Laura Skelding looks through Samsung Virtual Reality headset during the SXSW interactive festival in downtown Austin. Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon /KUT News.
By Jeff McCord
In any normal March, we’d all be lining up excuses to miss work. Our free moments would be spent scouring showcase, speaker, and party schedules to determine when and where we absolutely had to be, while planning routes skirting the inevitable downtown gridlock. Tens of thousands of out-of-towners would have long ago lined up their hotel rooms, air b&b’s, and friend’s couches. Everything with four walls for miles around would be booked, as the airport braced for the thundering herd. Retailers, restaurants, and club owners would be fully stocked and over-staffed. Police would be putting up barricades, closing streets. And virtually every shuttle bus and pedicab in the state would have found their way here. As for the few who did not plan to take part in some way, their escape routes would be firmly in place.
I suppose if you never attended South by Southwest, or arrived here sometime after April of 2019, once the rabble retreated and the banners had mostly fallen down, it’s conceivable you might have no idea what I’m talking about. But that’s unlikely. SXSW has grown to be one of the largest gatherings of industry professionals in the world, and there’s not an aspect of life here it doesn’t touch in some way.
In any normal March.
Because of the timing of the event, 2020 found the organizers acting as a canary in a coal mine. The last-minute cancelation forced them to abandon a year’s work and proved to be a bellwether of the coming storm. By fall, it became pretty clear a March 2021 all-clear was not going to be a reality. So a newly-streamlined staff (disclosure: my part-time position there was among those eliminated last year) began to pivot towards SXSW Online.
Running March 16-20, in some ways the online edition adheres to what we’ve come to expect: a wide array of speakers, bands, and films, big-name keynotes like Willie and Stacy Abrams. And SXSW is back in their annual spring break nest. But in every other respect, this is a completely different event. Dubbed “Couch by Couchwest” by the Austin Chronicle, will you really get the same SXSW experience at home on a screen?
Yes, there are no lines or traffic to negotiate, and the online nature of events allows you to club-hop like in the early days of SXSW, greatly reducing FOMO. Plus, the price of admission is a fraction of what it usually is. Better still, one badge fits all, allowing everyone to experience all interactive, film and music have to offer.
But the chance encounters, the conquest of making it into a sold-out event, the visceral anything-can-happen thrills that come with negotiating such a massive event – they just won’t be there.
To compensate, and to take advantage of the ability to pre-record (the majority of events are in the can, though the Abrams and Pete Buttigieg keynotes will be live), the 70 some-odd showcases and other events come to you from a global variety of settings.
James Minor, SXSW Head of Music Fest, told me, “Our showcase presenters have been creative beyond our expectations, giving attendees a trip to unique locations around the globe, including a Taoist temple in Taiwan, a cable car in Northern Norway, a helicopter pad in Monterrey, a greenhouse in Brazil, and a Los Angeles highway overpass, as well as Austin staples such as Hotel Vegas, The Continental Club, and Empire Garage.”
KUTX’s Confucius and Fresh will be presenting a Breaks showcase featuring The Teeta, J Soulja, Mama Duke, Deezie Brown & JaRon Marshall, on March 16th at 5pm. Austin acts are also well represented elsewhere, including showcases sponsored by Black Fret, Nine Mile Records, and Hotel Free TV.
A personal highlight of the last few years, the Jazz Re:Freshed Outernational showcase returns, moving from its bare-bones former Emo’s home to London’s Abbey Road studios.
There’s the usual mix of developing artists and indie rock stalwarts: Hachiku, Iceage, Kinky, Black Country New Road, No Joy, among many others. And as usual, the breadth of international talent is impressive (probably more so this year, since they didn’t actually have to figure out a way to get here). Music speakers include Timbaland, Lenzo Yoon (Big Hit), Wyclef Jean, Chance The Rapper, Mick Fleetwood, Mary J. Blige, Steve Aoki, and Mark Mothersbaugh among their ranks. And of course, there’s Willie Nelson, the keynote prize that has long eluded SXSW.
