SXSW 2015 - Monday and Tuesday - Austin, Texas
South By South West is an industry-based music conference/festival located in Austin, Texas. An average of 2500 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.
As the music side of the festival doesn't start properly until the Wednesday, my tenth year at SX began with a lunchtime trip to Spotify House. The yearly venue had opened a day earlier, catering for Film and Interactive SXSW attendees and offered decent music and a free bar. The performances were split over two stages and I took in sets from MLKMN And El Dusty, Speedy Ortiz, The Vaccines and Buraka Som Sistema. The dance act from Portugal brought my first SX fun, as they were a really energetic outfit, helping to put my jet lag to the back of my mind during their time onstage.
My final Spotify set came from Run The Jewels, the rap duo featuring El-P and Killer Mike. I'm not a great fan of the genre but always take in a few shows in Austin as they're usually exciting affairs, with RTJ's stint being no exception! Their Monday appearance was pretty chaotic as a whole, but things really escalated when a stage invader tried to grab a few minutes of fame.
I initially thought that it was a 'special guest' showing up, but Mike had a look of confusion on his face, with things turning ugly in seconds as a violent tussle ensued, with the intruder falling of the stage and Mike falling on the ground, causing chaos right in front of me. As a seasoned photographer I should have kept shooting during the ongoing melee, but I was more concerned with my gear in my camera bag, so legged it to a safer position. By this time security had got involved, with the culprit not backing down until a punch knocked him on the ground. Things got ugly after that, with several crowd members deciding to have a go too, with the invader looking confused and staggering off in the distance after his beat down. The gig carried on after that but I decided to call it a day at Spotify, showing up again later in the week.
MLKMN And El Dusty
Buraka Som Sistema
Run The Jewels
With no official SXSW credentials till the following day it's sometimes hard to secure your entertainment on a Monday evening. I was lucky last year as I ended up with a photo pit pass for an event, but 2015 saw me queueing up for two and a half hours to enter a party at Red 7 - and that wasn't even my first choice! Luckily I had some great local company in the queue, so I was kept occupied during my long wait.
I entered the venue just in time to catch noisy Canadians Metz doing their thing, with singer Alex Edkins rolling about the floor and pummelling his guitar, sweating buckets in the process.
My final act for Monday was Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett. I had high hopes for her set but left disappointed, especially as the lights sucked to high heaven! That being said, she seemed to be going down a storm with the rest of the audience.
My Tuesday band watching started with trip to Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop for a Rolling Stone showcase, featuring Best Coast, headliners TV On The Radio and Alex Winston, with the US singer being my first real surprise of the festival.
I'd taken in Alex's King Con album a couple of years ago but it hadn't really made an impression, so was completely bowled over when she pulled a highly energetic set out the bag, with the songs to match. I've checked out a couple of recent tracks from the singer since SX ('Careless' and 'We Got Nothing') and will be keeping an eye on her future work.
TV On The Radio
Official showcases start on a Tuesday evening, but it's only a fraction of what's available from the following day onwards, so venues tend to be on the full side.I didn't really have a plan for the night, so popped into The Parish to see what was happening there, finding it fairly quiet and blessed with amazing lights for a set from Austin's Gina Chavez. The singer's stint included songs from current album Up Rooted, with the set featuring Latin rhythms, bossa nova beats and retro pop tracks, that had several people dancing down the front. It was a very entertaining performance, so hopefully our paths will cross again at a future SX.
After Gina's I headed round the corner to Latitude 30, hoping to take in Kate Tempest's first London show. Normally the venue is fairly easy to enter, even though it's Barfly size and there's very rarely a queue when you have a music badge. As there were less places offering up showcases there was a huge line to get in, with Kate's set being almost finished by the time I neared the door. Luckily two lovely ladies let me queue jump and I managed to squeeze my way to the front to shoot the poet's last couple of songs, really appreciating what I heard in the process.
My last performance of the evening was the only one I'd planned to see. It may only be March but I can guarantee Natalie Prass's self titled debut will end up as one of my top albums of the year. I had the opportunity to see her at The Lexington in London around the time of the release but decide to wait, as I knew the album would mean more to me live a month or two down the line. This ended up the right move as Natalie and her band (with one member only having joined the day before) delivered an exquisite performance in a tiny cramped venue, showcasing many of the tracks from her album, including a heart-wrenching 'It Is You', with the singer going walkabout during the rendition. Although I thought it was a fantastic set, Natalie and her band may remember it for the wrong reasons, as they had to perform minus the organ that's a fairly integral part of many of their songs due to technical issues. As great as it was, I vowed to see Natalie and her boys again, the way they wanted themselves to be heard.