Photos, Review & Video | SXSW 2014 | Austin

Words, Images and Video by: Jake Krolick

SXSW Music :: 3.12 - 16.14 :: Austin, TX

This year's SXSW lived up to its reputation of the larger-than-life music festival that I watched grow exponentially over the past 20+ years. For a first go round, this pony left me tired, but satisfied. SXSW 2014 was the perfect experience for someone who wanted to take in tunes from bands that cover a ton of unexplored musical territory. Plenty of people talked about the way SXSW used to be - smaller, less blaring corporate sponsorship and promotion covering the streets.

It was always hungry independent bands, not huge artists like Lady Gaga, Jay-Z and Kanye West swooping in and creating havoc. However it was fairly easy to avoid this corporate net if you were to pick from one of thousands of lesser known bands or showcases. Basically, if you ventured east of I-35 or off the main streets you could escape the branded jungle and find smaller crowds, house parties and a bunch of really amazing musicians and experiences unique to Austin. SXSW spoils live music fans by giving them a taste of anything and everything they could want. This is not a festival where you pick off a daily grid of all of your favorite bands. It’s a festival of discovery and I let my inhibitions down and took recommendations from friends, NPR and the people I met along the way.

The video features a string of moments that include 10 bands that I saw at SXSW. There's a real renaissance of garage rock going on in the country recording capital of Nashville. In 2014 SXSW was dominated by bands like Natural Child, Plastic Visions, Diarrhea Planet and Sol Cat. Each band embodied a real D.I.Y attitude. With local access to the best musicians, equipment and recording studios on earth, each Nashville-based band also exhibited an extremely polished playing style towards their music. Nashville is a hotbed of music and it appears a new less-refined, but no less passionate musician is emerging.

Goodnight, Texas was a fantastic example of a roots-rock collaboration of the coasts mixing San Francisco’s Avi Vinocur (The Stone Foxes) and North Carolina’s Patrick Dyer Wolf. Together they lit up the Tap Room with a foot stomping set of Appalachian rock. Along those lines Duo De Twang was essential Les Claypool in all his weirdly brilliant bass glory, exploring musically or poking a bit of fun at the Americana genre. Claypool’s upbeat banter, and fanciful play on covers of “Gin and Juice” and the Bee Gees’s “Stayin Alive” at JamBase’s food truck set showed that it was a little bit of both motivating this latest undertaking. Flanked only by longtime friend and guitarist Bryan Kehoe, Claypool seemed mighty content to be playing in this stripped down formation.

One of the best sets of music I caught came from a Cleveland duo called Mr. Gnome. Sounding more like a fantasy character than a charging psychedelic rock band, Nicole Barille and Sam Meister turned the crowd onto their music instantly. Meister’s human metronome abilities on drums exhibited similarities with the drummers from Battles or Polica. Their sound charged ahead carried by Barille’s grungy guitar and vocal cries while Meister laid down a carpet of snare fills on his drum kit. They dove head first into chain-gang hymns and dark, swirling chaotic rock leaving the whole room wanting more after the 45-minute set had ended. Scotland’s experimental hip-hop crew Young Fathers breathed fire during their packed show. This fresh group displayed new wave tones reminiscent of TV on the Radio with raw explosive energy given off from Liberian and Nigerian singers Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole.

Musically, I had plenty of misses. Not everything I saw was amazing, but seeing a band like Wonfu from Taiwan made for interesting scenarios and one-off performances that couldn’t be recreated. There was also a huge Latin American surge in bands this year. The Mud Howlers were ear candy live and seemed like Mexico City's take on Jack White and the Black Keys. They were young, raw and hungry and with only 20 people in attendance they still put on a guitar clinic. Together Pangea was the first band I saw all weekend at the Mohawk night club, just a few hours before that car drove into the line on Red River Street. It’s sad to begin or end in reflection on that horrible situation. As apropos as it may sound, it made me appreciate the rest of SXSW that much more because when confronted with one’s mortality, these are the live music moments that seem more important than ever.

I would recommend SXSW to anyone and I found that if you took advantage of the variety it was a cool experience. For those looking for a similar experience with smaller crowds and a lot less bands, but an equal bit of hospitality and access, try Raleigh, NC's Hopscotch Festival in September. Otherwise, SXSW should be on every live music fan's bucket list.

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[Published on: 3/24/14]

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