Add to that the usual amount of music overlap from all the interactive and film events, including the ‘Tom Petty, Guy Clark, and the William Basinski Disintegration Loops docs, and your schedule card looks very full.
If you take part, will you emerge from the other side spent, exhausted, and bursting at the seams to tell everyone about all the excitement they missed? Maybe not. But SXSW Online puts a lot at your fingertips. Virtual excitement sure beats no excitement at all, particularly when we’re facing another spring break stuck at home.
Photo: KUTX Multimedia team films Wye Oak at Casita Willow during SXSW 2018. (Gabriel C. Pérez/KUTX)
One of my personal favorite things to work on during SXSW is our Pop-Up Series. The KUTX multimedia team – Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, Gabriel C. Pérez, Julia Reihs and Michael Minasi – engineer Jake Perlman, and I post up at Jorge’s East Side home (warmly called Casita Willow) to capture intimate performances from SXSW artists all over the world. Some real magic has happened in the past. Revisit last year’s SXSW Pop-Up sessions here.
The effects of covid-19 will run deep for the music industry. Full tours have been canceled and venues are closed. Income that was budgeted to survive for the rest of the year is lost. It’s a very uncertain time for everyone, but music has and always will bring us comfort.
Dig in below for new music and discovery from these artists and please buy some music or merch to help support them during this time. And then tell your friends!
-Deidre Gott, Live Music Producer
These are the sessions that were scheduled for March 20:
UK buddies Asha Lrenz and Louis O’Bryen go back to their middle school days when Lorenz used to tease O’Bryen. The two eventually became friends and started playing together in a Jimi Hendrix cover band. But they finally got serious as Sorry and in 2017 signed with Domino Records, the label that launched Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand. Over the last three years, the band has released a slew of singles and EPs, making their album 925, due March 27, a highly anticipated debut. First tagged as a “guitar band,” the duo (that plays live as a four piece) is much more than that, and they draw inspiration from “everything from Herman Hesse to Aphex Twin.” I also hear Morphine and Garbage. What they bring is a cross-genre listen, well beyond their 22 years of age.
The band had two US shows planned (NYC and LA) before coming to Austin this week. Ultimately, they kept the one sold-out show in New York last week, but have not released plans for a US tour at this time.
I first heard of Columbian-Canadian Lido Pimienta when the first wave of SXSW 2018 announcements came out. I was fascinated with her mix of Afro-Columbian and electronica sounds. Her 2016 album, La Papessa, was the first 100% independent release and first non-English/non-French album to win the coveted Polaris Prize for best Canadian Record. Not only that, but she beat out Leonard Cohen and Fiest!
Then I read about the controversy surrounding her performance at Halifax Pop Explosion, where Pimienta announced from the stage, “Brown girls to the front, please.” The backlash from white people crying over reverse racism was real, but she held her own with grace and did not back down. I knew I wanted her to play our SXSW morning broadcast that year. (She did! It was amazing, and she did it while super preggers).
Miss Colombia is the anticipated follow-up, set to release April 17 on Anti-. Pimienta was to play a few US dates in support of that record, but those have been postponed.
19-year-old poet/singer Arlo Parks cites not just musicians, but also writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Sylvia Path as inspirations for her jazz-infused bedroom pop music. The Guardian calls her “the sound of emo 2.0,” and while her song “Super Sad Generation” certainly could be the anthem for gen-z’s new emo, to me it implies her sound is lo-fi and simple. I think it’s more sophisticated than that. My favorite track, “George,” from the EP Sophie, pulses with fat beats and solid grooves, and her latest single, “Eugene,” rolls around with some Radiohead vibes.
The Londoner was to play four shows during SXSW with a show in LA and NYC to follow. So far the US shows are canceled and her UK dates postponed until late May.
