The 10 Best Parties That SXSW Had To Offer

first_img8. Nikes/Slugabed/DJ Earl/Sam Binga @ Surefire Showcase at BarcelonaThe technical delineations between juke, footwork, jungle, and dnb may be hazy to most music fans, even the diehards of those genres themselves, but whatever was going on down in Barcelona on Friday night represented the forefront of what’s happening in those worlds today. Here in town, we endearingly call Barcy “The Bass Cave,” due to its underground setting and the walls of speakers, and this year’s Surefire showcase made sure to put the sometimes-overwhelming soundsystem to good use. Nikes (of Austin’s 808k crew) had an arsenal of fresh tracks to get things going, blending originals and remixes together seamlessly, deliberately putting forth a set of future-facing bass music that was impossible to pin down. British bass maven Slugabed followed, also gleefully defying categorization, incorporating all sorts of asymmetrical, funky, generally absurd beats into his set. Chicagoan DJ Earl and Sam Binga from England, both leaders in the footwork genre, closed out the night, surely in style, but at that point I had already departed downtown for the Electric Church party at Sahara Lounge on the East Side. SXSW is just too crazy. There’s really no way to adequately describe the energy of Austin during those 10 days of March, you just have to experience it firsthand. There are parties all over the place, everywhere becomes a temporary venue, the city nearly doubles in size, street buskers and food trucks are everywhere, there are startup companies doing everything in their power to grab your attention, swarms of impassioned artists are feeling as if their careers will be made or broken while they’re in town (plot twist — life is actually a lot more subtle than that), and there are free drinks and free food available, barely below the surface, waiting to be discovered.Before I leave my house to bike into the bedlam every day, I typically write down 5-10 parties I’m interested in, and try and catch as many as possible. It’s important to remember that going with the flow is essential when things don’t go as expected, although there are also always ways to get what you really want at any given moment. It’s a roller coaster of a week and a half, an exhilarating free-for-all, a race to the prize, a call to rage, a smorgasbord of experiences, new sounds, and new friends, with musicians, filmmakers, and techies converging from around the world. Austin instantly becomes a hyper-expanded, distorted version of its typical, atypical self. It’s beyond chaotic, and definitely reliant on luck at times, but ultimately, you get back what you put out. And by the way, we call it “south by,” not “south by south west.”Here are my ten favorite parties from this year’s festivities, in no particular order.1. Milo/Zavala @ Fake Four Inc. at Karma LoungeKarma Lounge may be known locally as a club that leans towards the EDM side of things, but during SXSW, nothing is set in stone. They happened to grant themselves a great showcase on Thursday night of the fest, a night of talent from Fake Four Inc., featuring some midwesterners with a fascinating take on hip-hop. Milo is a rapper based out of Wisconsin, whose collaborations with unorthodox lyricists Busdriver and Open Mike Eagle have helped bring him into the national spotlight. He had a controller for his mic effects and rocked the stage solo, providing one of the most engaging, provocative, distinct approaches to alternative hip-hop. Chicago producer Zavala has been turning heads lately for his production work for the Seattle-based duo Dark Time Sunshine, but when he plays solo sets, he rearranges his moody boom bap suites into a smooth, funky blend of house and UK garage, vaguely similar to what Bonobo and Disclosure might present at their live shows. Both artists made a strong case for further exploration of their discographies.2. Botany/Flamingosis @ Magical Mondays at EmpireThe SXSW edition of Magical Mondays at Empire didn’t disappoint, featuring day sets from Botany and Flamingosis, and a wealth of talent on the nighttime bill as well. Botany, originally from Denton but now residing here in Austin, is one of my favorite producers in the instrumental hip-hop scene here, and he was especially on point for this indoor afternoon set. He’s got a propensity for incorporating organic textures into his beats that coalesce entrancingly with the thumping grooves, not unlike the way Teebs finesses bird chirps, bells, scratches, and all sorts of rustling into his cerebral tunes, ultimately giving the impression of an enchanted trek through a jungle at dusk. Flamingosis on the other hand, living in Brooklyn these days but still proudly repping New Jersey, eschews such density and depth for much lighter offerings, projecting the image of walking along a sunny beach with a boombox playlist that does no wrong. His beats have some serious bounce to them, that unmistakable funk, with elements of Latin music and late ’70’s-early ’80’s flavor