2014 SXSW Awards

24 Mar


We keep getting better and better at this SXSW thing. It hasn’t always been that way. I mean, Caitlin and I both used to be champs at rocking a SX alone, but when we first tried to go it together in 2011, we realized we had conflicting interests. I wanted to get drunk and not wait in lines and basically do whatever I wanted at any given moment. Caitlin, being the more sensible and reasonable human being of us, actually wanted to see a lot of bands, stay pretty sober and have a plan of who to see and stick with it. We struggled that first year, but we’ve gotten better and better about planning a SX week so that we can both do our thing. Now Caitlin still gets to see every buzz, indie and dance-y band her heart desires and I join her for most of it, but slip away for the occasional Watch the Throne drunken escapade and she can see Against Me! in peace. The fact that our interests overlap more and more every year only makes it easier*. Instead of a long day by day breakdown, we decided to give out fake awards for the best of SXSW 2014. The awards may be fake, but our feelings are real. In fact, the awards aren’t fake at all — these are real, honest RLA awards for the best of SXSW. It’s a little like Whose Line Is It Anyway? but with a lot less Drew Carey.

*I’d add comments to any of this, but this was such a mature, honest take on the SX’s of our past that I really don’t want to sully it with any snarkiness so I’ll just say…yep, agreed**.

**OK, OK, I do have to add: SXSW is always during my birthday so that has always made it trickier/feelings more raw. But I’m really done now, honest.


Best Conversation: Gareth Campesinos! I frequently complain to Zack that all I’m looking for at any party or get-together we go to is some simple-but-interesting conversation that helps me feel like I’m getting to know someone better, and isn’t the same old rehash of stuff I feel like I’ve told people over and over, with a little they-care-about-what-I’m-saying thrown in for good measure. I got all of this and more when we stopped for a chat with Gareth Paisey, lead singer of Los Campesinos! Zack and I spotted him on the patio at Holy Mountain at the same time, but it was Zack who had to have the bravery for both of us to run in and say hello. He headed right for Gareth and asked if Los Campesinos! had any shows coming up for this SXSW. I shyly sauntered up behind them and Zack introduced me … and we continued to chat with Gareth for a solid 20 minutes. We talked about everything from our SXSW experiences to good vegan restaurants in Austin, all the way up to details of how much money the band makes at a festival (which we won’t share because we were quite honored to have Gareth share that kind of thing with us at all!) We compared ages when Zack revealed it was my birthday, and after I said “27,” Gareth asked Zack’s age. “29,” he responded, and Gareth said, “Phew, so I’m not the oldest one here, I never like that.” It was a seriously awesome conversation that felt so natural it was like we’d been friends for years. It was the kind of interaction you dream of having with one of your musical favorites, and we can’t wait for the band to stop back through. The whole time I was thinking, “OK, it’s been a few minutes. Maybe we should leave him alone” but it became clear he was more than happy to talk to us. He was just in town as a label assistant and seemed relieved to be able to relax and chat over a beer for a while. It was so genuine and lovely. Great guy.

Best legend: Blondie We didn’t know what to expect. We mostly went to the showcase because White Sea was playing*. We stayed for Blondie because we had nowhere better to go and we were in a comfortable venue with free alcohol. We didn’t know what we were in store for. Would Debbie Harry still have it after 40 years, at 68 years-old? Heavens, yes. Blondie’s one of those bands where you think to yourself, “OK, I know they do ‘Heart of Glass,’ but will I know anything else?” and then they hit you with “Call Me” and “One Way or Another” and even their new stuff sounds great. This is a big band of seasoned pros who really wail. See them if you ever get the chance. Seriously, it was such an honor to catch this legendary band. I hadn’t had Blondie on my list of must-sees because quite honestly, I didn’t even know they were still together, but I’m so glad they are. So much of my SXSW was filled with bands featuring badass women, and Debbie Harry helped to pave the way for them all. Momma’s still got it, yo.  

*Truthfully. This was 100% of my reason to go.


Best new band: White Sea It all started with an email from my editor. Neil, who I freelance for at the Horn, sent me an unassuming email as he tried to get interviews lined up for our pre-SXSW coverage. “Hey, you like M83 right? Wanna interview the girl from that band? She’s got a solo thing…” I clicked the link that took me to the song “They Don’t Know” and time stopped. Where had this music been in my life?! I immediately said “Yes please omg” or something uber-professional to that effect, and days later I was speaking with Morgan Kibby, the writer/singer/performer/producer/mastermind behind the project. She was funny, charming, smart, well-spoken, and a feminist, so I basically lady-crushed all over our interview and decided then and there that this would be the band I’d want repeat performances from this SXSW. For their first performance, I was by myself, waiting for Zack to rejoin me and starting to hear my stomach grumble. I tweeted out to see if anyone else would be joining us, and Morgan tweeted back at me to let me know they were going to go on late. I’ll let Twitter relive it for us:

