loudly with two emphatic gentlemen in the front row while my vision began to blur. I’m a journalist God damnit, pull yourself together man. Somewhere, buried underneath my inebriated delirium, I was screaming internally.

London Grammar – Hey Now

Admittedly, there’s very little I remember from London Grammar’s performance outside of being wholly impressed by her modest, yet powerful voice. She was a phenomenon overseas, and even in my drunken stupor it was obvious how talented songstress Hannah Reid was at captivating a crowd of hopeless drunkards. She seemed the natural successor to powerhouse icon Florence Welch. Somehow in the midst of her set I managed to fabricate a seething hatred from another photographer, and fueled by disdain I climbed over the barricade and perched myself on an empty space on the left-side of the stage in between wires and speakers. In retrospect it was completely asinine and more than likely a violation of someone’s insurance policy, but I wasn’t the type of belligerent drunk that would knock anything over and compromise the performance. I summoned every ounce of spatial awareness and respect, and silently snapped photo after photo as no one took notice. I kept complete composure, but it was a gutsy move nonetheless.

London Grammar – Strong

I stumbled out of the Hype Hotel sometime after 1 AM with the widest grin I could muster. These were my people, I mused, laughing to myself and using each passing building as an opportunity to shift my weight onto something other than my gelatin legs. The events of the day swam through my head vividly, I could hardly believe the incredible acts I got to witness in a span of twelve hours. Perhaps it was the beer talking, but I truly felt at one with the festival for the first time, and I would carry that unwavering confidence into the weekend for the final two days of performances. JESUS, I stumbled nearly falling. Suddenly the lyrics from an afternoon set started ringing in my ears..

Right foot, followed by your left foot….

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STAY TUNED for the final two episodes of my SXSW adventure, including an absolutely John Hughes-ian set, and yours truly being trapped in a group of screaming fangirls as they wet themselves in sexual anticipation.

Inspiration is a difficult well to tap. In terms of accessing one’s natural creative flow, there are countless inconceivable and miscellaneous variables that may affect the ability to swim with the artistic current. As a writer, my creative output can be completely unpredictable, often hindered by the most simplistic of physiological barriers. Perhaps I didn’t get enough sleep or eat enough kale, perhaps I’ve been idle at home for too long, perhaps I’ve been sleeping too much? To self diagnose writer’s block is akin to performing brain surgery on oneself. It’s nigh impossible to conclude what highly particular chemical cocktail is necessary for maximum creative output; it simply just happens. And sometimes, it doesn’t.

As an artist of sorts, I’ve always been curious as to what inspires other artists who practice a craft separate from my own. Personally, I draw inspiration from culture and experience. Travel offers an unlimited reservoir of creative insight, and when I combine education with my opinionated nature, culture provides an endless slew of analysis and critique. But what about those who practice other forms of art? What of the painters, musicians, actors and photographers? Where do they draw their inspiration, and more importantly, how do they understand the concept of inspiration within their own specific artistic context?

My assignment will focus on the concepts of creative inspiration, and my participants will all be self-identified artists. From a local hip-hop artist to an aspiring theatre actress, I will ask each individual to produce 3-8 images based on the following question(s): As an artist, what inspires you creatively? How do you express your creative energy?

Asking someone to draw inspiration from inspiration itself is like pointing a mirror at another mirror, and I’m very curious to see how each individual will react to the concept of pinpointing their own creativity. Will they focus on utilitarian photographs, like the actress providing a picture of her dance class or the musician depicting his studio? Or will they elect for more metaphorical representations, drawing on personal connections to seemingly mundane images? More importantly, how will each artist represent their creative energy, and will these representations be fundamentally different or the same?

Inspiration isn’t usually something that can be readily measured or identified. Even for those who don’t identify themselves as creative, inspiration is often a prerequisite for success in our society. What of the scientist who doesn’t innovate, or the businessman who doesn’t diversify? What of the lawyer who can’t disseminate, or the doctor who can’t take a risk? Or what of the student, required to write countless essays and reading responses, desperately trying to draw water from dust? It is inspiration, imagination, and sheer willpower that provide the backbone for achievement.

Music, of course, is another source of inspiration for me. On some deep level which I don’t quite understand, it seems to speak to my soul. Here is a song by an upcoming band from a place in New York without tall buildings and scary people. This is Yellerkin, with “Leave Me Be”.

