SXSW 2018 felt different. Gone were the huge brand activations (nobody performed on top of a giant Snickers bar), so much of the week felt like it was collectively and genuinely focused on the music (and the tacos and margs, ehhh?). Even though walking down 6th Street was nearly impossible anytime after 8 PM, much of the week felt smaller and more intimate than recent years. Will it stay that way? No, probably not (capitalism is a cruel mistress, etc.), but we had a good time anyway. Here’s the best and worst shit Noisey saw at SXSW 2018.
Not Many Musicians Much More Famous Than Rae Sremmurd
A trend set by SXSW over the last five years is that you don’t really know what is going to happen, who is going to show up, or what shows are going to get announced at the last minute (*whispers* I heard Drake is playing on top of a human pyramid sponsored by Soylent featuring Kanye, Jay Z, and Lil Pump, and then Lana is doing a secret set inside of a Doritos bag), but this year, there was none of that shit. And honestly? That was great. The most famous rappers hanging around were Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy, and considering those two dudes kick ass, it was the best of both worlds. Even though there’s nothing quite like a 13-minute Drake set, the lack of focus on the stars allowed us to enjoy artists that actually felt emerging in a genuine way. —Eric Sundermann
Andrew W.K.’s Extreme and Genuine Love of Music
Party-positive possessor of eternal youth Andrew WK played a handful of sets around Austin last week. Having only seen one of them—at 2 PM, outdoors on an overcast Saturday—I believe that he could have played from Monday until Sunday without pausing. The band would have sustained the party, and the party would have sustained the band, and no energy would have been lost. The 38-year-old opened his set with "Music Is Worth Living For," in which he pumped his right fist between each four-note piano riff. He spent a lot of time replacing microphones, all of which were too weak to cope with constantly being stuffed down the his pants. He closed his set by counting down from 80, slowing down towards the end for dramatic effect—it was funny at first but compelling by the time he got to 30. That led into "Party Hard," of course, which rules. Andrew WK still sincerely believes that partying will save lives and then save the world. I now absolutely believe that to be true. —Alex Robert Ross
Smino’s Beautiful Voice
Smino performed at our showcase, so we’re going to gas ourselves up a little bit and say that we made a really good choice here, but also who cares because Smino fucking killed it. After coming off a tour with SZA, it’s clear that the St. Louis rapper has learned how to navigate the stage and has figured out his sound—a blend of R&B, hip-hop, and good hair—works in 2018. I’m really looking forward to seeing what his next project is like. —ES
Xylouris White Blowing Our Minds with a Lute
I didn’t expect my favorite SXSW set to come from two 50-something guys on drums and a Cretan lute. Then again, those two guys are Jim White, former drummer of Dirty Three with Warren Ellis and Mick Turner, and Greek avant-garde singer and musician Giorgos Xylouris; their new album, Mother, was produced by Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto. What erupted over the next 40 minutes or so at their Sunday night Bella Union set was tremendous, their eyes locked on each other as they culled from rock, Greek folk, psychedelic, jazz, and even techno for a freewheeling sound greater than the sum of its parts. I didn’t know either instrument could sound like that. It’s what live music is all about, baby. —Andrea Domanick
Valee Sitting on a Counter in a Mansion in Middle Austin Next to a Giant Pile of Dominos Pizza Boxes Before Doing “Shell” at 3 AM
Valee was one of the buzziest rappers at SXSW this year, playing something like 78 showcases in about a three-hour period, but each time the G.O.O.D. Music took the stage he brought a very cool and refreshing energy. My favorite was the performance he did in slippers (yes, slippers) in at a random mansion party where kids were sneaking in by jumping the fence in back, climbing the deck, and stealing wine from the cellar. —ES
My Uber Driver Teaching Me About a Genre of Music He Created Called “Spicy Rock”
Ricardo was my second Uber driver, the one who picked me up after I went to the wrong hotel from the airport on Tuesday night. "You are actually very lucky," he said as I hauled my suitcase into the back of his SUV and tried to smile politely through the jet lag. "This is the best Uber in Austin."
I want to tell you that Ricardo was lying. He was not. He didn't spend long on small talk before he moved in for the kill. "Do you like rock music?" he asked first. (Sure I do). "Do you like The Beatles?" (I'm aware of their work). "Do you like The Red Hot Chili Peppers?" (Yes, I have a soul). He pressed a button on his center console and told me that, if I liked all of that, I would love this. "I am in a band too," he said. A video screen folded down from above, and I could still see Ricardo's goateed smile in the rearview mirror when the video started to play. It opened with some text:
"In a planet far, far away… there was a band delivering Spicy Music and Hot Sauce… Their first mission was… Make America Hot Again!"
There's not enough space for me to tell you about Makenka's video for "Cuerpo de Guitarra," but there is enough space for me to share the video itself, taken directly from www.MakeAmericaHot.com. I can tell you that Ricardo calls their brand of music "Spicy Rock." I can tell you that Makenka has their own line of hot sauce. And I can tell you that, while I stared at a bottle of the stuff in the backseat of his Honda, he told me something that I'd never considered before: "America was already great. We just want to make it spicy." —ARR
Ought and Goat Girl Making Post-Punk Cool Again
Post-punk’s gotten kind of screwed over since its early 00s revival, quickly devolving into a wave of too-on-the-nose Joy Division knockoffs that matched the genre in style rather than substance. Montreal’s Ought and South London’s Goat Girl are giving post-punk its teeth back, stripped of campy synths and pretension, and armed instead with the politicized vigor and knuckle-cracking ingenuity that made the genre so powerful to begin with. —AD
Standing in a Circle and Drinking Beers
People will tell you that SXSW is about the music, about connecting, about linking, about building, but really, SXSW is about standing in a circle drinking with your friends and drinking beers.
