“Disneyland for music fans,” I call it, which is why I’ve been faithfully attending South-by-Southwest since 2005. Mostly I’m a fan of rap, hip-hop, DJs, electro-pop and punk. And there’s lots of it at SXSW — along with just about everything else, from indie rock to classic rock to folk, soul, metal, country and more.
Husband Serg and I beeline to downtown, where the action happens. Thanks to our suitemate, Thuggy Fresh, we get into the VIP area of IODA’s party at Emo’s Annex, where we’re greeted with tall cans of ice cold Lone Star. Welcome to Austin!
SXSW is like a neighborhood party. So, of course, we run into our homies the Honor Roll Crew. Emcee/producer/remixer Trackademicks tells us he’s performing twice this year — at the Bay Area hip-hop showcase at Grüv (“with an umlaut”) and at the Fool’s Gold party, the label run by DJs A-Trak and Nick Catchdubs, who’ve just released Track’s debut single, “Enjoy What You Do.”
East Sixth Street is closed to traffic day and night during SXSW, so people and music and energy flow freely. We make our way through this madness to get to the Anticon showcase at Mohawk for the Restiform Bodies set. Buck 65 greets us outside, confirming he is the surprise guest of the evening. Before the RBs hit the stage I catch the last few minutes of my music production teacher Christopher Willits.
Then we run back past Sixth Street and up West Fifth to GigaCrate’s throwdown at Beso Cantina, with DJs Oro11 and Disco Shawn of Bersa Discos. Turns out it’s just the start of a wild DJ session with some of the best –- The Rub’s Ayres, Eleven and Cosmo Baker, with Bird Peterson, Tittsworth and more.
As 10 pm approaches, I stop dancing to grab a pedi-cab to Emo’s to get in line for the Circle Jerks. HR of Bad Brains is being interviewed a couple of feet to my left, and I try to keep my jaw from dropping. I miss a few songs (they’re short) before finally getting in the door, but once in get a great view of bass player Zander (co-star of my favorite movie, Repo Man) and catch the CJ classics, “Beverly Hills,” “All Wound Up,” “Junk Mail,” “World Up My Ass,” “Red Tape,” “Deny Everything,” “When the Shit Hits the Fan,” and “Wild In the Streets.”
I make it back to Beso Cantina for The Rub DJs, on my way to the Mohawk for Buck 65 and Themselves. But friend and music fest coordinator Matt Sonzala hijacks me to see Dirty South Joe and the Brick Bandits Crew at Speakeasy, before leading me to Prague for local dub band Grimy Styles. And Sun-Jue of SXSW gives me a ride to my hotel door.
Not bad for the first day.
Stand in line in the heat and dirt to get our Fader Fort wristbands. Every year, Levi’s and The Fader magazine put on the non-SXSW-official Fader Fort, which has a Levi’s shop, stage, DJ booth, a sea of corporate logos and free booze. And every year it gets bigger. But this year it’s effin’ huge!
We’re inside just in time for “alt-R&B” performer Janelle Monae. Preceded by fog machine effects, Janelle is a tiny powerhouse of soul, invoking James Brown, Josephine Baker, and the Metropolis robot, Maria.
The Devo enthusiasts — me included — head to the Convention Center for the band’s SXSW panel (and clean restrooms). It begins with the video for their new song, “Don’t Shoot, I’m a Man.” Hilarious presentation of a serious subject, in typical Devo fashion.
A lively discussion is led by KCRW’s Nic Harcourt, in which they detail the origins of Devo at Kent State in the early ’70s. Mark Mothersbaugh was an “early version of Shepard Fairley” [sic — the extra L is theirs]. The band wanted to make music that was “basic, primitive, and pure.” They also fondly remembered the cover of Popular Science magazine that introduced the video disc. Devo, they explain, was always intended to be sound AND vision, way before music videos.
In any case, these pioneers continue to be about irony, biting satire and a healthy disregard for authority and are back with a humanistic plea: “Don’t shoot, I’m a man/(Don’t tase me, bro).”
Evening brings us to the Rhymesayers label showcase at Habana’s backyard. I want to ask P.O.S. how his collaboration with The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn came about, as Finn has never, to my knowledge, been featured on another artist’s record. But I never get around to it.
