Austin! Accra! Auckland! Part 2: Best of SXSW
A week ago, Tonspur went global. We published the first stories on the kitchen table of this house:
We called it the music mansion, because it was filled with band managers, bookers, writers and other musical peeps during the one week in Austin where a place to sleep on the floor goes as high as $200 per night.
To launch a music blog from Texas is highly uninteresting – unless you’re at SXSW and have some cool stickers with you. The word got out quickly that day and we found some fans across the globe:
Fruzsina Szép, program director of Sziget, Europe’s largest festival
Ester Rada, Ethiopian-Israeli singer
Will Sheridan, US-Hip hop artist
We also received great reactions from the Hip hop community. Being the most digitally advanced amongst all music niches, props from bloggers such as Funkmaster Flex or AllHipHop’s Steve Raze were a treat.
The rest of the week Allie Silver, Tonspur’s Buenos Aires blogger, and I ran, biked and rikshawed to masses of SXSW concerts around Austin and talked to as many music experts as possible. We wanted to find new stories and fresh sounds from around the world. Here they are:
Following the Gangnam hype, the South Korean government brought five bands to SXSW and organized a whole night of Korean Rock at a club called Elysium. The place was packed – thanks to the vibrant Asian community in Austin, partly driven by a local Samsung factory. Guckkasten, an award-winning young act from Seoul with a German name (Guckkasten = scope), won the locals over, many of which who didn’t even know there was rock music in their language. The member of Seoul punk rockers No Brain, Bulldaegal, explained to me why the East is going to take over the West, musicwise: “You eat butter. We eat fucking Kimchi.”
Tecno brega, cheesy techno, is a musical movement that started roughly ten years ago with the rise of PC’s in the Brazil’s Amazon region. Artists discovered they could remix old local songs with cheap software, adding simple drum patterns. Since then, tecno brega has turned into a cultural phenomenon in the area of Belém, drawing thousands of people to huge techno parties every weekend. Gang do Eletro from Pará, one of the leading groups, came to SXSW and introduced the style to the world. Obrigado!
What if you mix dubstep and Native American powwow dances? You’re in trouble. Musicians and activists accuse you of exploiting a minority’s cultural heritage, and the indigenous people who invented your musical ingredients say you’re messing with their pride and traditions. A Tribe Called Red from Ottawa did it anyway, and what came out is amazing. Their own Native American descent, their own bringing up on reservations and their musical craft gave them enough credibility to become successful. At SXSW, they prepared for an extended world tour. Watch out.
USA – WEST COAST
“My week was totally and completely insane, like drinking from a fire hose. It was my first time at South by and my first time in Austin. I met more people from the business then I had met in the last 20 years and I ended up connecting with Warren G, going with him on stage and singing with him.” Wanz, part of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, one of the most hyped Hip hop acts at SXSW, was still flabbergasted when he talked to me after the final concert of the group on Sunday night. The instrumental group (2 rappers, producer, violinist, trumpeter) from Seattle came without a label, but with 240 million YouTube views on their back – and hit it off.
From Los Angeles, siblings became the talk of town: Haim, three sisters from San Fernando Valley (Este Heim, 27, Danielle Haim, 25, Alana Haim, 23), came to SXSW with praises from BBC and other big outlets and kept their promise. The other siblings were Sasha and Theo Spielberg aka Wardell. Great music from absolutely down-to-earth L.A. kids and their band. By the way, Sasha and Theo do not only have the same last name as Steven Spielberg. They are actually his kids.
USA – EAST COAST
Arlyn Studios in Austin is a place for legends. The extremely large and beautifully remodeled recording facility is not only the biggest in this part of the world, it’s also in Willie Nelson family’s hands. During SXSW, Arlyn Studios were booked by several entertainment companies to showcase young artists unofficially, apart from the main festival. “Out of all I have seen here, Elle King was by far the best”, studio president Lisa Fletcher told me. “She stayed up all night, smoked with us, danced with me and my daughter, went back on stage and jammed until 6 in the morning. And that voice!”
Another rough diamond from New York came to SXSW with the gift of the gab: Angel Haze. All alone on stage besides her producer, she used rapping as a powerful confessional vehicle, tough and fast. Her song “New York” is one kind of an anthem.
NORTH AMERICAN WEIRDOS
Glam Style, Jizz Jazz, Space Blues, Slacker Rock – WTF? These bands don’t fit into any category, but still make sense because they are great:
Merchandise from Tampa, Florida
Mac deMarco from Vancouver, Canada
The Danish reinvented European pop music – according to some American music journalists that covered SXSW. I wouldn’t agree if I wouldn’t have seen Indians alias Søren Løkke Juul and MØ aka Karen Ørsted. Both make you forget about Berlin.
Having their own “German Haus” to promote upcoming musicians, my fellow countrymen tried hard to spread their sounds, they even flew chefs in to cook real German food. Anyway, while DENA from Berlin was my highlight at the “Berlin Calling” party, somebody else’s CD caught my attention: Dagobert. After spending several years in a remote part of the Swiss alps writing songs, this guy came out and bridges the cheesy German “Schlager” folk pop into something new. Not a SXSW participant yet, but worth checking out.
Ice Cube performed on a stage paid by Dorito chips. Justin Timberlake was carried to play at SXSW by Chevrolet. And Prince came because Samsung spend – according to rumors – 1,5 Million Dollars for two and a half hours. All concerts were unofficial, of course, because SXSW usually makes the artists pay for themselves to perform in Austin. While the big acts cash large amounts every year through commercial gigs, bands from emerging countries or far away places are underrepresented. Ester Rada, a young singer with Ethiopian roots and based in Tel Aviv, came anyway, even if she couldn’t afford to bring her whole band. Together with her guitar player, she showed how much more SXSW could be.
This weeks Tonspur Podcast: Best of SXSW is a collection of the songs featured above.