Last year, I gave a pretty grim diagnosis for the relationship between metal and SXSW. In short, I chalked it up to a mutual disdain for each other: SXSW does not see as a metal as an attracting force, and in turn, metalheads were increasingly fed up with tolerating a festival that clearly didn't a give a fuck about them or their music. This year, I am here to say that things have only gotten worse. Not only were the official showcases skimpier than ever, but unofficial shows, the major key in enjoying yourself as a metalhead during the fest, weren't packing enough heat to make up the difference. Were metal to be entirely removed from SXSW's official programming, I'd neither be shocked nor saddened. Shit, I'm lamenting it, and even I'm kind of over it.
So, some observations.
One of the biggest blows was that there were no Thrasher day parties this year. Converse decided to ally themselves with Fader Fort this year, and who can blame them? A surprise OVO showcase with Drake – especially because he did “Jumpman” twice—certainly raises your brand profile better than any metal show. Sure, Thrasher probably could have found another sponsor, but alas, they didn't, and it's hard to fault them too. For myself and plenty of Austin headbangers, Thrasher used to be the place to be during a week too infernal for Satan himself. SXSW has a tendency to not really shape itself until really late in the game, and this especially applies to unofficial shows. Two weeks out, no Thrasher announcements. "They'll come soon enough," I thought, lying to myself with my optimism feeling thinner than Phil Anselmo's goodwill.
By the Friday before, though, I gave up hope and accepted the truth: there would be no real band of heathens stepping up to fill Thrasher's void. New England Metal and Hardcore was nowhere to be found, BrooklynVegan's only metal offering was a Power Trip appearance (they're one of my favorite bands right now, but far from an exclusive), and Pitchfork's Show No Mercy was once again absent. People don't come out to official shows – Dirty Dog still had plenty of room to spare when Conan, a legitimately great band that came all the way from the UK, played the Metalsucks showcase last Wednesday. Metalheads don't want to deal with a weekend Sixth Street crowd on a weekday. They didn't have much else, and had I not had obligations, I might've stayed home too.
Heavy Metal Parking Lot 3 was the closest thing to a real metal party, brining in the likes of Bongzilla, Pentagram, and Today Is The Day. The Lost Well is an ideal spot for an unofficial show – metalheads go there a lot anyway, and it's far away enough from downtown to escape the chaos without having to retreat to Round Rock (hell, Hyde Park may as well be “far north” once every middle of March). Props to American Icon, but they can't handle the load themselves.
Walking around 6th and East Austin, which for a week served as a graveyard of mixtapes and flyers for rappers that couldn't even aspire to be Post Malone's weed carrier, I saw a lot of posters advertising Babymetal, the Japanese girl metal band that takes nu-metal and deathcore and presents it with a hyperactive, cutesy image that infuriates many metalheads—perhaps because it feels more authentic than the same faux-rebel shit they've been spoonfed since teenagerdom. Immediately, I thought: why the hell weren't Babymetal booked for SXSW? This might sound heretical, but they might have just been what SXSW needed for a standout metal showcase, or standout metal something had Babymetal decided to take over Fader Fort for a day.
Firstly, they've got a hook that will bring in people who don't normally listen to metal. I'm not too fond of genre tourists either, but you can't fill a show with the same knuckleheads you have to deny Fireball shots to every week and expect it to draw. I'll take Babymetal over Beach Slang any day – more over-the-top songs about chocolate, less songs about being over the hill and still trying to lay girls half your age. Secondly, while they've gone viral, they're not yet an established act. SXSW could have been a crucial step in their eventual global domination.
Or maybe not. Maybe metal bands don't need SXSW to build a following and get themselves out to the public. Proof? Just look at Deafheaven. While SXSW was pivotal for them early on, since 2013 they've skipped out, and it hasn't hurt them one bit. They're in Europe right now, which is why they couldn't make it, but they've made plenty of moves without relying on SXSW. Just a couple months ago, they wrapped up their biggest tour yet opening for Lamb of God and Anthrax, which put them in front of a lot of dyed-in-the-flesh metalheads who don't bother checking up on Pitchfork and Stereogum for metal recommendations. When SXSW 2014 rolled around, they skipped Austin because they toured with Between The Buried and Me, another tour that greatly expanded their audience as the prog wing got a taste of them. On March 15, 2014 to be exact, they were just a little over an hour away in San Antonio. They'll be busy on the festival circuit this summer, including Chicago Open Air in July, where they finally get the chance to open for Korn (and I don't say that dismissively).
Could they have swung their way up for a surprise show? Sure, but it doesn't matter now. Also, Ghost have played SXSW a grand total of zero times, and they just got a Grammy! Like Babymetal, they're a crossover act with visual flair that would be perfect for SXSW, musical merit notwithstanding. Not that there's a solid correlation between SXSW appearances and Grammy noms, but you know that at least one big metro paper music critic would have skipped an Anderson .Paak show to check out Papa Emeritus III hamming it up.
Barring MDF putting on a miniature edition at SXSW, it might be time to say goodbye to any hopes of the festival getting metal right. As a dude who goes to every metal show in town and hears “I see you at every show, dude!” at least once every time, I'm okay with that. I can take a week off to party with my non-metal friends at Drake and guzzle free Jack and Red Bull (sorry, Mom).
Andy O'Conner is probably repping Korn on Twitter.