This was a monumental year. It was the 30th edition of the South by Southwest Music and Media conference. The President of the United States and First Lady both delivered keynotes at the Interactive and Music Conferences respectively. SXSW had over 550 sessions and 50 screenings, opening up more badge types than ever before; the SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conferences and Festivals celebrated its 23rd year for Film and Interactive, and over the course of nine days, SXSW brought together the top creative minds across various industries to teach and share ideas and concerns. It was a tremendous occasion, and Electric Sloth was fortunate enough to experience it.

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Austin, Texas

Day 1:

The sun was shining down on the Austin skyline and the birds were chirping. While the river flowed with paddle boarders and kayaks along its banks, I drove down to the Austin Convention Center to pick up my music badge. Well marked tape on the ground led me to where I needed to go, so that I didn’t feel like a lost puppy. And not only was everyone at check-in incredibly helpful, but friendly as well.

The first act I saw was Gallant. He has a reputation for being one of the most exuberant performers, and he didn’t disappoint. Throughout every song the crowd was cheerful and engrossed with his movements and voice. That man can sing. After Gallant’s set finished I headed off to the Hype Hotel; a super cool venue with food trucks, drinks, and a Mazda car display. It also housed a live recording studio with glass windows where artists could live record music which was genuinely neat to observe.

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A crucial part of the SXSW experience is listening to new bands, and one of the greatest things about listening to new bands is that you have no expectations whatsoever. So when Pumarosa got on stage and started singing and dancing, I was enthralled. They were a band that not only knew how to jam together, but knew how to feed off of each other’s energies. In a most psychedelic fashion, the lead singer was dancing and swaying to the beats. She reminded me of Jefferson Airplane, but with a contemporary spin. She used a lot of reverb which I appreciated because the echos of her voice continued to reverberate throughout the venue. It gave off the slightly mystical vibe and it fit the mood perfectly. After Pumarosa, I grabbed some tender belly tacos from one of the trucks, met a guy from Australia named Mike (shout out to you Mike!) and patiently waited for Hinds to come on. The thing about Hinds is that (unbeknownst to me until twenty minutes before their set) they had been featured on just about every “must see” list for SXSW. The all-female band hailing from Madrid  walked on stage in over sized T-shirts and Nike shorts, hair in buns, and were ready to rock without a care in the world. They did just that. I was very impressed and fell in love with their attitudes and music. They were simply a fun, hip, young female band that wanted to rock. Plus, Carlotta’s voice was so sweet and accented I was enamored.

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Hinds

Next, I went over to 800 Congress to check out Baauer, who was good – but came on really late. So, I ended up leaving early to prepare for Day 2 which was going to be an early morning rise…

Day 2:

After waking up at the crack of down, it was back to the Austin Convention Center. I was super excited. The first lady, Michelle Obama, was going to deliver a keynote address and engage in a panel discussion with Queen Latifah moderating among Diane Warren, Missy Elliot, Michelle, and Sophia Bush. Before the keynote began, a dedication of the festival was made to Louis Meyers, one of the founders who unfortunately passed away the morning of March 11th, 2016.

Chloe and Hale opened up with a few songs honing in the theme before the discussion. The panel hit the ground running, and grew outward from its centered focus on the 62 million girls that are uneducated or remain without access to education. From there, they spoke about what inspired by them, who inspired them, and how both men and women can do their part to engage in the fight for educating women. Did you know that just one more year of secondary education leads to a 25% increase in the wages of a woman? Those wages not only help secure her or her family financially, but lead to an increase in the overall GDP of a nation. That’s why we should all move forward with the Let Girls Learn Initiative. It was such an eye opening session that was light hearted but also prompted a serious call to action. After the session ended, Michelle Obama and Queen Latifah came down to greet the audience. I was lucky enough to shake the First Lady’s hand, and let me tell you, that will be a moment that will live with me forever.

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Michelle Obama

I was in need for some relaxation after my blood pressure became to high after shaking the First Lady’s hand. So, I headed over to the comfortable registrants lounge that SXSW so graciously provided. They supplied free water and soda, and allowed for two free alcoholic beverages each day. It was a cozy scene where I got to network and become friends with some really cool people. But, suddenly my stomach was grumbling. I waltzed two blocks over to the McDonald’s McDigital area and enjoyed a custom burger experience. They had avocado, bacon, and several different types of bun, not to mention an incredibly talented staff that served food crazy fast. It was McHeaven for my stomach. The McDigital experience also featured three virtual reality areas and a sundae bar.  I was sated, so I headed over to the Radio Day Stage to check out one of my favorite bands, White Denim. 

