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Over the course of the years, one of Austin’s most revered annual music experiences has turned itself into quite the beast. The conference inside Austin’s Convention Center alone provides all the accolades for creative minded folks to mingle, learn, explore and prosper. Though the interactive portion of the conference does draw a larger following than ever before, the music side takes things to another level. Beyond the buzz of what happens within the hub of the convention center are slews of musical showcases all over Austin. SXSW returns this year with a jampacked lineup of thousands of musical artists from around the world pounding the pavement with their fresh perspectives. Without a doubt, the best part of SXSW is the promise of attending almost any related showcase and being guaranteed a pass to noteworthy music discovery.
It is a toasty day here in Austin as we embark on our first day at the festival. Arguably some of the best weather SXSW has seen in years allows for the perfect flow between events and ability to attend a plethora of them. The journey begins at Empire Control Room and Garage – home to Mazda Studio all week. With an indoor stage, outdoor stage, information panels and even a virtual reality experience, this venue provides especially intriguing elements of entertainment. The best feature, however, is the wide range of artists slated to play showcases at the venue. The first catch of the day is Jamila Woods at the outdoor stage. Hailing from Chicago, the funky soul songstress captivates a lightly filled crowd. Her ability to pepper in sampling covers of other artists like The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and Destiny’s Child “Say My Name” is a fascinating way to catch the listeners’ attention by playing something familiar and keep them around to listen for more from her. Woods is a force to be reckoned with. Her angelic voice rivaling that of a younger Erykah Badu backed by a full band brings life into the space. It is a breath of fresh air to see her bring elements of established music into her forum as she expands on what is already great and makes it into something new. She is undeniably an artist to watch.
One thing about the lineup here at Mazda is its diversity, which gives the ultimate well-rounded music experience. One set can be a rock band and the next can be a rapper. Sticking around for the next set outside to catch The New Pornographers’ first set of the day is worth it for the entertainment that ensues. Half the fun comes from the people watching, due to the band’s ability to appeal to all walks of life at any age. The youngest of the young and some of their elders congregate in the outdoor patio for the show. The Pornographer’s easy going indie rock sound appeals more to the older crowd – a point that is made offensively clear when a millennial in the audience comments on the unfamiliar music as something that “you would hear in a soccer dad’s car.” Unfortunately, not all battles can be won, but the Canadian supergroup does put up a good fight. Half the work is done for them by their promo team. In support of their new music, a dipped frozen banana bar is open for consumption before their set. Each flavor on the menu corresponds to a song on the album. The banana dessert is the perfect way to cool off after their set and be reminded that there is more to The New Pornographers story.
Down the street and around the corner, we visit the Eventbrite showcase at Mohawk just in time to see a bit of Rocket from the Crypt’s set. Clad in matching black outfits with head to toe silver embellishments, the rock and roll dad band hits hard, putting a rather rough cap on our day event experiences. The grit of guitar chords blairing through the outdoor space enlivens every onlooker. It is exciting to see that after all these years, they still have so much energy and stage presence. Their willingness to engage with the audience and initiate calls and returns with their music brings everyone into the experience.
While some events thrive with such vibrant acts lined up, others slump or completely move off the grid this year. Spotify completely closes off its availability to the public and opts for private music sessions to be recorded and viewed or heard via the app. Similarly, the famed Hype Hotel pulls out of the running and does not return for a showcase this year. The days of bigger is better are over. Fader Fort has been on a serious diet this year as well and has reduced its accommodations from the formerly available lot on E. 5th to a new space on 6th. What a difference a more intimate space can make on an event. Rather than having to battle the usual four hour line to get inside the event, a small line of twenty or so people waits patiently in line to get in to the venue. Once inside, they are welcomed with open arms and open bar to freely roam about. In true Fader Fort fashion, the stage and main event takes place outside, the ideal spot to witness the last set of the day as the sun goes down. Now at maximum capacity, the crowd turns into a frenzy upon the arrival of fresh and popular Lil Yachty. The nineteen year old rapper slays with his catchy hooks and danceable beats. If people have not worked up enough of a sweat simply by dancing, Lil Yachty and his entourage on stage easily fix the problem dousing the audience with water every chance they get. Their rowdy moments perpetuate an ongoing dance party that seems like it will never end.
The best way to wrap up the day is at Mohawk’s House of Vans event with special guest At the Drive In. Their stamp on the post-hardcore/emo genre map is like the homing beacon for rock music done right. Since their return to the scene in 2012, they have been widely received with open arms from fans who act like spouses waiting for their significant others to come home from the war. The surprise announcement this morning of ATDI’s special appearance at House of Vans ultimately is the day’s greatest game-changer. For anyone who has heard their music before, a rather thrashy live performance can be expected. Singer and frontman Cedric Bixler Zavala puts on quite the show with crazy high kicks, mic stand tossing and other wild stage antics. He even engages in his own silly stage banter between songs talking about everything from being “that asshole” who buys sugar-free licorice from Whole Foods to thanking God and everyone he can think of for getting him and the band to where they are now. All in all, their fast paced energy put the best cap on the night. Check out their setlist below for more information. Be sure to stay tuned to music.mxdwn.com/ for more of our coverage of SXSW 2017 the rest of the week.
At the Drive In setlist
Pattern Against User
Governed By Contagions
Invalid Litter Dept.
One Armed Scissor