SXSW truly is the most important music week each year (IMHO). It's the week that everyone descends on Austin, Texas for 2000+ bands playing on every inch of the city. From street corners, rooftops, grocery stores, churches to parking lots and more. It's hectic and gives me anxiety - but this festival is the real deal for those looking to learn about the next big thing or to see the biggest stars in the world in a small space.
This is the 3rd time I've been down to SXSW and it just keeps getting better. I know there are more and more people each year and many more brands taking over - but there's something for everyone which still makes it so good.
Here's a day-by-day snapshot of what I saw this year.
This was a travel day but my team and I had some great laughs going from Toronto to Dallas and then on to Austin. I was also seated next to Drake's beat maker Boi-1da on the second leg and it was great to hear his back story on how he got into music. This Grammy Award winner's from my hometown of Pickering so it was nice to have had the chance to meet him. You may know his work from songs like this...
Drake - 'Best I Ever Had'
This was the official start to our festival. We headed to the conference centre to grab our badges and I checked out a couple panels including one with Jarvis Cocker of Pulp. He read lyrics to various songs including some of his own hits and explained the background on each. It was fascinating to me as I'd been singing along to songs like'Sorted for E's & Wizz' for years with no idea what it was about. It's about The Stone Roses famous Spike Island gig in May of 1990. As the room filtered out I saw that the legendary BBC 6 Music DJ Steve Lamacq had been sitting in too. As he walked past me 'Wonderwall' played over the speakers in the hall and my mind nearly exploded. I love Brit pop.
From there we headed to CIMA's annual Canadian Blast BBQ. It's a great place to start each year as you can see who's all there from the great white north and catch-up with people from across Canada that you only ever deal with on emails. There were loads of great performances including Siadah Baba Talibah, The Darcys and Grand Analog to name a few.
After feasting on some delicious Texas food we headed to our friends showcase for Dine Alone Records. This showcase was in a new section of Austin called Rainey Street which is super cool. It's all abandoned houses and empty lots converted into clubs and patios. There are loads of food trucks on the streets and about 25 different venues. The showcase featured many acts including standouts like Noah Gundersen, Tokyo Police Club and Apache Relay. This place was packed and not just full of festival punters. There were loads of musicians like the bass player from Soundgarden and one of the Mumford lads. Pretty damn cool for a Canadian Indie label from St. Kits.
Thursday Austin awoke to the terrible news that a drunk driver had taken out a street full of festival goers killing 2 and injuring many more. It was a somber mood throughout as people tried to understand.
|Photo: Ain't No Love performing at the MuchFACT brunch|
This day was my team's first event at SXSW and so we hosted a brunch at 6th street's Iron Cactus rooftop. It was fantastic - and we can even boast some wonderful performances from Canadian acts like Ain't No Love, The Belle Game, July Talk and A Tribe Called Red. This will be a mainstay for us and look forward to having everyone next year.
Right after our MuchFACT brunch we headed to the Universal Music Group showcase where The Kooks played an outdoor set under a perfect blue sky. I've loved The Kooks for ages and so to see them play new material alongside a mere 200 people while the sun beat down on us was pretty special.
That evening we feasted on fajitas washing them back margaritas - as you do. Then it was over to Swan Dive to see Jeremy Messersmith and The Strypes. The Strypes are like watching The Rolling Stones in their early days doing their finest James Brown moves and being absolute fucking rock stars on stage. These 4 kids (literally) have more R&B soul than many acts claiming to be in this genre today. Expect big things from these 4 lads from Ireland.
During The Strypes 30 minute set one of the SXSW employees jumped on stage to ask the crowd for 2 minutes of silence to remember the 2 people killed 2 nights before. This was done right across the festival at the exact same time. Chilling.
From there it was over to Maggie Mays in the heart of 6th street to see the Sam Roberts Band. To see these guys in a small venue is an absolute treat. They've done so well in this country and aren't afraid to get their hands dirty and start over State side. They've got a deep catalogue - but with 30 minutes to impress they have to stay laser focused on simply knocking the socks of these new crowds. They're fucking amazing and I hope you check out their new album 'Lo-Fantasy'.
