The SXSW Music Conference in Austin, TX began in earnest on Tuesday and with hundreds of bands performing all over the city, the buffet of choices can be a bit intimidating. Bouncing around between shows is always an option, although the massive lines to get into certain events means that sometimes it’s just best to hold firm in one location. Here are the good and the bad from the first night of official showcases.
The best group I saw all night was Keys ‘N Krates, whose thunderous set of trap bangers was a wonder to behold in person. Performance isn’t usually a selling point when it comes to electronic music, but Keys ‘N Krates were amazing to watch. The trio of keyboardist David Matisse, turntablist Jr. Flo, and drummer Adam Tune were totally locked in as they remixed tracks from TNGHT and others and performed originals like the towering “Dum Dee Dum.” Seeing them live, the Toronto-based group demystifies the esoteric process of making electronic music; their individual roles were as clearly elucidated as a jazz trio.
RAC got a juicy headlining spot among a series of electro-pop groups at the Hype Hotel and the Portland group took full advantage of their opportunity. Their energy was high and their music infectious, and the crowd ate it up like the free Taco Bell that catered the event. RAC is an abbreviation of Remix Artist Collective, but unlike their early work refashioning songs from all across the musical spectrum, RAC is now billed as a solo project from André Allen Anjos. They brought up a series of singers featured on Strangers Part I (the second part is due on April 1), a light and fun record that features contributions from Alex Ebert (aka Edward Sharpe), Tegan and Sara, and Tokyo Police Club, the band that performed immediately before them. RAC seemed to start as a fun side project sprung from Anjos’ restless spirit, but Tuesday’s show was a coronation of the group fully coming into its own.
Teenburger has a ridiculous name, obviously, but their brand of nerdcore hip-hop is much more classic and pure than a lot of their peers at the Flamingo Cantina. Lyrically, the duo of Ghettosocks and Timbuktu take it back in the day, performing songs about visiting the arcade and the simple joys of ice cream. That sense of playfulness extends to their beats as well, which are uniformly smooth. And with their back-and-forth raps, the Canadian group also displayed a high level of technical accomplishment. Between Keys ‘N Krates and Teenburger, day one of SXSW was a big win for team Canada.
Teenburger opened the nerdcore night at Flamingo Cantina but following their set, my interest quickly waned. I have a deep love for hip-hop, as well as comic books, and I’m wearing a Harry Potter shirt as I type this, which should speak to my bona fides. But after sitting through two different songs about the X-Men by Adam WarRock, I had my fill of that awkward paring even before Tribe One dropped his song “The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe From A to Z” which apes the beat and concept of Blackalicious’ classic “Alphabet Aerobics."
Over at the Hype Hotel, Jarvis Cocker -- the frontman of Pulp, the Britpop band that was the subject of a new documentary that premiered at SXSW -- performed a DJ set under the guise of Desperate Sound System. The set was exceedingly fine music to stand around to while waiting for free drinks, and not much else.
Panama Wedding played next, performing a crisp, clean set of sunny electronic pop that will almost certainly sound better on record than it did live (and it sounded pretty good live). We’ll find out later this year when the group releases their debut EP, which will presumably contain the earworm “All The People.”
Magic Man came next and their set was the biggest disappointment of the night. It’s not entirely their fault that they were plagued by sound issues, as the bass and low-end of their songs sounded blown-out. But in general, their performance felt more than a little sloppy, like the band had enjoyed one too many of the free drinks Hype Hotel was serving. Which was a shame because even with their subpar set, it was still evident that Magic Man has some catchy synth rock songs that skew a bit more raw than the other groups on the bill.
Tomorrow: Struggling up-and-comers Jay Z and Kanye West look to break out at SXSW.