The first day of SXSW was a blur.
A big, overwhelming blur.
My excitement levels went hand-in-hand with my anxiety levels. As much as I knew I couldn’t possibly see everything that was on, I STILL REALLY WANTED TO DAMMIT.
Let me tell you about the micro-universe that is SXSW. The enormity of it cannot be put into words, but I’ll try. It’s an Interactive, Music, Film and Comedy conference and festival. There are stacks of official talks, events, showcases and activations right throughout Austin for two weeks. On top of this, there are seemingly hundreds of unofficial events, all from organisations wanting to capitalise on the sheer scale and potential of SXSW. You simply can’t see everything, but this is what I did manage to catch on day one.
Roofs – Strange Brew 6 at Hotel Vegas
It seems fitting that the first band I see is from the home of SXSW and the self-proclaimed home of live music, Austin, TX. And the fact that I serendipitously stumble across them feels appropriate. Rambling and unintelligible vocals and a deep, dark bassline sets the scene of this rock & roll bar of Hotel Vegas. A few things I notice about my first SX gig: the sound desk is literally just a hole in the wall, the lead singer’s mobile phone (sorry, cell phone) has imprinted itself into his jeans’ pocket, and the soundproofing is insanely good for a bar that looks so grungey. Austin’s live music capital title is safe so far.
Sui Zhen – Strange Brew 6 at Hotel Vegas
While waiting to see Totally Mild (it only seemed fitting to back up an Austin band immediately with an Australian band), I hear ‘Take It All Back’ by Sui Zhen in the next room and my ears prick. This isn’t the first time set times will be jumbled around today. Seeing Sui Zhen at Sugar Mountain was a sensory feast, but unfortunately there are no abstract white dancers making their way through crowds this time. The band are still all dressed in white though. They sure know how to stick to a theme and she makes me proud of Australian music.
Taking a break from music very briefly because of course I have to see the cast of VEEP – nearly 90% of the primary cast are present, including the one-and-only Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Comedic magic.
Ciaran Lavery – Second Play Stage at the Hilton Hotel Cannon & Bell
SXSW have managed to sneak live music into every crevice of the city this week. I come across a Second Play Stage (stripped-back sets in hotel lobbies across the city during happy hour) featuring Irish singer Ciaran Lavery and I’m wooed.
Planet Booty – Aerobic International & Friends Showcase at The Sidewinder
When I saw Alex Lahey open the main stage Splendour in the Grass in 2016, my friend declared after her set that “the rest is gravy”. After seeing Planet Booty on the first night, it’s my turn to say it. The rest of SXSW is gravy. Stepping into the venue, I walk and then run into the photo pit because the photo opportunities are flying in thick and fast. Planet Booty from Oakland, CA are having some genuine, hair-down, sweaty fun. The lead singer Dylan Germick jumps into the crowd to grind and dance with the audience multiple times. A lot of warm fuzzies are tossed around, “It doesn’t matter what you look like…you are something to be celebrated…be a 110% yourself”. If you ever need a pick me up, put a Planet Booty gig on your medication list.
Dead Neighbours – The Loyalty Firm Showcase at The Sidewinder
Rough vocals, interesting dance moves and long guitar solos come from the other room in The Sidewinder. From booty shaking to shoe gazing, this truly is a melting pot of genres jammed into a city.
Jamie Isaac – British Music Embassy at Latitude 30
Lo-fi R&B electronica. This could be Jamie xx instead of Jamie Isaac if he were more vocals than samples. Hearing a British people is also quite a novelty after a week of southern American accents. The room is buzzing with hype and at just 22 years old, Jamie Isaac’s t-shirt stating “more life” is reflective of his young career.
False Advertising – British Music Embassy at Latitude 30
Playing their first ever international gig, False Advertising are textbook punk rock except for their strangely long songs. Singer/guitarist Jen Hingley is in a gridded jumpsuit, dark nails, full eyeliner and Doc Martens. Hingley and drummer Chris Warr swap instruments halfway through but Hingley’s vocals are definitely more suited to the band.
By this time of the night, it was time to call it a day and be ready to do it all over again the next day. Stay tuned.
The main thing I learnt on day one? Planet Booty tells it best: “If you’re standing around thinking this party sucks, guess what? You suck.” SXSW is what you make of it.