throughout. Guaranteed good times when he’s on the decks. An extra, unexpected standout was The Halfways, a local psychedelic indie rock band with some tropical inclinations and artfully balanced progressive tendencies. Later on that night, the showcase also featured local favorites Magna Carda, R.A.S. (Riders Against the Storm), The Octopus Project, Henry + the Invisibles, and much more. 5. Dublab @ Exploded Records at JuicelandIf you’re looking for a thoughtfully curated, concise, sonically progressive record store in Austin, particularly one that features the latest releases from electronic fusionists like Ninja Tune, Stones Throw, Warp, Brainfeeder, and the like, Exploded Records at Juiceland is the go-to spot. It’s about ten minutes north of downtown, in the Hyde Park neighborhood. The shop is the latest manifestation of Exploded Drawing, a collective of experimental beatmakers who perform original music at warehouse gatherings on the east side, at a spot called the Museum of Human Achievement. Basically, Soundfounder, one of the two founders of the squad, is a Juiceland employee, the owner of Juiceland loves him some tasty beats and partying with great music, and the rest is now history. The other half of the record store is one of Austin’s many Juiceland locations, with a fantastic vegan ice cream shop in there as well. This year, Exploded Records, in collaboration with California radio station Dublab, featured a formidable supply of producers, all scheduled for mornings and afternoons in this variously refreshing setting. Over the course of six days, they brought in Robot Koch, Zavala, Mndsgn, Daedelus, Slugabed, Matthewdavid, Corduroi, and even one of Germany’s most heralded krautrock acts, Faust. A rare opportunity to see such gifted musicians in an unhurried, intimate setting.6. Eureka the Butcher/Al Lover/Botany/DJ Nobody @ Hotel Vegas Annex (aka the Lazy Lizard)This showcase on the east side was an extension of a regular Monday night event at the Volstead, “Murda Mondays,” a generally mellow event where local DJ’s bring crates of records along and everyone cools out to some underground hip-hop and obscure funk. The SXSW lineup fit nicely in line with those intentions, offering a free show with some highly capable groove technicians. Botany played earlier in the day at Empire, but this location was far less ideal for his hypnotizing soundscapes, thanks to the droning psych rock bleeding over from the Hotel Vegas stage next door, twenty feet and one overmatched wall away. The producers surely didn’t know in advance that they’d be playing over some screaming guitars and all-out drums. Once that all ceased though, the sequence of artists were finally able to steal the show.Al Lover is best known around these parts for his contributions to Levitation Fest (FKA Austin Psych Fest) pre-coverage every year, via his eclectic compilations. His set was more catered towards beats than usual here. DJ Nobody is a resident deckmaster from LA’s Low End Theory crew, so he knows a thing or two about those crunchy electronic jams. Eureka the Butcher, aka Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez, was a keyboardist and percussionist for the Mars Volta and Zechs Marquise, and has been playing shows with DJ Nobody for more than a decade now. He usually enlists the help of analog synths and drum machines for his dark instrumental tunes, as well as his bellydancing, sword-wielding muse Sadah Luna, but the excess was trimmed down that night. Expecting all artists to bring 100% of their typical stage setup for SXSW shows is a futile and naive approach; to quote William DeVaughn, sometimes you’ve just gotta “be thankful for what you’ve got.”7. The Tontons/Main Squeeze/DJ Logic @ Swan Dive (plus Anderson .Paak @ Stubbs & Erykah Badu @ Mohawk)Wednesday night was full of options, but there’s no denying a diverse lineup full of funk. Swan Dive’s showcase that night was ‘official’ as far as SXSW was concerned, but $12 took care of the lack of credentials. The Tontons were in town from Houston, and serenaded charmingly as always, presenting their unique take on an oldies sound that features big hooks, wailing guitars, and the soaring vocals of frontwoman Asli Omar. The Main Squeeze were next, a band i’d been hearing about, and unfortunately repeatedly missing, for years. I was told they’re a “Suwannee Band,” aka an act that fits perfectly in place within the context of my beloved Bear Creek Festival (RIP, for now), so i had high hopes. Expectations were met and exceeded. The Chicago-based jazz fusion group, initially formed in Bloomington, Indiana, were a true force to be reckoned with, rocking a huge, confident, aggressive sound. They put forth hard-hitting funk that turned tight corners as an ensemble, and consistently showcased brief moments of individual virtuosity when the moment called for it. My friends and I reluctantly pried ourselves away from the incredible set early in order to catch Anderson .Paak at a different venue, and eventually wound up skipping DJ Logic’s 1am set back at Swan Dive in order to scale a building, perch up on an adjacent rooftop, and see (mostly hear) Erykah Badu play at The Mohawk. DJ Logic’s jazz-infused turntablism is great, undoubtedly, but sometimes adventure is in the air, and risks must be taken. 