The Best Stuff We Saw, Heard And Ate At SXSW On Friday
Originally published on Slant.
SXSW burnout is real.
Despite a mellower end to Thursday night, I woke up in my Austin Airbnb bed dragging and longing for the simple comforts of home. SXSW is one long exercise in perpetual sensory overload. To be stimulated by so many different energies and experiences is not only physically exhausting, but mentally taxing, with your brain in a constant state of adjustment. What just happened, what's happening, and what's about to happen coalesce into one overflowing stream of consciousness that wears you out.
But, like most things, you can benefit immensely at SXSW from a little perspective and a lot of coffee.
I had my first negative experience with Uber en route to meeting up with The Wild Feathers. Apparently, there's been a huge influx of drivers, like the one I had the other night, who are from out of town and trying to cash in the high volume of people in need of convenient rides. With modern technology, that shouldn't really matter.
But when modern technology fails you, like when a GPS just refuses to work, and your Uber driver turns around a stoplight to ask you to direct him to the Austin Convention Center, perhaps one of the highest traffic areas in Austin during SXSW, you start have second thoughts about drinking the sharing economy Kool-Aid. I don't have any photos of this part of the story, but this is an accurate depiction of my brain during this episode:
But I digress.
I made it, and although I was a few minutes late, the guys in The Wild Feathers were gracious and understanding. We chatted for a bit about their fantastic new record, Lonely Is A Lifetime, and what it's like to be constantly on the road. Laid back and friendly, The Wild Feathers are living proof that you can make layered, powerful rock 'n' roll without having to be total dicks.
After that, I met up with Matt and Kirty from Fast Romantics. The Canadian band initially drew me in with their infectiously catchy song "Julia," but after a few (okay, a lot of) listens to the rest of their catalogue, I was hooked.
Matt and Kirty struck me as two of the most positive people I'd met all week. Cynicism and ego abounds in the music industry, and even bands who are super stoked to be doing what they do love to complain, especially when someone gives them the opportunity to in an interview. In my conversation with Fast Romantics (which will be up on Slant, stay tuned), their sincerity and optimism was disarming.
They're just so legitimately stoked that this is their jobs, and they seem to be in it for all the right reasons. They're holding off on a release date for their upcoming record simply because they're in the midst of a creative hot streak. You need to keep on eye on whatever this band's doing and whatever they're about to do.
And this is what I mean when I talk about perspective. Friday was the day I truly came to terms with the hustle of SXSW, and how the lens you choose to view that hustle affects everything: your psyche, your goals, the way that you communicate with other people.
Heading into Friday, the hustle surrounding the festival felt like too much for me. Everyone at SXSW is selling something, and I just felt completely drained by that. Getting to see the sheer volume of strivers up close and personal can lead your mind to go to darker places. You think about how many of these bands won't make it, or how many of these bands are struggling to pay bills, or how many of these bands have been dreaming of success that no matter how deserved, for one reason or another, might remain forever elusive.
But it's all about attitude. Talking with The Wild Feathers and Fast Romantics, I had a total shift in my thinking: who cares about all the intangibles, the things you can't control? The artists I've been most impressed with this week seem to have a strong sense of agency over their own lives and careers. If things happen, it's because they're doing everything they can to make them happen. That something like SXSW even exists, that this many people are as stoked by music as me, gave me an sense of kinship with the rest of the festival-goers I hadn't realized until Friday.
Those two conversations set the tone for the rest of the day.
I was treated to a rocking outdoor set by The Big Pink, whose slick swagger and loud, guitar-driven sound served as a catalyst for the day-drinkers in attendance to have "just one more" at the bar. While there were some sound issues (which is typical at SXSW since bands barely soundcheck or don't soundcheck at all), the set pumped me up, building on the optimistic vibes provided by the earlier part of the day.
As I was leaving, I heard some familiar melodies floating out of the Roadies House. Ra Ra Riot! This was a band I had really wanted to catch in Austin, but I thought I'd missed my chance. I've loved the band since high school, and not only was the set a great excuse to sing along to favorites like "Can You Tell" and "Too Dramatic," but a chance to catch live versions of songs off their excellent new record Need Your Light.
After Ra Ra Riot, I ventured east to catch Declan McKenna at Empire Control Room. I'd caught McKenna at Mohawk the first night we got into Austin, but I wasn't familiar with his music then. That night, I pledged I would do my best to catch him again if I had the opportunity. Lo and behold, I did Friday. A one-man band, with loops and pedals and an electric guitar, the young McKenna is a waifish dude with a huge sound. To think that he's really just getting started is all the more impressive, and his potential seems boundless.
I made a pit-stop en route to my next show to score some uh-may-zeeng chicken 'n' waffle sliders. Feast your eyes on this intimate, semi-NSFW image. Also, I ate lettuce today, so I'm okay, don't worry about me.
Now that my belly was happy, it was back to pure tune-age.
Anderson .Paak is an artist I've heard people talking about all week, and after rave reviews from my friend Chris, I made it a point to get to Hype Hotel and catch him live. .Paak, who raps, sings, and plays the drums (sometimes all in the same song) and puts on one HECK of a live show. In terms of pure spectacle, .Paak takes the cake for SXSW this year. The crowd was so fired up and .Paak seemed to be performing at the height of his powers (and if he wasn't, it's scary what that height could be).
I could've called it a night right then and there and been happy. But Hype Hotel still had one artist left, the mask-clad SBTRKT on the decks. Capitalizing on all the energy elevated from Anderson .Paak's set, SBTRKT spun a set of some of his classics, like "Wildfire," as well as popular selections by artists like Desiigner, Kendrick Lamar, and Hudson Mohawke.
Hype Hotel, INDEED! (sorry, I had to...)
Cover photo: Spencer Dukoff