Faster Than Sound: What Sparked Joy at SXSW Music

Marie Kondo-ing my Festival experience, with scooters and shooters in the giveaway pile

Lizzo at Stubb's on Thursday, March 14 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

South by Southwest's attempts to winnow official Music Fest offerings over the past several years played out last week. Despite the usual star spottings (Billie Eilish with Uber Eats and Father John Misty on Rainey Street), 2019 felt simplified. Could conference organizers have been perusing Netflix-spiked bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up?

Although Sixth Street remained an untidy wasteland of artist fliers and fake $100 bills, I like to imagine mess-busting queen Marie Kondo would appreciate the clusterfest's collective refocusing.

Corporate pullout from formerly prominent participants like Pandora, Spotify, and Urban Outfitters also pushed the cleanup. While opening the field to smaller blogs and labels, the lack of lines and blowouts made for a less chaotic music-going experience. Meanwhile, local merchants suspect the misalignment of local schools' spring break contributed to lower attendance overall.

For now, under Japanese life-fixer Kondo's methodology, I will hold each of my week's experiences in my hands and look for an emotional response. SXSW moments that spark joy, y'all get to stay. The rest goes in the trash.

Certified Joy-Sparker: Yee Haw Rap

All my favorite acts at SXSW 2019 wore cowgirl hats. Repping the recent internet explosion of Western wear, female rappers drew the Festival's most engaged, excited crowds. Headlining superstar Lizzo (Detroiter Melissa Jefferson) added sequins and fringe to her yee-haw ensemble, proving last Thursday at Stubb's that it's now trendy to visit Texas.

Meanwhile, Rico Nasty took the stage at Mohawk's annual Lost Weekend party in sparkling pink headgear. The Maryland "sugar trap" star born Maria Kelly touched off multiple mosh pits and allowed a fan takeover of "Key Lime OG," two buds later twerking onstage during "Tia Tamera." Neighboring Philadelphian Tierra Whack made her first Austin visit since last year's breakout Whack World, admitting during her first SXSW set at Container Bar, "I was really fucking nervous. Coming to a new state, you just never know."

She Shreds' first official showcase with Nylon presented a dream of seamless genre integration at Cheer Up Charlies. Masked in her trademark bandanna, Leikeli47 (aka Hasben Jones) drew the evening's biggest audience. Houston freestyle takeoff Megan Thee Stallion (née Pete) warmed up for a Fader Fort appearance, donning a black rodeo hat and Daisy Dukes. Lizzo rapped along to "Big Ole Freak" from the crowd, and the Texan Stallion ended the Fest with a Rolling Stone feature.

My week bookended on Bbymutha in a cowgirl cap and matching belt buckle, ripping "Rules" at CarefreeBlackGirl's Saturday show. Behind her Tennessee drawl, Brittnee Moore also joined bubbly Atlanta vox Tate Farris (MC handle Yung Baby Tate) beforehand for "Wild Girl." Rising local presence Ladi Earth (Michaela Taylor) also danced onstage at the end.

Prized Possession: Local Luminaries

Eighteen-year-old East Austin sensation Quin NFN continued his viral climb during the Fest. Born Quinlan McAfee, the rapper's last-minute addition to a Caroline x ATO Records showcase followed the buzz insurance of a Nardwuar conversation. Crew member Tvo NFN joined the interview and performed alongside the phenom at a Wednesday Ironwood Hall set.

Also in the spotlight, local post-punk outburst Borzoi garnered a shout-out from Bob Boilen on the All Songs Considered podcast. Even so, Melbourne got credit due to the trio's social media promotion as an Australian act. Bilingual Austin powerhouse Gina Chavez also received NPR love on the inaugural Tiny Desk Family Hour SX gathering's surprise lineup.

For her part, local songwriter Christelle Bofale celebrated signing to Father/Daughter Records at the label showcase, marking Austin-based A&R rep Tyler Andere's first local recruit.