We hit the ground running on Friday morning and went directly to the convention centre. We had learned that if you have a delegate pass you're entitle to a trump card each day. The trump card allows you to walk directly to the front of any line and get right in. You get one a day and so you should always pick the one that you think is going to be the most sought after shows. Sadly we didn't learn of this special card until 2 days in. I would have been able to have seen Kurt Vile and Little Dragon the night's before:(
From there it was over to the world famous Stubbs BBQ for Spin Magazine's annual party. There we caught Warpaint, Schoolboy Q and Against Me!. This was easily one of the most amazing moments that I've experienced in music to date. Watching Laura Jane Grace performing with her band with a smile from ear to ear made me smile from ear to ear. She was comfortable in her own skin having gone through a year of transformation from Tom Gable to Laura Jane Grace - the bad ass anarchist lead singer of Against Me! Watching the crowd full of 'bros' sing along to songs like 'Transgender Dysphoria Blues' and 'True Trans Soul Rebel' was fantastic. It gave me hope for a very bright future for all walks of life - that is truly what rock n roll's about.
I had never heard a note of Against Me! until that afternoon and now know that I've been missing out. It's something I'll never forget and hope that this important album receives the accolades it deserves.
As if that wasn't enough music for one day we were just getting started. Next stop was a friend's showcase for Photo Finish Records at Speak Easy on Congress. Here we caught The Mowglis and another set from The Strypes. I still can't believe the amount of talent and star power these guys ooze. They were signed by Sir Elton John - so if that's any indication of what's to come then we're all in for a treat.
Next stop was a bit of dinner with some friends and some famous table side guacamole at The Iron Cactus. Amazing conversation about radio, streaming, new bands and the future of this crazy business - I could have sat at that table for ever. Sadly we couldn't as there were many more bands for us to see. Half of the table were off to see Soundgarden perform their classic album 'Superunknown' from start to finish on a rooftop. Others were off to see some Canadian acts at Canada House and my partner in crime, Alana, was off to see Broken Bells. I was off to see Sam Smith and then meet back up with Alana to use our trump card and see the ultimate hipster Julien Casablancas & Voidz at my favourite venue Cedar Street.
I actually ran into Sam Smith on the street about an hour before his show as St. David's church. He's very tall and looks like a star. He was super nice and I told him that we'd like to work with him when he comes to Toronto in a few weeks. I hope we can as this is exactly the time you want in on acts.
Sam is already know for his collaborations with Disclosure on their massive hit 'Latch' and the infectious 'La La La' from Naughty Boy. These 2 tracks have an astonishing 300,000,000+ streams on YouTube combine.
His performance in that church was a truly religious experience. This man is poised to be the biggest thing in 2014. Mark my words his solo career will be on par with the likes of Adele. This is just the beginning. The band Tennis were on just before and then Joy Vance end that showcase. They were good - but Sam Smith was the man that night.
After hitting the convention centre to grab my trump card for The 1975's headline set it was off to The Agency Group's party at Lamberts BBQ. The room was full of agents, bands and managers along with some talent. The likes of Taylor Hanson and Sam Roberts Band were there hanging with their agents and having a few drinks. We got to spend some time with the amazing guys in Sam Roberts Band and enjoyed laughs and great conversation about tunes. They invited us to join them at a private party hosted by Rachel Ray and there's no way we would say no to that invitation.
Rachel Ray's parties are known for their spreads and this was no exception. Gourmet hot dogs, pulled pork sandwiches and a full pig complete with an apple in its mouth. Oh and the band played a small stage as the sun went down. They opened with a new song 'The Golden Hour' which made the moment perfect.
After their set the guys in Sam Roberts Band stuck around for a few hours before heading off on tour to California. They might be rock stars but they're also some of the nicest guys in music today. Each member is so different and on paper I don't think it works. For some reason it does and only the gods of rock know why. Thank you for the amazing day guys it was a blast.
The last stop on this adventure was to see a band that I was introduced to at last year's SXSW called The 1975. This time last year they played the backyard of Red Eye Fly and on tiny little stages around the city. This year saw them play the MTV Woodie Awards and then close out the Saturday night at Stubbs BBQ to a sold out crowd of people hanging on their every word. It was the perfect ending to another amazing trip to SXSW.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose. Texas forever.
Thanks for reading/listening.