Photo Credit: Vickey Ford of Sneakshot for Okayplayer
Okayplayer’s All-Encompassing Adventuristic Experience At SXSW 2018 [Recap]
Micah Young, along with photography extraordinare Vickey Ford of Sneakshot Photography, shares with us the fuckery and foolishness that was SXSW 2018.
Picture it: Austin, 2018. The last hints of winter have left the Southwest and spring is nearly upon us. Nearly every possible surface capable of holding a poster, billing or advertisement has been wrapped in cellophane; streets have been blocked off and hotel prices have “mysteriously” doubled their nightly rates. That’s right folks, it’s the time of year again, it’s South By Southwest time!
SXSW is the annual 10-day conference held in the most musical of southwestern cities, Austin, Texas. Comprising “educational, music and film” festivals, along with an Interactive and Gaming conference, SXSW is the behemoth first quarter event detailing everything cool and next for the year and years to come. Tech demonstrations directly from the future; educational thought leaders and innovators; filmmakers and musicians from every corner of the globe come to town to do what they do, and we come to cover, see, dance, party and soak it all in.
Hopefully we all learn a thing or two, have some fun and at least find a new favorite band to enjoy. Here is Okayplayer’s daily recap of the festivities, fuckery and foolishness that marked SXSW 2018.
Photo Credit: Vickey Ford of Sneakshot for Okayplayer
DAY 1: March 13th
And so it begins. After getting badged, tagged and credentialed it was time to hit a few showcases. First was the Soundcloud Showcase at The Native Hostel to see South Side Chicago native, Melo Makes Music. Melo was making his only official appearance at SXSW and the waiting crowd was here for it. Plied with free booze (the best kind) and all the stickers, fidget spinners and white sunglasses an overactive 20-something could handle, the crowd was ready for Melo to take the stage. They sang along, chanted and bobbed their heads to the trap influenced 808s. While not necessarily my brand of whiskey, the kids seemed to enjoy themselves and that’s really all that matters. The connection to the audience can make or break a performance, and the assembled as I said, the assembled lils were here for it. What followed was a whirlwind of showcases at every corner of downtown Austin that went from lit to lounge to lit again.
Jordan Rakei delivered a soulful set to a capacity crowd at Elysium. From behind his keyboard, Jordan crooned like a late ‘90s Lewis Taylor and looked the part as well. The audiences couldn’t have been more different between Jordan and Melo. While one was primarily young, tragically hip and trendy, constantly Snap-booking the event to their selfie feed (I’m sure those are things young people do, right?); the other looked more like the former’s teachers, out on the town for the night.
Next was Blvck Spvde at Parish on E 6th Ave. followed by Duckwrth across the highway at Lustre Perle. Blvck Spvde’s set was apart of the RAS day showcase centering on left of center soul, jazz and hip-hop acts. Blvck’s set featured a live band for several funky, jazzy numbers. Blvck invokes the spirit of afro-futurists ancestors of Sun-Ra and the Queen Nina Simone in songs as cool as the other side of the pillow. Duckwrth, performing his third show of the night brought all the heat and energy as if it were his first. Duckwrth showed himself worthy of every ounce of buzz and hype he has garnered over last few months. Effortlessly blending hip-hop, R&B and what he calls “ugly” funk, the Los Angeles native is set to have a moment in 2018. He calls his sound ugly, because once the bass groove hits you, all you can do is screw your face up ugly-like and say, “DAMN, that n***a’s UGLY!” While these showcases were planned, scheduled and printed in the official Musical Guide handed out at registration, SXSW doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes a show pops up at the last minute, a sponsor will throw a show together and drop the word via social media accounts, spinning fans and curious music lovers into a frenzy. This is what happened next.
Back across town at the Mohawk Austin, Miguel and Jhené Aiko fell through Austin to deliver surprise sets at the Tinder Swipe Showcase at Mohawk Austin. While rumors swirled all day, nothing was confirmed until a few hours before the show. The uncertainty created a buzz, and a buzz created the one of the most feared specters at SXSW, a line.
This was the first of a recurring theme of our time in Austin, something we’d like to call “The Line Conundrum”.
