My previous two years of SXSW coverage have taken you on my journey show by show…but this year was a little atypical for me. Instead I’m gonna combine it all into one highlight reel. Before I begin, here are a few general thoughts about SXSW 2012:
> Every year it seems like things are more and more frontloaded. My advice is to get here Tuesday morning of SXSW week.
> This year I went into SX week feeling like there was less to see than previous years in my genres. Come to find out, it was more of a communication issue than anything…
> …which brings me to the fact that so many bands and venues did a terrible job at communicating what was going on and when. Trash Talk wins the award for best job communicating where they were playing.
> Bands: please don’t come to SX and only play once. There’s so much scheduling conflict that it is only worthwhile to be here and play at least three times to be able to capture your entire audience.
> I never have a badge or a wristband. This year I spent about $30 seeing nearly 30 sets over five days. I’m serious.
> That said, keep in mind that the bands here are essentially playing for free and it is not a cushy show at that. Buy merch, buy them beers, tip the bartenders at the venue, go home and buy their records…whatever you can.
> I hate that St. Patrick’s Day coincides with SX.
> Picking one day show and one night show simplifies your life a lot.
> 5 Hour Energy in a Jack & Coke turns HRC into a headbanging machine.
So here we go, the HRC highlight reel:
Black Breath (Seattle) @ Scoot Inn, Saturday, March 17th at 1am
I know…surprise, surprise…people who read this know that Black Breath are one of my favorites. But I would tell you if it weren’t that great. This was their only show and I was really looking forward to it because I’ve heard the new album and I really wanted to hear some new songs live. Actually, strike that, I wanted to feel the new songs live. I’ve been in a terrible headspace lately, and I knew this would be something that would help. I’d already seen a bunch of shows at Scoot Inn by then, and they were really, really rough…so I had planned on standing on the side out of harm’s way. However, by 1am I was admittedly “white chick wasted” and in my tequila haze I was easily convinced to be on the rail right up front. What occurred was 45 minutes of me actually letting loose. I fear for any photos that surface from this show haha. Anyway…I think I love this band so much because they don’t really fit in anywhere and that’s kinda like I always feel. They’re thrashy, punky, death metal with something desolate about their lyrics that feels very black metal. So as I stood there losing my mind underneath lead guitarist Eric Wallace, in my third time seeing this band, I got a little taste of that magic that I used to feel all the time at shows. Those are few and far between these days, those moments where all reality is suspended and you just can’t believe that those songs you listen to all the time are being played a few feet from your face. So, please go buy their new album– it’s amazing- so that they can tour some more and I can have another magic moment again soon.
Shining (Norway) @ Dirty Dog, Thursday, March 15th at 10pm
This was the number one set I was worried about getting into, so I was floored when I was able to waltz right in. I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited to see a saxophone being set up on stage. Shining are extremely hard to describe…it’s extreme experimental metal with a lot of jazz elements. It was truly incredible to see on such a small stage; I stood at the corner of it and had to duck to avoid not being hit by guitars. There’s just something about the stage presence of Norwegians that I always love; they’re super intense and chilling to watch. There was a lot about this set that reminded me of being at a NIN show; it had the intensity and heaviness of a metal show with the cerebral appeal of a jazz show and electronic elements to tie it all together. Just look at their logo:
They kept standing on the monitors to nearly tip over into the crowd. I was uncertain how this music would translate in a live setting, especially playing such a small venue, but the performance was so engaging that I completely forgot this was even a SXSW show. I really couldn’t believe this was their only show of SXSW, especially since they came all the way from Norway- I would have absolutely gone to see them again.
Audrey Horne (Norway) @ Dirty Dog, Thursday, March 15th at 12a
Somehow the fact that Audrey Horne was playing SXSW made it past me. I didn’t even know they were playing this showcase until I got there, and then it was another 30 minutes until I caught someone walk by out of the corner of my eye and realized I was about to see Ice Dale play! I’m a big fan of Enslaved, so this was pretty exciting to me. Two things are incredibly interesting to me about this band: 1- the name is of a character from Twin Peaks (I’m a huge David Lynch fan) and 2- these grunge rock sounding bands filled with black and death metal musicians – others being Sahg and Black River– are so interesting to me because not only is it so far away from their core bands, but it’s very ‘American’ sounding music played through Euro eyes. While I don’t love their songs, their performance was fantastic. In addition to the incredible Ice Dale, guitarist Thomas Tofthagen was fantastic. Between the music, the way he played and his appearance, he deserves the name the Norwegian Jerry Cantrell.