In other capital news, remember 2000 hit "Who Let the Dogs Out?" A new documentary by the same name traced the phrase back to a sports chant at Austin's own Reagan High School circa 1986. Claiming the cultural kitsch, the school marching band opened the SXSW Film premiere.

Haiku Hands (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

International Delight: Australian Standouts

Aussies took Austin by storm last week. Dynamic Melbourne songwriter Angie McMahon confirmed continental pre-eminence in receiving SXSW's Grulke Prize for top Developing Non-U.S. Act. She leaves her first U.S. experience $10,000 richer and with opening dates for the Pixies.

I absolutely loved the nonchalant, bluesy psychedelia of Captured Tracks selection Gabriella Cohen. Pulling from 2018's Pink Is the Colour of Unconditional Love, the singer mastered icy-cool detachment. Between songs, she teased the Parish: "We're gonna give you what you want, but you've got to really want it."

Melbourne punk troupe Amyl & the Sniffers and Australian electro-pop trio Haiku Hands lit up the annual Panache party at Hotel Vegas, respectively offering mullet rock rage and cheeky, hip-hop-styled choreography. Ethereal Sydney act Indigo Sparke joined a Sunday evening at Radio Coffee & Beer with Big Thief's Adrianne Lenker. Following SXSW appearances, local Aussie Acey Monaro heads on a West Coast tour leading Go Fever.

Otoboke Beaver (Photo by John Anderson)

Definite Keeper: Conversation Starters

No one could shut up about Dublin toughs Fontaines D.C., a fan shout-along accompanying dogged punk single "Big" during their first Austin set at Mohawk. Otoboke Beaver's high-intensity grindcore and Chai's maximalist pop moves also garnered lots of chatter, both acts visiting from Japan. More talk swirled around the unhindered bubblegum expression of Sir Babygirl (Kelsie Hogue), timeless UK country-soul singer Yola (Yolanda Quartey), and the self-made instruments of Congolese collective Kokoko!

Personally, I couldn't get enough of Azniv Korkejian's softly stirring output as Bedouine. New songs like "When You're Gone" promised an interesting, jazz-touched direction. Your columnist also thoroughly enjoyed experiencing L.A. singer-songwriter Sasami (Ashworth), Chicago poet and activist Tasha (Viets-VanLear), and SoCal Buddhist Miya Folick for the first time.

Photo by John Anderson

Trash Fire: Electric Scooters

Over the 10 days of SXSW, city data shows nearly 434,000 rides were taken on dockless scooters. The numbers far outpaced dockless bicycle use. As such, I found my on-foot commutes impeded by drunken, helmetless scooter drivers on the sidewalks.

Most wrong-way zippers and crowd-weavers could have probably, and more safely, just walked. Scooter riders zoomed a median distance of only 0.65 mile or 7.8 minutes. Broken Social Scene founder Kevin Drew proselytized scooter danger onstage during the Canadian collective's numerous performances.

Actual Garbage: Gun Violence

The Festival's final weekend brought five separate shootings in the Austin area. The reportedly unrelated incidents all happened within a 24-hour period. Three of the five violent events occurred in the Downtown area.

Early Saturday morning, the first involved a drive-by shooting at individuals waiting for ride service pickups near the intersection of Sixth Street and I-35. Also within the hub of SXSW activity, another shooting occurred near Sixth Street and San Jacinto just before midnight on Saturday. Three individuals attacked a victim, who was shot and taken to the hospital.

Hours later, an officer-involved shooting occurred blocks away, near Seventh Street and I-35, following a minor collision. The next day, officers discovered a vehicle connected to the incident. A Maserati, abandoned in the Mueller neighborhood, contained the body of a man from the Dallas area.

As a SXSW spokesperson pointed out, none of the shootings took place at official Festival venues. The statement continues: "The downtown entertainment district is one of Austin's main attractions, yet is a source of year-round concern."

Friday mass shootings in New Zealand also affected the Fest. Onetime local Arthur Brown canceled a Sunday in-store performance at Waterloo Records after the gunman live-streamed his song "Fire." Read more on our Daily Music blog, plus some 50 scene reports from last week.

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