I first heard the four piece Austin rock band on Spotify via Discover Arguably their most popular song is “Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)” and it is so, so good. The band has all of these different influences from psychedelic to blues to rock. James Petralli’s vocals were much better in person, which is always a nice surprise. A special thanks to KCRW who hosted White Denim at the Radio Day Stage!

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White Denim

After White Denim I intended to see another band, but I got a notification on my phone from the SXSW GO app about the screening of Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead,” his breakout film as a director and actor. Luckily, it was open to music badges in addition to the film badges. The Paramount Theater was ridiculous. It’s two stories tall and can hold 1200 people. As for the film, I was not only blown away by it, but the sheer magnitude of cinematic choice and content made it outstanding musically. A New York Times review noted that if you wanted a run at early potential for Oscar Nominations, this was your movie. Afterward Don Cheadle took some questions and engaged the audience. During the film, I sat next to Miles Davis’ nephew, Vincent Wilburn Jr., and his son was seated above me on the next level of the theater. It felt so radical to enjoy a movie with the men who were also watching their father’s movie. Of course, when the movie got out, I had to head back to the music scene.

Heading over across the pond, I went and saw the Givers at the Roadies House. Unfortunately, the band suffered enormous technical difficulties throughout the set. It was my first experience at SXSW with technical difficulties and only the Roadies House could be to blame. As funortunate as the difficulties were,  Givers jammed out and we went “up up up.”

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Givers

After that I had a tough midnight choice, and decided where else was I to go but the Barracuda Backyard to check out one of my favorite rappers, Open Mike Eagle. He played a great set, performing two my favorite songs “Qualifers” and “Very Much Money (Ice King Dream) which are both off of Dark Comedy. Another part of Open Mike Eagle’s set was his advice show, where he asked an audience member to ask him a question. Some guy said he had a girl that was mean to him, and Open Mike Eagle responded with “stop talking to her” followed by the hilarious chime of “The Advice Show.” His friend and another rap favorite of mine, milo, was also in the crowd supporting. That’s one thing about music that I love, friends always support friends and it was great to see that genuine friendship between the two rappers in person.

One of the funny things about heading out after the set was that I ran into this band I had never seen or heard of; they were called Stealing Sheep. They donned weird space age unitard outfits and played odd sounds. They were a band from Liverpool composed of three ladies, and they played an outstanding pop show.  It was a pleasant and nice surprise. After that I headed off for some bass heavy downtime with Zeds Dead. The venue itself was rather difficult to navigate, thanks to poor placement of tables and areas were not well monitored, and it made it difficult to get anywhere near the music at first. A drunk man spilled all of his beverage on me, but I couldn’t let any of those obstacles get in the way of Zeds Dead. The duo was phenomenal, and their bass drops boomed well into the hours of the night. After that, I headed home and got ready for day 3 of SXSW…

Day 3:

Tony Visconti kicked major ass. Seriously. He was humorous, gentle and deeply concerned about the path of the music industry. One of the most poignant moments of his keynote was when he read us a story he had written. It was a fictional account of what he thought the music industry might look like in ten years, and let me tell you, it was heart breaking. He actually had to step away from the mic at the end of the story, it was that jarring. I myself was very touched by it. He encouraged all of us as musicians, writers, record label managers and producers to stop front loading money into artists. We have to turn away from betting on three, four or five artists to dominate the scene and to make money for the industry. With album sales at their lowest, we have to go back to our roots. We have to encourage creativity and creation of content across genres and platforms and artist bases. Instead of having two artists in the studio and making several hits with the same tune give or take a sound byte, it is essential that we build up several artists in the hopes of creating a hit. The music industry shouldn’t be about money, it should be about exercising our voice as musicians.

