SXSW Music 2015 “It’s entirely possible to have a wildly different experience to the person next to you based on tiny factors like your friend’s love of Ludacris and TV On The Radio.”

As a first-timer, SXSW seems eerily close to Disneyworld: there’s way too much stuff to possibly do in a week, everyone’s kinda drunken because normal rules of life don’t apply when you’re waiting four hours to huddle in a tiny box-o-entertainment, and it’s entirely possible to have a wildly different experience to the person next to you based on tiny factors like your friend’s love of Ludacris and TV On The Radio (an actual showcase) or that wicked sunburn from yesterday. It’s overwhelming in the strangest way — once you realize you’re going to miss out on something incredible no matter what, it’s easy to experience the whole thing as remarkably consistent throughout. Good music is left and right, so why stress?

I shot myself in the foot before I even got there because, unlike Disneyworld, kids aren’t allowed. By a profound act of oversight from which I’ll never recover, I managed to get a press badge without realizing how many of the official showcases I was interested in were happening at clubs. And funnily enough, club bouncers actually aren’t into 19 year olds trying to convince them how much they need to see Ben Aqua, so here we are. In a perfect world, I might have written about Cascine, Cómeme, #Feelings, and PC Music (though Mike covered that last one brilliantly), but instead I got the weird mixture of DIY and unofficial stuff you have before you, and I wouldn’t have changed a second of it.

Tuesday: Club (Not) Goin’ Up

Hudson Mohawke at the Mohawk? How could I say no? After they announced the full lineup featuring Suicideyear, SOPHIE, and Obey City the day before, this one jumped to the top of my to-do list. After waiting for a couple hours with an (un)surprisingly higb number of 15-year-olds in sadboy garb, my friends and I were treated to a lovely warmup session from LuckyMe resident The Blessings that featured the increasingly standard cocktail of Jersey club and maximalist “beats.”

Suicideyear followed with a ridiculously strong set of trappy, grimey club tracks. Never one to make a weak impression, he filled his set with vocal anthems, like Waka’s now-classic “Hard In Da Paint” and BeatKing’s quickly rising “Stopped.” By the time he closed with a hardstyle edit of Blink-182’s “Dammit,” I was enraptured. Honestly though, the energy level of the rather gutsy ending was entirely too high for much of the crowd, which resulted in a weird division between the quarter of the room absolutely losing their shit and everyone else checking their Twitter and crossing their arms.

After deciding to take a break from the stuffy inner room to check out Waxahatchee’s lovely, intimate solo set outside, I came back to find the room packed wall to wall with people supposedly psyched about Hudson Mohawke. Awkwardly forcing myself toward the center over the course of “Chimes,” I found a similarly unenthusiastic dancefloor. Ross “HudMo” Birchard delivered his typical brand of hype with arm-thrusting bravado, but the room largely remained stagnant save for some big singalong moments to Kanye’s “All Day.” That didn’t stop Birchard from swinging for the ceiling though, and the crowd showed appreciation for it when thunderous applause got an encore out of him. When the throngs of people hilariously dissipated right after Mohawke ended, Obey City aired out his sumptuous beats to a largely empty room. It’s a pity, as his most recent Merlot Sounds material sounded lush and radiant on the soundsystem.

Wednesday: Drink-It-Yourself

Part of the fun of SXSW for me was experiencing the festival not just as a concertgoer, but as a concert-thrower. The entire reason I even ended up in Austin was because I helped put together an unofficial showcase for my college radio station. Usually I’d object to cross-pollinating jobs like this, but in this particular case, we managed to book acts I cared about long before working for either this site or the station. Plus, unofficial showcases are where the heart of SXSW lies. The bands are able to afford attending because of the corporate sponsorships, but it’s the tiny house shows that make it worthwhile.

After the living room was cleared of couches for the comically aggressive house band Crème de la Booze, the draw of the speakers quickly became clear. Add in free beer and the Animal House vibes of the Eden House, and you’ve got everything you need. L.A. psych-heads Nacosta had great fun conjuring up their folk atmospheres as the room filled up. There couldn’t have been more than 50 people there, but watching a group of cheesy, bearded Californians play to a cramped foyer with people peeking in from the patio, it felt like the place to be. Orange County punks GRMLN followed with a set packed with material from their latest record, Soon Away. Their low-key flavor of pop-punk worked wonders on the room, even though moshing was certainly out of question given the lax atmosphere.

