Payday: Scenes From SXSW 2016


At this year’s South by Southwest, we shared pedicabs with influencers, scored free sneakers for life, overspent on bunk weed popsicles, and unwittingly agreed by entering onto many premises for our likenesses, in both moving and still images, to be used in promotional materials dozens of times. We also witnessed several musical performances. Below, our notes on the latter.

So Pitted, House of Heck

“The next song is called ‘Get Out of My Room,’” announced Nathan Rodriguez, vocalist in Seattle outfit So Pitted. “It’d be really cool is everyone left the room while we played it.” Rodriguez’s outfit represented a trifecta of globalization and slaughter: crucifix necklace, Nike tank top, and Sub-Pop sweats. And So Pitted, stirring beneath a blacklight, exceeded the sum of their three parts, ratcheting a rusty sort of disjunct post-punk until a fourth and crucial element emerged: magnetism. The only person who left just went into the kitchen to watch through a hole in the wall instead. –Sam Lefebvre

Julien Baker
Julien Baker.

Julien Baker, Cheer Up Charlie

The mark of a great SXSW performance is silence, when artists compel onlookers to ignore the myriad distractions and fully pay attention. And Julien Baker, alone on stage with just an electric guitar, with each slow pluck and heavily annunciated lyric, did just that. With each increasingly heartbreaking story, Baker made the outdoor portion of Cheer Up Charlie’s quieter and quieter, giving a hypnotic quality to the whole set. The moment she turned off her amp, the crowd snapped back to their normal, bustling selves. —David Glickman

Lust for Youth, Hotel Vegas

Danish nouveau new romantics Lust for Youth appeared racquetball-chic on a balmy evening for Sacred Bones’ showcase at Hotel Vegas, the late-night slot doing little to hasten an onstage setup that included needlessly insulting the live sound engineer. And so shortly into the grooveless, hook-deficient, and spiritually anemic performance, the guitar leads emanating from an outdoor Yuck set nearby persuaded a throng of attendees to defect. –Sam Lefebvre

Jlin, Valhalla

At 1am on Saturday, everyone was exhausted and beat. The madness of the festival grew nauseating. No one could tolerate another note. Music was dead. But Jlin and her dark, often aggressive juke made a tiny crowd in Vahalla rally. The Geary, Indiania artist made them dance as if all their energy hadn’t been completely sapped. She made a woman in the front scream “TURN IT UP!” over and over again. And Jlin obliged, with a wider and wider smile and increasingly wilder beats as the crowd, small but dedicated, kept going into the night. —David Glickman

Rat Fist, House of Heck

Rat Fist guitarist Randy Randall situated his pedal board on top of a king-size Payday bar one afternoon in an East Austin dining room with plywood over the windows. The guitarist, better known from No Age, spilled sweat onto a ride cymbal, which flung the salty droplets every which way due to the battering of drummer Sean McGuinness, better known from Pissed Jeans, whose brisk eighth-note gait underpinned enough serpentine guitar leads to last until Milk Music drop Mystic 100s. –Sam Lefebvre

George Clanton
George Clanton.

George Clanton, Hype Hotel

George Clanton played Hype Hotel, a massive converted airplane hangar on the east side of Austin, a spectacle that competes with with Fader Fort across the street to try to house the biggest party of SXSW. It requires long waits in longer lines and a special wristband. And of the hundreds who were walking around and outside, only a fraction watched George Clanton. Which is a shame: Clanton stomped, twisted, and cooed, making his dayglo post-80s pop feel electrified like the massive lights behind him. He ended the set by getting to the floor barrier, singing directly to the five fans who knew every word. At the climax, he yanked off his shirt. It was like witnessing the next John Maus being born. —David Glickman

Bridge Show

At about 2am on Sunday morning, a bedraggled crowd of sixty or so assembled on the Lamar Street Pedestrian Bridge just outside downtown Austin. Some pissed into the Colorado River below. Others skated. And still more milled about in front of a surreptitiously assembled generator, drum set, and amplifiers, which served three hardcore bands in quick succession: locals Skeleton, who flung tapes and shirts at the crowd, declaring, “It wouldn’t be South By without a product toss!”; Real Cost, who looked very young, and I was told, claim straightedge; and Houston’s Dress Code, whose dour, muscular set elicited a display of Austin punk pit style. –Sam Lefebvre

Japanese Breakfast.
Japanese Breakfast.

Portals Showcase, PEN House

Every year Portals manages to be the breath of air in the madness of SXSW. Tucking their showcases off in distant corners of Austin, far away from the manic chaos of Red River and 6th Street, their events manage to be SXSW’s antithesis: small, intimate, and personal. It was hosted in a house, so most artists played stripped down versions of their work. Japanese Breakfast scrapped her full band to play with just a guitar, drum machine, and keyboard. Morly, who blur the line between dream pop and dream production, played just a short set of covers on guitar. Your Friend was the only real band, but their weary, dreary, and reverb-soaked folk fit right in with everyone else. All the while the crowd stayed quiet and attentive in the living room, only shuffling to try to get water from the fridge, or the moment the pizza arrived and everyone ran outside, with ten boxes of the stuff disappearing in a single minute. The most striking moment, though, came with Mitski. The house lights were dimmed, and an even greater hush fell over the crowd as Mitski just played her already barebone songs alone. Just her and a guitar, carving out her emotions, as thunder boomed in the background. —David Glickman 

Overheard, 21st St. Co-Op

“I guess these crews have beef because one’s like true emo and the other is like, trying to get on Fall of Troy’s tour or whatever.”

“Let’s talk about something else obscure to see if Google magically advertises it to me again.”

“I’m a noncustodial parent.”

“I had a Titanic party where we just watched Titanic in every room… Each room played one of the two-part VHS version, so you could like pick your mood.”

“I’m posting this Converse photo and the guy wanted us to use the hashtag #readyformore so I’m adding a list of like hundreds of things we want more of.”

“That’s the kind of shit you guys are about, right? Like ATVs and bucket hats?”

“No, we didn’t get paid. Dude, The Devil Wears Prada didn’t even get paid. Never pay never.” –Sam Lefebvre