10. The Electric Church @ Sahara LoungeAs it stands, the Sahara Lounge is one of the most interesting places in Austin to catch a show. It’s situated far east of downtown, with a prestigious past life as TC’s Lounge, which until recently was one of the East Austin’s most iconic old juke joints. With an emphasis on Africa, they provide a haven for international and experimental music, with jazz artifacts everywhere, and a wooden dancefloor that seems to live and breathe with passionate crowds, rocking and swaying and flowing to the groove. It’s always a good time in there.Enter the Electric Church. Based nearby, this East Side collective functions as a shapeshifting, notorious invocation to surrealism, hosting debaucherous, discombobulating gatherings, when they’re not busy pressing cassettes, making music videos, or performing as The Sun Machine and Black Liquid Drop. This was the second year they’ve enlisted the Sahara Lounge to be their epicenter of chaos, after an enormously successful collaboration last year. (HERE is a very high point from the end of that party). Indisputably central to the Electric Church/Sahara Lounge SXSW experience is the magnificently costumed Golden Dawn Arkestra, who are not only one of the must-see bands in the unfathomably dense Austin music scene, in our country of 300-something million, or even on the entire planet. They’re one of the premier acts anywhere in the universe, as far as I’m concerned. They evoke Sun Ra’s mysticism and awe-inspiring rituals, and distill them through a euphoric filter of African funk and disco, inciting a frenzied atmosphere that fosters transcendent feelings of unity among mesmerized audiences.The acts earlier in the night were intriguingly wide-ranging and captivated the crowded setting, but there was a tangible buzz of anticipation that crescendoed all the way to Golden Dawn’s back patio entrance procession, heralded by frontman Topaz McGarrigle on a majestic white horse. Yes they marched the horse right into the damn bar. Yes, it was a very good idea. (And yes, it went back outside after a few seconds.) Combine all of these volatile elements, drink specials, and a little backyard barbecue, and that dance floor was bouncing generously Friday night.Between the cult of Golden Dawn Arkestra, and the cult of the Electric Church, the night ended with a whole bunch of new believers in the mix, dazed zealots speaking in tongues, sinners seeking salvation (or more sin), much drinking of the Kosmic Koolaid, psychedelic disciples, evangelicals of funk, and a whole bar full of music lovers truly convinced they had seen The Light. I’m not inclined to argue.Honorable Mentions– Rick Wilkerson and his band’s tight funk fusion representing the jazzier side of Nashville’s scene, at the Historic Victory Grill’s Ultimate Louisiana Party– Impromptu parade and recording session by Minneapolis brass band New Sound Underground– All the amazing world music I intended to catch this festival, including bands from Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Cuba, Japan, Norway, Pakistan, Indonesia, as well as Dutch and German producers and so many more…– CIA LSD psych rock party at Barracuda, Sunday day and night when SXSW was “technically” over (videos — Rotten Mangos & Hollow Trees)– Poliça at the Parish– Grupo Fantasma, free outdoor show at Auditorium Shores– Ethan Glass’s experimental bass at Barcelona– The Sun Machine at Hotel Vegas Annex (Lazy Lizard)– Green Oasis afterparty on Saturday night– Chop Shop/Create Culture’s crawfish boil party at Empire, Saturday during SXSW Interactive– The Waffle Bus, aka my downtown chicken & waffles HQ for the week. Only here for SXSW, from Houston. I will never forget you.This list was contributed by Jared Buchsbaum, who runs Truth Via Music. You can see his work here, and check out his full SXSW video playlist below:center_img 3. CAPYAC Boat PartyThe first, and most important thing you must remember about this one, is that the entire thing took place ON A BOAT. It’s crucial to escape the concrete jungle of downtown every so often during SXSW, and hopping on one of the city’s many boat parties at some point is the best way to do so. That being said, Capyac are some of the best nautical hosts an Austinite could hope for, because they wield some of the fiercest, most infectious, freshest funk in town. They’re a live disco duo, who often enlist special guests in support of the cause, like crooner Collin “Oolaf” Finnigan, versatile latin percussionist Dario Aravena (aka Darth Vena), and Rudi Devino, who raps locally with Subculture Patriots, Sip Sip, and Retr0grade. Colin and Rudi were in the mix aboard, joined by the modeling troupe witchxxdoctor, silent alien seductresses who were in full splendor throughout the