10 takeaways from SXSW: grime, Drake and Anderson .Paak were the standouts

Dispatches from Texas, where the best shows are off the beaten path and the next big indie band remains elusive while the streets are full of the ‘Instagram famous’

It was the year grime staked a claim

London’s Little Simz, Elf Kid and Stormzy were part of a UK grimewave that headed to Austin. There has always been something lost in translation when it comes to grime breaking the US, and the same issues remained at times with the rapid delivery and lyrics about postcodes seeming to soar over the audience’s heads rather than piquing their interest. But the raw energy of grime is hard to ignore and Stormzy’s set at the Fader Fort was one in which he gradually won over a crowd that approached him as a curio and left having seen a 25-minute quickfire primer on the genre. It won’t ever compete with the indigenous sound of trap, which dominated the hip-hop side of the festival again, but after the success of Skepta and the likes of Drake co-opting the sound, second time around might be a charm. (LB)

Drake showed his pulling power

Drake’s appearance at Fader Fort was one of those rare SXSW Saturday rumours that’s actually bona fide rather than being hot air. His choice to use it to showcase his OVO labelmates was an interesting one, mostly because all the artists followed his lead so closely. Whether it was Majid Jordan’s dancefloor friendly joints or Partynextdoor’s salacious R&B, they all contained musical elements that Drake has already toyed with. His set was that of someone at the peak of his powers who knew a crowd had waited for the best part of a day without any guarantee of seeing him. Choosing to play his diss track Back to Back at an event for a magazine that had put its object, Meek Mill, on the cover less than a year ago showed Drake knows that track has changed the way he was perceived by some. (LB)

Drake at the Fader Fort.
Drake at the Fader Fort. Photograph: Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP

The best parties are still off the beaten track

The temptation to go to one of the bigger parties – the likes of Hype Hotel and Fader Fort – and bed in so as to avoid long queues later and take advantage of the free booze is a strong one. But more interesting, less polished events away from Sixth Street are still where the most interesting music can be found. Whether it’s Stormzy playing on a boat or Sheer Mag playing an impromptu gig on a bridge, taking the music away from the bigger camps can lead to something far more compelling than a sponsored shindig for industry bods. Ezra Furman’s turn in a guitar store on the edge of town was one such moment and the setting gave what was already a great performance another layer of intrigue. (LB)

Anderson .Paak will be massive

The Dr Dre protege was arguably the standout act at this year’s festival. On record he’s able to shift between a classically smooth R&B vocal, and edgier Stones Throw-approved rapping that’s lyrically dextrous without venturing too far into backpacker territory. Live he’s even more impressive, moving between his energetic frontman routine, which saw him leap into the crowd to perform tracks, and as a rapping drummer as he mixed 16 bars with complex fills. If he were to be positioned in a Venn diagram of what you need to be a breakout star he’d be right in the middle. Granted, there’s nothing that original about what he’s doing but for fans who want someone who sounds great on record and then can deliver something else entirely live, he is it. (LB)

Kacey Musgraves performs at the Spotify House on Wednesday.
Kacey Musgraves performs at the Spotify House on Wednesday. Photograph: Rich Fury/Invision/AP

Counterintuitive programming works

This year bills which took chances and spliced together acts that were worlds apart in terms of genre provided much more satisfaction than label showcases or more rigid curation. Seeing people who’d been in a circle pit moments before for Deftones catch their breath while listening to Chvrches and ultimately get into what they were hearing was typical of how worlds collided in 2016. Sometimes the approach had unintended consequences, such as when most of the crowd at Fader Fort cleared out after Rae Sremmurd but a dedicated few stayed for Kacey Musgraves, who played what turned into an intimate gig. Some acts suffered from strange programming decisions – Jlin’s footwork would have felt much more at home after dark rather than at 3pm with the Texas sun streaming into the venue – but most of the time seeing acts in a new context enhanced rather than took away from the experience. (LB)

When people ask you to give speech, they don’t want a short story

You’d think that Tony Visconti, the man who produced 14 albums for David Bowie – including Blackstar, his final artistic testament – would have a lot of interesting things to say. Unfortunately, instead of giving some insight into his collaborations with such legends as Bowie, Morrissey and Paul McCartney, Visconti took the opportunity to read, at bum-numbing length, a self-penned short story which imagined the future of the music industry in apocalyptic terms. It was torture. (AN)

Paperboy Prince from Washington, DC dances and sings in his underpants for a crowd on Sixth street in Austin, Texas during SXSW.
Paperboy Prince from Washington, DC dances and sings in his underpants for a crowd on Sixth Street in Austin, Texas during SXSW. Photograph: Lizzie Chen/The Guardian

Austin is now full of street performers hoping to be discovered

Walk down Sixth Street, which on Friday night is like a Texan version of the famously raucous Spanish holiday resort Magaluf, and you’ll most likely see people rapping, twerking to boomboxes, or, in the case of Paperboy Prince of the Suburbs, vogueing while wearing only a pair of underpants and a dressing gown. Many of them seem to be “Instagram famous” and they’re all trying to parlay it into a more legitimate music business career. Whether they stand a chance or not is more debatable, but they certainly reaffirm’s Austin reputation as a bohemian enclave in the middle of Texas. (AN)

The great new indie band remains elusive

The Strokes’ gig for Samsung at SXSW, mysteriously scheduled during the interactive rather than the music part of the festival, called to mind the fact that their brand of rock’n’roll classicism seems to have entirely disappeared from commercial favour – and there’s precious little of it around at SXSW either, where guitar bands have been pushed to the margins and the biggest stages, like the Fader Fort, sees hip-hop performances being the biggest draw. While music tends to go in cycles, we seem further off a great new guitar band breaking through than ever. But perhaps, with such a smorgasbord of other styles rampant, that’s OK. (AN)

Julian Casablancas of the Strokes presses the flesh at the Samsung Galaxy Life Fest.
Julian Casablancas of the Strokes presses the flesh at the Samsung Galaxy Life Fest. Photograph: Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Samsung

It was the year of overly elaborate onstage banter

It’s always great when the singer of the band is comfortable addressing the audience with something more substantial than “Hello, Austin”, but some bands are stretching out the between-song chat almost as long as the music. Chvrches’s Lauren Mayberry was particularly notable in this regard. Some famous raconteurs – like Jarvis Cocker – can talk all day, but an anecdote about how you once asked for cheese from the stage and the audience responded by showing pictures of cheeses on their phone is probably teetering into the time-wasting category. (AN)

The selfie has evolved

Selfies are no longer enough – the craze at the Fader Fort seemed to be making a video of yourself singing or rapping along to a tune and then uploading it for the delectation of your friends. This became even more meta when the song in question was Young Gotti’s Hit ’Em in the DM, an ode to social media which even includes the chant “I love the ‘ram” (ie Instagram). (AN)


Lanre Bakare and Alex Needham

The GuardianTramp

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