SXSW 2012 - Sunday To Tuesday - Austin, Texas
South By South West is an industry based music conference / festival located in Austin, Texas. An average of 2000 bands play over a period of five days so it's a great opportunity to watch the latest "up and coming" acts from around the world alongside more established bands playing slightly more intimate venues than they are used to.
This was my seventh trip to to the city and I pitched up on the Sunday evening around 7pm. I arrived on the Wednesday for my first SXSW but I'd been edging my way back to the beginning of the week in the years that followed, with 2012 my first Sunday arrival. I had intended to stay in for the evening to recharge my batteries after a lengthy flight but it was niggling me that a couple of acts I liked were playing parties as part of the Interactive Festival that runs slightly earlier than the music event, so I took the plunge and jumped on the official shuttle bus that took me from my hotel on the outskirts to downtown Austin.
New York band Fun released their sophomore album Some Nights Stateside a month ago and it's my favourite release of the year so far. The US act topped the Billboard Hot 100 Chart with their single from the collection 'We Are Young', so it was a real coup to blag my way in to catch them in a venue less than half the size of London's Barfly. The band were playing as part of the Bing / Cheezeburger "Keep Calm And Internet" party and had several devoted fans eager to see them down the front.
This was my first chance of viewing the band live and I enjoyed what I saw, especially ther rendition of 'Carry On' but I doubt it was a memorable show for the band and they didn't really blow me away. I had planned on seeing them at least once more during the week but I put the idea on the back burner after their intimate performance; although it was a good gig it wasn't that special.
The SXSW Music event doesn't officially start until the Tuesday of the Festival so there wasn't a huge amount on offer music wise on the Monday. I had noticed that online music streamers Spotify were running an afternoon venue starting that lunchtime, so made my way out to the suburbs, where I encountered a house painted a lovely Spotify green!
Spotify House was a decent place to hang out and grab a free beer and a burger but it was pretty hopeless for musical entertainment!
M Ward was the first performer at the event. The singer isn't a great fan of photographers and I wasn't really surprised when I was told there was no photography allowed but soon realised why when he started his short three song indoor set, as the singer was performing completely acoustically and a camera shutter sound would have been extremely distracting. His performance would have been a treat for fans but anyone past the third row would have struggled to hear what he was singing as his voice projection wasn't up to much.
The set was captured on video and there were directional mics picking up sound so it would be great online but it was a bit of a let down (as were all the Spotify live stints throughout the week) watching the set live.
I decided to have a wander on the Monday evening just to see what was going on, popping into two venues during the night, the first Bandpage HQ, where I encountered a handful of acts including Chicago based indie-electronica band Gemini Club.
The venue was an odd one with numeorus people crashed out on beanbags but the band did their best to gee up the audience and succeeded about halfway through their set, where they had several people really going for it for a couple of tracks. Sadly the crowd lost interest a bit later and the set slightly fizzled out towards the end.
My second venue of the evening was Pure Volume House. I'd attended a few gigs there in 2011 but the Club had changed venues so I was eager to check out the new location's set up as I was shooting a couple of shows there later in the week.
I killed a couple of hours watching a few sets, with the highlight the bluesy ZZ Ward. I really wanted to stay for Foxy Shazam's set at 2.15am (it's a late one in Austin!) but I had to grab my last shuttle bus, so vowed to watch them later in the week.
One of the main venues for afternoon parties is the Fader Fort (this year presented by Converse). Wristband pickups for the venue started on the Tuesday so I headed out to pick up my press pass, only to find that press weren't getting dealt with till the following day, when the party's gigs started. Luckily Spotify House is almost adjacent to the venue so I cut down a few blocks just to see what was on offer there.
I hung around for short sets from Yellow Ostrich and Pond but didn't stay for the third band on the bill, preferring to head back to my hotel to get a bit of energy back for the evening's festivities.
My first 'Big' act of the week was Kasabian. The band were playing Stubbs (one of the larger venues used during SX) alongside M Ward and Miike Snow as part of a party to mark the end of the Interactive part of SXSW.
I'm not a big fan of Stubbs as the photo pit gets really rammed but it wasn't terrible for Kasabian so I hung around for a couple of songs after I came out the pit then headed off to Latitude 30.
I was going to the venue to watch a bit of Frank Turner's set. I almost popped into Buffalo Billiards on the way but as luck would have it I decided just to go to Latitude 30 as I was able to see a storming set from Future Of The Left.
I'd last encountered the Welsh Rockers back in 2009 and they were rowdy buggers but their set didn't pull me in. They've had a line up chance since then with Andy, Jack and Jimmy welcoming bass player and vocalist Julia Ruzicka to the fold in 2010. Although I'm no expert it seems to have changed their sound somewhat as the male / female vocal set up has altered their dynamics, making them a far more interesting prospect. The band's Latitude 30 set really blew me away and was the first show of this year's SX that really made an impression!
Punk troubadour Frank Turner was also on great form. The singer had a horde of fans singing along to every word and I felt a bit guilty taking up a prime spot down the front when I wasn't as au fait with his material so called it a day after a half dozen songs, leaving the crammed venue to get my shuttle bus home.
The shuttle bus pick up is at Austin's Convention Centre, a buidling that is the main hub for SXSW, with numerous panels taking place throughout the day. It's also directly across the road from Pure Volume House and the lure of the venue's free alcohol dragged me in for a beer and one last band - LA's Harriet, ending my evening on a decent note.