19 plays

Artist: Yellerkin Track: Leave Me Be

SXSW Wrap-Up Day 2: Tunes and Tragedy

Sirens and screams. A young woman hunched over on the curb bawling uncontrollably, gasping for air and flanked by her four stunned friends. Police officers shouting at everyone to clear the area. What the hell happened? Specs of blood dotted the streets as my brain tried to shake off the noise and fuzz and make sense of the situation. A horrible tragedy took place, undoubtedly, but no one was quite sure extent of the damage, nor the cause. But how did I get here, steps away from being involved in the most horrific incident in 28 years at SXSW? Let’s rewind.

I was sporting a renewed sense of confidence as I dove headfirst into Wednesday’s festivities. Unlike opening day, there were an ton of SXSW day parties and official music venues. The Texan sun was high in the sky as I made my way to my second home, Cheer Up Charlie’s. Halfway uptown I was immediately struck by the sight of automatic weapons slung over the shoulders of a gaggle of ‘real Americans’. Having never seen an assault rifle in person (or a ‘Real American’, apparently), it was an unsettling sight, and all part of a planned gun rally in an effort to ‘protect freedom’ or some sort of ignorant rhetoric. “More guns, less crime!” they chanted. I wasn’t sure where they came up this concept, considering the fact that states with high gun-ownership rates have consistently high gun related deaths, but I figured it had more to do with society’s threat to their manhood and the growing concern amongst that crowd that black people were still free. Maybe it wasn’t fair to pigeon-hole them all as racists; the confederate flag has a multitude of meanings aside from the allusions to slavery.. but it was the first stark reminder that yes, I was in Texas.

"That’ll be three dollars"

I fiddled with my wallet, searching for singles in a pile of indistinguishable green. Coming from a country where paper money matched the spectrum of a bag of Skittles, I felt like a colorblind kid playing Monopoly, peering at the numbers with uncertainty. Three dollars for a tall boy, however, was a price I could get behind, and I made my way beer-in-hand to the outdoor stage where I watched Emily Wolfe the day prior. Los Encantados, a summer-rock band was jamming out a solid sunshine-soaked set. The gritty Brooklyn sextet seemed more at home at some dirt-swept New Mexican dive bar than SXSW, but with the sun beating down on the back of my neck and a cold beer in my hand the sounds were perfect. At certain points during the set I was blown away by the massive post-psychedelia wall-of-sound reverberating off the rock facade behind Los Encantados, and I made a note to tell my good friend back home who was really into The Verve and Spiritualized to check these Brooklyn boys out.

I stepped outside of the sun and inside the make-shift shack that was part of Cheer Up Charlie’s lot. It was a cozy space, smaller than my apartment, but there was something undeniably charming about the dusty wooden floorboards and the rustic construction. On stage was Cleveland two-piece mr. Gnome, a band I had been haphazardly following since I discovered their music on “that weird part of YouTube”. You’d be surprised how much fantastic music you can find when you float around the 50,000 view mark. Stringing from one obscure band to another, I stumbled upon "The Way" while perusing art blogs in a separate window. The sound was so fresh and poignant I put everything else on hold and devoted a solid few hours swallowing up all their material.

Their sound is deeply routed in the macabre fantasy, it feels like a nightmarish fairy-tale brought to life under the twisted vision of a mad scientist, ruthlessly blending guitar riffs and chunks of pure concrete. mr. Gnome live is an experience that I have a hard time putting into words. It was one of the best live shows I have ever seen. Lead singer Nicole Barille hid behind a wall of hair, wailing like a banshee while her fingers went to work relentlessly dropping chords like bullets. The mastermind Sam Meister beat the living hell out of his drums, hammering away like he was hellbent on punching holes and shattering cymbals. It was raw and visceral, and they took us straight down the rabbit hole for a solid forty minutes practically blowing the lid off the cramped venue.

Nicole made a few whispers about a new album in the works, and they played a brand new song “Blow you Away” which did, quite literally, that. I strongly recommend giving their most recent full length a free stream on Bandcamp, and keeping your radar turned on for their next release.

mr. Gnome - Bit of Tongue

mr. Gnome - House of Circles

People walked out of Cheer Up Charlie’s shaking their heads in disbelief at the sheer power and energy of the Cleveland two-piece, and I took to twitter to express my extreme satisfaction and fortune for witnessing their show. (Later that night I sat outside Javelina on Rainey and watched them through a window, one of only two bands I saw twice over the week) Just two blocks away sat The Hype Machine’s star-studded venue, Hype Hotel, and the afternoon docket hosted the likes of Wye Oak and Against Me! I wasn’t the biggest fan of the latter, but I spent many an evening driving in the pitch black of the Albertan countryside around 3AM, getting lost in the heavy and reflective essence of Wye Oak’s early material. ‘Civilian’ was released three years ago, and my favorite album “The Knot” would practically be in grade school at its age, and since then I’d read many an article about the evolution of Wye Oak’s sound (certainly signified by their synth-heavy contribution ‘Spiral’ to the Adult Swim singles project).