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 9.26.57 PM

Amazingly talented singer and producer, AND concerned for her fans’ well-being?! This woman is too fabulous. After a greasy slice that Zack joined me for*, we rushed back just in time for the opening strains of White Sea’s first song, and it was overwhelming. A huge rush of sounds and gorgeous vocals and melodies to melt your heart — it was seriously perfection. Then there was the song that had a 90s Mariah Carey vibe, complete with a jaw-dropping high-pitched note that, I’m pretty sure, cracked the heavens. I mean literally, Zack and I turned to each other with jaws dropped**. Every performance we saw seemed to outdo the last, although I do think my favorite was in Brazos Hall, where the band opened for Blondie and the sound system was finally worthy of Morgan’s awesomeness. In Cold Blood looks like it will be released in May, and sign me up for first in line***. Can’t wait for more Morgan!

*I ate free BBQ and met up with her as she ate.

**A literal jaw drop. She/they are that good.

***We’re getting that on vinyl, duh, and praying she comes back to Austin soon at the best possible venue.

Best dance party: Magic Mouth It was hours before my 27th birthday, so I threw on my sparkliest dress, a galaxy-print skirt over that, some boots and my dangliest earrings*. I was practically underdressed at the hootenanny that was the Magic Mouth show. The band’s lead singer Chanticleer Trü was donning purple shiny pants and a fringed, shiny blue collar with white stars, and he had the stage presence to own it. The band makes dance music that sometimes reminds me of the dark bass madness of Jesus Christ Superstar, and sometimes blooms into disco madness. It was our biggest dance party of the whole festival, despite us not knowing any of the band’s songs — and that’s saying something. Austin Bloggy described the scene as “basically a casting party for the next season of Looking,” which was incredibly astute. It was a big gay dance party and I loved every minute of it. 

*It was the cutest outfit ever!

Best rock performance: 3 Oberhofer shows in one day: I was worried we wouldn’t see them at all during SXSW. We first discovered these Brooklyn guys when they opened up for a Matt & Kim show we won tickets for* and blew them out of the water. We bought their album on vinyl and played it to death. We caught their 1 pm show and were shocked to hear zero songs off their first album, considering all they have is another EP and an album on the way. The new stuff sounded bigger, more intricate and slightly less poppy, but we loved it just as much**. We planned on missing their 4 pm show, but when Wye Oak had an insane line, we snuck back in to see them again. Similar situation at 10:30. We were able to squeeze in a 10 p.m. Tysson show and still get nice and close at The Parish for the best show of the bunch. With three hard rocking guitarists completely hold our attention for three shows in one day, Oberhofer ran away with best rock band. 

*To be fair to my friend Pooneh, she’d actually introduced me to Oberhofer during our CMJ 2010 adventure but I was never able to see them live during that time, so I wasn’t 100% hooked until this show with Zack.

**By the third time, we might have loved it even more. It builds in a really awesome, great-payoff kind of way.

Best show Caitlin saw alone: Against Me! Against Me! was a band I started to care about because of a guy in college, but I kept caring about them because they’re an awesome punk band with a brave, boundary-breaking badass for a lead singer. Laura Jane Grace was born Tom Gabel, but she always knew she was supposed to be a woman. I had never really paid attention to the struggles she outlined in her lyrics — I just figured it was a cool, feminist stance for a guy singer to take, to want to be born a wife and mother. When Tom came out as transgender and revealed that he was going to be she, it surprised me, but I was on board — it’s her life, and I just felt for the struggles she must have had her whole life. This was my first time seeing Against Me! with Laura Jane leading as herself, and I was unsure of what the experience would be like. I had nothing to fear — the environment was so incredibly loving and supportive, almost shockingly so after a horrible, sexist rapper called Schoolboy Q had just finished his set. Fans were up front for the gig, singing along to oldies like “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” and newer stuff like “True Trans Soul Rebel,” and Laura Jane Grace pretty much never stopped smiling. When I first spotted her off to the side of the stage, I geeked out a bit, grinning like a fool, and she flashed one back at me, and I hoped she knew I was on her side.

Best show Zack saw alone: Jay-Z and Kanye

I was drunk and they played all my favorite songs. It was perfect. I’ll never get to see either guy in such a small venue ever again. I just wished I remembered it better. 