“The Line Conundrum” is like game theory for event attendance. Due to strict capacity statutes, attendance is never guaranteed at any SXSW showcase, panel or event, and as such, you must weigh your time appropriately. Do you wait on line for the thing you might get into, or explore and absolutely get into something else? Do you gamble on an at-capacity maybe or a low attended sure thing? This is the struggle of attending a massive event like SXSW where you simply cannot see everything at once.
As for me, on this night, we gambled on Duckwrth killing enough line time and thinning the herd. By the time we made it back across town from Lustre Perle to Mohawk, the line was non-existent, and we slid in as Jhené finished her set. She was ethereal in her kimono and her angelic voice was a perfect digestif after the rocking Duckwrth show. Miguel brought the energy back to 11 with his kinetic band and expert stage show. Decked in what appeared to a very expensive hemp bathrobe, Miguel led the assembled fans through his catalogue of not-so subtle suggestive tunes. He and his band whipped everyone into a frenzy with his latest, “Sky Walker,” and ended my first night in Austin with a bang.
All told, I saw six shows at five clubs in about three hours. I walked over six miles between the convention center registration process and picking up credentials in addition to seeing showcases. Not bad for the first day.
Photo Credit: Vickey Ford of Sneakshot for Okayplayer
DAY 2: March 14th
Panels, panels, panels and parties. Panels and keynote addresses happen at the Convention Center during normal human hours of 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., while official SXSW Music showcases at clubs and bars usually happen during vampire hours from 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Who needs sleep, when there’s so much dope stuff to see?
Before the panels began we caught a few more acts at the International and Radio Stages.
On the International Stage was Joan Theile a singer-songwriter from Bogota, Columbia. Armed with her guitar and silky voice, Joan told stories of the mountains near her parent’s home and the inspirations for their sweeping and sometimes haunting songs.
On the Radio Stage, hosted by NPR’s Alt-Latino was Love and Hip-Hop: Miami star Amara La Negra. Amara is hands-down a star. She simply commands your attention and doesn’t let it go until she leaves the stage. Singing, dancing and engaging with her dancers, Amara is more than a reality television plot point, she is a star ready to shine.
With striking looks, a million-megawatt smile and a glorious crown about her head, Amara in on the verge of being everywhere.
The last panel of the day was billed as New Jack Swing: The Renaissance of Hip-Hop and R&B, a discussion featuring Teddy Riley and Andre Harrell, hosted by Zack Greenburg of Forbes Magazine. The chat quickly became the Andre Harrell Show featuring Teddy Riley with occasional pop-ups from the guy from Forbes.
Like everything in life, there are levels to South By. At first there is the “Bible,” the printed book that is handed out at registration. It contains more than enough for one person to enjoy themselves in Austin with Official SXSW showcases and parties. Beyond that, there are unofficial events that pop-up at the last minute like the Tinder Swipe Show. Beyond that still are off-book events sponsored by corporate partners that are invite only and exist under a cover of cool and mystique. This third level took up the rest of Day 2.
The i am OTHER/ Interscope party took place in Hill country at a mansion borrowed for the week by someone or other. The gate to the house sat at the end of a cul-de-sac, down a small winding road with no street lights and barely legible street signs. Beyond the gate was about 100 yards of a gravel path that had to be walked under complete darkness. While not a scary person by nature, I am aware that most horror movies begin this way. However, my fears were put to rest when I saw the party bus dropping other revelers off and smelled steaks grilling in the backyard. Surely anyone intent on murder, wouldn’t cook for us first, would they?
The party was yet another showcase for young talent. The Music Festival exists to get as many eyes in front of the “Next Biggest Thing” as possible, and any space with enough electricity to hold a soundboard will suffice for a showcase. Tonight, was Arin Ray and Watch the Duck’s chances to show-and-prove.
Arin Ray was once a contestant on the X Factor and has recently release a new project, Platinum Fire. His quick set, one of many that night throughout private events like this, showcased songs from the new album and a few from earlier projects. The music was catchy but not corny and his vocals were smooth. Further the steaks were delicious and once again, free booze! Watch the Duck was eccentric and entertaining. Jesse, the singer of the duo worked the crowd, prowling the makeshift stage like a pro. Blending covers and originals into their own compositions made for a fun and memorable night. Singing along to Jesse crooning a trap-esque version of “Sexual Healing” while waiting in line for a gourmet fried chicken sandwich is a memory that we’ll soon not forget.