The Canadian singer and multi-instrumentalist has four albums out, including 2016’s Good Advice. That’s when I first met Basia. She and her band were professional troopers, slotted to play the earliest set at KUTX’s SXSW morning broadcast. She also came back that year for ACL Fest to play a lovely cover of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In The End” for our backstage pop-up sessions.
Are you in Love? is out March 27 on Secret City Records. Her spring tour in support of that album has been postponed for now, but she’s back in Montreal and doing instagram live performances playing love songs.
It’s not even been a week since our venues were forced to close, and I’m already wistful for the good old days of social gatherings around live music. Hamilton Leithauser played our last KUTX ACL broadcast back in October of 2018 on the back lawn of the Four Seasons, the same day his excellent collaboration with Angel Olsen “Heartstruck (Wild Hunger)” was released. KUTX listeners got to hear the first live rendition (sans Olsen) of the song, and I got a new crush.
The Loves of Your Life is the third solo album for The Walkmen’s lead singer, set for release April 1oth on Glassnote Records. About the new album Hamilton says, “I wrote stories and I wrote music; and then I matched them up. These are people I know and strangers I’ve come across over the past few years.” So like, maybe there will be a song on the new album about a badass live music producer from Austin? A girl can dream…
Hamilton Leithauser merch and music
The Dream Syndicate
If you didn’t know, (he’s mentioned it more than once to me) Jody Denberg and The Dream Syndicate go way back. They used to crash on his floor in their earlier days.
To understand The Dream Syndicate’s relevancy –outside the fact that they reunited in 2012 after a 23-year hiatus and have released an album a year since 2017 – one must go back to the early ‘80s when a new music scene called the Paisley Underground was bubbling up in LA.
Without getting too music nerdy up in here (I’m not gonna lie, I had to look this up. Shhh.), the sound of the Paisley Underground was influenced by the psychedelia and garage rock of the late ‘60s (think Velvet Underground, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane) while combining some of the punk rock of the time. Paisley Underground bands would be like The Bangles, Long Ryders, and, the reason we’re talking about this, The Dream Syndicate. The sound is still applicable: Mercury Rev, Grandaddy, and the Al-Lalas (to name a few) are influenced.
The Dream Syndicate have a new album, The Universe Inside, ready for release April 10th on Anti- that includes a 20-minute opener, “The Regulator.” Once SXSW was called off, the band still planned to head to Austin, and KUTX had exchanged the pop-up session for a live Studio 1A – hosted by their good buddy Jody – but that soon was nixed when they had to cancel all travel plans.
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down
SXSW had already been canceled by the time alt folk-rock artist Thao Nguyen announced she’d be releasing a new album, Temple, on May 15 on Ribbon Music. It’s been four years since her last release, 2016’s A Man Alive (shout out to her performance at our SXSW morning broadcast that year).She’s been busy guest hosting Sound Exploder, a podcast where musicians pick apart their songs and tell the story of how they were made.
Her tour in support of the new release isn’t scheduled to start until June, so we’ll see her at Emo’s August 5th.
These are the sessions that were scheduled for March 18:
What seems like eons ago, I was music director of an Austin-centric music video station. I watched a lot of music videos at that time (duh) but the one I still go back to a decade later is M. Ward’s “Chinese Translation.” Around that time, I also discovered the Daniel Johnston compilation called The Late Great Daniel Johnston. Ward did what I thought was the most beautiful song, his cover of “The Story of An Artist,” which finally brought me to understand Johnston’s heartbreaking songwriting appeal.
With M. Ward’s 10th album, Migrations Stories, ready for release April 3rd on Anti-, SXSW was to be a live sneak-preview of the new album, with the first leg of his tour to follow April 17 through May 22. Just yesterday he announced that the tour is postponed.
In 2011, Tel-Aviv based singer, songwriter, and producer Noga Erez recorded a jazz album only to scrap the whole thing to pursue electronic music. Her 2017 debut album is not your run-of-the-mill electro-pop; she’s more M.I.A than Chvrches. Under the Radar was lauded by critics for its lyrical depth in taking on socio-politics, as well as its unique and visceral production style. (Check out “Global Fear.”)
