If you skirted the thousands-deep Flaming Lips crowd or the block-long line for the surprise Beastie Boys party, there was still plenty to see at SXSW this year. While big-name acts might have monopolized the pages of mainstream media outlets, it was the more intimate performances in tiny bars and lounges off 6th Street (the festival's main drag) that planted seeds for music critics and A&R reps scouting the next big thing at this yearly industry Mecca.
Some of those shows felt surreal: Lupe Fiasco played to a 20-person crowd at Vice's party; Mogwai played a 1 a.m. set at an outdoor amphitheater; and The Editors tossed down their guitars and stormed offstage, ending their show abruptly at the Levi's/Fader Outpost. The Mush Records showcase featured Clue to Kalo, an Australian experimental band fronted by the laptop toting 23-year-old Mark Mitchell, who crafts complex, discordant harmonies and wistful, indie-rock lyrics that require a lot of concentration. Big Juss (formerly of Company Flow), at that same showcase, was a hard act to follow, but Bay Area MC Busdriver rose to the task, his sing-jay rap style and party-rallying antics doled out with a pomp and stance so over-the-top that it was damn-near drag-queeny. Other snapshots of SXSW's 20-year-anniversary event March 15-19 included DJ Logic playing in the downtown outskirts at Oslo, Hot Chip's sold-out show at The Parish II, girl duo Smoosh (also at Parish II), the Dresden Dolls at Stubbs and P.O.S. at Emo's hip-hop showcase.
One of the names rolling off everyone's tongue was Spank Rock, the two-man outfit notorious for shaking down clubs with their riotous hybrid of Bmore club (aka Baltimore club), crunk, disco, world beats and anything else you can twerk or jerk to. They played a slew of showcases and parties (Pitchfork, Fader and Vice to name a few), each highlighted by the performance of the new single, “Shake It Till My Dick Turn Racist,” which doesn't grace the playlist of their April release YoYoYoYoYo but epitomizes the raunchy, offhandedly political commentary that trademarks the lyrics of Naeem Juwan, aka MC Spank Rock. More comfortable rhyming from the club floor than onstage, Juwan made his way through the crowd at Vice's Thursday evening showcase challenging female audience members to test his claim. Standing outside the venue afterward, basking in the shimmer of his sweat-sheen, he offered more insight as to what he meant: “It's like when a girl shakes it so hard it makes me not want to ever be with any other race.”