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South by South West; Day 4

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Huw Stephens Huw Stephens | 20:42 UK time, Sunday, 22 March 2009

As if having their own massive indoor festival isn't enough with hundreds of venues, extra venues and makeshift marquees in parking lots isn't enough, there's an extra day of music at Waterloo Park SXSW, called Mess with Texas. Free for everyone to get in with two stages, wandering around it's like being at a traditional festival in a field, with trees and grass and a nice break from buildings.

Jason Lytle who used to be in Grandaddy and now flying solo played a showcase of his new mellow-pop tunes, King Khan and the Shrines is like a Vegas-inspired party on stage with pom poms and a big party vibe, Vetiver's heart melting country is a wonder in the sun, and Team Robespierre (friends of the Death Set) played a frankly chaotic set with crowdsurfing and all the instruments played in the park's crowd. Awesome!

The Mean Eyed Cat used to have a huge garden with a little train running past it, but now it's a block of flats. Fortunately the venue is still there, complete with the best I've ever been to which is a shrine to Johnny Cash. I'm here for the British Bootleg BBQ and arrive to see Hot Leg play, Justin from the Darkness' new band. The crowd is huge, I stay outside. Rolo Tomassi play their 6th and final gig at SXSW, and again blow me away. I honestly believe they're the best live band in the world. I'd like to think the late Johnny Cash would approve.

Solid Gold have pounding american beats and a mish mash of keys and guitars that sounds heavy, and would probably be even more so in a club.

It's a wonder Theoretical Girl gets to play her pleasant soft-alt-pop onstage, judging by their tales of water skiing during the day. Even a dislocated thumb doesn't stop the guitarist from getting on with it. Good job too; SXSW isn't made for amateurs, it has to be giving it your all or I guess it's tricky to recover and make up for it.

Found from Edinburgh ('it's by London' they explain to those whose geography might not be up to scratch) came here to Austin by releasing an excellent EP to raise funds for the flights. Ingenuity runs through their songs, rich in melodies, dipped in wicked instrumentation and lyrics that make me wanna look them up online.

Frat rap is the name of the game right now (they tell me). Asher Roth is the current poster boy for it, and might be the first rapper in the world who looks like he works in my dentist surgery. Dipping into classic hip hop mixtape mode, his rhymes are crunchy, and the show is a lot of fun, enhanced by Cool Kids coming on for Black Mags and his first single I Love College has a My Name Is-type calling card of a hit written all over it.

After Wax Fangs a few days back, American Fangs from Houston are playing at the Afro Punk night. Brutal and hardcore, the small mosh pit is the most enthusiastic I've seen all week, with the band part of a scene that is an amalgamation of genres, no matter the expected stereotypical musical tag for those playing it. It's exciting, and one of the great things at SXSW; every year there's boundaries crossed, genres fused, music bypassing cliches and stereotypes to make innovative and thrilling new tunes. Maybe in some 20 years there'll just be one band playing, covering all styles.

Bishi from England played a very well received set, and it's easy to see why. Her rocking sitar sounds are easy on the ear, unexpected and enhanced by her theatrical flourishes onstage.

Guaranteed big hitters from SXSW? The ones 'discovered' here, the ones the industry will push from now on? Probably Temper Trap, Little Boots, and my favourite band of the festival; Local Natives.

But Janelle Monae has superstar in waiting written all over her. At her gig there's a long wait 'till she gets onstage, high anticipation. Then smoke. Then her band. Then Janelle herself, a live wire of high kicks, big eyes, a pnt-sized parallel universe Beyonce if you like, high on ideas, out to to confuse and challenge perceptions. Then the blues, soul, funk, hip hop, big band intergalactic (she's a protege of Outkast's Andre 3000 after all). Her raw power with fun wig outs, a spot of crowd-surfing the entire venue from front to back and back again and a short set leaving you wanting more confirmed she's a superstar in waiting.
Fun, eh?

I'll have loads of photos to put up here soon too.


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