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SXSW Festival Wrap-Up: Day 4

“Could I just get like..” I hesitated, “… a plate of bacon?”

Even my snappy attire couldn’t bemuse the fact that I wore last night’s events in the dark crescents under my eyes. It an attempt to disguise my beleaguered state, I sported a pair of cheap aviators. Although my effort at camouflage didn’t have the desired effect, you see, there is no sign more universally indicative of a hangover than a pair of shades… indoors. Desperate to shake off the cobwebs, I knocked back as much orange juice as they’d let me, and set out back into the madness in the mid afternoon.

The Mohawk was an absolute zoo for The Windish Agency’s annual day party. The general admission line stretched hundreds of legs, and even the VIP’s around the corner were bickering with security. “Don’t swear at me!” deeply offended, a man held his hand over his breast as he recoiled his head in anguish. Desperate to keep a clear exit, the security had taken to screaming in people’s faces, even those unlikely enough to be caught in the web of the scatter-plot crowd dotting the VIP entrance. The venue was at capacity, and there wasn’t a single snob with a superiority complex capable of circumventing the dreaded Fire Marshall. I elected to wait in line and enjoy the spectacle as the cops showed up, shoving oblivious new arrivals off the street and out of the way of passing vehicles. A rattled festival organizer bellowed at the lines, her hair frazzled with early morning sweat, urging everyone to “fold” the line to save space on the sidewalk. It was a stressful time for everyone involved, and an unpleasant scene as the weight of the festival seemed to buckle unto itself. I could hear Jungle’s “Busy Earnin” echoing from the interior, and the afternoon forecast called for a huge bust on my behalf. There was no possible way I was getting in, and I heaved a heavy South-by-sigh at the lost opportunity to see Phantogram, Wet, Tove Lo and the aforementioned Jungle. “Catherine,” I eyed the badge of the distressed festival organizer as she shot me a look “… you’re doing a great job.” I smiled. For a micromoment I saw the relief in her face as she flashed a quick smile and thanked me, only to snap back into her drill sergeant persona barking orders over my shoulder.

After scarfing down a modest BBQ pulled pork “sandwich” (sandwich in quotations to signify the fact that it was a brick of shredded pork slapped on a piece of plain white bread and folded like a taco), I crept back into the Hype Hotel dungeon of horrors to catch synth-pop act HAERTS play out their set.

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HAERTS – Wings

Modestly, Nini Fabi the lead songstress of HAERTS was an absolute gem behind the microphone. A steady and strong voice, Fabi was the type of person who had groomed her vocal range to utter perfection. Moaning and “woah”-ing over the John Hughesian soaring synths, Fabi rather calmly asserted herself as an harmonious angel, fully capable of belting out ballad after ballad. The content of the music struck many of the same chords and themes of 80’s pop-melodrama, both in sound and substance, only with a glimmering sheen of polish thanks to classically trained Pianist Ben Gebert. Maybe it was my state of mental incapacitation, but I almost swore I saw a 22-year old Molly Ringwald flailing her limbs under a small curtain of red hair somewhere near the right speaker.

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HAERTS – Call My Name

As the set finished, I became acutely aware of the prevalence of young women surrounding me. They applauded fiercly, and with looks of consternation they began to jostle for position as each individual attempted to inch themselves closer to the stage. There was a hormonal yearning that had washed over the crowd, girls clamored and elbowed their way through one another, and I found myself caught in the most aggressive crowd I’d been in all week.

Tech-hands scurried across the stage like ants for nearly an hour, and the anticipation was clearly having an effect on the crowd. The girls were completely blue-balled, writhing in discomfort as the burning in their loins became almost unbearable. One hipster chick beside me was concentrating so intently that she wouldn’t even break her stare from the stage as we conversed about the lengthy set-up time. Finally, much to the delight of everyone including the musicians themselves, The 1975 took to the stage, and if one were to listen very carefully, they could hear the microscopic sound of a couple hundred eggs dropping.