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Tony Visconti

At this point I realized that I was getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of SXSW, and not really enjoying the city of Austin and what it had to offer. So I took a portion of the afternoon to chill out and explore a little. Of course, I went to the McDigital experience before my stroll. I couldn’t get enough premium burger and fries. As I was walking down 6th street, I noticed the Pandora Discovery Den and strolled over to see what was going on. Though no artists were performing, I got to enjoy myself on a nice Adirondack chair. They also offered free Chick-Fil-A and Scotts water bottles in the area. It was a pleasant surprise and an easy place to sit down and breathe the Austin air.

I walked back to the registrants lounge, hoping to meet some new people, and I did. But, something totally unexpected happened. It was St. Patrick’s Day and the holiday had totally slipped my mind, and all of a sudden a large group of people dressed in Irish garb marched in and started playing Irish tunes! It was such a grand surprise.

Shortly after their marvelous entry, I ended up at the Casper nap tour which was a huge highlight. I’ve always wanted to take a nap in public, and they made my dream come true. More than that, they had one of the comfiest mattresses I’ve ever slept on and they gave out sick goody bags with lots of swag. Particularly swaggy, I got a pair of Bombas socks which is a one for one sock company. Let me tell you, they are comfortable as hell.

After my Casper nap I went and got a burger at the famous Hopdoddy’s in Austin. I chose the Buffalo Bill which was absolutely delicious. Although the line was long, the quality of food and service made the wait worthwhile. Next, I headed over to Cheers Shot Bar to catch Calliope Musicals. They were easily the best performance I had seen thus far. They shot off confetti cannons, handed out cardboard signs with the word “Enjoy” on them, and danced into the crowd. Additionally The Austin Chronicle awarded them the award for “Best New Austin Band.” Electric Sloth was fortunate enough to get an interview with them, you can catch that exclusive feature in the near future.

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Calliope Musicals

After our interview, I trekked off to the Hype Hotel and unfortunately heard two very awful bands who I won’t mention. That’s the only downside to a music festival, sometimes you hear things you never want to hear again. So I left, and walked towards Karma Lounge to see milo, one of my long-time favorite rappers. But along the way, I heard some blues pouring out of a building. I turned to my left and saw Antone’s was hosting a man named Carl Whathersby. I walked inside and was in awe of his guitar skills. He was a blues man thick and through; soulful deep vocals, incredible guitar solos and a bassist and percussionist that not only supported him, but held up their own on the musical sides of things. The vibe inside Antone’s was amazing. Everyone tended to be of older age, and almost everyone was slow dancing or grooving with someone else. It was a laid-back, classic blues house and I loved my time there.

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milo

After his show ended, I continued my walk to Karma Lounge and found milo setting up for his set. I got to speak a few words with him and complimented him on his work and his outlook on life. He had recently posted on his Instagram how his music is about tomorrows, and that to me is a description that speaks volumes about his work. He performed some new stuff which had a verse “I would trade my whole fan base for another hand shake from Rob” which was a brilliant and poignant verse. He also stuck to “Lavender Chunk” and “Souvenir” which I heard him perform not too long ago at the coOompound in Dallas. To the joy of the crowd and milo’s invitation, Open Mike Eagle hopped on stage to come in for his verse on “True Nen” which was dope. There’s nothing quite like watching friends support each other, especially in music as I mentioned earlier. milo’s set finished and I took off to the Moody Theater to catch Lil Yachty and Earl Sweatshirt. Talk about hype, Lil Yachty had the crowd going crazy. He hit “Cold like Minnesota” and everyone (including myself) went bonkers. Then after Lil Yachty finished, Early Sweatshirt was up next. Even when Earl Sweatshirt wasn’t on stage people were chanting his name and going crazy for him. After a lot of turning up with my rap favorites, I called it a night.

Day 4:

