Four days spent chasing the dragon in Austin
Sat/19 Last day in Austin. The hot daytime ticket was the MOG.com party at Mohawk. That meant getting there early and committing the entire afternoon ... but the payoff was catching headliners TV on the Radio and Big Boi with just a few hundred other folks. Austin's Okkervil River was playing the outdoor stage when I got there, and then Brooklyn's Twin Shadow was playing inside. Even though they're on the '80s synth-pop bandwagon, they managed to keep things fresh. TV on the Radio's SXSW shows officially put an end to their two-year hiatus and previewed their highly anticipated upcoming album Nine Types of Light. Next up on the outdoor stage was Big Boi. Songs from his recent release had some traction, but whenever an OutKast jam dropped, the crowd lost their shit. A funny moment: when he invited a sea of hipster girls to the stage to shake it with his ATL crew.
That eve, the rumor mill about surprise shows was alive and well. Kanye, Jay-Z, and Justin Timberlake were breathlessly being mentioned around town. The conundrum became one of whether to chase those dragons or stick with a confirmed showcase.
After briefly checking out the Red Bull Freestyle DJ contest, I decided on the confirmed showcase approach. The globetrotting Nat Geo showcase at Habana Bar was stellar. I walked in as Khaira Arby, the legendary queen of Malian desert rock, was rocking the house. Up next was Brooklyn's Sway Machinery, then Aussie roots-reggae group Blue King Brown. Things really got packed for the closing act of Austin's own Grupo Fantasma. The recent Grammy-winning group marched the crowd through the paces of their super tight cumbia, salsa, and funk grooves while experimenting with heavier psych rock influences. I enthusiastically made it through about half their set until my feet cried uncle. I made my way through the sloppy Sixth Street madness, dodging teenage lotharios and puddles of sick on the way to my bike, and then home.
A PHOTOGRAPHER'S ADVICE FOR SXSW FIRST-TIMERS
• You have to let go. You will not see half the acts you want to, but there is always a good band within a few hundred yards — so be where you are and enjoy it. Discover some new music.
• Live music photography is best when there's a mosh pit. It's much easier to move through a swirl than a dense crowd. I'm not the type to post up 30 minutes before the band starts — but I am the type to push up once they're on. Sorry, short people.
• Wear comfortable shoes.
• There is a lot of free booze — but not as much as I thought. (Matt Reamer)