voyage, adorned in pink and silver, mostly dedicated to staying in character. They crept around alluringly with citrus and licorice on silver platters, one of which featured a jar full of extra-special jazz cigarettes, rolled in pink paper. A very nice touch indeed. Solstice Live sure knows how to throw a party. Did I mention the free whiskey? Did I mention THE BOAT??4. Keys n Krates/Break Science/Capyac/Lucky Chops @ Music Tech Mashup at EmpireIn general in Austin, when in doubt on a given night, it’s worth hopping over to Empire Control Room & Garage to see what’s going on. Shortly after being thoroughly funkified at sea on Thursday afternoon, it occurred to my crew and I that catching another Capyac show might actually be a great idea. It wouldn’t be the last time we concluded this during SXSW. Luckily, an extra large version of the group was listed within a stacked bill at Empire that same night for the Music Tech Mashup party (presented by Jukely and Heard Entertainment), along with Canadian traptronica trio Keys n Krates, rowdy brass band Lucky Chops, and electronic funk duo Break Science, who always manage to get everybody hyped. The packed crowd was at a fever pitch the whole time. I found myself especially drawn to Lucky Chops, who utilized technical proficiency, instrumental power, engaging song selections, and infectious energy to maintain the crowd’s attention. Their bari sax player also happens to be a rising star in the brass band scene, the fast-footed Leo P. of TOO MANY ZOOZ, a ‘brass-house’ ensemble who have taken NYC subway stations by storm, going viral for their irrepressible underground performances. They’re one of a select few bands in recent memory who have transcended the world of busking, and are now in demand for arena shows. Lucky Chops spent the rest of their festival doing pop-up shows around town, and if people were adequately coherent when catching them, I suspect those guys have a whole bunch of new fans from their time here. 9. Stones Throw @ EmpireSaturday night of SXSW is always a big deal. I skipped out on a show that night headlined by Snarky Puppy, along with solo sets from standout keyboardists/composers Cory Henry and Bill Laurance….so you know something major was going down. For the second year in a row, I dedicated my final “official” night of the festival to Stones Throw, Peanut Butter Wolf’s experimental hip-hop imprint from LA, one of the most creative labels out there. The bill was pretty insane this year, with six hours of creative greatness filling two stages. Too many inevitable conflicts of musical interest to even be mad.Mndsgn threw down early with his dusty, harmonically enticing mid-tempo take on esoteric jazz. Karriem Riggins (with the help of J Rocc on the decks) dexterously covered a bunch of J Dilla classics, with deep, personal familiarity, on his drum kit. Knxwledge flipped remixes with his characteristically bumpy, surreal style, chopping bizarre loops until his Nx Worries partner, Anderson .Paak, burst on stage and dazzled the crowd with his charismatic flow. He and Knx are hilarious counterparts for each other, constantly talking shit back and forth (mostly about the fact that Knx was dressed down, and Paak was dressed up), keeping the energy nice and loose. Ras G brought his heavy, hazy, club-shaking beats along for the masked Koreatown Oddity, a new partner in crime of his, to rap over. Seiho came all the way from Japan and stole faces with some futuristic uptempo house jams, ornamenting his rhythms with a spellbinding Korg keyboard that resembled a sort of slide piano. Samiyam transported us into a video game realm where everything was slowed way down and a final boss battle loomed ominously ahead. Deantoni Parks (formerly of the Mars Volta) blew minds by drumming with one hand and maniacally sequencing notes and melodies with the other. Daedelus, the wizard of the monome himself, and a true gentleman through and through, flung an endless supply of layers onto his frequently evolving hectic grooves as if he was hurling fireballs at the crowd. J Rocc of LA’s Beat Junkie crew gave us some old-school soul to chew on, along with plenty of Dilla originals, one track he suggested would be on Madvillain 3 (uhhh….release date?? Anyone??), and a thorough, seasoned mastery of the turntables.The head honcho himself, Peanut Butter Wolf, closed it out, using his set to pay tribute to the immense supply of talent he’s accumulated on his label. This included many who weren’t in the building, like Dåm Funk, DOOM, Dilla, and Madlib, and of course his ex-musical partner and best friend, Charizma, who tragically died young when the vision of Stones Throw was still barely a dream. The party concluded on a high note, with Opio of Hieroglyphics and Souls of Mischief joining PBW for a few tracks, including the classic ’93’ til Infinity.’ Stones Throw has been around for twenty years now, and there’s certainly reason to believe that their best years still lie ahead.last_img

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