James Prince, founder and CEO of Rap-A-Lot Records, began his keynote with Bun B acting as the interviewer and leader of the discussion. Right off the bat, J. Prince is a very spiritual man. He spoke often about his time in prayer and described how he isn’t surprised with where he is in life. Bun B asked him if he was surprised at where he ended up in life, and James Prince responded that it was hard to be surprised when he’s been praying about his career path for many years. Of course, the Drake drama got brought up, but thankfully it wasn’t a highlight of the keynote. He expanded on his views on the music industry and the power of perspective. He explained that he doesn’t have respect for those who don’t give back to the community after they come out of a tough area that made them who they are. Giving back to the community that shaped you is crucial, he said. He founded Rap-A-Lot-Records to get kids off the street in the first place. Having grown up in the 5th ward of Houston, he focused on the power of perspective. Most people would call the 5th ward a notorious area for dangerous activity, but J. Prince described it as beautiful. Switching to the topic of family in hip hop—which can be a touchy issue for everyone—he told us how you have to put those who will deliver in positions as opposed to who you like or might share family relations. It’s a career, an industry, and ultimately someone else’s career that you’re helping them create. It’s a tough line to be drawn, but when it comes to family in Hip-Hop you’ve got to be tough. One of the most powerful messages for me was how J. Prince didn’t let his children growing up listen to rap or hip-hop. He had to protect them from it. This was especially interesting because he is such a prolific producer for the genres. But, he claimed a young kid or child wouldn’t and doesn’t understand a lot of the societal issues and messages that are in rap and hip-hop messages. Moreover, those messages become blurred because some of the most popular songs are often not about societal change, rather drugs, violence and sex. It was such a neat opportunity to hear James Prince’s unique thoughts and messages on his industry, family and life. 

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James Prince

After the keynote, I saw CHVRCHES at the Radio Day Stage which was a cozy and laid back scene. They performed “The Mother We Share” at a much slower temp than I’ve heard it, and it was totally soothing. Everyone was up and dancing and it was just all around good vibes.

Because SXSW is not just a music festival but also a conference for music lovers and industry specialists, they offered multiple mentoring sessions with key players and leaders. I was able to reserve a spot for a session and that’s when I met up with Alex Maiolo. He’s a writer for TapeOp and also records in his own home studio in North Carolina. He was amiable, and of course a music lover so we bonded immediately. Alex really helped guide me into a clearer direction within the industry and gave me excellent advice on niche music sites. He also pointed me into the direction of the Music for Social Change Lab at NYU, which is a really cool project that deserves recognition. (Thank you Alex!)

Shortly after that I met up with some pals of mine and saw CHVRCHES again at the Stubb’s venue. It’s interesting the contrast between a small venue and smaller crowd versus a larger venue and larger crowd. Big ups to Lauren and the rest of the band for letting their personality shine through even among a bigger crowd. It just goes to show that a quality band is consistent with their attitude and performance art, and after that CHVRCHES set, I liked them even more.

After Stubb’s I walked to the Pandorda Discovery Den to go see Anderson .Paak and while I did enjoy him, obviously because he’s ridiculously good, I ended up leaving a little early and walked into a local start-up called Videotape. They were hosting a band called Hot Breakfast. Self-categorized as “dork rock” they played the triangle, trumpet, and melodica among other instruments. They put on a rad show and played quirky music. Their personalities really shined through and their humor was engaging and inclusive. All in all they just rocked the little venue to the top, even when they played the worst song ever created – “Mr. Robot.”

Shortly after Hot Breakfast, I was invited by some friends to go to the Holiday Inn Express for a swim. Of course, SXSW doesn’t slow down for anyone, and the pool actually turned out to be a SXSW sanctioned venue. It was one of the coolest things I got to do because I listened to live music under water. Now that, was a SXSW experience I will remember for a long time.

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Troye Sivane

As the night came on, it began to rain pretty hard. Texas thunderstorms aren’t pretty or nice. Luckily, I was able to get inside the Youtube Music at the Copper House before it got too bad. Once there, I loaded my belly with delicious kimchi fries and drinks. Troye Sivan opened and although I had never heard any of his stuff before, he was incredible and put on an excellent show. He openly talked about his sexuality and made us all laugh with his little anecdotes. But let me say this about my night at Youtube: Jamie xx was a spiritual experience. I’ve never been in a DJ set quite like his. I want to call it ineffable, but if I were to try and put it into words, I would say that he took us on a musical journey full of deep house beats and mixes. Probably my favorite part of the whole set was his opening track: “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie. Talk about an opener, that was not only bold in its context but delivered the attitude of the night. I never stopped dancing during his almost two hour set. It was just too damn good.

