I’ll admit, I was a little selfish in my music consumption at SXSW. I wasn’t about to wait in line for an hour and a half to see 15 minutes of Drake, or even tough out an unbearable Crystal Castles set to catch Charli XCX and Sophie. Not only do I hate lines, but I was not about to spend my first South By following the scent of hype that drives many of the rumors and reporting of the fest online. Instead, I took a particular effort to witness as many artists as possible that I knew would very rarely, if ever, make an appearance in Madison. So the following shows I will describe are by and large international, up-and-coming and, oh baby, they’re electronic.
The first real musician the Cardinal witnessed at SXSW falls into hardly any of the categories I just listed, yet still deserves a mention. Car Seat Headrest played at The Onion’s party on Monday, and it was clear that they didn’t quite fit the bill at hand. While other bands that day had mastered their stage presence and poise, Will Toledo and his fellow bandmates performed just like you’d expect from a young band with a history deeply rooted in DIY: incredibly tight and energetic throughout their songs, yet skittish and humble during their brief stints of stage banter. Those that knew of the band beforehand were enthralled with the performance. Most were eagerly waiting for Poliça.
The highlight of Tuesday was the Teklife vs. NAAFI showcase, a night during which artists from the two electronic pioneering labels switched off sets in a dimly lit underground club. Musical highlights included a footwork/vogue circle opening up for DJ Paypal’s set and Lao playing vicious club edits of pop songs, including not one, but two Britney Spears reworks. Political highlights included NAAFI’s Mexican Jihad dropping a club track which sampled Republican presidential candidates saying “ISIS” and DJ Spinn leading the crowd in a resounding “F*ck Donald Trump” chant for three minutes.
I left the showcase early to catch Baauer’s release party for his new album off of LuckyMe, a show that I assumed would have special guests and moments given the hype leading up to the release. I was a tad disappointed to witness a by-the-books but overall solid set from the man himself, which, coupled with dazzling rainbow lights, saved the event from being a total fizz. However, I’m so glad I stayed afterwards to catch Jersey club queen UNiiQU3 play to no more than 10 people who had stayed for her set. She got up in front of the DJ booth, busted down in the crowd and sang along with some of her own tracks. In her words, and mine: She was lit.
I camped out Wednesday night at SBTV Underground’s British night, taking in the U.K. culture that seems to only arise in the U.S. in bursts of interest every now and then. Iglooghost, a 19-year-old Brainfeeder signee who I recently discovered has tracks on the Madison label CATCH WRECK, kicked the night off with a short but sweet DJ set. Mumdance would have been able to captivate the audience had it not been for two of the most belligerent attendees of the festival, whose combined dance/fight radius took up nearly the entire front row of the stage. Luckily, both had been kicked out by the time Stormzy got on stage and proceeded to demolish both his U.S. debut and Adidas tracksuit by spitting and sweating through some of his most iconic tracks with all the enthusiasm of his British shows.
Thursday involved a night of show-hopping. To kick things off, I got a chance to catch British DJ Throwing Shade spin a set to warm up the crowd at Dummy Magazine’s party. Even with an audience of around 15, her enthusiasm was palpable as demonstrated by her singing along to a mashup of Mariah Carey’s “Say My Name” and New Order’s “Blue Monday.” I then sped over to catch Houston natives Rabit and Beatking play power sets in rapid succession. Both were excellent, but neither performance was long enough to get an idea of how the artists would have operated with a less restrictive time limit. I was soon whisked away to a massive house show at the French House Co-op, where I saw Alex G play three songs that were so drowned out by college sweat and drunken yelling that I decided to call it a night before they had finished, a very un-punk move for which I thanked my bedraggled self the next morning.
RP Boo stole the show on both Friday and Saturday, managing to spin a footwork set void of the tracks present in the rest of Teklife’s rotation throughout the week, focusing mainly on truly historic bangers that were born and raised in Chicago. Each performance was also a celebration of classic Boo tracks, and those present in the audience collectively spazzed each time an essential like “Bang’n on King Dr.” slid into the mix.
I’m no industry expert, just a college kid hitting up shows that would otherwise take years to get to Madison, a town with a severe lack of investment in artistic and performance spaces for electronic music (Liquid, the haven for white boy Soundcloud DJs, is not a valid example). But if SXSW was any indication, DJs and producers can hold down intimate and small venues with just as much passion and camaraderie as the bands that embrace the punk house show spirit. If each genre of music has a star-like lifecycle, their apex of mainstream appeal being akin to a supernova, electronic music seems to be situating itself nicely into the post-explosion neuron stage, accumulating an intimate and passionate audience for its sound. Hopefully Madison catches wind.