To close the showcase, the hosts brought out Houston’s own Trae the Truth. While some may know Trae from his extensive rap catalog, others may be familiar from his relief work during Hurricane Harvey on behalf of his hometown. Trae recently dropped a new project and was all over South By promoting his work and latest release. A mainstay of the Houston hip-hop scene Trae is a veteran with skills that goes back to the early 2000s. His quick set paid tribute to Houston legends Pimp C and DJ Screw while debuting new songs from his latest release Hometown Hero.
With a full belly, we made our way in for the night, ready for the next long vampire night.
Photo Credit: Vickey Ford of Sneakshot for Okayplayer
DAY 3: March 15th
The have games here! Last year SXSW debuted a gaming conference in addition to Interactive, Music, Film and Educational because why not? This year, the event, like most everything else, has grown and included cosplay contests, Twitch livestreaming contests, tournaments for MMORPGs and a host of other things one can’t even begin to describe. We meandered around until we found an old school section of console games being neglected by children far too young to appreciate the non-analog controls. Eventually competition ensued, I dusted a kid, no more than seven, in Street Fighter II and felt no pity. The terms were fair, and it was more a defeat than a murder. Glory to Hanuman for the victory I was granted on this day.
The first showcase was supposed to start at 8:00 p.m. sharp, and like a good press person we arrived on time with plenty of ticks on the tock to make it through security and get into position to enjoy the show. Unfortunately, no one else got the memo. Another caveat of SXSW scheduling. While the booklet, and online app may say the show is to start at 8:00 p.m., and your alert that you programmed into your phone may say that so-and-so is performing at 8:00 p.m. so you’d better get a move on, the show starts when the artist feel the time is right, or better put, when more people get there. Instead of seeing my scheduled showcase, we left and caught the tail-end of Tank and the Bangas at the Pandora House and it was worth it.
Tank and the Bangas are a New Orleans band making their SXSW debut this year and are a funky blend of R&B, jazz, soul and spoken word that do their hometown proud. Their live show is electric and kinetic with energy rivaling that of a tent revival. The Bangas brought the house down with an infectious joy that was a highlight of week thus far. The jolt was just enough energy to get me through our next set of showcases on the other side of downtown at Malverde.
Malverde hosted the DMNDR showcase featuring an eclectic mix of jazz artist from all over the world. First was Noah Thee from New Zealand. Noah is a jazz vocalist with a blend of hip-hop and soul production. Thumping bass lines, and groovy guitars back his smooth falsetto. Noah has a cover of the Evelyn “Champagne” King classic “Love Come Down” that sound like a completely different song all together. His version takes the upbeat ‘80s dance standard and turns it into a sultry, almost mournful ballad. Next was Madison McFerrin from Brooklyn, the daughter of Bobby McFerrin.
Madison does not perform with a band. Madison performs with acoustic vocal loops. Madison sings for a few minutes, loops the sound and sings another part, building the musical backing for the song live on stage. Luckily for Madison she has a beautiful and versatile voice up to the task of building a four-piece band out of vocal loops. Vocal loops became a theme for the night, as Anna Wise took the stage after Madison.
Anna Wise, though practicing a vow of silence outside of performing, also makes use of vocal loops linkling hand claps, snaps and other sounds to build musical backdrops for her songs. Anna’s voice may seem familiar to those knowledgeable of the TDE catalog of one Kendrick Lamar, however her own work goes back to 2009. Her set was bouncy and joyous, even sampling hand claps from friends in the audience and a fitting punctuation to night.
Photo Credit: Vickey Ford of Sneakshot for Okayplayer
DAY 4: March 16th
Trap beats and breath control. As discussed above, there are levels to the thing. There are the Official SXSW events that can be enjoyed by those with badged wristbands and the like. There are unofficial events that pop up at the last minute that can still be enjoyed but run the risk of “The Line Conundrum”. Then there are the unofficial events, sponsored by a corporate partner that require their own credentials, passes and attendance rules. FADER FORT is one such an event.