Nachtmystium (Chicago) @ Barbarella, Wednesday, March 14th at 11am AND @ Lovejoys, Saturday, March 17th at 6pm
Nachtmystium are a band that reminds me of the early days of HRC; I’ve probably seen them once a year since I started my site. I liken Blake Judd to the American Satyr; I’ve seen him try different things out over the years with their performance- namely, looking more ‘traditional’ black metal at times with makeup and such. But regardless, it comes down to their music, which is truly unique in it’s Pink Floyd meets Mayhem sound. Both sets I saw were not exactly ideal for listening to the intricacies of their music, but they were much more intimate that how I would normally see them. The first show at the MetalSucks showcase was the best listening experience, so I was able to enjoy the one new song they played off their upcoming album “Silencing Machine”. Really can’t wait to hear the whole thing. The Lovejoys set was nuts; the power in the “venue” couldn’t sustain these metal bands playing, and sound issues where aplenty…and then on top of that the crowd tore up the monitors on the ground as they ferociously rocked out during the set. But the real source of destruction was keyboardist/synth guy Sanford Parker…he took out his frustrations on the setup by dousing the crowd with beer, flinging electronics around, and using a mic stand as a spear to thrust dangerously into the crown and puncture the ceiling. This was one of those sets where I was standing to the side up front and had my eye on a close exit “just in case”. But there was no need, it was perfect as my last metal set of SXSW.
Trash Talk (Sacramento) @ Scoot Inn, Friday, March 16th at 4pm
I’ve been wanting to see Trash Talk for a while: because I write about live shows, whenever there’s a band that’s just got the X factor live, people tend to write me about it. So I had a lot of tips but just hadn’t made it to see them yet. Well, the Scoot Inn show was a perfect first one. I stood as close as I could to be able to see but stay away from the pit, because the moment they went on stage it went berserk. Ironic moment: a trash can being tossed around during their set, only to be removed and placed right in front of me. WHY ME?! Fun fact: when I saw Rage Against the Machine in 1997 I was thrown into a trash can. It caused a flashback. “This mic is yours. This stage is yours” said screamer Lee Spielman. People were climbing the stacks and jumping off, there were skateboards in the pit…it was pure chaos. But the best part was when Spielman just walked out onto the crowd like whichever religious dude walked on water and used some rope near the roof to move all over the crowd. It was a ballsy maneuver. I really like Trash Talk’s rapport with their fans; they definitely made a new one out of me.
Gypsyhawk (LA) @ MI Annex, Thursday, March 16th at 1:30pm
This year’s SXSW for me was very heavy on the extreme metal, so it was great to have Gypsyhawk bring the good ol’ rock & roll. This was my second time seeing them, and I could see a marked difference in their stage performance. There’s a fire within them that I could sense, perhaps because 2012 will be a big year for them. They recently finished recording an album that I am anxiously awaiting to hear…but will have to be patient until August. From the smokey guitar solos of Erik Kluiber and Andrew Packer, to the gravely vocals of Eric Harris, to the ass-shaking inducing drums of Ian Brown, Gypsyhawk made their one SXSW show count. It’s hard to find bands like them around, it’s something as pure as it is dirty. And these guys are authentic rockers to boot. They played a great cover of “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Coo” and we were pretending to be back up singers from the crowd. Seeing Gypsyhawk in Texas under the increasingly sweltering sun felt right.
Intronaut (LA) @ Barbarella, Wednesday, March 15th, 10pm
I already saw Intronaut once this year on a real deal stage, so considering the sound I had experienced in previous sets this particular night I was prepared to be irked. Intronaut is a band about intricacies of sound. Their soundcheck might have been longer than their actual set (“sorry for taking so long, but we’re a progressive band”)…seriously…but holy wow did it pay off. They definitely made the most of it, which is good since this was their only show. So I was able to float on their dark, complex music which really fit my mood that night.
The Atlas Moth (Chicago) @ Lovejoys, Saturday, March 17th, 5pm
The only thing I knew about The Atlas Moth going into this set was the name, but I finished it a fan. I’ll admit when they lit incense at the beginning I was a bit like “uh-oh”, but as soon as their atmospheric metal began and those piercing screams assaulted my ears I lost all doubt. Their set transcended the small, shitty stage, which really made me want to see them again in a proper venue. I think the lasting impression of this set was at the end of the final song the guitarists turned towards each other and essentially became one, and then one set down his instrument and just kind of beat on a speaker and stomped around a bit. It’s this kind of vibe of being infected by the music that left a lasting visual image in my head.
HULL (Brooklyn) @ Lovejoys, Saturday, March 17th, 2pm
This was my first time catching HULL, and their monstrous sound was perfect for my first set of the day where I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Doomy, sludgy, screamy…it was better than coffee. I have a theory that people in Brooklyn are going deaf because it just seems that all bands I know from there are just louder.