Even I could admit that Matthew Healy was an absolute dreamboat. He possessed that rather unexplainable sex-appeal that belonged only to a very exclusive group of UK rock stars; a palpable physical energy that irradiated like radioactive lust from every movement he made. At the time it was quite jarring, I had listened to The 1975 alone in my car for over a year and a half back when the “Sex” EP dropped. The music was quite separate from the actual individuals creating it, and I had rather obliviously assumed they were relatively unknown. Trying to micromanage my dance moves while remaining deep in thought, I was reminded of a conversation I had the night prior with a German entrepreneur named Florian, who offhandedly remarked that artists like London Grammar and The 1975 were so ridiculously famous in Europe that they were practically old news. They’re like, the hipster One Direction… I quipped under my breath.

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The 1975 – Chocolate

The performance was absolutely electric as the UK four-piece tapped into the core of rock thematically. Sex, drugs, love, and death. The old standard. It was noteworthy that their set was the only one with an actual ‘set-piece’, a six-foot tall glowing white box synonymous with the cover art of every album they’ve released. They were infectiously optimistic, skipping down-tempo atmospheric smashhit “You” and replacing it with up-beat pop-thumpers like “Girls” and “Settle Down”. It was almost hopelessly optimistic, exactly the type of music you’d expect to appeal to teenage girls, and I had to momentarily question my fandom as I danced emphatically with a gaggle of gals.

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The 1975 – Settle Down

I dismissed my feelings of awkwardness and elected to embrace the music I had previously only loved in private. Undoubtedly, their sound was incredible, far exceeding the sounds of any file or format, and propelling the music into the stratosphere. I made note to buy tickets for their Calgary show in late April.

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The 1975 – Sex

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Admittedly, a four hour break between shows was probably the death of my Friday night. The exhaustion of the night prior was starting to wear on my body, and the sheer proclivity of live shows began to work against my appreciation for the music.

“Vatican Syndrome” I scrawled in my notepad.

In one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life, I went to the Vatican on a scorching hot summer’s day in Rome. Every hallway was adorned with priceless piece of art, one after another. An endless line of marble Roman busts, intricately woven rugs draped the walls, and the floors and ceilings were constructed with rare precious metals and painted by Renaissance artists and other timeless geniuses. All of these phenomenal pieces of art, taken individually, were quite astonishing in their brilliance. However, when stacked one after another (and pilfered by the Catholic Church from their historic origins), they seemed almost mundane. How many sculptures can you view in one room before you don’t give a shit about sculptures? It’s hard to appreciate a singular diamond when you’re swimming in a pool of them, and this feeling I had dubbed the Vatican Syndrome.

Something similar was happening at SXSW. I’d already seen half of my iPod live, and with five more shows back-to-back-to-back set for the evening, I was beginning to succumb to the staggering weight of the festival. Pure exhaust was pumping through my veins, and I spent the bulk of my four hours standing in the shower with the water cranked to a boil.

Eventually, the familiar motivational voice crept into my mind and whispered softly.. Yolo, and after a date with a baby-sized (the size of an actual human baby) burrito I wandered off into the night to catch Giraffage’s set at the Windish Agency’s nighttime showcase. Haven was one of the furthest venues from my hotel, and without a drop of alcohol in my system (aside from the lingering bits from the night prior), my motivation began to tank. What had begun as an inner dialogue of disappointment was then played out on stage, as Charlie Yin started his set by remixing obscure 90’s dance fodder and Justin Bieber’s “Baby”. It was an awful experience, not because his talents were poor, but because the music choice was atrocious. I had specifically chosen this set under the assumption that it wouldn’t be a DJ set, as confirmed by Charlie’s facebook account, but upon arrival it became painfully obvious that he wasn’t going to play any of his actual material.

It would go down as the only disappointing show I’d see at SXSW, and the only show I’d leave early. After making the painstaking walk back to Rainey, I elected to skip the rest of my late evening plans and recharge my batteries for the final day of the festivities, cursing under my breath for missing the Gorillaz reunion show at the Fader Fort.

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Keep your bananas peeled for the final installment in our coverage of this year’s SXSW Music Festival. Featured in the last batch; Free Hugs! Air guitar! Soccer moms listening to alt-rock! Washed Out! And of course, a comprehensive analysis and critique of the festival, answering the questions “Has SXSW gotten too big?” “Should iTunes fuck off?” and whether or not the slew of journalists whining about ‘lines’ and ‘things being different’ are justified are just plain annoying.