Best Party: Puppy party! “Waitwaitwait…there’s a party where you can just pet PUPPIES?!” This was my reaction when I heard that Austin Pets Alive! was hosting what they’d dubbed a “puppy party,” and it became a #1 priority for the Interactive part of SXSW. We headed to a small office space just off of Congress avenue as the rain poured down on us, and stumbled upon pens filled with fluffy, wiggly puppies. I don’t like having to pick favorites when it comes to puppies, but there was a young pit mix that I just totally swooned for, and I hoped that Zack would have enough of the free beer available so that he’d think it would be a good idea for us to adopt her to be Scooby’s sister, but no dice. I think the event was well handled, although it did make me a little nervous to watch puppies be passed off to one semi-sober party-goer after another. Luckily, the volunteers made sure the puppies were only in a few photo booth photos before they were put back to rest and a different pup was subbed in. If puppies could just follow me around everywhere forever, I’d be in heaven always. You really can’t beat puppies. And free beer.


Most over-funded, under-attended venue: IFC Fairgrounds When I arrived at IFC Fairgrounds, it was a ghost town. It was Friday, and I wasn’t sure if people just didn’t know about the existence of the sprawling venue-and-fair situation or if they were still at work, or what. IFC clearly dropped some dough on the situation:  there was a humongous stage with deafening subwoofers (which I know since I stood right by them for White Sea — sorry, ears), a “fun slide” sack potato ride* situation with free Twizzlers handed out at the bottom, fair games like balloon darts** and even an emptied pool with blown-up furniture sitting at the bottom. Hopefully people caught on well enough to make it worth it for IFC to put this shindig together again next year, because it really was awesome and, given the right lineup, I’d return for sure.

*Caitlin decided not to go with me when I went, though she did take a pic of me while I took a video of myself riding the slide.

**I threw a few darts and barely missed winning a prize.

Best Free Food: Pink Avocado at the Most Awesomest Journalist Party Ever This is our first year doing this rating system for RLA, but this party would be a 3-time champion if we’d run it every year. I was drunk and in need of some food to soak it up by the time we got there*. I remember a second plate of just fries. I think the first plate was a sandwich? Caitlin insists there were good veggie options too**. And a drink ticket. Always a must for interactive week. Even if you can’t quite remember it.

*Boy, was he. He started not-so-quietly voicing his negative opinions on Google Glass right behind a woman wearing it, and she became visibly upset by this. I had to basically put my hand over Zack’s mouth to get him to zip it. I stand by my F*** Google Glass stance.

**The BEST free veggie options of any party we attended. Fries on fries and salad and a mini-pizza-quiche situation and doughnut holes and mini pies — I can’t even.

Worst Band: Future Islands Remember the jock from high school who thought he was the bee’s knees and was actually a huge idiot? He founded a band and “sings” for them now! Seriously, everyone loves this band but I do. not. get. it. The music is boring, the “singer” is a huge (literally and figuratively) creep who grinded his junk in the general direction of the audience after “warning” the boys they were about to lose their girlfriends to him (yeah, right, balding creep-o)  and who screamed more than sang…I just can’t. This band seems to have topped many folks’ lists of bests-of, but we proudly stand by our worst-of proclamation. Y’all can have ’em. It’s like if Jeremy Piven joined a band with some hipsters 25 years younger than him and went into full on Ari mode. No thank you.


Best Bike Ride: East Side for Third Man On Saturday of music week, Caitlin noted that I seemed to be in a bit of a crabby mood (read: hungover) and suggested we head to Third Man Records’ pop-up shop. By all means! We were already on the East side for Palehound behind Farewell Books, but it was still a few miles northeast of us. It was a bit of a gloomy day, but the bike ride felt great and it was even better once we got out there*. I resisted loading up on vinyl, since I had all the Jack White offerings and I scored a sweet baseball t**.

*The ride reminded both of us of our European bike rides: lots of greenery, over some train tracks, generally a very quiet and uninhabited ride.

**This thing is SO soft, you can bet I’ll be stealing it occasionally, particularly because this little ride cost us a second viewing of Wye Oak. Still worth it, though.

Top 3 Songs of SXSW: 


  1. They Don’t Know by White Sea
  2. Prague by White Sea
  3. All of the other White Sea songs whose titles I have yet to discover.


  1. Busy Earnin’ by Jungle
  2. Lady, You Shot Me by Har Mar Superstar
  3. Ni**as in Paris by Jay-Z & Kanye (on repeat)

Best Random sing-a-long: Drake

We start our ride home and get to the 4th street bridge at I-35 and there’s the usual clusterfuck of pedicabs, mindless pedestrians and shady figures. Then, as we cross, two pedicabs ride ahead of us and one starts blaring music. We don’t recognize it. But the guy in the pedicab next to him does. He starts singing along. “Just hold on, we’re going home.” He’s got a great voice. The other pedi cab starts singing too. “It’s hard to do these things alone. Just hold on we’re going home.” We smile wide. We don’t speed past the pedicab. We want to hear the rest of the song. “I know exactly who you could be. So just hold on, we’re goiiiing home.”


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