Wednesday’s sxsw kicked off with our first visit to the Hype Hotel, a place I’m thinking I’ll be visiting quite a bit over the next few days. Free drinks, fantastic line-ups, great sound – pretty much the trifecta of sxsw.
As I was eating my complimentary Taco Bell Doritos Taco (nacho cheese, not cool ranch), I realized something. You know how some folks have a line in their twitter bio that says something like, “RTs and favorites are not endorsements.” Yeah, eyeroll. BUT, I kind of feel like I need one of those disclaimers walking around with me during sxsw. “No, I actually still hate Vice – I just wanted to see Japandroids at their party!”, “Look, I’m all about good food but I haven’t eaten all morning and this Taco Bell is the only thing available!”, “Yes, I think PETA’s ad campaigns exploit women, but who could pass up this delux vegan poncho!.” What I’m saying is, don’t judge people’s corporate-sponsored activities during sxsw, or at least don’t just mine.
Empress Of (Hype Hotel)
So first up at Hype Hotel was Lorely Rodriguez aka Empress Of. She had two things working against her: (1) About 8 feet between her and the crowd, because of the photo pit, and (2) Being the first set of the day. She didn’t let that phase her and came out rocking, moving comfortably around the stage and singing to the crowd.
I’d heard some of her recorded stuff before, but those tracks sounded pretty and hazy. Her live set, while retaining some of those hazy qualities, was a lot more dramatic, reminiscent of Zola Jesus or Austra. Also, the dude playing synth/keys, totally looked like Richie Follin from Guards (but this may only be because they both had super long hair). All in all, an awesome start to what turned out to be an awesome day.
Fear Of Men (Hype Hotel)
Having listened to Fear Of Men for the better part of a year now, and fallen in love with pretty much every track they released along the way, I was excited to see how they worked live. This set happened to be only their second show in America, but its clear from how tight they sounded that they’ve been performing tons in the UK. Similar to Empress Of, their live set sounded louder and more dance-y than their recordings.
Also, the vocals were absolutely pitch perfect, which always makes me happy. There’s nothing worse than going to see some band you love on record and finding out they don’t actually know how to sing. With the beautiful vocals on record, Fear Of Men had the potential to be this band, but they totally nailed it. Most of the tracks were off their recently released compilation Early Fragments, so we’ll have to keep waiting to find out what their new album is going to sound like.
After Fear Of Men, we decided to get out of the darkness that is the Hype Hotel and head down to 6th street for a little while to gawk at all that foolishness. Of course, there was tons of nonsense to take in, including a dude wearing an all blue suit (think the “Human Being” from Community’s Greendale), some horses that you could pay to take a photo op with, and tons of bands playing acoustic sets on the street trying to win your love. Like I said, foolishness.
TEEN (The Parish/Consequence of Sound Party)
Luckily, we passed by The Parish, which was home to the Consequence of Sound party, so we popped in there to see who we could see. We caught a few songs from TEEN, an all-female band that had bits of noise and folk embedded in straight-on rock music. I didn’t hear enough from them to get a good read, but if that description sounds up your alley, you should check them out.
St. Lucia (The Parish/Consequence of Sound Party)
After TEEN finished their set we headed downstairs to catch Jean-Philip Grobler aka St. Lucia. The 5-person band was packed on a tiny stage in a tiny (and very crowded) room. When Grobler started singing, I was pretty much immediately won over. Loud (and clear) earnest vocals, lots of synth – that big music that can fill up any room. And everyone on stage looked like they were having a great time. (If you want an opposing opinion, Dan thought Grobler was trying too hard to be John Cicada and/or M83).
What was perhaps most extraordinary about St. Lucia was Grobler’s willingness to go big in terms of audience participation. Three songs in, he announcements, “You guys probably aren’t going to want to do this, but…” and procedes to explain the singing he wants the crowd to help him with. Yeah dude, you sound great, but it’s 2:30 PM on a Wednesday at a party that doesn’t have free drinks. I am not singing for you. HOWEVER, my cynical self seemed to be in the minority, with a good portion of the crowd jumping in to sing, “Don’t Go! Don’t Go Away!” If you get any audience members to participate during sxsw, you’re pretty much rocking it, so props to St. Lucia.
Charli XCX (Hype Hotel)
Dan and I hustled back to the Hype Hotel to catch Charli XCX’s set. When she came out with her platform sneakers and her dance moves, I immediately got a Robyn vibe. Nevermind that these women have different hair colors, come from different countries, and have almost 15 years between them – they both know how to have a good time on stage and make sure that you have a good time too. Charli XCX played basically every song you were hoping she would play, including “Nuclear Season,” “Stay Away”, and “You (Ha Ha Ha)” and she got the crowd really moving for the first time.
White Lung (Urban Outfitters)
After Charli XCX’s all-too-brief set, we caught a bus to the Drag to see the last two sets of the day. First up was White Lung, a female-fronted punk rock band. (I feel like people say ‘punk band’ these days, but ‘punk rock band’ sounds so much better. Let’s bring it back.) They were recommended by my girl Kelly, and you know she doesn’t steer me wrong. (Message to White Lung: You didn’t play Kelly’s jam, though, so get on that.) The bass player and the guitarist were both shredding it, and given that a good chunk of the crowd was there to see the very non-punk Icona Pop set afterwards, people were getting into it.
Icona Pop (Urban Outfitters)
After White Lung finished up, the crowd waited almost an hour for Icona Pop. Now, this might not sound bad for a regular show, but it’s pretty much unheard of by sxsw standards. So, I was pretty much prepared to walk away with a “not worth it” impression before they’d even started. Then these two kids showed up:
O. M. G.
There was a big crowd out to see Icona Pop, with the backlot at capacity and a surprising amount of people watching from behind the fence. Once they hit the stage, everyone’s (read: my) complaints withered away. I’ll be honest here – the only track from Icona Pop I’ve ever really heard is “I Love It,” so I figured I would politely wait until they inevitably played that song at the end of their set. Instead, they brought it on the first track and kept it going throughout their set. I was dancing to songs I’d never heard before like they were my jam. Even my friends, who were mainly there to see White Lung and sticking it out for my benefit, were dancing and having a great time. For their part, Icona Pop looked to be having just as good a time as their fans, running around the stage and dancing throughout their set. Of course, they closed with “I Love It” and everyone did, of course, love it.