SXSW 2015: Cool? Yeah, Cool

by Michelle Viray on May 31, 2015

Charles Bradley Shows us How it's Done

Charles Bradley Shows us How it’s Done

Chris Farley is my spirit animal. Not in a tears of a clown kind-of-way, or a Patrick Swayze dance-off kind-of-way. But in the way where I would be the perfect sidekick to Chris in “The Chris Farley Show”. I’d agree with him and all his qualifiers – yes, when Sir Paul McCartney was in the Beatles, that was definitely “cool.” I could have taken the show on the road with Chris, maybe even done some local interviews:

“Remember that time that you played Treasure Island. And it was, like, really cold?”

“Remember that time you brought that guy on stage to rap ‘Protect Yo Neck? Yeah. That was cool”.

Looking back on SXSW this year, in the wake of other festivals and on the horizon of summer festivals to come, I’ve thought about my time in Austin. I’d like to tell you that I came up with something deeply profound and life-changing. I’d like to compare it previous years to give you sense of the evolution of the event itself. Yet, it all comes back to a singular thought: “Remember that time you played Mohawk and you had two drummers? Yeah, that was cool.”

Granted the descriptor or the venue would change, but you get the idea. SXSW has always been a unique experience for me. Always great, always fun – but in different ways. My first year I had zero expectations. Flanked by two, more experienced SX vets who were easy to travel with and equally fun, my two goals were: see some good music and make sure you can get back to the hotel.

Fast-forward four years and not much has changed. I head into the week with a rough outline of who I’d like to see. Or, more appropriately, who my MUST see acts will be. Compromise and experience dictates that I know I won’t see ALL the acts on my MUST see list so I try and narrow it down to two shows. I base it mostly on regret, what would I regret the most if I didn’t see it.

Before heading to Austin this year, I was asked to write about who I would be most excited to see. On that list, I had a top seven. Maybe I was feeling lucky.

When it comes to festivals, and I think SXSW in particular, everyone talks about expectations and what the event was like “before everyone got into it”. And, I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard or read someone say, “Is SX still good? It’s SO commercial!” Emphasis on “so” and make sure you draw out “coooommmmmmercial”.

Now, I’m not 100% certain I’m all that mad with something being commercial. Sure, if a band all of a sudden abandons their beliefs or stops working hard just to get a paycheck, that’s just lame and phony. But as a good friend pointed out when discussing hip-hop, “it’s not selling-out, it’s really cashing in”. Fair enough. And for anyone who has caught a Dave Chappelle show over the last few years: “everyone has a price”.

I guess it’s just more personal than we realize. You may not agree with someone’s set price. For example, what car ad or vodka commercial they might put their song in. And it’s all personal whether you think any of those moves by a band or musician to cash in are turning the corner to ‘selling out’.

Not as a matter of opinion but as a statement of fact, in my last 4 years at SXSW, there have definitely been corporate sponsors. Big companies showing off new products hoping in influence the attending taste makers and big companies just trying to be relevant again. The 2015 buzz was that SXSW was taking the event back to its roots. The focus would be on acts looking to sign a record deal or get some action around a few album, cool buzzy bands that would show up at Coachella in 3 years to become the next big thing. Last year the names were huge- I don’t think you get bigger than Prince. (insert Alison Janney at 2015 Golden Globes face here)

SXSW 2015 didn’t boast the “big time” (insert shoulder pops) acts and private, exclusive, invite-only, eff-you-JackWhite parties. Or, maybe there were private parties and I just wasn’t invited. Austin’s week of music felt different this year- seemingly less attendees, unsigned-yet-mind-blowing acts, and lower-key corporate sponsorships.

Regardless of overall feel, there was a lot I was looking forward to. Back to my must see performances. At the top of my list of who to see this year was Canadian band Metz. Next up was singer, songwriter Courtney Barnett with Run the Jewels and Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires in a close third. The Evaporators for me were a long-shot, mostly because they didn’t appear to be performing. I did know that Nardwuar would be there for his annual week of incredible interviews and… I spent more time than I will admit to trying to meet Mr. Human Surviette. Our meeting, sadly for me, was not meant to be. On a side note, I saw that Amerigo Gazaway was doing a one-night set. I was unsure whether a DJ set could do “Fela Soul” justice. But I also knew his other tracks, “Yasiin Gaye” and beyond, to be some of the best I heard. So I kept him on the list. As a fan of all these artists and their impressive discography, there were some expectations. But looking back at Austin, all the shows exceeded my expectations to the point I wanted more.


