SXSW Music Day 4: Nneka, Balkan Beat Box, Jimmy Cliff


During my last day in Austin SXSW reached critical mass. This year St. Patrick's Day happened to coincide with the big Saturday blowout, and as I made my way downtown the revelry was in full effect. Partiers who looked to be in high school swirled about dressed in t-shirts with slogans like "Hello, My Name is Beer" and "Let's Get Wasted!!!" In the midst of this I came across a couple contentedly sitting in the middle of the street in complete stillness while staring into one another's eyes.


I had to forgo a set by British soul singer Michael Kiwanuka in order to catch CHLLNGR at Karma Lounge. CHLLNGR is the moniker of electronic musician Steven Borth, a native-Californian who lives in Denmark full-time and is one of Spoek Mathambo's main collaborators. Backed by drummer Gunnar Olsen, Borth is a talented multi-instrumentalist who liberally played his saxophone throughout a set that was deeply steeped in sexy R&B.


After that it was off to the Nat Geo showcase at Stage on Sixth. British singer Alice Russell and Quantic were in full swing. Russell's larger-than-life voice and the band's rolling soul had everyone putting their hands together. "Pushin' on" was a crowd favorite. 


I stopped by the Montreal musician showcase and caught a few songs by Haligonian garage band Each Other. From there it was a several block climb to Empire Auto Garage where I thought I was going to catch some French bands. But I must have read the schedule wrong because MC Kosha Dillz was holding court on the small patio. After he finished his last song he mentioned that his performance was part of the Oy Vey showcase, "The coolest Jewish rap party without many Jewish rappers."


As I crossed the threshold into the venue's main warehouse space I was enveloped by a complete sensory overload. The room was bathed in light that was directed in such a way that it felt like the crowd was hanging in suspension, and Philadelphia-based dubstep producer Starkey had the crowd feeling his beats. Literally. The bass was so pounding that it rattled my organs. As I approached the stage the speakers' vibrations became too intense so I hung in the back of the room to survey the scene. A few minutes later the bass cut out completely, leaving the crowd adrift as Starkey protested over the PA "Yo, I wasn't even in the red! Is anyone out there even working?" 


I asked the production manager what had happened. He said that the bass was so heavy that it knocked the Starkey's laptop off the table, and that they were trying to get him to take it down a notch. Yet the thing he was even more worried about was that Daedelus was returning to the venue later that eve. Apparently two nights ago his bass was so relentless that it had blown two woofers, cracked two windows, and fried the hard drive of the computer delivering the club's visuals. Hopefully the night didn't go out with too much of a bang. Meanwhile the woofers came back online and the crowd commenced thrashing to Starkey's beats.


Back at Stage on Sixth Israeli culture-clashers Balkan Beat Box were setting up after having spent 24 hours en route from California to Austin. While playing though complete exhaustion they rocked several songs from their newly released album Give. One track that had particular traction was "Enemy in Economy," which details frontman Tomer Yosef's experience being mistaken for a terrorist on an Alaska Airlines flight. The crowd couldn't get enough of the song's hook "Welcome to the USA, we hope you have a wonderful day."


Nigerian-German singer Nneka was inside playing her beautiful blend of politically conscious music. Her set took place under the watchful eyes of Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin, and Johnny Cash... all featured on the venue's huge wall mural.


My SXSW experience closed out with Jimmy Cliff's set on the patio stage. By kicking things off with "You Can Get It If You Really Want" he wasted no time in giving the capacity crowd what they really wanted. As the patio tent got progressively hazy it seemed the perfect moment to bid adieu to the festival and make my way home.