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Jamie xx

Once my spiritual journey came to a close, I went and caught Ghostface Killah and Louis the Child. The staff at their performance outlet were rather unpleasant, but the music was great. Of course Louis the Child played “It’s Strange”and killed it with their other tracks during the night. As I was walking the streets on my way back home, I bumped into a guy on the street who was wearing some ridiculously cool clothes. His name was T.BAll, and he was super pleasant to talk to and gave me a camouflage Snapback that my friend has since stolen. His gear is sweet and you can check it out here.

Day 5:

On the last day of SXSW I woke up and headed to the registrants lounge where Monster put on a breakfast for us. They had eggs, sausage, bacon, biscuits and gravy – the whole nine yards. It was a delicious way to begin my last day. But unfortunately, it got cold as hell. Or as Lil Yachty or G-Eazy described, “It got cold like Minnesota.” Being the silly non-Austin member that I am, I didn’t pack a change of warm clothes. So I had to bust a trip to Target to grab some pants and a jacket. Then once I was warm, I went to a legal session hosted by Stan Soocher. It was called “Suing the Beatles: and Others: Perils and Precedents of Celebrity Lawsuits.” Stan Socer is an author and associate professor of Music & Entertainment Industry Studies at the University of Colorado, Denver. Throughout his presentation, I took copious notes. I learned so much about the history of the Beatles that I didn’t know. He covered a large amount of legal activities that went on that were both helpful and detrimental to the Beatles. I learned about trademarking, merchandising,, music royalty and branding. It was such an informative session and it really opened up my eyes to the various aspects of the music industry that I tend not to think about very often.

My stomach began to grumble, and I immediately had the need for pizza. Where else was I to go for pizza in Austin, Texas, but Home Slice. The service was impeccable, the pizza delicious and the atmosphere relaxing. Of course once my stomach was full, I took some pizza and went to Calliope Musicals again at Doc’s on Congress. It was a different experience to see them the second time because I wasn’t as caught up in the magic of their performance. Rather, I got to watch others experience their performance for the first time and that made my second experience even more enjoyable. It was so cool to watch others fall in love with the band just as I had.

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Bob Moses

I said bye to the band and caught the wonderful Brooklyn duo Gilligan Moss. All they wanted to do was play music and dance, and that’s exactly what they did. Then I made the trek over to the Hype Hotel where I planned to spend a lot of the rest of my night. Everything Everything was absolutely insane. They played two of my favorite tracks, “Kemosabe” and “Distant Past.” I loved their efficiency. They got on stage, rocked the house, thanked the audience, and dashed off to rock somewhere else. Bob Moses came on stage and also killed it. They played “Too Much Is Never Enough” in addition to some of their other tracks off of Days Gone By.

After my time well spent at Hype Hotel, I jogged on over to the Barracuda Backyard where I checked out Kill J on recommendation from a friend I met during SXSW. She and her instrumentalist put on such a brave show. The lights were dim, with dark purple fading in and out throughout. My favorite song she performed was “Bullet,” which I think was better live than the recorded version. That tends to happen with talented musicians.

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Kill J

Okay, so it was getting super late but I had to go to the Ibiza After Dark show. I made my way inside and was just in time to catch Desiigner. He opened up with “Panda” and literally had men dressed in panda costumes on stage. It was super hype. He also performed his not yet released single, “Pluto,” which he had debuted at Fader Fort on the first night of SXSW after his introduction courtesy of Pusha T. That, too, was a banger that had everyone in the crowd turning up.

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It was awesome to see over 30 favorite and new bands over the course of the week. I learned so much during my SXSW experience that I will carry with me throughout my life. All I have to complain about is not being able to be in several places at once. If only I could’ve made multiple copies of myself so that I could have seen everyone that performed at SXSW. But that’s the beauty of SXSW. choosing the best over the best and learning to go with the flow with the people you meet and friends you make.

I just want to thank all the people I met at SXSW and give a special thanks to the people that made it possible. A HUGE thank you to Elizabeth Derczo for making sure I got my confirmation e-mail to see Michelle Obama and for being the sweetest person to communicate with; Lauren Petree for introducing me to Calliope Musicals; and Kiki for helping me out when I was confused outside of Youtube and Grace for letting me inside. And of course, the biggest THANK YOU to all of the SXSW volunteers, staff, security, artists, performers and speakers who made my week such an incredible time. Thank you SXSW 2016, I will see you next year at SXSW 2017!

 

 

*All photos used are credited to their sources.*