SXSW 2011: Five nights in Austin

Highlights from Gimme Noise's recent trek to the festival

Tuesday

The exponential growth of South by Southwest over the past 25 years has been simply stunning. In honor of this, and just in time for SXSW's silver anniversary, the festival's organizers opted to extend the music portion of the festival by offering up a few sanctioned showcases the night before the whole shebang is officially underway, and it paved Sixth Street with more than a few surprises.

Of course there was the big "secret" Foo Fighters show at Stubb's (in this town, and in this Twitter age, it was practically old news by sundown)—but I opted to roam the streets and see what other kind of trouble I could get into on opening night.

This may sound like an exaggeration, but it's not, I swear: Within 10 minutes of leaving the press check-in at the convention center and walking into downtown Austin, I ran into five different people from the Twin Cities, including most of the Burlesque of North America troupe and music writer Cyn Collins. And the next time I took to the streets to head to another venue, I ran into about a dozen locals, including half of Gayngs. I jokingly titled the SXSW preview in the March 9 issue of City Pages "Minnesota Invasion," but it was turning out to be a very real thing. By the end of the night, I stopped counting how many Twin Citians I had encountered, but it was easily two dozen. We may have been in a different city, but the city was ours.

To wit: After waiting in line to get into the at-capacity ART DISASTER party to see Dearling Physique's only SXSW performance of the year, I high-tailed it down Sixth Street and waded through a mob of shrieking gawkers to watch Michael Cera play bass in Mister Heavenly—and get this, they were opening for Trampled by Turtles. Seriously.

Wednesday

There's nary a music-related (or even tangentially music industry-related) corporation that hasn't jumped on board this week's SXSW festival, so it's no surprise that MTV leapt at the opportunity to smash their MTVu Woodie Awards in between all the other myriad events happening in Austin.

Prior to the live broadcast of the show, MTVu hosted a red-carpet reception. Here's a rundown of what we learned during our stint on the red carpet:

Sleigh Bells: When we asked the duo whether they have new material in the works, Derek Miller chimed in: "Yeah, we do. But I don't really want to perform them until they are ready, because right now they are just demos. We're going to be in the studio in August, though, for a couple of months.... We'll put it out probably in the first quarter of 2012. Definitely by March or April for sure. That's all I want to do right now is make a record."

Theophilus London: The rising MC recently partnered with Sara Quin of Tegan & Sara for a duet. "I went to see a show she played and I thought she was really amazing," London said. "I was begging my label guys, can you please introduce us? We met in the studio, and she loved my record and wanted to jump on it, and it instantly worked."

Cateracs: The skyrocketing hip-hop duo behind "Like a G6" told us all about the origins of their hit single. "I mean, you have Shakespeare and then you have 'Like a G6,'" songwriter David "Campa" Benjamin Singer-Vine explained, laughing to himself as he spoke. "But really, feeling 'fly like a G6,' it's supposed to symbolize, like, an über-confidence inside of you. Even if you do go for the straight literal sense, a G6 jet made by Gulfstream, you know, I mean, Jesus—you gotta be pretty fly to get in one of those, you know what I'm saying?" Totally, dude. Totally.

Thursday

Our parent company, Village Voice Media, went whole hog with its annual SXSW bash this year, moving it from its previous home at La Zona Rosa into the Austin Music Hall, stretching the event into the late-night hours, and doubling the number of bands on the bill.

The lineup for the evening was almost jarringly diverse at times, but it also gave the event a sense of momentum as the audience waited to see what would happen next. A clear highlight of the first part of the show was a set by Wild Flag, a relatively new act that features former Sleater-Kinney bandmates Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, and the women leg-kicked their way through an amazing set of churning rock songs that hearkened back to their days as riot grrl pioneers.

Meanwhile, across town, a line wrapped around the Central Presbyterian Church for an intimate show by James Blake, who was headlining Pitchfork's SXSW showcase. The performance was really beautiful, and the stoic nature of the church commanded a certain solemnity (and, thankfully, silence) from the at-capacity crowd. My only complaint toward the beginning of the show was that I wanted it to be much louder, and was wondering if the church simply wasn't set up to accommodate a wall-shaking show. But once Blake and his two backing musicians adjusted to their surroundings a bit, they cranked the bass up several notches, letting it rattle on "I Never Learnt to Share" and boom triumphantly during the set's closing song and highlight, "Fallin."

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