Starcrawler Spitting Blood and Humping Trees
Starcrawler caught my ears a couple times while en route to other shows, and I regret not staying longer. They’re all manic yelps and big-ass, unapologetic riffs; they have a song called “Pussy Tower”; and frontperson Arrow De Wilde, clad in a corset, moves like she’s drunk off of bat blood and Cherie Currie’s spit. Any given moment might see her doing back bends, rolling on the stage, grinding on a tree, and smearing fake blood on her face, before spitting it onto the crowd to alternating disgust and delight. In less capable hands, it would be corny, but Starcrawler just makes it a hell of a lot of fun—less an ode to forebears like Ozzy, than a revitalization that puts some lifeblood back into long-anemic guitar music. —AD
Missing Soccer Mommy Like a Bunch of Chumps
Soccer Mommy’s Clean is collectively one of Noisey’s favorite releases of the year so far, yet somehow none of us made it by one of her showcases in Austin. We’re sorry. Seriously. No other way to say it: we’re fucking losers for this one. —ES
Rolling Stone ’s David Fricke Still Doing the Damn Thing
Shout out to legendary senior writer David Fricke hanging out at a bar on 6th Street, waiting to catch Ezra Furman’s set at 2AM on the final night of SXSW. To anyone in the industry who’s ever complained about being tired by having to go to shows all week long, this 65-year-old legend just shut you up.
Knox Fortune’s Smile
I mean, look at that guy.
Lucy Dacus’s Incredibly Beautiful Guitar ( This One ) Sounding Incredibly Beautiful
Historian is a record that’s great for introspection and Thinking About Your Life™, but it’s also the perfect kind of music for a late afternoon outdoor set in Texas after you’ve been drinking for a few hours (coincidentally also the perfect time to do some introspection). Lucy Dacus’s music can feel like a bit of a slow burn, but the layered, aching guitars sound like they’re a lost recording session from every influential guitarist from the 90s. It’s great. —ES
Smokepurpp and Blocboy JB Just Kind of Hanging Around Everywhere
Not really sure what to write here. Artists, they’re just like us!
Mozzy Generally Kicking Ass
Remember when Kendrick Lamar won a Grammy earlier this year, and the first thing he did was shout out Mozzy? The rapper is carrying that momentum, as he’s just released another EP called Spiritual Conversations, and performed across Austin with about 30 guys on stage each time. Anytime a set causes you to turn to your friend next to you and spend the next 30 minutes talking about how rap music is the best genre of music, you know that shit is good. —ES
St Patrick's Day in Texas, Where Apparently Everyone Is Irish
It's a ridiculous spectacle anyway. If you want to get drunk at breakfast and act like an asshole, you don't need to wear green and make shit up about the Old Country. This year, as always, I learned things I didn't want to know. Here's one that I discovered before going to watch Lucy Dacus at Cheer Up Charlie's: Notre Dame's motto is "God, Country, Notre Dame." I didn't want to know that! The impossible crowds on 6th Street were doubled up by fuckers in plastic beads all day, and it made me yearn for SantaCon. —ARR
A Famous Rapper Not Washing His Hands in the Men’s Room
Vundabar’s Brandon Hagen Playing a Vape
Vundabar’s new album Smell Smoke tackles the dystopian inversion of the American dream, but onstage they’re the class clowns—shaking their butts, pantomiming, and generally whipping the crowd into recklessness. During one set, singer/guitarist Brandon Hagen, spying smoke clouds in the crowd, grabbed a fan’s vape and proceeded to stunt with it in time with his guitar solo. Vape naysh! —AD
Rico Nasty’s Hair
Here for the return of liberty spikes. —AD
Kicking Ourselves for Somehow Not Catching Either of JPEGMafia's Sets
I'm still trying to get my head around Barrington Devaughn Hendricks, the New York-raised rapper who moved to Alabama, enlisted in the army (where he served in Kuwait, Iraq, Germany, and Japan), then wound up in Baltimore where he makes contrarian, punkish, internet-addled hip-hop. I bet he has an incredible live show. I bet everyone got tired of me saying we should go see one of his shows. I regret sitting in my hotel room, exhausted, watching SportsCenter instead of going to watch his show on Thursday. I should be fired immediately. —ARR
The Vicious Joy of Shame and IDLES
There’s a lot to be pissed off about right now. But being pissed off doesn’t mean being an asshole, as South London’s Shame and Bristol’s IDLES would like to remind you. Both bands play like they’re daring you to punch them in the face, because, well, that’s a lot of what being alive right now feels like. But they’re also wise enough to understand that we’re in it together; get caught shoving or fighting, as one guy did during Shame’s set at Noisey's showcase, and they’ll stop the show to kick you out. “You say it's going forwards / But I feel it flowing backwards / In a time of such injustice / How can you not want to be heard?” Shame’s Charlie Steen shouts on “Friction.” This is all-inclusive ire: visceral, joyous, and honest—lightning rods for collective rage, forged from love. —AD
Almost nobody at SXSW is actually from Texas or anywhere really nearby, so all the local wisdom you hear is third-hand at best. My favorite one is: "It's dry here, so you should drink water." True! But also, shut up. You just put back six Lone Stars and a whiskey soda before inhaling four carnitas tacos, and it's 7 PM on a Wednesday—water isn't an auto-detox, nor is it the salad you so desperately need. Water is good, and you ought to drink it where possible; it tastes fucking amazing when you haven't so much as considered its existence for two days; it makes up a lot of the human body, and the human body is worth maintaining in some sense. But also, again: shut up. Eat some lettuce or something. Get some sleep. —ARR
Noisey is tired but not as tired as they expected they'd be. Follow Noisey on Twitter.