SXSW Day One - A Review In Pictures - Austin Texas
South By South West is an industry based Music Conference / Festival located in Austin Texas. An average of 1,500 bands play over a period of four 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.
I started my 2009 SXSW adventure the previous evening at the Latitude 30 venue as the British Music Embassy were holding an event for Music earlybirds and attendees of the SXSW Interactive Festival featuring a few bands, including Scottish twins The Proclaimers. It was an enjoyable showcase which got me in great spirits for my SXSW Wednesday.
This was my fourth SXSW in a row so I knew most of the 70 odd official venues and and host of unofficial ones too but I had never ventured as far along East 6th Street on my previous trips. The majority of SXSW action takes place in venues around 6th street. Unlike normal festivals band perform in the numerous bars and clubs in the area. Unfortunately my first port of call was at Ms Bea's Patio to grab a few shots of Micachu And The Shapes, a fair walk in the sweltering heat.
Before Micachu took to the outside stage I got to sample the delights of Minnesota's Anni Rossi. Anni sings while playing viola, performing with a drummer and was a delight to watch. It was a fairly peaceful way to the start the day but it was rudely interrupted when the Bar's owner started shouting at someone trying to park in his yard! It didn't take long for things to become calmer, with the afternoon sun blazing down while Anni delivered a beautiful rendition of her track "Wheelpusher".
I'm not a big fan of Micachu's album "Jewellery" as it's a bit too experimental for my pop lovin' ears! However I was curious to see what she was up to and she had gathered a decent crowd to watch her set.
Ms Bea's Patio was actually set up with two stages. A larger covered stage for the bigger bands and a smaller uncovered space for the acts with fewer members. Unfortunately Micachu and her gang were performing on the uncovered stage and the extreme heat was getting to them. They still delivered a passionate performance but I left them after a handful of songs, traipsing back to the main part of 6th Street to see what else was on offer and badly in need of a cold beer, ending up at Maggie Mae's.
Maggie Mae's is a three stage venue, usually drawing large crowds for performances. I was waiting for a set beginning in about an hour so wandered the venue to see who was playing in the interim. I stumbled over two girls rocking out, with the frontwoman producing guitar licks similar in style to the type that made Yngwie Malmsteen famous.
After viewing a few songs I finally discovered that the woman in question was New York's Marnie Stern. As much as I admired her playing the performance left me fairly cold so I headed over to the Gibson Room stage to see what was happening there. It seemed I had made the wrong call checking out Marnie as there was a far more entertaining prospect waiting in the Gibson Room.
Natalie Portman's Shaved Head are a five piece band from Washington, bringing fun to the World! Their high energy performance of Funky Faux Falsetto Dance Punk captivated the Maggie Mae's crowd so it was unfortunate I only managed to see the tail end of their set.
I had originally journeyed to Maggie Mae's to watch a couple of acts. First up was Yelle. Yelle is a French dance artiste, reminding me at times of a harder version of Swedish Pop pixie Robyn. The venue was packed for her set, with Yelle rewarding the capacity crowd with a relentlessly energetic performance, giving me my first real SXSW "moment".
During a trip to SXSW there's a good chance that you'll watch some old favorites, or at least bands whose material you know. However the best thing about SXSW is discovering acts new to you who blow you away. I did check out Yelle's music earlier in the week but wasn't prepared for how enjoyable her set would be.
I was excited about seeing the second band on my Maggie Mae's watch list but I had to stand through a performance from New Zealand's Cut off Your Hands. Cut Off Your Hands are a shouty rock band. Fun enough but not what I was needing at that moment in time! I more or less zoned out of their performance, even stuck in the front row, with jet lag and tiredness kicking in.
After a bit of socialising with my fellow front row friends I had perked up enough to really enjoy The Asteroids Galaxy Tour. I had seen the Danish band a few weeks earlier at London's Cargo, having fun at their performance, so had hoped to see them once or twice in Austin.
The band have their debut album "Fruit" released in May, with their Maggie Mae's set pulled from the collection. I've had a promo of the release for a few months now so their set sounded like a greatest hits collection to my ears as the majority of songs on display would make worthy singles. Highlights of the far too short set were "The sun aint shining no more" and "Around the bend" but it was disappointing not to hear my AGT fave "Golden age" as it was dropped due to time constraints.
A SXSW day is usually split into two sections. The afternoon holds a host of free parties, with the occasional complimentary food and drink, that anyone can attend while the evenings offer "Official" showcases, reserved for SXSW badge and wristband holders, letting in a handful of people paying a cover charge if they're lucky. In 2008 I booked a hotel three or four miles outside the centre. It turned into a real nightmare getting home each evening so I promised myself I'd book a more central location in 2009. Luckily I managed to stay in a hotel a couple of minutes from 6th Street so was able to spend an hour or so 'at home" recharging my batteries (camera and self!) in the early evening most days.
I ventured out into the Austin evening for my first showcase of the night, over at Red 7 Patio. The official SXSW guide had New Yorker Lissy Trullie playing at 9pm but when I got to the venue all the listings had been moved forward an hour. I was a bit annoyed as I chose Lissy over Ladyhawke playing at Stubbs and it was too late to get to Stubbs as they're a bigger venue with a three song photo policy from their photo pit.
I was too tired to find somewhere else to go so I was left watching LA Punkers The Bronx playing a set under the name Mariachi El Bronx.
Unfortunately not being a fan of the band I wasn't really in on the joke, not knowing their regular set, but the audience were ecstatic throughout, alongside Bronx frontman Matt Caughthran who was loving every second of their performance, telling the audience how much it meant to him for the set's duration. I was going to hang around for Lissy's showcase at 10pm but in the end I just wanted to get out of the venue so took a trip over to Latitude 30 for a British Music Embassy performance.
I got there just in time to see Stoney playing his set. I have a vague collection of seeing him play a few years ago on a bill Tom Robinson organised when I went to watch Roddy Frame but I couldn't have told you anything about his set.
In all fairness I didn't pay much attention to what was going on at Latitude 30 either, more concerned with quenching my thirst. It sounded pleasant enough but not enough to drag me away from the bar! I banged into a couple of people from London I knew at the venue, chatting to them before the next set started.
Throughout my SXSW week I came across people from the UK and the US that I knew, either from shows in general or previous SXSW's and also banging into music fans with the same tastes showing up at numerous showcases.
My reason for being at Latitude 30 in the first place was to view Laura Marling's showcase. I hadn't seen Laura perform for a year or so, with last year's SXSW possibly the last time I caught her. Laura was playing this set solo, stripping her songs down to the bare bones again. I'm not as up on her album "Alas I can't swim" as I should be but I know her set was pulled from the album alongside some other tracks. She did perform an exquisite version of "Ghosts" anyway.
Although the whole set was a rewarding experience I actually enjoyed the between song moments as much as the musical bits. On previous live outings I've always found Laura painfully shy onstage but she was quite smiley and almost outgoing on the Latitude 30 stage, regaling us with the odd story, including the fact that the drummer from Mumford And Sons (whose singer was originally meant to duet with Laura but couldn't due to a nightmare day of travelling) was thrown of his plane to SXSW as he was allergic to nuts!
I decided to make my way back to my hotel after Laura's set, working my way through the masses of people crowding around on 6th Street, stopping for a quick consolatory glance at my SXSW music guide. I perked up when I noticed Natalie Portman's Shaved Head were playing a couple of minutes down the street, so I picked up my pace, legging it to the venue.
I was very lucky as I was able to see the majority of their set as they tore up the stage with numerous bad rock poses and great shouty numbers, ending my first proper evening at this year's SXSW on a great note.