FADER FORT is an annual event hosted by The FADER Magazine and its partner sponsors that happens at the same time as the SXSW Music Festival. It is not affiliated with South By proper, but kind of works symbiotically with the festival. Everyday the lineup is announced along with a special guest that may or may not appear at another SXSW showcase that week. It’s the special guests that hold the power, as they are never announced beforehand, and you have to be there to find out. One year Drake dropped by the Fort, another year Usher. Everyday a new line-up and every day a new special guest. The first day of the Fort, Trill OG Bun B popped up along with Raekwon the Chef. On this day the brothers of Rae Sremmurd showed up at the Fort.
Before the drummer boys showed up, the line up was as varied and eclectic as The Fader Magazine itself. We arrived midday to the middle of Bbymutha’s set. Bbymutha is a Chattanooga rapstress with hints of influences from Trina, the hardcore lyrical content of Lil Kim and the ‘round-the-way charm of Cardi B. Her set was punctuated by calls of the crowd “Mommy you so cute!”, her catchphrase imitating her daughter Chloe. With long, rainbow braids, and a mesh outfit ready for the heat, Bbymutha commanded attention throughout her set and through her closer and biggest song to date “Rules”. The DMV’s own Rico Nasty stopped through for a hardcore trap set as well. While Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi were the headliners and special guests another unannounced guest popped up, because FADER FORT.
King Combs, son of uber-mogul Sean “P Diddy” Combs, hit the stage along with his friends to perform a few songs. With dear old dad on Facetime, King Combs danced and got the crowd hype, proving that things about apples and trees to be true.
Making my way from the Fort, we decided to hit my last showcases for the week. We slid into Parish for the “Hip-Hop On The Rise Show” hosted by HipHopDX. This is where the night took a turn for the tired. Though it started off promising enough with a quick Just Blaze DJ set and a surprising effort by a new artist named Lyric Michelle, the night wore out its welcome fast. Before the bad, a quick note on Just Blaze the Party DJ.
Just Blaze is responsible for some of the greatest club bangers in hip-hop history. His catalog of hits for Roc-A-Fella Records is enough to have his likeness enshrined on the Mount Rushmore of Hip-Hop Producers along with DJ Premier, Marley Marl and Kanye West. Because of the iconic nature of his hits, many a DJ can and have done entire sets of nothing but Just Blaze songs and rocked many a party. There is even a proper order to which one plays a Just Blaze set. Starting with “PSA” before transitioning into “Pump It Up” and eventually “Show Me What You Got” amongst his other hits. There’s nothing wrong that, per se. It isn’t Just’s fault that so many of his songs blend and transition into each other. It isn’t his fault that he has so many hit records. It’s just weird to watch a producer DJ a party with his own songs, no matter how fire they are. The first rapper of the night was a worthy follow up to Just’s set, a MC named Lyric Michelle.
Lyric was clad in ripped jeans, a cutoff T-shirt that read “BROWN AS FUCK” and an afro that would have made Angela Davis say, “Damn!” Lyric has a quick delivery, clear diction and heavy subject matter as topics such as domestic violence, empowerment and self-love are all covered in her short set. Though she only performed a few songs, she left a good impression and is someone to look out for in the future. The next few acts, unfortunately did not.
WHATUPRG, Peso da Mafia and Ant Beale all sounded like one long continuous hi-hat interrupted by a thudding 808 and an occasional lyric change. Everyone wants to “get LIT,” “turn up” and rap like the Migos. Everyone with a Soundcloud account and a Macbook can make music and unfortunately all of it sounded the same. None of these acts knew each other, or were from the same region, yet every set sounded nearly identical. There was no regional specificity or differentiation in any of their sounds. And more than anything, their performances left too much to be desired. Of note was Ant Beale that performed half of a song, yelled at the soundman and screamed, “I’m out!” before closing his computer and leaving the stage. It would have been a great moment had we known enough to care.
