My fourth day at the South by Southwest music conference was full of surprises, terrific music, and more artery-clogging cart food. I encountered a budding rap superstar and caught performances by four others. I managed to scope out three of my favorite Cascadian bands, and happened across a Columbian group making their U.S. debut. It was a wild time.
I started my day with half a set by Seattle's THEE Satisfaction, the Black lesbian duo that recently signed to esteemed NW imprint Sub Pop along with Shabazz Palaces, their collaborators and cohorts in the booming 206 hiphop scene (SP's Ishmael Butler could be seen swaying in the crowd). THEE Sat's crowd was woefully small, but their attendees seemed to be enjoying themselves regardless. While I would have loved the chance to hear some of the new cuts they've been busy recording in Seattle with producer Erik Blood, I never tire of their other songs anyway, so it was all good. The beat to "Obama," in particular, never fails to put a smile on my face.
I had to bail a little ways into THEE Sat's set in order to make it over to the East Side in time for Portland band Hausu's performance at Cheer Up Charlie's. Though hampered by an uncomplimentary mix (frontman Ben Funkhouser's voice was way too loud), the band's gleeful take on wiry post-punk impressed as always. Throughout their set, great gusts of wind would blow through the outdoor venue, as if the band's rawking commanded the forces of nature. During the closing minutes of "Weaving Spiders," Funkhouser's Spingsteenian wailing coincided with a couple huge torrents of wind, and the young Reed undergrads looked absolutely epic as the dust swirled in the air around them.
Then my afternoon got very strange and magical in that "only at SXSW" kind of way. I wandered towards the stage at the empty lot behind Cheer Up Charlie's to discover Los Angeles band Sun Araw getting ready to perform. I hadn't seen this performance advertised anywhere, so getting the opportunity to soak up their psychedelic dub jams felt positively fortuitous (I should mention for the stoners out there—and Sun Araw fans are certainly no strangers to cannabis—that I stumbled across the band at exactly 4:20 PM). They played three extended jams out of a boss sound system with enormous speakers; the bass throbs of their dub beats sent blasts of hot air towards my face. Their drippy, dazed music seemed to perfectly complement the overbearing heat, and I was surprised that their On Patrol LPs didn't melt right off the merch table.
The intense weather gave me a craving for a lime popsicle, something which resulted in the most unexpected and serendipitous moment of the entire festival so far. After following the distant sound of an ice cream truck's treacle melody, I waited in line for about ten minutes before finally reaching the window. I was about to place my order when a lanky Black man in a tie-dye shirt with a towel over his head and a skateboard under his arm cut in front of me. He turned around.
"Oh, hey man, I cut you in line. Is that cool?"
It was Tyler the Creator of über-hyped LA rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. Naturally, I said, "Of course!" Looking around, I suddenly noticed that all of OFWGKTA were present, along with a camera crew and a few stunned onlookers with their cellphones out, snapping pics. I was a little too flabbergasted to do much of anything except watch while OFWGKTA procured about ten or eleven sprites, and Batman and Spongebob popsicles. After a few minutes, the entire posse moved on, scribbled-on skateboards in hand, and I finally got my lime popsicle.
Still buzzing from this chance encounter, I went to the nearby Pitchfork stage at the East Side Drive-In to get a good spot of Toro Y Moi's evening set. Having missed him yesterday, I was determined not to make the same mistake today. From right up front, Chazwick Bundick sounded aces, from opener "New Beat" right on up until the end. His performance consisted entirely of material from his recent lounge, disco, and funk-inspired LP Underneath the Pine, which I had no problem with. As I much as I adore his previous effort Causers of This, I can definitely hang with his new artistic direction. Bundick's muse wanders, and I like to follow its zig-zagging paths wherever they may take me. Bundick and band had the majority of their sizeable crowd dancing in the breeze, and pot fumes could be detected in the spring air the second that they launched into album standout "Still Sound." I'm told this was the Toro Y Moi set to see yesterday—his performance later that night at Klub Krucial was apparently overcrowded, intensely hot, and marred by sound issues.
The next band I caught was Brooklyn trio Keepaway, known for their EPs and production work with half-serious rap provocateurs Das Racist. They played in a narrow outdoor courtyard with surprisingly great acoustics. I was also pleased to hear the band take oceanic sounds and make them sound fresh instead of ubiquitous. Their solid mix of acoustic and electronic percussion, surfy, verbed-out guitars and korg synths charmed, and I liked the sense of aural democracy Keepaway demonstrated: all three members shared vocal duties or harmonized.
It was a great relief to me that I made it to the Red 7 Patio in time for Shabazz Palace's set. They kicked things off with percussionist Tendai Maraire warbling into an autotuned mic and tapping on hand drums, before launching full-force into what sounded like a new jam with a klackety beat. Stas and Cat from THEE Satisfaction joined the group onstage (for their first song!) and would reappear later for what I assume was their collaborative jam on SP's forthcoming Black Up. Most of their set, in fact, sounded like new stuff, with one song so new that a fellow Seattle journalist (and SP expert) didn't think it was even on Black Up. The crowd wanted an encore, but the club management nixed this idea, to everyone's disappointment.
After Shabazz, I made the long walk up to Copa to see a band called Herencia de Timbiqui from Columbia. I'm told it was only their second-ever performance in the U.S., after one other SXSW performance the night before. The club was packed—maybe word got out about them?—and Herencia de Timbiqui were, without a doubt, one of the most energizing bands I've seen all week, and another tremendous surprise in a day filled with them. Their sound combined rhythmic flavors from Africa and Columbia, with frenetic marimba playing, a kick-ass horn section, three drummers, and a cumulative total of eleven musicians onstage. The crowd ate it up, and it was relieving to be in the presence of concertgoers capable of syncopated clap-alongs. I felt like I was watching something revelatory…the band has only one five-song EP percolating out there, but they worked the room like veterans, with huge builds and swells and breakdowns (and the occasional, out-of-nowhere rap verse). Girls were brought onstage to dance, super-deep bass notes were hit, and everyone cheered for more by the time the band wrapped. Last night was defined by encore blue-balls.
The last band I saw was Ford and Lopatin (formerly Games), the duo of Joel Ford of Tiger City and Daniel Lopatin/Onoehtrix Point Never, at Gorilla vs. Bear's Klub Krucial showcase. As a big OPN fan and staunch admirer of Game's That We Can Play EP, I was stoked on this set, even if it took them ages to set up. That said, it didn't totally live up to my expectations, but that may have had to do with my unfamiliarity with their all-new material and the "too many cooks in the kitchen" dilemma created by Prefuse 73's onstage presence (he produced their upcoming debut full-length). Prefuse cranked unseen knobs and dials, sending high-end sounds screeching to the fore, while Ford and Lopatin jammed on keyboards over throbbing backing tracks. Their rich analog synth textures whined and rippled over pulsing kick beats, and their pre-recorded vocal drops had an unexpected R&B swagger to them. I should also mention their visuals, which hit all the de rigueur hallmarks: dolphins, triangles, beaches, lazers, and more…it was the finest in retro VHS psychedelia.
I'm crossing my fingers that today will be filled with as much wonderment and discovery. I'm totally exhausted, but hungry for more. Only one more day of constant music, oppressive heat, and fatty foods. Bring it on.