The first single from her much anticipated album, the Gorillaz-sounding “Views,” was released right before SXSW was to start, and she had four shows lined up stateside post-SXSW (NYC and LA).
Let’s say at 19 you were that kid sitting in your room listening to Elliot Smith or Bright Eyes. Now let’s say you’re that same kind of kid, but Generation Z. Well friend, you’d be listening to beadadoobee. Born in the Philippines, raised in London, singer/songwriter Bea Kristi first put out music in 2017 (definitely check out “Coffee“) and quickly went viral. Now she’s the 183rd most listened-to artist in the world on Spotify. (For reference ’cause I know you’re just as curious as me now: Dolly Parton is 323rd, U2 – 220th, Beatles – 96th, Queen – 39th, and 1st place is Justin Bieber.)
Her latest EP Space Cadet is out now on Dirty Hit Records, and the next Austin show after SXSW was to be April 29 at the Germania Insurance Amphitheater with The 1975 and Phoebe Bridgers. That show, along with the entire spring tour, has been postponed. As of now, she’s still set to play Glastonbury Festival in June.
The London-based soul artist gets comparisons to Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, but Jordan MacKampa brings his Congolese roots to his music as he sings about love, struggle, and family. The debut album Foreigner was just released Friday (the day SXSW was to begin) on AWAL Recordings with a month-long US tour to follow his showcase at SXSW and a UK & European tour through the end of May. Most of these shows have been canceled.
2007’s vocally sweeping, doo-woppy indie hit “Maybe Tonight” was my introduction to Nicole Atkins. I’m so into belting along to choruses that fulfill my inner Broadway diva dream. Cut to 2018 when she joined us for our Pop-Up series backstage at ACL Fest and shared another belt-worthy chorus in “Sleepwalking” from 2017’s Goodnight Rhonda Lee. Gah! She’s just SO COOL.
Italian Ice is the next release, due April 17 on Single Lock Records. Recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound, the album includes co-writes with Britt Daniel, Carl Broemel, and Hamilton Leithauser. (Hear Britt on the single “Captain“). Her club dates following SXSW and the tour with War and Treaty, including Austin’s 04 Center date on April 27, are postponed for now.
Us Austinites (I’ve been here since 2001 – can I call myself that yet?) can relate to some hometown pride. And Nigerian-American rapper Anthony Obi, aka Fat Tony, feels his hometown of Houston so hard, he’s on a solo mission to spread its music and culture. Raised on country music and moved by punk, music has propelled him forward over the decade from his hometown to LA to NYC last year as co-host for the short-lived “all things Vice” daily show called Vice Live. Missing the crazy streets of SXSW right now? Watch as Fat Tony takes Vice Live all over Red River last year while tapping his well-respected buddies for SXSW tips. (Check out the choice tip at 3:07 about the pineapple lady. I MUST FIND THIS LADY.)
His latest, Wake Up, just dropped February 28 on Car Park Records. While his shows in support of that new release are postponed, Fat Tony will be giving back to his hometown by live streaming from “Purgatory” in NYC Friday March 20 at 8p to raise money for the Houston Area Food Bank.
Although it’s been over 20 years since I’ve lived there, I never imagined a band such as Making Movies would come out of my home state of Missouri (or any band tbh). I blame my ignorance on the fact that I grew up over three hours south of Kansas City in a very white, very Protestant, very small town. But the Latin rock band – a pair of Panamanian-American brothers and a pair of Mexican-American brothers – has opened my eyes to the complex relationship (aka racism) between the Midwest and Latinx cultures.
With their critically acclaimed, Latin GRAMMY-nominated album amer’ikana released last year, Making Movies was scheduled to play the NPR Alt Latino showcase and, until several days after SXSW announced its cancellation, still held out hope for coming to Austin as they had re-homed their official SXSW shows and had studio time scheduled. But #socialdistancing won out in the end.