south by southwest + Kanye West
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SXSW 2009: Notes from the field by Doc Brown

Ra-ra-riot-sexy-cello 

/// RA RA Riot @ Rachel Ray Party

  Photos taken by Doc Brown and I [ part 1 ]

From the first show of Laura Marling to Kanye’s "Love Lockdown" finale at the Fader Fort, my three days in Austin were packed with good music, food, dancing, weather, and people.  I was quite fortunate to have Juan as my personal “Lonely Planet.”  For those of you planning a trip to SXSW 2010, let Achtung Baby be your guide. Mr. Luna has lived in Austin for 10 years, SXSW veteran and blogger artist; he knows how to navigate the ever increasingly growing list of day parties, showcases, and after parties.  Thank you, Juan.

I was impressed with SXSW’s ability to attract such a diverse audience.  I met people from all ages, ethnicities, nationalities, and the number of free events certainly makes it possible to do SXSW on a budget.  Also, perhaps due in part to my jaded East Village expectations, I was surprised by how friendly everyone was (staff, musicians, and attendees).  Time between acts were ideal for finding for sharing information.  Rather than speaking to those around me in the audience, however, I twitted them my thoughts on SXSW. Talking is so SXSW 2007. Needless to say, a lot of people were talking about the semi-secret rumor that Kanye was going to play Fader Fort on Saturday night.  

“I’m too fat to be a hipster, skinny jeans don’t come in my size.” Someone said this to me while waiting on line at Fader Fort.  I was surprised by how many overweight people there were at SXSW.  In particular, the late 20’s to 40’s male contingent seem to be getting rounder in the mid section.  I know that this scene is characterized in part by its slacker style, and eating and drinking behavior at SXSW is hopefully not representative of peoples’ habits for the rest of the year, but this socially-conscious group might want to consider becoming more nutritionally conscious , as well.  SXSW help. The free food and drinks consisted mainly of BBQ, beer and hard alcohol.  Fine with me for spring break, but perhaps we could accompany the brisket with a few vegetables, or add some organic smoothies alongside those free mojito’s. From what I hear, Austin City Limits brings in a lot of local food vendors for their festival. It would be great if SXSW could do the same.  I am thinking of starting a healthyhipster website or organize morning wii fit class to help hipsters keep their blood pressure in check. 

Iron Chef Special: Brooklyn Vegan vs. Rachel Ray Showdown 2010? Rachel Ray clearly knew what she was doing at her party. She was able to organize an excellent group of bands and her jalapeno burgers and macaroni and cheese were a plenty.  Perhaps the veganless menu was not an accident.  I think Rachel Ray threw down the gauntlet for next year. BV, we’re waiting for your vegan BBQ next year. Besides, if Rachel Ray can sponsor a showcase, you can certainly organize a menu.  Personally, I’m hoping for a live competition with guest judges to see “whose cuisine reigns supreme.”

Some of the highlights:

Wednesday

Parenthetical Girls put on an impressive show in the back of the Beauty Bar.  I had liked some of their recorded stuff, but I was far more impressed after seeing them live.  It was obvious that they were having fun, feeding off each other, and the crowd responded in kind.

Thursday

Started the morning out at Filter Magazine BBQ. Very impressed with Zee Avi.  Originally from Kuala Lumpur, she was discovered on youtube under the name KokoKaina.  Her acoustic cover of Interpol’s Slow Hands was incredible. 

Later that afternoon, I had the chance to see Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head, a band’s whose name was curious enough for me to check out their myspace page before I even got to SXSW. Great high energy rhythm driven dance set.  Noticed lots of people dancing, despite the fact that it was a hot and sunny afternoon.  I know they played several other sets, including the much discussed Perez Hilton party. Wonder if they were able to create some buzz this week?

Speaking of Perez Hilton, he introduced Tori Amos at La Zona Rosa that night for the Columbia Music showcase.  Although my knowledge of her music before the show was somewhat limited, her performance was well crafted and mature.  She has an unbelievable ability to command the attention of her audience.  Between notes you could hear a pin drop.  While SXSW is somewhat dedicated to promoting new artists, I felt bad for the opening acts.  Juxtaposed next to Tori, they were totally eclipsed.  