I saw Metz four times after watching Alex Edkins sweat out his ear plugs the first night at Mohawk. Someone told me that with glasses Alex looks like Bill Gates. Although I don’t agree, maybe there is a Microsoft sponsorship waiting to happen there. Every performance at Mohawk that night was amazing. Mohawk has never disappointed – it remains one of the best venues that consistently delivers impressive acts year after year. I only hope I can make it to Mohawk outside of SXSW.



Good things come from Canada. And, Canada has a special way of producing some of the best garage, punk- making you wonder: “Should I just move to Toronto now?” The first album from punk band Metz was met with universal acclaim and their anxiously awaited sophomore album, II, was released on May 1st. After hearing the single “Acetate”, which was released in February, there was no doubt that the live performances from Metz at the SPIN Party in Austin, The House of Vans at Mohawk, would be nothing short of amazing. (even if pancakes aren’t involved)


Full performance:




“Get Off”:



Make sure to check out Metz, who are playing Outside Lands this summer.

Charles Bradley

Seeing Charles Bradley never gets old. The show set-up and the vocal range are the same, but as of late he’s been touring with “His Extraordinaires” instead of being backed by the Menahan Street Band. The Extradorinaires, some cool dudes which you will recognize from other Daptone projects, are tight. They work well with Mr. Bradley’s performance style, which has naturally evolved to confident, soul-singing titan and prevailing showman over the last two years. Hearing more from any of the Extraordinaires would be welcome.


Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley

Addicted since seeing him perform following his performance at SXSW 2001 and bitten by the unending love at each one of his shows, Charles Bradley is one the acts I consistently look forward to and there was no better place for him than in Austin. With a voice and a backstory to match, the gratitude and love Charles Bradley has for audience is not something to be missed. But if you, in fact, missed him in Austin this year, check out the documentary “Charles Bradley: Soul of America”.


“Why Is It So Hard”:


“Heartaches and Pain”:


“Soul of America” Trailer:


Mr. Bradley has been putting in work this year. In Austin, I caught one of his last shows at Ladybird Lake. My only regret was not seeing him another time earlier in the week. In case you missed it, Charles Bradley, along with His Extraordinaires killed Coachella this year. After playing numerous other festivals this spring and a stint in South America, keep your eyes peeled for a performance in a town near you. Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires have so many festivals booked this summer that I lost count:

Courtney Barnett

Her lyrics caught my attention and I’ve listened to her albums non-stop but once you see Courtney Barnett shred live, you will be ruined. You will want to see her perform again and again. During Austin, she wasn’t hard to miss. Promoting her new album, Courtney Barnett was a hot SXSW commodity, was a hot commodity. But don’t let the buzz fool you. This unassuming singer/songwriter puts on one of the best shows I’ve seen, and it’s all based on sheer talent.

Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett


“The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas” is an exciting album full of intricate, clever lyrics. Lest you find her 2013 album too mellow, know that at a Courtney Barnett she will melt your face off with her guitar playing. Although I was only able to catch one of her numerous Austin performances this year, I will confess to almost getting hit with Bones Sloans’ flying bass, making that one show worth it. With “Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit” released on March 24, hearing the new tracks live made me want more of Courtney Barnett.


“History Eraser”:


Full life performance:

Check out Courtney Barnett at Bottle Rock in Napa this weekend. She could be your only reason to go:
Excited to see Run the Jewels after their previous Outside Lands performance, I endured the rain during The Spin Party. Far from the stage at The Spin Party, I wanted more. Dragging willing parties to the front of Floodfest, the crowd was amped. If the flying bass didn’t kill me during the previous night’s Courtney Barnett show, then the hip-hop pit, guy-heaving, and shove-loving crowd for Run The Jewels definitely would have.


Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels

Missing most of their OSL 2014 due to lands of wine and chocolate but mostly crowds, the Run the Jewels set was seen from, what seemed to be, miles away. But the energy from Killer Mike and El-P wasn’t diminished by distance. Whether you prefer one album, from the past two years, over the other or dig both, seeing them is highly recommended.


“Get It”:


“Run the Jewels” (official video):


But getting up close isn’t for the faint of heart. Sharpen your elbows or find an area away from the crowd. Killer Mike was instructed by his doctor, after a torn rotator cuff, to take it easy. Thankful for all the fans, Killer Mike did the exact opposite. With a packed summer tour and a Blade Runner-themed US headlining tour announced today, I don’t know what you’re waiting for: We can begin speculation on whether they will play Treasure Island. I will keep my 36” chain on and my fingers crossed.

So yeah. My time in Austin for SXSW this year was cool. My regret is always the same – that I had more time to see everything. Yet all the shows I saw this year were consistently great. If you play your cards right, you will be able to see my top picks this summer. Don’t forget you heard it here, first.

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