Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, September 29, 2023

A Cardinal SXSW Music: DIY, chaotic, haphazard, brilliant

It didn’t take long after leaving Austin, Texas, for me to start reflecting on The Daily Cardinal’s experience at South by Southwest. Twenty minutes into my returning flight, the oxygen masks of our small regional plane fell from the ceiling, and our plane hastily turned around due to a compression malfunction in the cabin. As someone with a deep-seated fear of flying, the adrenaline surge to my body granted me the innate ability to look back on the last week with the clarity one might have before plummeting to the ground in a smoldering jet. 

What I reflected on in those moments was the Cardinal’s ability to whip up a haphazard DIY South By with the same celestial duct tape that seemed to be holding the plane together. We took on the festival not as music industry veterans who had the experience and wisdom to deem the festival a hollow corporate shell of its former self, nor did we transform into professional partiers with the exact GPS location of every open bar after-party and sighting of Drake. Overall, we were just college kids, stumbling around an absolutely massive festival with wide-eyed wonder and liberating ignorance.

To summarize the various contradictory forces of SXSW, one can look no further than the differences between Alex G’s performance at the Mazda Hype Hotel, an immaculate warehouse with impressive lights and an open bar, and their show at the French House Co-op living room. The former show was filled with industry heads decked out in business casual wear, nodding more in beat with their conversations about the current state of the music industry than that of the songs played from stage. The latter show had a sweat-drenched crowd that had to keep itself from bursting out into the space reserved for the band, cheering and hollering with little to no regard for their neighbors, who were likely at the show themselves. Both forces at SXSW mixed and clashed with each other throughout the week, making one unsure whether to pass out business cards or shots at any given moment. 

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t overly excited for SXSW’s corporate aspects present in the former performance. On the nights leading up to the journey to Austin, I dreamed of schmoozing with Pitchfork executives at a brunch hosted by Vice, twirling my complimentary martini with a stick made of condensed business cards that I had accrued throughout the conference. Fortunately, these visions evaporated the moment my Uber pulled up to the overgrown, beer bottle-littered lawn of the co-op we had planned to stay at, when I soon realized that I would be much more acquainted with my La-Z-Boy-turned-bed over the next week than any industry bigwig. 

Given our stature as wristband-holders, the prospects of us Cardinal writers getting into to the ultra-hyped performances of the week, such as Iggy Pop and 2 Chainz, were slim to none. Instead I drunkenly told footwork pioneer RP Boo that his existence was an inspiration, hugged Kelela at a bar, and destroyed an unknown band from the U.K. in cornhole (21-0 to be exact).  Amileah even managed to sneak into a SPIN magazine party with Lizzo, making more career connections than the rest of us by masquerading herself as a well-known freelance writer (perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy). 

But even more important than getting up close to musicians were the moments of meeting similarly-positioned college students navigating the festival with as much bewilderment and inexperience as us Cardinal writers. I linked up with college radio hosts from University of Texas at  Austin, New York University and Georgia State, all who seemed to keep popping up everywhere we went after we met. One particular host at UT Austin’s radio expressed such a similar passion for electronic music as myself that it had to be written in the fates that we would happen to strike up conversation during an intermediary NAAFI DJ set at the Hype Hotel.  

The climax of these interactions was the Alex G show across the street from our co-op, where I got to peek into an alternate universe of college DIY. I frolicked about the UT students, who failed to see how I could be so ecstatic during what was just a regular weekend for them. Less eloquently than I write now, I explained how wonderful it was to be able to pick out the little differences between such similar large public schools, like how the local DIY sound of Austin sounded much more emo and anthem-y à la Japandroids, compared to the more gentle bedroom pop sound that Madison fosters, or how living rooms and backyards became stages as opposed to the dark, warm basements of a wintry Midwest town. 

Even SXSW itself somewhat embraced the DIY spirit in its showcases. While large festival stages were assembled for the most well-known acts, the majority of shows took place in small bars and clubs, with the only symbol distinguishing it from a normal show was a single tarp banner displayed at the entrance with the logo for the festival. Stormzy has played for thousands at festivals in the U.K., but his U.S. showcase had him cramming his inimitable energy into the space of a small dive bar not unlike those that host local bluegrass bands in Madison. 

It’s mismatches like these that made for the most exciting moments of the festival: big-name groups performing in the backyard of a bar, publication owners sipping on complimentary screwdrivers alongside belligerent festivalgoers and college newspaper writers from Wisconsin missing a whole week of classes to bounce around Texas with new friends, drinking brunch mimosas one day and scrounging co-op potatoes to make a breakfast skillet the next. There may be a time where I would appreciate slipping into a business casual polo and attending an informative lecture more than a sweaty college house show, but that time was certainly not now.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Daily Cardinal delivered to your inbox
Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Daily Cardinal has been covering the University and Madison community since 1892. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2023 The Daily Cardinal