SXSW 2014 Roundup

The streets overflow with people. Scores of them – somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000 people are estimated. They’ve taken over every possible walkway, relegating vehicles to the outskirts of the proceedings. And then, there’s the sound. It’s unlike anything you’ve heard before. Drums and guitars ricocheting off buildings. Samplers, synthesizers, drum machines and voices careen off buildings and through the air. It can excite and overwhelm. What is this scene? The arrival of the apocalypse? Not exactly. It’s simply the daily scene at SXSW 2014, in Austin Texas, an atmosphere charged with an incredible amount of energy and activity.

Every day, usually starting around 10am, coffee and breakfast tacos, a favorite in the area, would be served. Venues came in all sizes, ranging from the traditional concert halls to backyards to boats floating down the Colorado River. Shortly thereafter, around 11am, the queues would begin. At the most in-demand sites, such as FADER Fort, the site of one of the festival’s most adventurous – re: non-genre specific – programming, the wait could reach two hours.

Inside, visitors could hit up the Converse booth, where they could hand screen T-shirts. Just across the way, Amsterdam’s fantastic Red Light Radio invited artists of all persuasion – among them Connan Mockasin, Arp, Magic Touch, and Just Blaze to name but a few – to do live streams while filming the performances for a later date. Outside, vendors hawked their wares – food and drink, of course, jewelry, shirts, all manner of ephemera. Bicycle rickshaws offered pedestrians a relaxed mode of transport through the numbers. Artists shuttled to and from venues, sometimes doing four performances in a single day.

From 12-noon to 5am – the music streamed forth. The weather ranged from 70 and gorgeous to rainy and humid but the music never stopped. As in past years, there was an abundance of vintage punk and garage rock styles. But, more so than in other years, other genres and styles added a healthy amount of color to the proceedings. Certainly, there was more electronic music than ever before. WarpxLuckyMe’’s excellent showcase at Empire Garage – featuring Kelela, Jeremiah Jae and Jacques Greene provided a sophisticated and intimate setting that few other showcases matched. DJ Rashad, the amazing, upbeat DJ whose performances on the Surefire boat cruise, and at Resident Advisor’s excellent show (which also featured a fantastic performance by Jessy Lanza) in a Goth bar Elysium, provided highlights.

Hip-Hop was represented in its newest forms as well as its forefathers. The Def Jam 20th Anniversary party featured energetic performances from both past and present, among them, 2 Chainz, Pusha T, Method Man and Redman. Elsewhere, legends Mobb Deep and Pete Rock and young guns Future and Young Thug brought the heat, most of them at FADER Fort. Spotify House was certainly one of the more popular venues. Future Islands (who’ve been building an impressive head of steam) played there, as did other buzzy ensembles new and not entirely new such as Phantogram, Warpaint, and Real Estate.

Of course, it’s impossible to take in everything the festival. There’s just too much happening. Then again, that’s hardly a bad thing. The best way to enjoy Sx is to take in everything you can, and see what happens. No agenda is the best agenda. One of the best things is that if you miss a group, the odds are very high they’ll be playing again. The odds are in your favor.