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SXSW DISPATCH #2

With a Stitched-up Lip, Our Man in Austin Gets His Game Face Back On

DJ Windows 98

First off, let me say here how much I’ve appreciated the support I’ve gotten from people over the last couple days—it has meant a lot. While I’ve had every intention of getting back to full speed, to be honest it took a minute—as assault-and-battery goes, I was lucky not to have more severe injuries, but my usual 10-bands-per-second pace has been hard to maintain. Or maybe I’m just getting old (also possible). Regardless, by Thursday I’d started to really get back into the swing of things, and the crop of music out there has truly merited soldiering through.

As the festival has sprawled east of the freeway, the tone that I remember from decades ago has started to creep back—on Thursday, for example, I caught an incredible, incredible Fantastic Negrito performance at the Sofar Sound event, which was a volunteer-run taping literally in someone’s house in East Austin. With about 40 people inside sitting in the guy’s living room, an array of notable bands and emerging songwriters played sets that were beyond intimate.

Likewise, Pity Sex’s fluid, powerful show at the Longbranch Inn in far east Austin couldn’t have felt further from the Sixth Street scrum that we’ve all grown to do our best to evade. That said, the rooftops and hovels of Sixth continue to host plenty of shows, and over the course of the last two days there have been an array of great performances—Highly Suspect is outright killing it, while HOLYCHILD’s expanded stage setup delivers on the musicality and complexity of their new material in an incredibly satisfying way. Viet Cong completely justifies their buzz with a LOUD and energetic show, while Honduras plays Ramones-style rock with enthusiastic abandon.

While I was at it all, I even managed to do some consumer research—somehow I was masochistic enough to agree to book the music for my 15th college reunion this year, and so I went to the YouTube event to check out Win Butler in his DJ Windows 98 guise. After he jokingly introduced himself as Calvin Harris, Butler proceeded to unravel a set that was as much carefully constructed world music as it was “electronic,” all with live percussion and a sense of curation. Despite the jokey name, it’s actually really a part of his larger body of work in a coherent way. Other strong reviews and buzz surround Years & Years, Amsterdamn and Guantanamo Baywatch. All told, I’m glad I stayed—sometimes you just have to get back on the horse, especially in Austin…

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