There is no bigger convergence of shot-callers and tastemakers in one city than at South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. SXSW Music runs from March 11 through March 17 this year, so I took the opportunity to head over a day early because, honestly, the music doesn’t ever stop in Austin.
The most noticeable thing about wandering around downtown is this early in the festival is the lack of big crowds. There didn’t seem to be that many people anywhere. I finally caught a tidbit from a bartender that SXSW this year didn’t coincide with spring break at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) for the first time in years. No wonder.
That means shorter wait lines and fewer people I had to finesse around to get better stage photos. Hotel Vegas, which has usually been difficult to get in past years, hosted an Austin Showcase that was a surprising breeze to enter.
Longtime Austin rockers Quiet Company performed a mostly angry set, which was understandable considering songs on the band’s most last non-Christmas EPs Your Husband, Ghost and On Corners & Shapes were about lead singer Taylor Muse’s divorce. Muse may have mentioned the phrase “loose morals” on more than one occasion, and the sentiment was best exuded on “On Ex-Husbands and Wives.”
Emily Wolfe provided a bit of blues and a whole lot of steady rock on her set. Wolfe and her band never hesitated to jam for extended periods, which is always welcomed in contrast of the many lyric-heavy songs out there. What else is always welcome is a crowdsurfing musician. Moving Panoramas lead singer Leslie Sisson hinted at it throughout the band’s set and finally went ahead and did it. “[That’s the] most action I’ve had in years,” quipped Sisson from all the hands on her butt. “I’ll do another one next year, but I’ll promise to work out [more].”
Austrian electro artist Mavi Phoenix doesn’t mince words or shy away from what needs to be said in either song or rap. The unadulterated Phoenix went from smooth beats on “Bite” to a song about acceptance (“Love Longtime”) to a song that featured a lot of f-bombs–yet it all worked.
Austin-based synthpop Sarah Dossey was a shining contrast with her mostly upbeat pop sound. Dossey matched the fun nature of “Heartbeats” with a bit of unabashed dancing. Make no mistake though, Dossey didn’t recount fairy tales on her set and proved to be a bit metal with her attitude and stage presence–as an aside, she tossed some roses into the crowd at one point.
To those who attend SXSW, please remember to check, and even double-check, day-of set times because they can change. Even worse, your memory of those set times may have been wrong. I received a good gut-check by standing in line for a half-hour waiting to get into the Patreon Showcase at Augustine to see Zola Jesus only to find her set was an hour later.
Dejected, I scarfed down some free horderves and headed back downtown to see Northern Irish singer-songwriter SOAK (Bridie Monds-Watson) who was finally old enough to buy alcohol here in the United States. Her sophomore album Grim Town comes out next month, and SOAK gave the crowd a live teaser with “Deja Vu” and “Knock Me Off My Feet.” I was stunned by how well she navigated the different melodies from uptempo to straight ballad (“B a noBody”) without a skip; it just seemed to flow very naturally.
- Dossey – “Electric”
- Emily Wolfe – “Rules to Bend”
- Quiet Company – “A Year in Decline”
- Mavi Phoenix – “Prime”
- Moving Panoramas – “Forever Gone”
- SOAK – “Sea Creatures”