We see Toki Wright, I Self Devine, Abstract Rude (joined by fellow Project Blowed alumni Busdriver and Myka Nyne), and Eyedea & Abilities. Thuggy Fresh and I head to Grüv to try to catch Trackademicks, as well as Yay Area star, Mistah F.A.B. Instead we see Zion I & the Grouch.
At this point my camera battery runs out. So no photos, unfortunately. Because Freeway (who calls the label “Rhymeslayers,” adding his own extra L) is clearly the star of this raptastic SXSW Day 2.
Friend of D/C, Kelly Watson at SPIN, blessed our crew with passes to their big annual daytime party at Stubb’s. The Crystal Method is DJing as we arrive, and we take our places up front. We begin to notice racks with a certain band’s logo on them, confirming rumors that Metallica will be playing there later that night.
The ATL’s Black Lips play, and their drummer is WAILING. And the crowd is wil’ing. Audrey and I get the first beer shower of the day. Next is Glasvegas, from – yep – Glasgow. Lead singer James Allan has a little Joe Strummer in him, I think. More beer splashing, but we stay put for Echo & the Bunnymen, who are introduced by Perry Farrell. It’s 90 degrees, and a too-cool Ian McCulloch walks out in a hoodie AND a wool coat. They start with “Rescue,” and I’m taken 20 — geez, almost 30 — years back, brooding in all black, in the Austin sun. They go on to play “Crocodiles,” “Killing Moon,” “The Back of Love” and more. We’re jumping all the way through to the last, “Lips Like Sugar.”
That night, AM Only is hosting a ridiculously great lineup of DJs at the Beauty Bar, both inside and out on the patio, where I get beer showered again (thanks, DJ Joe Bank$).
Eugene Mirman certainly does his part to “Keep Austin Weird,” as the slogan goes. And I’m a big fan. So comedy at Esther’s Follies was a priority. We catch Eugene, as well as Hannibal Buress and Matt Braunger. All hilarious. Thuggy gets a picture with Janeane Garofalo by the bar.
Then it’s on to Smokin’ Music. This is the part where I miss the Devo concert — but it’s OK. Because I also realize a 30-year dream of seeing legendary glam rockers the New York Dolls. And they do not disappoint. The first song is a new one, “‘Cause I Sez So,” but we all sing along. David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain still got it. ‘Cause I Sez So is their new album, and it’s produced by Todd Rundgren, who produced the debut, New York Dolls, in 1973.
Thuggy and I spend the afternoon west of Congress (the divide between East and West numbered streets), at Momo’s, where we catch FatLip DJing, as well as at Filter magazine’s party at the Cedar Street Courtyard, where we wait as N.A.S.A. exceeds their set time before the anxiously awaited Baltimore rapper Rye Rye appears with her DJ and dancers.
They tear it up, making up for lost time. “Hardcore Girls” is my jam.
We rejoin the crew at the Fader Fort. Rick Ross was due at 6, but doesn’t show. I hear Bun B (new album, UGK 4 Life) and Cory Mo on stage doing “Big Pimpin’.” Jadakiss follows, and an unscheduled appearance by Kanye West is rumored. The crowd swells, along with the porta potty lines, so Diane and I escape to the Scoot Inn, where the Strange Famous showcase has just begun. We enjoy sets by DJ Jester the Filipino Fist, Lederhosen Lucil (“the Pippi Longstocking of rap”), Jared Paul, Cecil Otter, Prolyphic and my old buddy 2Mex.
At Emo’s for Trail of Dead, we arrive to see French electro pop singer Yelle. Despite a rise to fame via MySpace, she is great. Trail of Dead sets up two drum kits, and I get very excited, but then my camera dies again. To add to my disappointment, the band seems a bit off. So I leave for A Baltimore Love Thing at Friends. DJ Class is killing it, and Emynd & Bo Bliz are chillin’.
I find out that Montreal sound system Megasoid and its XLR8R showcase has been moved to midnight and get to Speakeasy just in time. It’s Megasoid’s Speakerbruiser holding his own on PA (Where is Hadji? With Wolf Parade?), with 215: The Freshest Kids, Buddy Leroy and Cerebral Vortex, on microphone duty.
By one am, my contact lenses have had just about enough dust, fake fog, wind, smoke and flashing lights, and I walk back to our hotel with sunglasses on, looking forward to concluding the 2009 music fest lying in the grass at the Austin edition of Sabbath In The Park (where we blast Sabbath and drink beer — it’s an event) on Sunday.