The one big drawback of SXSW is that you could potentially wait in a line for three or more hours for a really hyped event, think you’re going to get in, and then get royally effed over and left in the cold.
This is what happened to me on my last day of SXSW 2016 as I got to the Bud Light Factory at Brazo’s extremely early in an effort to see The Roots and Big Grams at their famed Jam Sessions. Security told people doors would open at 8 PM. I was in the first 75 people in the wristband line, there wasn’t a long line of badge holders or VIPs but 8 PM came and went. Then 9 PM came and went and the VIP and badge holder lines were massive. I ended up waiting and waiting just to not make it in. It was the one mistake I made all week and it ended up costing me the chance to see some dope bands during that time. Luckily, SXSW always allows you a chance to redeem yourself and I ended up seeing some dope bands anyways.
The day started well before the evening’s controversy. I went over to Barracuda for the Do512 showcase to catch a few sets. First up was Austin-based two-piece Diet Cig, who I had been meaning to check out all week and finally got the chance. Self-described as “slop-pop,” this band would fit right into that Burger Records sound that LA hipster kids love. They had a ton of energy and closed with the song “Harvard,” that first brought my attention to the band. They remind me of very early Blink-182, which is rad.
I caught a bit of British dark synthpop group HAELOS for the second time during the week. This time they were playing indoors which I think is a little more suitable for their sound. The contrast in vocals from Arthur Delaney and Lotti Benardout was mesmerizing.
Next I caught a few minutes of Nashville band Diarrhea Planet, which was entertaining. I only caught a few songs before heading to the Pandora Discovery Den to catch the end of Bleached. It was the third time I saw the Los Angeles band during SXSW — a case of them just always being in the right place at the right time for me to check them out. I won’t complain, they put on a really good show and are fun to rock out to.
Pandora Discovery Den had some serious sound issues on the final day, which hindered both of the sets I saw there on Saturday.
Up next, Spanish lo-fi garage rockers HINDS played their 17th and final show of SXSW. Singer/guitarist Carlotta Cosials was clearly worn down by the week and her voice was lost, but she didn’t let that keep her from delivering a killer highly charismatic performance that the band has become known for. Just like with Bleached, the guitars kept cutting out.
Carlotta was a little concerned how her voice was being received before closing their set. “So many YouTube videos we gonna regret, but we will still do it,” Cosials said in her adorable broken English. “Fuck YouTube!”
While I was waiting in line for The Roots like an idiot, our photographer Maggie Boyd went to the Perez Hilton showcase and caught some shots of some pretty killer acts. Check out POWERS, Coast Modern, Peelander Z, Alex Newell, Daya, Kat Dahlia and Grace Mitchell.
I went over to Latitude 30 for the British Music Embassy showcase. First I caught singer-songwriter Barns Courtney whom I had heard great things about. He lived up to the hype with a killer set.
Up next was my favorite discovery of SXSW 2016, and it came right near the end. If you’re a fan of LCD Soundsystem or Hot Chip, you must check out Formation. Holy shit, these guys rock. Their brand of electro-rock is right in line with those other major acts I mentioned. I’m very hopeful we see them in Los Angeles soon, they’re an act to keep an eye on for sure.
The last act I saw of the weekend was another one I didn’t know and really enjoyed called Party Baby. They had this ’90s alt-rock mixed with punk sound: think Saves the Day meets Spacehog.
Overall at SXSW I took in 40 sets, which is a lower number than I actually anticipated. Here’s my five favorite sets of the entire week in no particular order:
Julien Baker, Wednesday at Central Presbyterrian: Julien Baker disarmed an entire church, just her and a guitar. Her heartwrenching ballads left the crowd stunned and everyone gave a standing ovation after she finished at 12:30 at night. Seeing her perform inside a church was a real treat and what SXSW is all about.
Lucius, Monday at Spotify House: Not quite officially part of SXSW music week, which started Tuesday, Lucius was the shining star of Monday’s slate. They performed songs from their new album Good Grief and they all sounded excellent. Hearing their perfect harmonies was an incredible experience and my new favorite song after SXSW is “Gone Insane,” you must check it out.
DMA’s, Thursday at The Parish: It was a hard decision to leave The Kills’ set early in order to catch all of the set from these rocking Aussies, but once they kicked into set-opener “Timeless,” I knew I made the right choice. Seeing these guys up close in a small venue just totally destroy at 1 AM was an awesome addition to my SXSW. These guys are going to blow up real fast.
CHVRCHES, Friday at Stubb’s: It was looking a lot like I was gonna have to miss this set in order to make it to Willie Nelson’s ranch on time for his yearly Luck Reunion, but a friend came through in the clutch with a ride so I didn’t have to hop on the last shuttle out of downtown. I got a spot right up near the front and though Deftones put on a killer show right beforehand, CHVRCHES rose up to the occasion and delivered a memorable performance that had everyone moving.
Anderson .Paak, Wednesday at Stubb’s: After seeing him perform live, I have no doubt in my mind that this SoCal rapper is going to blow up this year. He sounds just as good live as he does on record, which is saying a lot because his new record Malibu is an early favorite of 2016. Seeing him jump behind the drum kit at times while simultaneously rapping is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. He’s got a great vibe to him and his live band is killer.
Best discoveries of SXSW: I stumbled across some pretty dope bands I was previously not too familiar with. Dreamers has a very Strokes-y vibe. Formation and Party Baby were other favorites I was previously very unfamiliar with.
SXSW 2016 was a whirlwind of magic and music and an experience I will never forget. I am still processing the fact that I survived six days of it and it really makes me feel like I’m fully ready for a monster festival season. SXSW has got me prepared.
Words: Mark E. Ortega
Photography: Maggie Boyd