After eavesdropping for a half hour on two Texans in the line for entry, I decided to join in the conversation and was pleasantly surprised when I realized the dressed-down brocheesemo I was talking to was a criminal defense lawyer. We shot the shit for a few minutes and he handed me a beer cozy with his contact information, urging me to give him a call if I got thrown in the slammer over my stay in Austin. He had one hell of a networking scheme considering his specialty was 24-hour jail release and he was handing out drinking paraphernalia, and for the rest of the week I had his beer cozy tucked in my back pocket ready to slap on a cold one to keep my camera hand warm. I made a note to catch up with them later that night at The Mohawk and made my way inside Hype Hotel.

There’d been a lot of talk surrounding lead singer Jenn Wasner’s decision to drop the majority of her guitar-work for the band’s forthcoming album ‘Shriek’. As a fan of her drifting and sometimes haunting solos, which seemed to stretch out over the vast space of the black countryside on my many drives home, I was a little apprehensive about the change in direction for Andy and Jenn. What was perhaps more off-putting, prior to the beginning of the set, was the gentle wafting of hot flesh and boiled piss that seemed to proliferate the cramped concrete shoebox where the Hype Machine held its venue this year. I suppose that was the result of handing out free liquor and tacos all afternoon long, and I scribbled a note into my Moleskine about the general dinginess of the venue as Wye Oak began to dig into their set.

Wye Oak - Glory

Wasting no time, Wye Oak ran through as much of their upcoming album as they could in the brief set-time they worked with. The sound was distinctly polished and complete, and despite the different direction of the album I couldn’t help but appreciate the fine-tuning of each note and chord. It was a perfectly crafted performance, through and through, mixing elements of pop-rock synthetica and Wasner’s purposeful, strength-infused vocals. Andy Stack was a rock behind the drums (and laptop), effortlessly keeping the beat with mathematical precision. It was an impressive performance, and you can buy/stream ‘Shriek’ everywhere on April 29th.

Wye Oak - The Tower

After a quick recharge and a ten-minute faceplant on my kingsize, I snagged a banana and began the long walk to Haven on the west side of the downtown core. The sun began to set as I frantically tweeted the corporate sponsor in charge of the Cloud Nothings/Kurt Vile showcase later in the evening. Much to my delight I was almost immediately given VIP credentials by a lovely lady named Chantal operating the JanSport twitter page, and with my late night destination set in stone I practically skipped my way across town to catch Glass Animals at Haven.

The crowd was swaying methodically as I pushed through to the front of the performance already in mid-progress. I’d heard several of the Glass Animals singles topping the Hype charts the past year, and was eager to catch a glimpse of the youthful UK quartet.

Whoever coined the term ‘jungle-love’ did so with the Nostradamian knowledge that the Glass Animals would exist and make sweet, sweet love to any ears that would listen. Debuting material off their forthcoming album ‘ZABA’ due on June 9th, the dancefloor transformed into a tropic tangle. Visions of low-hanging vines with the moonlight drifting above the canopy, Glass Animals conjure pure dry ice on the forest floor. Sopping wet drum kicks melt against the sultry delivery of Dave Bayley’s lyrics, practically oozing through the microphone. The result is a ‘psychedelic cocktail’ of R&B and UK electro, drawing comparisons to fellow countrymen Alt-J. Although there are some similarities between the two bands, Glass Animals clearly stands out in terms of sex appeal, something that’s palpable even without Bayley thrusting and gyrating only a few feet infront of you. It’s a wonder Haven didn’t erupt into a swarthing, writhing animalistic orgy, we certainly had the soundtrack, only the drugs seemed to be missing from the equation. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that recipe came to fruition sometime during their tour (look out Australia, and Europe).