A note on breath control and performance. All week we have noticed rappers, especially rappers, trying to get the crowd hype and excited about their song and while doing so, get winded in the jumping, thrusting and cajoling of crowds, trying to get them into a frenzy. When the crowd does respond, the rapper is usually too winded to rap their lyrics and end up being a hype man to a backing track. This was especially true at the Fader Fort, plus other showcases and generally throughout at places we saw throughout the week. The lack of breath control was killing otherwise decent performances and not allowing the audience to participate in the most important part of a rapper’s performance, the actual words they are saying. To those on the come up, we cannot stress enough the importance of endurance and breath control to the longevity of one’s rap career, especially one focused on the live performance.
After this we called it a night, preparing for the last day and the Bud Light Roots Jam.
DAY 5: March 17th
They canceled what? As we waited in the media check-in line a feeling began to sink into the assemble crowd. We were 45-minutes past the start of the show and not a single person had been let in. The rain had come and gone, the line had grown longer and larger and no answers were given. Suddenly a murmur began.
“What? Who said?”
“Check Twitter, it’s real.”
“No! Come on man!”
“Guess were headed to Stubb’s, huh?” What eventually became known was that yes, Bud Light had decided for safety’s sake they were going to cancel the Roots and Friends’ SXSW Jam because of a bomb threat. With everything going on in Austin in the weeks leading up to South By, the police could not afford to not take this threat seriously. The event featuring The Roots and an all-star line-up of surprise guests was canceled and the assembled crowd angrily ventured back across the highway into downtown in search of something else to occupy their last night in Austin. Luckily, there was a party, Live at the BBQ!
Stubb’s is like many places in Austin, both a barbeque restaurant and a performance venue. The backyard of Stubbs’ is a giant dirt field with a stage, concessions and a VIP section capable of fitting nearly everyone that would want to be there. The event was a closing SXSW party hosted by Mass Appeal, the label and production company founded by Nas, along with Def Jam Records and Netflix.
Netflix was celebrating the SXSW premiere of their new docuseries RAPTURE, produced by Mass Appeal and director-producer Sacha Jenkins. RAPTURE is an eight-part series looking at the intimate lives of eight hip-hop artists in ways that haven’t been seen or told before. The series features, Nas, Dave East, Rapsody, T.I., Just Blaze, 2 Chainz, A Boogie with Da Hoodie, Logic and G-Eazy and debuts on Netflix on March 30th. The party was hosted by DJ Statik Selektah and featured performances from Rapsody, Dave East and headliner T.I.
Rapsody hit the stage after a longer Just Blaze DJ set and a Trae tha Truth set. She was introduced as the “Queen of Rap” and a lyrical monster by Statik. The Snow Hill native star and well-respected lyricist moved the crowd and showed that her live game was just as strong and her pen game. Handling all MC duties for dolo, sans hype men or a backing track, Rap easily worked the crowd like a veteran. With masterful breath control, cadence and clear diction, Rapsody ran through songs from her Grammy-nominated 2017 release Laila’s Wisdom. By the end of her set, the audience was won over.
Dave East took the stage next, followed by T.I., however my plane was leaving in five hours and I hadn’t slept, packed or started on this recap yet, so I called it a night. After five days, I had seen over 20 artist showcases and performances, four panel discussions, eaten three comped meals, too many arms collected too many wristbands to count finagled three line-jumps with well-placed text messages, taken over 500 photos, and walked over 15 miles. I’m tired boss. I’m tired.
In all SXSW is an incredible, enriching and overwhelming experience. There is literally too much to see, do and interact with, but it is all worth it. No matter how long you stay or how high your access, you can’t do it all. No number of badges, wristbands, or RSVPs will be able to promise entry into everything worth seeing, doing or hearing. Our advice, don’t try to see it all at once. Pick a tract and see what you can, and next year pick another one. Follow hashtags and articles while you’re there and talk to other attendees. RSVP to any and everything and always have a backup plan. If the line takes too long, bail. There is too much to see to spend your time waiting in line for something else. 6th street has bars and clubs that don’t require badges or wristbands for entry and a good time can be had simply by walking by. Bottom line, enjoy yourself. Eat the food, take the selfie, watch the band you’ve never heard of and maybe, just maybe you can find your newest, coolest obsession.
Micah Young can be found weekly with his inebriated cohorts holding your hand through the foolishness and fuckery of your timeline on The Brown Liquor Report.