Friday

Filter’s blogger brunch offered generous food and drinks, and had the chance to hear Anya Maria. Was a little disappointed that Bats for Lashes was only a listening party. Would have been great to hear their new stuff live.

From there we hunkered down at the Flamingo Cantina for the Under the Radar showcase:  Lonely Dears, Chairlift, Jason Lyttle, and Camera Obscura.  I recently saw Chairlift open for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, but was able to enjoy their music much more in this small space. I would say that this true for all of SXSW.

The highlight of the evening was Peter, Bjorn, and John at Fader Fort. We had been hearing mixed reviews on twitter about their performances earlier in the week. Maybe they needed to get warmed up, because their performance was really dynamic and they sounded cohesive.

[ Ed. Note: We were supposed to catch Iglu And Hartly but something had happened the night before ]

Saturday

A day of surprises. Surprised by how good the line-up was at Rachel Ray’s. Enjoyed watching the Semiprecious Weapons from NYC. Was starting to feel a bit fatigued that morning, but their mix of loud glam and punk rock did the trick. I am still reeling from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic  Zeroes.  Perhaps the most difficult (and fun) band to describe.  Someone in the audience said they reminded her of a mix between Arcade Fire and Polyphonic Spree (I agree).  I was surprised to hear that they were from LA, as they look like more like a band of nomads roaming through the desert.  They seem interested in cultivating this semi-spiritual image, as the photo of their tour bus has the name of their band in Hebrew-style font. Ironic? Hard to say.  What I can say is that whatever energy there are channeling makes for an incredible live show. All twelve members of the band were banging out songs, dancing in the audience with drums, and the male and female vocalists had such great interactions.  Check out the videos.  

Ra Ra Riot was next, and was also extremely impressed by the young band from Syracuse, NY. There is a  lot of buzz about them, and I concur.  Juan took some great videos. [ Ed. note: I love you Ra Ra Riot Cello chick! ]

We then walked over to the Filter party for some DJ sets. We were hoping to see Flostradamous and N.A.S.A.  The line-up was running late so we only had time to see Flostradamous. I said to Juan earlier in the week that I thought that DJ’s were going to be the highlight of SXSW this year—and they proved me right.  From Chicago, home of House Music, this DJ duo seamlessly mixed beats with crowd favorites (P.Y.T.) and new stuff, including their first single that’s about to be released.  Their set exploded when they invited the crowd onstage to dance under the hot Texas sun.  

Choose your own adventure. Stay for N.A.S.A. or head over to see Diplo at Fader? We decided on the latter for two reasons. 1) Saw Diplo two years ago at the Hiro Ballroom for the New Yorker Festival, and he was amazing 2) The local Austin paper confirmed Kanye at Fader , so we were expecting big lines. Next year I plan to clone myself, because I would have loved to see N.A.S.A and the crowd was severely lacking at Diplo. His set was largely Dancehall, and I don’t think the crowd got it.  Hope to see N.A.S.A. in NYC.

Regarding Kanye, I’ll let the videos speak for themselves. He exceeded my expectations, and it was great to see Badu and Common together on stage.  Highlights of the show for me were Common reassuring the press that things are cool between him and Badu, the Common, Badu, Kanye freestyle, and Kanye’s old stuff.  I give him credit for trying to promote his new artists, but was not impressed.  Aside from the spoken word artist who signed Love Lockdown, the other artists ranged from unoriginal, silly (see Mr. Hudson), to misogynistic.  I hypothesized that Kanye either consciously or unconsciously chooses artists who will never be as good as him.  He can feel good about promoting other artists with little risk of his artists becoming larger than him.  But to end on a positive note, Kanye’s showcase was labeled G.O.O.D. Music but, but as the closer to SXSW 2009, good seems way understated. 

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