[Glass Animals songs have been removed due to receiving a ‘copyright violation’ from some fucking corporate slag]

Confused and questioning my sexuality, I wandered out of Haven in a daze. Perhaps it was the music? Or maybe I really could use a slice of pizza. I elected for the latter, and dove head-first into the budding chaos of East 6th. Nothing cures the sudden urge for homoeroticism like a hot slice of all-meat. It’s hard to accurately describe the atmosphere of 6th on a busy night; there were thousands of people. Everywhere. All dressed in varying attires within the spectrum of sheer lunacy, and all somewhere on the sliding scale of public intoxication. Fat-bottom girls with leather shorts almost completely swallowed into the vaccuum of their anus, hoodies laughing maniacally and passing around a joint, street musicians playing pots and pans wearing traditional Japanese garb surrounded by droves of onlookers. Laughter. Noise. With live music erupting from every bar and ever corner. Cops stood guard nervously with their arms crossed, gauging the temperature of the celebrations. Suddenly, a 6-foot-something with dreadlocks down to his shoulders in a neon-onesie backed into me with his Air Jordans. For a brief moment I was overcome with fear, only to be taken aback by his proper southern diction “Oh my gosh I’m so sorry!” he reached out at me with a look of genuine concern, and I assume my reaction was a mix of horror and surprise. Above all, despite appearances, the people of SXSW were a well-mannered, welcoming mix of all ethnic backgrounds and classes. Truly we were all there for one purpose, to enjoy ourselves.. and consume copious amounts of alcohol. I ducked into Roppolo’s pizza on 6th and Trinity and observed the organized chaos of a downtown pizza joint on the busiest night of their lives.

After frantically fumbling with my American money and hunkering down with a fresh slice, I nearly spat out my newly acquired eats at the sight before me. A man behind the counter, presumably a manager, looked almost identical to a late 90’s era Mel Gibson. His long, untamable hair was pinned back with a headband drawing the focus onto his steely blue eyes and chiseled jawline. Now spotting a celebrity look-a-like certainly wasn’t uncommon at South By, and it absolutely wasn’t worth wasting a good bite of meat pizza, but in this particular context I had to contain myself from bursting out laughing. Playing on the large flatscreen, directly beside him as he worked, was Braveheart. I contemplated sneaking a picture, but my greasy fingers weren’t well-received by my iPhone, and instead I elected to enjoy the moment. As I finished my pizza, makeshift-Mel reached for the remote and began searching for something more appropriate for the inebriated audience, I couldn’t resist any longer..

"What’s wrong with Braveheart?" I quipped, desperately containing my ear-to-ear smirk with a quiver of the lip
“Oh, I was just trying to find some music-..”
“YEAH, WE WERE ENJOYING BRAVEHEART” boomed a man behind me, wife in tow and clearly upset about the possibility of a programming change. At this point I lost it, burst into laughter, and after a quick wink and a nod to the couple behind me I ducked out of Roppolo’s giggling in the street.

Over at the Jansport Jam Sessions, the line outside stretched up the block. This was often the case when word got out that an event would have free alcohol of any sort, and after walking past the few hundred unlucky souls waiting for general admission I found my way to the man in charge of VIP admissions and was quickly ushered to the beer line. Or did I usher myself to the beer line? At any rate, without a second thought I had Zac the lawyer’s beer cozy in-fist within seconds and meandered my way through the crowd at the outdoor stage.

"Dude brought a bag of flutes.."

And indeed he did, lead singer of Gardens & Villa Chris Lynch had a bag of woodwinds at his feet as the band emphatically pumped out their first few tracks. Having never heard the Santa Barbarian five-piece before, I was immediately struck by the very obvious 80’s-pop influence of their sound. The synth lines pulsed and bubbled (Adam Rasmussen was a master on the keys), while Lynch bounced and vibrated with all the energy and enthusiasm of a man who brings a bag of flutes to a party. Well maybe that wasn’t a good analogy, but Lynch was an absolute madman on stage.

Out of context, I always wondered how strange this picture would look if someone photoshopped out the microphone

I perched myself on a hay bale directly in front of stage right and soaked in the sounds. Admittedly I was mostly writhing with anticipation of the acts to follow, but Gardens & Villa put on one hell of a live show. Towards the end of the set, Lynch attempted the fabled ‘high jump kick’, the crashing of the cymbals and the beat were perfectly in-tune as Lynch went completely ass over backwards. The crowd roared with appreciation, and as Lynch sheepishly admitted how he actually injured himself on the fall, I shouted

"DO A FLIP!"
“I’m gonna do a flip..” Lynch spoke derisively, “for this guy”. Still blushing and flush with embarrassment, Gardens & Villa finished their set to raucous applause from the crowd.

Gardens & Villa - Star Fire Power

Gardens & Villa - Orange Blossom

Up next the crunchy, fast-paced hard-rock of Cleveland trio the Cloud Nothings. Within moments they whipped the crowd into a frenzy, with Jayson Gerycz absolutely losing his shit behind a modest set of drums. It was the human equivalent of watching Animal from the Muppets completely demolish the stage. Shedding layers of clothes between each song under a river of sweat, Gerycz was arguably the best drummer at the entire festival (and considering Travis Barker was floating around, that’s quite the statement). He completely stole the show, and in between songs band-mates Dylan Baldi and TJ Duke would turn around and wait for the nod from Jayson that meant yes, he caught his breath enough to let loose for the next song yet again.

