It's lucky number seven, seven years of going to music industry spring break, aka SXSW and this year was definitely a fun one, and perhaps a swan song for this metal journalist. After seven years, I personally feel like I may have experienced everything there is to experience in Austin for this convention. Which is not to say that if you've never been, it's not worth going… just that eventually, we all need a break from four days of continuous walking of at least 7 miles a day, mostly living on alcohol and food from a truck.
But I am not here to be jaded or cynical, because there was actually some great metal that I witnessed this year, and I thought I would recap by providing my favorite six bands I saw…
Yes, these guys played the Metal Injection showcase, but that doesn't change the fact that they were such a fun time and one of the few pure thrash acts I saw all week. What I love about these guys is the fun is infectious. They're playing amazing riffage and smiling all the way through, and they don't mind throwing in a snazzy on-stage trick like the lead and rhythm guitarist throwing their guitaris behind them and then leaning over each other to solo on the other guitarist's guitar. It's a sight to be seen and Exmortus know how to put on an entertaining show to keep the crowd engaged.
6) Power Trip
I saw these guys a few years ago, at SXSW on some random rooftop, where I thought it was a good idea to spark a joint and I immediately got ejected. But Power Trip were pretty good there. At the Roadrunner showcase, they were a thousand times better. The band was more confident and way more aggressive and bringin' it hard. It's been awesome to see these guys ascending to bigger and better places.
Khemmis were the surprise breakout at SXSW for me. I didn't know much going into their performance at the MetalSucks showcase, and truthfully, was at the bar catching up with some friends when they started playing. However, once I heard their sheer power and ferocity, I couldn't help but make my way closer and closer to the stage until I was fully immersed in their aural landscapes. These guys go well with a few bong rips, or a joint, and they keep your attention for sure.
I already talked about this on the Livecast, but I walked into Entheos' showcase about 30 minutes before they were about to go on. The scene was so odd that I wasn't sure I was even in the right place. An acoustic act was playing and I was about to leave until I saw the band's publicist and he reassured me I was in the right spot. Entheos went on to a half-filled room of which I'm sure 90% of the crowd had no idea who they are. But, a few songs in and people were INTO it. Everybody was jumping around, having a good time and vocalist Chaney Crabb couldn't help but smile at the reaction as she belted out some serious guttural vocals. Drummer Navene K. and bassist Evan Brewer are the perfect one-two low end combo and I was transfixed by Navene's drumming. This is one band to definitely pay close attention to in the months and years to come.
Deftones always deliver and were essentially the biggest metal band playing the festival. They played a secret show the night before I saw them but I had no idea, but instead I got to see these guys crush it in pure daylight and it was so very fun. The band was heavy on tracks from Diamond Eyes, and I was definitely not complaining. They know how to put on a show. They even brought up Bushwick Bill of the Ghetto Boys for a little freestyle.
2) Steve N Seagulls
Based on pure fun alone, Steve N Seagulls would be the overall winner. The band closed out the Metal Injection showcase, by which time everybody in the room was properly sauced and, of course, they are a Finnish bluegrass band that plays metal covers. There was dancing, there was singing along and there was even some light moshing. But most importantly, everybody had a smile on their face because it was just pure fun. Earlier in the day, Metal Injection followed these dudes around to play on random street corners, and as you can see in the footage above, these dudes can't help but win people over.
Turnstile is a no-frills hardcore band from Baltimore, MD that basically everybody I talked to told me I need to check out. They were not lying. This band is pure rock and roll. When experiencing these guys live, I'm certainly not the first person to be reminded of the aggression of seeing Rage Against the Machine, minus Tom Morello's funky guitar solos. Just no frills Baltimore hardcore, that made the crowd go wild… the wildest I've ever seen a SXSW crowd outside of a Trash Talk show. Imagine Turnstile and Trash Talk touring together? They wouldn't make it past the third date until promoters would pull out on account of their fans just destroying the venues.
Other artists I saw that ruled…
I tried to make an effort to catch some non-metal this year, because I probably wouldn't otherwise. I was elated to learn that Peaches was playing and I was so glad I saw her. It was like seeing a Madonna show with Gwar outfits. She brought it, for sure, and I was so glad to have seen her do her thing.
I finally got to see pop star Charli XCX live, whose 2014 release Sucker was in constant rotation. Unfortunately for me, it was Charli XCX featuring DJ Sophie, which means it was more of a set of remixes since she's collaborating with Sophie, so I was a bit unfamiliar with some of the music, but at the same time respected her for doing her thing and not just playing the hits. It was definitely an interesting set and Sophie really knew how to pump the bass loud.
The most surprising set of the week came from Dawn Richard, who played immediately after Deftones on the opposite stage and it was like I was warped back into the early 90s for a C&C Factory show. Flanked by two buff male dancers, Dawn sang and danced her ass off in one of the most eye-opening performances of the weekend. Here's a quick video I shot:
There was enough downtime, that I was even able to enjoy me some standup comedy from Judd Apatow, Hannibal Buress, Robert Klien and a a guy I never heard of, who totally won me over… Nate Bargatze.
Worst Set of the Week: MSTRKRFT
I have been a fan of this electronic duo for years and was excited to hear they were playing live, since I've never seen them. Unfortunately, all it was was two dudes fighting over a mixer. Disappointing is an understatement. I mean take a look…
Rob here with a dispatch from SXSW. Plenty to discuss on Sunday including how I went a little too far down the rabbit hole of electronic music, seeing MSTRKRFT live! It's just two dudes fiddling with knobs!
Posted by RIP a Livecast on Friday, March 18, 2016
Overall, there seemed to be a slight uptick in metal this year, but there were still plenty of gaps where not much was going on. Ultimately, I'm not sure if SXSW cares enough about metal for me to care enough to go back next year. But I said the same thing last year. I'll see how I feel in a few months.