Dear SXSW, are you trying to kill me?
As I sit here in my office back in NYC with bags under my eyes that feel heavier than my entire body weight, I wonder, “was it worth it?” The answer is yes. A thousand times yes.
This year’s SXSW was a totally different experience. Last year was kicked off by a tour with two crazy bands, so I was already going into the festival with a firm grip of the bull’s horns. Plus, it was at least twenty degrees hotter last year and we all know how the combination of alcohol, drugs and 80-degree weather melts the brain. This year I flew straight from NYC to Austin, TX and there was only one day of shorts weather—but brain melting still ensued.
It started with a 5 a.m. flight. I woke up at 3:30 a.m. fully clothed and ready to ride to LaGuardia Airport, down a bloody mary and hit the skies. To my shock and disappointment, the airport doesn’t serve alcohol until 8 a.m. But the second we landed in Texas, it was party time. So it was probably a blessing in disguise.
First things first. We checked into our hotel, changed clothes, took some shrooms and hit the streets of SXSW. Picking up my press pass, I bumped into the sweet fellas of The Nude Party, a sign that it was going to be a wild time.
After bumping into a few more NYC bands like Animal Show and The Mystery Lights, the festival started feeling like an NYC class trip. I downed a free vodka soda drink and hopped on a Lime. Lime may be my new favorite thing. It’s like a Citi Bike with a motorized scooter. I scooted so much during SXSW that I got a blister on my hand. What can I say? I’ve got a need for speed.
That first day was dedicated to the badass Tierra Whack. (If you don’t know who that is, you have to watch her 15-minute visual pairing to her album Whack World.) She only has one full-length album out but her show still had a line around the block. Once inside, we saw that Whack’s DJ and hype man, Zach, wore a phone number on his t-shirt. Without knowing who the number belonged to, my friend called.
We were startled when Zach answered and gave us a friendly wave from the stage before he got the crowd jumping and throwing up their arms to welcome Whack to the stage. As the crowd bounced along with her, she kicked her brand new Dr. Marten’s off into the crowd and thanked everyone for being there. She was an instant swirl of energy and we left the show ready for more. We weren’t the only ones: we spotted indie rap queen Lizzo looking goddess-like at the top of the VIP section enjoying the show.
The day proceeded with lots of drinking and scooting. Is that legal? Nevermind. That night, I saw Charly Bliss at Laneway and Warmduscher at Hotel Vegas, an SXSW venue featuring four stages that always showcases a large array of unique and wild rockers.
After too many shots and my friend yelling, “we’re friends, you’re not, go home” to a poor innocent young boy trying to hit on us, we made it back to the hotel at god knows what time.
The next day, Lindsey Gardner and Fetish Records presented the year’s house show. The backyard had over a dozen bands play from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Since I’m friends with the presenters, I ended up as the grill master (last year I was the bartender). Which, as I drank more beer, became a more and more difficult job. Somehow I didn’t get any complaints, but I’m sure I would’ve gotten a scathing Yelp review—I give myself one star.
The show raged all day. I interviewed Gong Gong Gong, an NYC/Beijing duo, raged out to bands like The Wants, Abjects and The Medium and shotgunned beers (or should I say got drenched in beer?). Unfortunately, I apparently can’t day-drink like I used to. Instead of raging til 4 or 5 a.m. like usual, I was in bed by 3 a.m. watching Jurassic World with my roomies and Animal Show.
Though it was an early night for me, SXSW partied on through the night. All the bands I was supposed to interview the next day rescheduled (most likely due to hangovers) except for Bambara.
That was fine by me, because Bambara and I raged enough for everyone. When I met up with them to have a chat at Hotel Vegas we were all already a few drinks deep, myself having already been to The Nude Party’s show and Public Practice. However, that didn’t stop us from ending our interview by shotgunning a beer. (Why was this year’s theme for me shotgunning beers? I truly do not know.)
At night I caught the pioneering punk rockers Bush Tetras at Hotel Vegas and ended up at the exclusive castle after party. If you read my SXSW write up from last year, then you know all about the famous castle with glass floors and a moat swimming pool, but this year the vibe seemed different. The door was much more strict and the doorman would only let you in if you were a girl he approved of or were with a girl he approved of. It felt more like a club in the meatpacking district than a cool after-party for creative and talented people.
That said, I still stayed until 6 a.m. and also ended up there the next night.
With maybe four hours of sleep, I woke up the next day to catch the beautiful voice of Miya Folick. She soothed my soul before I headed out to the Thrasher Magazine’s Death Match to catch Amyl & The Sniffers, Fontaines and shotgun beers/ interview Native Sun.
After downing two beers with Native Sun, I scooted to the hotel for a 20-minute nap before Lindsey Gardner and Har Mar Superstar’s showcase at Cheer Up Charlie’s. It is one of the best shows to catch at SXSW with bands like A Giant Dog, Big Joanie and Public Practice—you best believe everyone was there.
Danny Gomez of Native Sun asked me to start a mosh pit during their set, which occurred while Bambara was playing on the outdoor stage. The crowd was not happy when I tried to start a mosh, so I bounced back over to Bambara where a mosh pit was underway. But before Native Sun was done I went back over to them to see that the crowd had finally realized how good my “let’s start a mosh” idea was.
That night I again ended up at the castle. The U.K. band Squid were playing in the basement bar and that made it all worth it because they fucking rocked. They might be my new favorite band?
The last day of SXSW was rough. Everyone was burnt out. Faces were sunken, conversations were slow and drinking was less frequent. I skipped the sole official showcase in favor of two unofficial ones: the Cindy Cane Productions SX Haunted House, where I saw Lina Tullgren, and Burger Records’ Burgermania, where The Mystery Lights played. Every band killed it on stage even though they were 100 percent on empty.
After the festival ended I stayed back in Austin for a couple of days. Having only been to Austin for this festival, seeing it post-SXSW was bizarre. During the day the city is empty and working hard on coming back from the whirlwind of drunken fans and rock stars. At night, downtown turned into a drunk college kids’ haven. It was weird seeing this place that during SXSW made me feel like it was the coolest city for music turn into some alien realm for me. But then again, I probably just need to get to know the local scene better.
SXSW was almost the death of me. Even days later I’m still trying to recover. But there’s nothing like its musical mayhem and taste of the rockstar lifestyle.
I feel lucky to be a part of it. Even if it kills me.