It was exactly the kind of noise-rock you’d expect exploding from a neighbourhood garage, setting off sirens and driving the neighborhood dogs nuts. For rock traditionalists, they were a throwback to post-punk bands like the Wire, and they brought back a lot of memories of long-hair, scraped knees and skateboards that made up my Saturday nights as a teenager.

Cloud Nothings - I’m Not a Part of Me

Cloud Nothings - Psychic Trauma

The crowd was abuzz after the Cloud Nothings, but a mellow vibe was about to wash over the stage. Kurt Vile, the perennial godfather of singer-songwriter stoner-folk modestly slumped onto a stool center stage and accepted one of his guitars from groupie stagehand slash brother Paul. “HI PAUL” a pair of bashful fangirls waved, Paul grinned as he receded back to his post stage left. And under a curtain of hair, Kurt began his set.

Back in August I had the great pleasure of catching Kurt Vile and his Violators in my hometown at the Calgary Folk Fest. At the time it was the peak of my budding blogging career; I’d never had the opportunity to meet one of my heroes, and to see Kurt from only a few feet away as I sat in the lush grass was an experience I’ll never forget. Although the tone was somewhat different for SXSW (Kurt left his Violators back at home), the feeling was the same. If I stretched, I could reach out and touch his shoes, but even the most jacked-up drunkard was lulled into a trance the moment Kurt’s fingers began to fly over his guitar.

Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo

Kurt Vile - Ghost Town

Playing without any backing band, Kurt finger-plucked his way through his earlier material from albums ‘Childish Prodigy’ and ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’. It was a surreal set, as the once raucous crowd who only moments prior had thrown a beer can on stage was hypnotized, like a bunch of kids watching the coolest camp councilor rattle off some Tom Petty instrumentals by fireside at the end of a long night. Kurt was his usual humble self, giggling between songs about the excessive amounts of reverb in his microphone and poking fun at his voice cracking as he said “Thanks”. Paul sat on the sidelines, bumming cigarettes off the bashful fangirls and chatting with the soundtechs as Kurt tuned his guitar. I was overcome with peaceful serenity, often drifting off into my own thoughts much in the same way Kurt wandered and rambled through his lyrics. They were free-verse poems for the loner inside us, dipping into themes of apprehension and anxiety, and fleshing out into full-blown certainty. Everything was gonna work out fine. That was the general message behind his dulcet harmonies. Kurt was a solid stone troubadour, a folk-poet nomad and rock revivalist crooning out lullaby after lullaby.

Kurt Vile - Goldtone

As the set ended, the head sound engineer boomed over the crowd with a muffled voice “Kurt.. ah, don’t go out that way some shit went down”. The crowd was mostly in a daze, still chugging back the free Lonestar piss-waters that were handed out all night. I stood up on the hay bale and peered over the venue. Lights and sirens surrounded Cheer Up Charlie’s, and Paul came rushing to the stage to divulge his account of the madness.

"… looks like four (more) people got shot" Kurt wobbled on the spot, peeking over the heads of the confused audience. I leaned in,
“Did you say four people or more people?”
“Four.” Kurt whispered out of the corner of his mouth while simultaneously brushing off a fan who wanted to take a selfie with him.
“Jesus Christ..” I spoke in disbelief.
“Does this kind of stuff happen often around here?” Kurt asked quizzically.
“Couldn’t say, I’m not from Austin” I replied, as the eager fan shook his head vehemently.
“I’m from Philadelphia, stuff like this happens all the time..” Kurt spoke with a solemn tone, frowning and peering down at his shoes.

Was this the real America I was warned about? Violence wasn’t common-place back home, even coming from a much larger city with a far higher population, annual murders were usually counted on a couple hands. It was quarter to one in the morning when I ducked out of the showcase and into the streets. The scene was unbearable. People gathered in tight-knit circles hysterically gasping for air, and the team of police officers ushering the crowd away from the area looked wide-eyed and concerned. I saw blood on the street, along with the remnants of what appeared to be a broken taillight and other miscellaneous debris. It was very unclear what happened, and I certainly wasn’t willing to interrogate the witnesses who were eyeballs-deep in disrepair. The crimescene stretched up the street towards the Mohawk, where a crowd of police officers were setting up barriers to stop the confused and concerned bystanders from disturbing the evidence. I immediately took to twitter, and after a firestorm of misinformation flooded the SXSW hashtag, the true story began to materialize. A driver, presumably drunk, smashed through the barricades are mowed down two-dozen people in front of Cheer Up Charlie’s and the Mohawk, claiming the lives of three.

