Yesterday might have been simultaneously been the best and worst day I’ve ever had at SXSW. Barring the desperate state of hungoverness that I inherited from Wednesday night, the amount of queuing we were having to do was starting to take an emotional toll on me. You have to queue to get into all shows, queue for drinks, queue for the toilets, queue for taxies, and then there are too many crunked up spring breakers wherever you go. And spring break is fucking annoying. SXSW was originally conceived as the antithesis to spring break but now it’s a party destination. And whilst that might be fun come Friday/Saturday night, nobody needs that in the middle of the week when you’re trying to get on with the important work of watching bands and drinking beer.
On the other hand we were treated to five of the best bands of the year yesterday, Fat White Family, Future Islands, Grey’s and The Wytches. They all shared one important thing in common, they were all loud and punk as fuck.
We got up and headed straight to the east side, which has become something of a retreat from the banality of downtown SXSW, two years ago this area was nothing more than rows of dilapidated housing and urban/industrial waste. It still that that industrial feel to it but its now home to some nice bars, shops and yesterday, the Austin Psych-fest showcase with Fat White Family, Wytches, Splaash, J Fernandez amongst many others.
Fat White came to the stage like someone using a flick knife to cut out a tattoo of an ex girlfriend on your arse. Loud. Obnoxious. Stand-offish. Drug-addled. Fast. And fuelled by the sounds of garage-punk. The crowd, unpredictably, were well versed in the self-released and obscure album, which was a big surprise. I’ve long thought that Fat White Family will be the ones who reunite the kids and turn the wave back on guitar music. That’s not to say there aren’t or haven’t been others in recent years. But Fat Whites will be the ones that lead the way down whatever filthy alleyway they’ve woken up in.
Next up were Wytches, who we’ve booked a couple of times over the years. Gothy, psychy punk played very loud and with all the intensity of discordant rebellion.
Later in the evening we queued up to get into the Carpark Records showcase to see Speedy Ortiz, Cloud Nothings, Grey’s and Young Magic. Toronto four-piece Grey’s were probably really good but the microphone was inexplicably absorbing volume like a black hole. The singer gave everything throughout and they sound great on record, definitely worth checking them out if you like Metz. But last night the sound engineer was on some sort of vacation from his senses.
We ditched the venue off as Young Magic started, having to forsake them Cloud Nothings and Speedy Ortiz because the sound was that bad. Who knows what planet the engineer was on. But he could not have been in the room where there were inaudible vocals were even further drowned out by feedback. Young Magic looked like they’d be quite good too.
The destruction of Parish at the hands of the engineer was a bit of a blessing in disguise as we walked straight into the Traams show as they started and were treated to a really special set. Scottish duo Honeyblood followed but we had to sneak off to catch the buzz band of the festival, Future Islands.
Future Islands are a very special band and something of a strange proposition. Their recent performance on Letterman went viral and everyone has gone a bit mental for them, they’re a synth band but the front man has got something of Henry Rollins about him. I don’t have time to work this out for sure but I’m pretty certain that prior to the band’s formation in 2006 he was in a lot of punk bands. Their performance was completely mesmerising, the crowd was in equal part awe and eruprions, whilst wordsmith Samuel T. Herring was in turn genuinely humbled by the band’s reception. It’s not something you see often from a band, a lead singer offering genuine thanks for their reception. If Future Island’s quasi-religious ballads were a cult I would sign my life over to them without question nor hessitation. When I say Future Islands are special, I mean that genuinely and from the bottom of my heart.