Tucked between the bustle of E 6th and some seemingly deserted train tracks was the South by Southwest nexus of Fader Fort and a converted warehouse identified only by its address at 1100 E. 5th, which would host an array of bands under the daring header “Mess With Texas”. I was especially grateful for the stellar lineup sponsored by a slew of vendors, since I'd somehow tragically forgotten to RSVP for Fader Fort. The Mess With Texas showcases were set to span three days and featured impressive rosters in both their day parties and their nighttime extravaganzas, with the venue shutting down midday. There was an outdoor space buffeting the huge warehouse floor which was equipped with massive, pounding amps. I don't know if it's just the necessity of drowning out all the bands other than the one you're actually seeing, but I want to take a moment to note how extremely loud every single showcase I saw was. I mean, I could feel my hair follicles vibrating at some of these shows.
I felt guilty for missing Tycho's set the night before so I planted myself beneath the awning of the outdoor stage, determined not to miss these boys this time. I was slightly disappointed, however, that due to the stage configuration the songs would not be accompanied by Scott Hansen's gorgeous projections, which I'd been looking forward to seeing firsthand. Even without the visuals, Tycho bathed the crowd in a lush soundscape. Just as we settled into the dense, intoxicating layers, the speakers blew and silence fell. Apparently this had happened to Tycho earlier in the week, which only proves my assertion that no eardrum in Austin was safe from the incredible volume SXSW venues unleashed. It didn't take long for the band to get it together and the encouraging crowd didn't seem to mind the temporary snafu, falling right back into the sway. Despite the blazing sun beating on our shoulders, watching Tycho felt like being cleansed. Atmospheric, breezy guitar tones moved across my skin, anchored in Zac Brown's elastic bass chords and the sensual beats provided by drummer Rory O'Connor. I let my vision blur out of focus, tilted my head back to the sky, and let the serene sounds saturate my senses.
Once Tycho's set ended, I moved inside to escape the sun and (more importantly) to catch a few songs from indie darlings Girls. The incredible stage set-up included four band members as well as a coterie of boisterous back-up singers who did double-duty hyping up the audience. Flowers adorned the mic stands, reminiscent of so many altars and therefore drawing parallels between the players on stage and religious deities. I'd never seen Girls play live, and quite honestly never understood all the hype behind what I considered to be pretty run-of-the-mill garage rock. I know everyone is constantly losing their shit over the latest Girls releases, but for some reason none of the material ever really resonated with me. I can't say that a venue this cavernous and filled with questionably shirtless bros was the ideal introduction, but in terms of their playing I can at least begin to see what all the fuss is about. There's a compelling, vulnerable nature to the way Christopher Owens sings; this is true even at moments where the guitars burst explosively and the theatrics reach their greatest heights. “Vomit”, the band's signature single, was a perfect example of this phenomenon, as it erupted with particular ferocity and brought the adoring crowd to its knees.
At some point (the point at which I tried to buy an overpriced Heinekin) I realized I'd left my ID in the pocket of last night's outfit. Worried I would be denied entrance to any other showcases I tried to attend, I actually braved the crazy traffic to drive across town and retrieve it, hoping I'd make it back to the warehouse in time to see Cults. I arrived about halfway through their set but was absolutely tickled with what I saw. I've followed Cults since they began anonymously posting demos on bandcamp in the spring of 2010, but had somehow missed every single performance the Brooklyn-based band had played. The set lived up to all my expectations. It was sweltering inside the warehouse, the midday heat having turned it into an oven. So it was hard to imagine how Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin, both sporting hairdos that would made Cousin It look positively bald, held up under such intense temperatures. But they seemed unfazed, running through favorites such as “Oh My God” “You Know What I Mean” and “Go Outside” with smiling faces and cutesy bopping. Madeline's vocals sounded sublime and the band perfectly replicated the 60's girl group vibe that made their 2011 self-titled debut such a standout.
There was plenty on the menu in terms of shows that evening; Of Montreal and Deerhoof made one of a handful of what were probably noteworthy and fun appearances. I would have loved to see Das Racist, Dirty Beaches, or Zola Jesus, for a second (or third) time, and I was dying to catch Cleveland noise pop outfit Cloud Nothings. While all provided great options for ways to spend my second night in Austin, I could think of nothing but this: at the Belmont that evening, Jesus and Mary Chain were slated to perform around midnight. In my obsession with getting into this packed, badge/wristband/ticket only show, I committed one of the cardinal sins of SXSW. No band, no matter how rare or epic the appearance, no matter how important to you in terms of influence or admiration, should cause you to wait around in a huge line with no hope of entry into the venue, thus forgoing the chance to see any one of a number of other of bands; even if your secondary choices don't compare to the actual experience of seeing the prolific band in question, almost anything is better than standing around waiting for nothing to happen and missing out on a host of other opportunities. I did put in a brief appearance at 512 for Young Magic's rooftop set, which was thrillingly luxurious. A sumptuous rendition of “Night In The Ocean” featured reverb drenched male and female vocals twining around its incantatory chorus. But I couldn't get my mind off the possibility of seeing Jesus & Mary Chain.
Jesus & Mary Chain ripped through their first few numbers in a sonic blast that would have reached us even if our little perch had been blocks away rather than across the street. Unfortunately, we saw all of about three songs before a group of crusty idiots totally blew our cover and got us promptly kicked out by a surly security guard.
Defeated and dejected, we trudged back to the Mess With Texas warehouse, where turntable.fm was hosting a slew of DJs in an elaborate promotion for the site, which allows users to DJ for their friends and random strangers alike in private chatrooms loosely based around a genre or theme. When turntable.fm first launched I spent an amusing evening in one of these chat rooms with my roommates and some of their coworkers, as well as some friends of ours back in Ohio. It seemed a novel way to share new tunes with old buddies, though my interest in doing so had since tapered off. I wasn't a high school sophomore anymore, you know? I spend enough time in front of a computer as it is without haunting chat rooms, waiting for my chance to blow minds with some new Clams Casino track. I decided to start a blog instead.
I'm not sure if many of the other attendees had had similar experiences with turntable.fm but if they had not, they were certainly introduced to its interface that evening. Diplo stood center stage but was flanked by dancers shuffling around in over-sized Japanime-style animal heads meant to mimic the avatars available to users on turntable.fm. There was also a table full of paper avatar masks right at the door, presumably for guests to wear as a means of creeping each other the fuck out. Huge screens showed a cute little animated version of Diplo spinning. It was kitschy and sort of fun, but also kind of over-the-top. At SXSW you're constantly being marketed to, and sometimes its nice to have things like the music to focus on to forget that. Turntable.fm was not going to let you be distracted by a silly-old real-life DJ like Diplo. Actually, I'm pretty sure the man has some kind of investment in the whole project, but still.
Diplo spun classics like MIA and Ginuwine and spent a lot of time getting an already rowdy crowd pumped up into a delirious craze. I saw some truly raunchy dance moves and if I'd been a little drunker probably would have joined in, but I was still feeling like an idiot over the whole Jesus & Mary Chain debacle. I vowed that Friday would be a day of redemption; I'd see so many bands my eyeballs would fall out of my skull. I'd shake my tail feather furiously to Star Slinger and Neon Indian's Hype Hotel DJ sets. I'd reserve my energy tonight and tomorrow collapse from exhaustion if that was what it came down to. Who was I kidding? I'm getting older and was already a bit exhausted; I could feel a sore throat coming on. No matter! I shouted bravely to myself. These shows will go on, and I'm gonna try to see damn near all of them.