It was a horrific end to the evening, and the tone of the crowds had changed from celebration to eerie silence in only a few heartbeats. The gravity of the situation had not yet set in, and many were experiencing a chemical cocktail of serious shock and adrenaline. I began the walk home in complete disarray, people were frantically calling friends and loved ones, desperate to hear word. As I reached for my phone once more, I felt the foam of my beer cozy and was immediately struck by a conversation I had earlier today. Zac Morris, the lawyer, said he might be at the Mohawk that night. I fired him a text

"Were you at the Mohawk tonight?? I think some crazy asshole is gonna need one serious criminal defense attorney"

————————

STAY TUNED for parts III, IV and V. Coming soon.

SXSW 2014 Photoset #2

This is another photoset from this year’s South By Southwest Media Festival in Austin, TX which took place March 7 - March 16. Here are some of my handpicked favorite shots, in order of appearance

• Kurt Vile (shoes and pedals)
• Dum Dum Girls
• We Were Promised Jetpacks
• Ejecta
• Roadkill Ghost Choir
• BANKS
• London Grammar
• HAERTS
• The 1975
• Washed Out

Stay tuned for a few more of these photosets as I sift through the couple thousand pictures I took over my week long stay in Austin.

SXSW Festival Wrap-Up: Day One and Arrival

“Your card sir, your card didn’t work..”
“Oh.. um yes it did I got into my room so everything is okay”
“I mean your card it wouldn’t go through.”
“Oh, my credit card?”
“Yes”
“I’ll be right down”

It was the worst kind of phonecall, not because I knew I was in trouble, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to nap, at least not for a few more painstaking moments. My arrival in Austin was plagued with discomfort. Eight hours bouncing between airports and connectors, haplessly wandering between gates and trying to quell my insatiable desire to lay down and die. I spent the evening prior to my 5AM arrival at Calgary International laying awake and wondering how the week at SXSW was going to pan out. It seemed quite counter-productive to stare at the ceiling apprehensively for hours on end instead of sleeping, but my brain couldn’t be shut off. I was nervous, undoubtedly, and traveling alone is never an experience that I get comfortable with.

My extreme delirium from lack of rest only amplified my displeasure of flying, as well as the awful case of bronchitis I had acquired a few days earlier. I spent all four hours on the plane in a constant state of nodding off, mixed with auditory and visual hallucinations. Clearly the other passengers must’ve thought I was on drugs, as I was never spoken to by a human being that wasn’t a stewardess. Even the cab driver at the airport treated me like a leper, so one can only imagine my incredible displeasure when the hotel woke me up from a brief coma to inform me that my credit card had been declined. After an excruciating hour dealing with the lady at the front desk who was convinced I was trying to con the hotel, I finally made my way back up to my room to lay down, but at this point my stomach would not be reasoned with. I needed food, badly, and the only place to go was out. I mustered up my waning strength, and stumbled out the door into SXSW, already in progress.

It was Monday, and technically the music portion of the festival hadn’t started yet, although that didn’t seem to matter. I hobbled up a dark and populated Rainey Street, and was immediately overcome with sensory overload. There were people absolutely everywhere in various states of intoxication, and live music echoed from the backyard of every eclectic house on each side of the road. I contemplated collapsing, but then remembering the atrocious cost of an ambulance fare and elected to continue my search for some of Rainey’s greasiest. At the Lustre Pearl there was a line of several hundred people stretching down the block, and the few lucky ones at the front sat on the curb smoking cigarettes underneath a neon “Funny or Die” sign. Somehow the legendary Bill Cosby was going to do a set in this tiny house, and I immediately recalled the sold out Jubilee Auditorium back in Calgary where 2,500 people swallowed up tickets to see Cosby in just a few heartbeats. The opportunity to meet several Funny or Die alumni was only one extremely long line away, but I quickly reigned in my fleeting desires and focused on the target, Stony’s Pizza at the end of the block.

Food trucks ran rampant at South By; it was nigh impossible to avoid delving into the mobile delicacies of the festival, and my first experience was greasy and delicious. As hot chunks of cheese and dough hit my growling stomach, I began to feel a renewed sense of confidence and energy. I got brave and explored the area surrounding the Austin Convention Center, but my legs quivered beneath me, and it became readily apparent that my body could only handle the walk back to the hotel. Halfway home I ran into Ray from HBO Girls riding a bicycle outside the mobile movement where Lady GaGa was wandering around on ten-inch platform boots with a team of body guards. Jesus Murphy of fuck what is happening? Celebrity sightings were incredibly jarring in my state of delusion, so I limped back down Rainey, dodging drunkards, freaks, and the occasional Ma and Pa, and proceeded to have a mental breakdown in the hotel shower before clamoring off to sleep.