Holy Grail (LA) @ Barbarella, Wednesday, March 15th, 8pm
Recently returned from Soundwave down under, Holy Grail is another band who’s upcoming second album I can’t wait to hear. While I was really impressed with their ferocious energy this set compared to the other couple times I’ve seen them, I spent the whole time mumbling expletives about the sound. I couldn’t hear the guitars and the bass was humming loud enough to hurt my ears. Luckily I know the songs well enough to mentally fill the gaps.
Early Graves (SF/LA) @ MI Annex, Thursday, March 15th, 12:30p
To be able to get out of bed, get dressed, and walk out my door and down the street to first hear Early Graves is the quintessential SXSW experience. Their music is so intensely hopeless that it instantly sobered me up from what was lingering from the early morning hours. I love that screamer John Strachan was wearing a Morissey shirt…another artist who spews pure misery. Garmonbozia comes in many different sounds.
Pallbearer (Little Rock) @ Lovejoys, Saturday, March 17th, 4pm
As you can imagine by the name, Pallbearer was seriously heavy. The dark doom rattled the room; it matched the dust, cobweb, and suspicious liquid stains that donned the shoddy venue. Between songs, you could hear what sounded like country music, which led us to believe that the house music had been left on…but it ended up being a stage next door. SXSW problems: it was very strange to hear that mixed in with their sludge machine. Perhaps a country doom band is in order.
The Black Ryder (Australia) @ The Iron Bear, Saturday, March 17th, 10:30p
My one non-metal or punk show of SXSW was one of my favorite psych rock bands, The Black Ryder, from Australia. And they played a gay bar on the opposite end of the SXSW action than where I spent the rest of my time with the metalheads. While it was a refreshing break from the metal scene on one hand, it was hard to get in the right frame of mind for this set. But, they are so good, their dreamy sound made me relax into it…so much so that afterwards I was done with SX and ready to go home. Their music is so sexy, and while I preferred the first time I saw them- at Austin Psych Fest last year- it was comforting to get lost in the reverb. And Aimee Nash’s angelic voice and sultry looks make this band addictive.
Speedwolf (Denver) @ Lovejoys, Saturday, March 17th, 3pm
Speedwolf had me laughing several times during their set. They play fast metal and they had a fast soundcheck for it. Sound guy: “can you scream?”. Vocalist: “yeah I scream!”. Sound guy: “no…can you scream into the mic?” The very no frills set was peppered with humor by the lead vocalist, such as introducing a song as being about killing his ex-girlfriend, or telling us that Pallbearer would be on next to “rock our dicks off” or something to the like, which he followed up with “No dick, all music.”
Other sets I caught bits and pieces of:
Primitive Weapons (Brooklyn) @ Valhalla, Friday, March 16th @ 8pm
This was one of the newer bands I wanted to catch, but was only able to see a couple of songs…but I liked what I saw.
Bruce Lamont (Chicago) @ Lovejoys, Saturday, March 17th @ 2pm
I really wanted to see Bruce Lamont, as the only other time I’ve seen him was in Led Zeppelin 2…but I walked in as the last song was wrapping up.
Pilgrim (Rhode Island) @ MI Annex, Thursday, March 15th, 2pm
This three piece doom band rattled the tent as I was leaving this day party, I most recall the piercing vocals that sailed about the heaviness of the music.
Cro-Mags (NYC) @ Scoot Inn, Wednesday, March 14th, 3pm
I couldn’t see them playing because it was so packed and chaotic, but this set will go down in history for me for one thing: a horrifying pit injury that was carried past me dripping blood. Of course I couldn’t look away because I really thought this guy was dead or dying, and when they sat him up I saw the actual eye wound and swiftly got so throw uppy I was ready to go.
The Interbeing (Denmark) @ Dirty Dog, March 15th, 9pm
I watched part of The Interbeing’s set…they reminded me of a more electronica sounding Threat Signal.
The Defiled (London) @ Dirty Dog, Thursday, March 15th, 11pm
I was trying to track down Shining merch and missed a lot of this set, but these heavily made up lads could have easily killed someone at the end of their set when they broke apart their keyboards and threw them into the crowd. Ouch.
High on Fire (Oakland) @ Scoot Inn, Friday, March 16th, 5pm
A picture is worth a thousand words:
OFF! (LA) @ Scoot Inn, Friday, March 16th, 4pm
I couldn’t really see much of this punk band led by the legendary Keith Morris of Circle Jerks…but I’ve seen them once before at Fun Fun Fun Fest.
Ringworm (Cleveland) @ Scoot Inn, Friday, March 16th, 12am
Ringworm was the set where I was sobering up a little for Black Breath…so it’s a bit fuzzy for me.
So there you have it! 24 sets for about $30. SXSW will always have a special place in my heart because not only does it bring friends from all over to my town, but it also sets the tone of the year for me musically. 2012 looks like it’s going to be the heaviest of them all.