When North Carolina bedroom pop wunderkinds Elvis Depressedly showed up, the energy in the room was clear. Maybe I’m biased, but Mat Cothran was a total star in that space. Like a gaggle of children at a One Direction show, the audience sang along to every word, save for the shoegazey unreleased material they played. He may play a grump on his Twitter, but watching Cothran’s lyrical heart of gold materialize in that room was nothing short of breathtaking.

Thursday: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Line

I waited for eight hours outside the Empire Garage only to not get into the PC Music showcase. Hilarious, right?

Friday: No Lines Ever Again

After being traumatized by Thursday’s events, I decided I needed something I could depend on (read: all ages), and it just so happened that our friends over at Portals decided to deliver. Thrown at a quaint little farm (replete with goats) outside the city proper, the environment was a rare mix of chill and hype. Everyone who made it out there was excited about the artists involved, and the self-selection involved in that process ensured a relatively low turnout. When the heavy rain started and the event had to move inside, it only got cozier. Genuine vibes like that are hard to come by, and it resulted in Portals’ unofficial showcase being my personal highlight of the week.

A photo posted by portals (@portalsmusic) on

Early in the afternoon, before the rain, Girlpool churned out another one of their perfectly poised sets full of their distinctive take on grrl pop. Honed into a stylistic razor over the years, their two-voice-two-guitar approach has finally taken hold on a audience outside Los Angeles.

The switch to recent Cascine signing Et Aliae was next, a funny transition representative of the whole lineup’s rather even split between laptop musicians and actual bands. Her set was total fire, winding up with new single “Only U” and culminating in strong edits of tracks like Tinashe’s “2 On,” Zedd’s “Clarity,” and Kero Kero Bonito’s “I’d Rather Sleep.” While it felt a little weird standing in a circle watching her just add some keys to backing tracks, I can’t deny I loved everything about getting pummeled by sparkly melodies and cutesy percussion as it began to drizzle.

After Et Aliae ended, a friend turned to me and whispered “Holy shit, there’s an incredible Makonnen lookalike here.” Turns out it was Makonnen, there to perform a track with the next act, Phantom Posse and Nadia. He took his place behind the band, naturally bedecked in OVO gear, silently checking his phone and looking at the ground. Meanwhile, most of the audience (including me) stood some distance away to avoid the rainfall. When Makonnen got up to deliver his guest performance, people ventured into the rain again, only to leave right after. It all felt kind of weird (due in no small part to Makonnen’s typically overbaked vocal style clashing with the generally lowkey vibe), and I walked away feeling like Phantom Posse got the short end of the stick on that one. Props to them for toughing it out.

The event moved inside afterward for Kero Kero Bonito, far and away the best performance I saw. While Augustus (known to some as Kane West) and Jamie provided their sick beats, Sarah commanded that living room like the diva she is. Trotting out silly props like a giant pink phone and a graduation cap/diploma set, she was DIY pop incarnate. There was something about the whole thing that just clicked, as that whole living room went bananas to “Picture This,” nearly collapsing the wooden floor in the process (pop can be very punk). Synchronized dances and all, KKB will certainly be on their way to bigger venues and crowds soon enough, but I’ll be damned if that performance didn’t have the energy of a proper basement blowout.

I spent the rest of the night waiting around at the WorldStarHipHop showcase, hoping that anyone from the announced lineup that included Young Thug, Lil Herb, PeeWee Longway, Lil Durk, Young Chop, and basically every other TMT favorite would interrupt the endless cycle of hypemen. But of the five hours I spent there, I only got PeeWee and Fetty Wap, the latter of whom wasn’t even billed. On the bright side, “Trap Queen” was precisely as good as it should have been, but I left around 11:30, confused but pleased. A bit of a metaphor for the whole festival really. Where else in the musical world can you miss seeing everything you wanted and still walk away feeling like it couldn’t have been otherwise?

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