Good lord what have I gotten myself into? The streets were still heavily populated at 10:00 the next morning, with many festival goers and locals donning sunglasses and parking themselves between a cold beer and a few friends. Immediately on the docket before the music was obtaining my badge, and ultimately my press credentials, so I hoofed it to the Austin Convention Center with a belly full of bacon and orange juice.

The Austin Convention Center is an absolutely enormous building with grand hallways and several floors of small panel rooms and suites. The interactive tech junkies were still widely present, as companies lobbied for the money and attention of every passerby. I weaved my way through the exhibitions to the registration hall where I would spend the next hour confused and angry. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was supposed to be picking up, was I granted a badge or a wristband? The badges were significantly more expensive and offered no cover at any music event. They also came in a variety of colors, presumably denoting a higher social status and a visible signal showing other festival goers that you were the premier attendee. After bouncing back and forth between the badge help desk (where the main manager slash puppeteer in charge of a drove of teenagers was a total fucking dickface and zero help whatsoever) and the press desk, I was finally redirected to the wristband line by the press kiosk after being told by the aforementioned asshole that I didn’t belong at SXSW and flying to Austin was a mistake. After obtaining my wristband and obtaining a fervent hatred for the volunteer staff, I strolled by the help desk manager and promptly flipped him the bird while simultaneously signaling to my newly acquired wristband. It occurred to me later that I had most likely missed out on obtaining my press laminate, and as a result attended the entire festival as second-class simpleton with only a wristband and an attitude problem. To be fair, it is worth mentioning that the people at the press outlet were exceedingly polite and genuinely concerned about my well-being, although they never told me that I should return for my badge laminate before leaving the convention center. Alas, hindsight always seems to be 20/20, and in hindsight I should’ve told that help desk manager to stop being such a prick since i’ll be publishing my desire to kick sand in his face and call his mother.

But my angered waned at the prospect of finally seeing a musical showcase. There was very little going on during the day (Tuesday, I would later learn, was always the least interesting day), however I strolled up Red River Street to the Hype Hotel, only to be met by a lengthy line wrapped around the block of those waiting to obtain their Hype Hotel wristband. I stood in the baking sun for forty five minutes to claim my RSVP, once again completely unaware of my own credentials. A day later I had the bright idea of messaging Anthony Volodkin, the founder of the Hype Hotel about obtaining a VIP pass. As it turns out, a pass was already issued for The New LoFi, and not only was the wristband lineup a complete waste of time, but the entry line that same night which turned me off from attending the Hype Hotel could’ve been completely avoided. However, these things could only be learned the hard way on my first trip to Austin, and once I got my regular wristband for Hype I decided to hit Cheer Up Charlie’s up the street where a local act was playing a set.

Emily Wolfe is an Austin local and a SXSW veteran, and the modest crowd that gathered to see her performance was very perceptive and only lightly intoxicated. Wolfe bounced between traditional Texas bar-rock to wavy, progressive psychedelia. Her vocals roots were deeply entrenched in genre legends Sheryl Crow and Melissa Etheridge, yet stylistically Wolfe was a silver bullet. It was a fantastic way to start my musical discovery, and it’s no wonder she was featured the following day on NPR’s “5 New Bands to Watch At SXSW“.

I also had the pleasure of finally meeting the human music encyclopedia that is David Greenwald. David has been somewhat of a mentor to me these past few years, and his voluminous guide to SXSW was practically my bible heading into the festival. We would later spend the majority of the festival bantering back and forth on Twitter, but it was nice to put a face to the man I’d been following online for years.

Emily Wolfe – White Collar Whiskey

Emily Wolfe – Mechanical Hands

Back on Rainey street, The Harmed Brothers started their set on a cramped stage in the front yard of the Lustre Pearl. Their backwoods Americana began to draw a steady crowd, as the staff at the Pearl were forced to bring out more benches and tables from the back. It was a spirited performance, capped by an endless barrage of witty quips and observational humor. “We got a drill solo goin’ on over there” smirked Ray Vietti, co-lead vocalist of the indie bluegrass slapstick duo as they were interrupted by a staff member operating power tools. The drummer and bassist tagged out a few times as Vietti and banjo extraordinare Alex Salcido played a few instrumental jams. Their set went swimmingly, and they were invited by the staff at the Lustre Pearl to play well-beyond their allotted time, for nearly two hours in fact. The Harmed Brothers were the embodiment of SXSW music, and one of the many pleasant surprises of the festival.

