Born and raised in Los Angeles, I’m a “rare breed” when you consider that the overwhelming majority of denizens in this city come from places all across the nation and around the world. So many people I’ve come to know over the past few years were born and raised elsewhere, even those who write for this very blog, which bears the Los Angeles name, and I can’t deny that it’s part of the reason I love this city so much; it’s a melting pot of culture that’s undefinable and only distinguished by how undistinguishable it really is.
Where am I going with this? Well, when I first started writing for this Los Angeles music blog, I never in my life thought I would receive the kind of perks that I do, and for those I am forever grateful. The most recent perk — the chance to attend the 2013 South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas — was far beyond anything I could have expected. Of course, I quickly lit up at the opportunity, not realizing what I had gotten myself into, and at my first real music festival, I found myself, once again, in a sea of thousands from places far away and beyond.
All photos by David Fisch
Upon finding out that I was attending SXSW, I immediately downloaded the official festival app on my phone and drew up a schedule, discovering closer and closer to the week’s event that I probably wouldn’t get to even half of the acts I planned for (or come close to catching a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse). But you know what? For the amount of tips and tricks I got from those that had attended the festival before, as a first timer, I had no expectations. I was going to go to SXSW and simply enjoy the experience of discovering bands by just walking down the street. I was happy-go-lucky in that regard.
I was more than anxious on the morning of my flight to Austin, though. Understand that not only would this be my first official music festival, but it would also be my first time flying away from home alone. I had worries that I’d be lost, unable to find footing and feeling deserted even within the massive crowds and long lines. The moment my plane touched down in Texas, my discovery of flat lands and no hills initially (and in hindsight, stupidly) confirmed my worries, but soon after I stepped out of my van at the Austin Convention Center and walked down to the famed 6th Street, I would see how insurmountably naive and wrong I was.
3/12: The First Night @ Mohawk
It was a short walk from the Convention Center to 6th Street, and I had already met first-timers to SXSW like myself. The street was entirely closed off to make way for what I would have considered the Times Square of Austin, and music was everywhere. The thick scent of tobacco smoke filled the air, and colorful attire that really kept true to the city’s slogan of “Keep Austin Weird” abounded.
Not knowing what to do with myself since 6th Street was a bit of a sensory overload, I hopped on over to the Mohawk where I had heard Pitchfork was putting on a couple of showcases for the venue’s indoor and outdoor stages. Again, I came to SXSW with no expectations, and therefore had no certainty of getting into any of these showcases, let alone getting a good view of each artist. Luckily, I managed to get into both, and it clearly made for a great first impression.
Torres @ Mohawk Indoor
Torres didn’t kick off the indoor showcase, but I caught them just starting up their set, and I can officially say they were the first band I saw at SXSW. With a cowgirl hat on her head and an acoustic guitar in hand, Mackenzie Scott’s raw and reflexive vocals sunk well into the band’s set, with songs like “When Winter’s Over” and “Jealousy and I” sounding well-mixed and well-balanced. The band writes very grounded songs, and their performance and set was as such.
Blue Hawaii @ Mohawk Indoor
After Torres came Blue Hawaii, an electronic male-female duo from Montreal that I had heard much about before arriving at SXSW. While they had acknowledged some slight technical difficulties, the duo performed just as they had promised, starting off slow and then finishing with a greater tempo. The vocals were ethereal and siren-like in the vein of Grimes or Purity Ring, but blended with an interesting set of looping samples. Their performance made for a really slow burn but fun set, progressively getting faster and more intense to the point that you couldn’t help but move your body.
Since I had heard — based on constant sound-checks — that some bands’ set times could potentially be delayed, I decided to head right next door to the much larger Outdoor stage, where Cloud Nothings were expected to play later on. Having reviewed their 2012 album, Attack On Memory, and loving it, I wanted to be prepared for their set by diving head first into the punk-filled chaos.
DIIV @ Mohawk Outdoor
For some weird reason, I didn’t know that DIIV would be performing, even though they were clearly on the set list in the photo you see above. It might’ve been the Austin Amber Ale that caused my memory to falter, but I was pleasantly surprised to see them perform. I was a bit iffy on their debut studio release, Oshin, but hearing them live was actually very, very enjoyable. They revealed a new song called “Dust,” which was a lot more lyric-driven and featured tighter production, and I was really impressed with it. I can only hope to hear similar sounds on their next studio release.
Cloud Nothings @ Mohawk Outdoor
After three great surprises, I thought my SXSW was already going rather swimmingly when Cloud Nothings capped it off with a performance I could have only dreamed of. Everything felt right about it. Frontman Dylan Baldi was in his element on every track. He thrashed away at his guitar like no other during “Separation” and “Wasted Days” — tracks that fully capitalized on the band’s post-hardcore sound — and, without stopping between songs, he made sure that most everyone in the crowd was moshing by the time the band got around to “Our Plans.” A noisier set of tracks were also included in the set, offering a slight hint at material that could possibly be on Cloud Nothings’ next album, which is set to be out by the end of this year.
I can’t remember why I didn’t stay for Local Natives or John Talabot, but Cloud Nothings was perhaps the single greatest way to close out my first day at SXSW. I honestly didn’t think the other four days of the festival could top it…