The Harmed Brothers – Bottle to Bottle

The Harmed Brothers – Moonshine And Marijuana

The only set I had picked out for the evening was Misun at the Lit Lounge on East 6th in the heart of SXSW. It was my first time wandering down the densely populated urban cityscape, and an experience I wasn’t likely to forget. Bars, bars, and more bars dotted the road, with live music echoing from the interior and droves of ridiculous lunatics stumbling to and fro. It was very overwhelming, especially considering I was by myself, and the street fashion alone was enough to cause a tension headache. So I ducked into the Lit Lounge and scored myself a few shitty American beers about two hours in advance of Misun’s set.

I somehow managed to take a picture that didn’t include a man in a giraffe suit or the many scantily clad ghetto girls in their hyper-neon displays searching for sexual partners

I was about five beers in and feeling absolutely nothing, coughing incessantly into my shoulder and playing Flappy Bird while I patiently waited for Misun to take the stage. Why the hell did I decide to get bronchitis right before leaving to the biggest festival of my life? As if I had some sort of omniscient control over bacteria. The American excuse for beer certainly wasn’t helping, normally I’d be significantly buzzed, but at this point I was mostly bored. I spotted lead songstress Misun Wojcik at the bar taking shots, and I decided to introduce myself with what would later become my ‘monologue’ to every artist I met over the run of the festival. “Hi my name is Jarrett, I’m with the blog The New LoFi and I’m a huge fan blah blah blah”. She was a good sport, and after giving me a pat on the back she proceeded to the small stage tucked in the corner to start her soundcheck.

It was an energetic set as Wojcik bounced around the stage on the balls of her feet. Their sound is quite hard to describe, blending elements of synthetic-infused dance-pop circa ’98 and spaghetti-western style pump-up. It was a great performance, undoubtedly, and a marker of many fantastic sets to come. Misun wound up with a lot of praise over the week, garnering attention from new and old fans alike, and it’s surely worth keeping an eye on the DC trio as they traverse the heavily populated world of synth pop.

Misun – Sleep

Misun – Coffee

Desperate to catch up on the sleep I was sorely missing, I snagged my first taco and took the long walk back to my hotel room. Day 2 was bound to be full of music, but what I couldn’t possibly predict was the mayhem that would ensue on the streets of Austin. Mel Gibson at a downtown pizzeria, an intrepid photographer slash body contortionist, and the most horrific tragedy ever to occur in the 27 years since SXSW began. All of this would come tomorrow, unbeknownst to your hero as he strolled south down Rainey to his executive suite at the Holiday Inn.

STAY TUNED KIDS! And make sure you check out my photojournal that documents the entire week from start to finish.

This is a photoset of a few of my favorite shots at SXSW 2014. I’ll probably do a couple of these since I got a ton of photos. My editor messaged me after I sent a few in pictures “Dude, I had no idea you were a good photographer”. Well, me neither really, but these turned out quite nice no? Here’s the list in order of appearance

• (unknown)
• J Fernandez
• Wye Oak
• Cloud Nothings
• Kurt Vile
• Chet Faker
• Dum Dum Girls
• We Were Promised Jetpacks
• Ejecta
• Vancouver Sleep Clinic

I’ve spent the afternoon wandering around the streets of Austin desperate for signs of destruction/dismay from the chaos of SXSW. Somehow, these signs are few and far between (save the Doritos BOLD stage that looks like a texas tornado of cheesy awful). The clean up crews here have done an absolutely astounding job, and the city is back to it’s normal self; which is to say there are only about four or five live shows at any given moment.

Austin truly is the music capital of the world, and it played a great host to this years festivities. I’ve heard a lot of bitching on twitter about how things have gotten “too big” and how iTunes should probably fuck off, and I mostly agree, however there were still a hell of a lot of amazing artists (the total amount of bands I saw was 32), and plenty of music to be discovered.

Not that I wasn’t already aware of Glass Animals prior to this week, but their performance really solidified their excellence in my mind. Sultry, sopping jungle vibes from these UK cats, and they were quite handsome (and ridiculously young) to boot.

Also, i’ve seen a lot of pictures floating around my tumblr feed of the events and the artists. If you’d like to see my photojournal (all modesty aside, it’s fucking amazing) Simply click below

SXSW 2014: A Photojournal of Epic Proportions and Skill

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Artist: Glass Animals Album: Glass Animals - EP Track: Psylla