SXSW 2015 RECAP: From OG Maco to YNGCULT/6th Street to Rainey

Now that the SXSW dust has settled and people in Los Angeles are looking forward to the Coachella horizon – its time to take a second to look in the rearview mirror and see just what happened down in Austin.

After a one year hiatus, we returned to 6th Street, and Rainey Street, and Brushey Street and Red River to get the lay of the land, dispose of our FOMO, discover our next favorite band and hopefully get wowed by something or someone. While managing to cover a wide spectrum of sonically awesome offerings – there was still plenty we missed, but here are our highlights/important takeaways.

1. Performances at Central Presbyterian Church Are The Best: With what feels like over 100 live shows to choose from each night, qualified sound technicians and engineers can feel like they are in short supply. For any show, official or unofficial, your stage tech may literally be operating a rig for their first time…except for when you go see shows at the churches. Even if it’s a rookie on the rig – you know that organ is going to sound good and the acoustics will be stellar. Marian Hill really, really impressed me.


2. Hip Hop Crews Reign Supreme: Nothing makes a statement quite like a true hip-hop entourage and they were in full effect at SXSW 2015. You knew OG Maco, Migos or Rae Sremmurd was somewhere close just based on the largesse of their crew.   An empty venue could suddenly become packed, a weak party instantly become turnt, or what seemed like imminent entry could become a 30+ minute wait.   Rolling deep at SXSW seemingly became a badge of honor – and none seemed more omnipresent than OG Maco and the OGG family.   I was heading over to Austin Party Weekend and literally had no idea I was amongst such an entourage until someone shouted out “Who is this white guy?” when I was caught in line with a grip of OGG and I realized I was, in fact, the token white guy in an entourage more than two dozen deep.    Hip-hop tribes roll deep…even the white ones.  You would have witnessed that at the Rhymesayers party at Mohawk with Atmosphere, Prof and more.   Speaking of white rappers….no mention of hip-hop’s takeover at SXSW could ignore Mr. Wonderful, Action Bronson, and the trails of blunt smoke and poutine madness he dusted on Austin.

3. Rainey Street is the New 6th Street: The gentrification of Austin is in full effect and so is the corporate movement away from the Red River massacre zone. Rainey Street, which is closer to Fader Fort and Spotify House, appears to have become the new de facto preferred day party location with a handful of great interactive events (like Amy Poehler’s comedy house) and some of the better curated music week parties, including AM Only’s Private BBQ and the StubHub event.


4. Cover Songs Still Kill It:  If you’re a relatively unknown performer and you want to leave a mark – you need to kill a cover song. You need to do something that people can reference and remember.  I saw Kosha Dillz do a parody of “Ice Ice Baby” about ISIS and them taking over his website. Shura injected “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals with a slowed down, subtle, indie-electronic glaze that oozed with dopeness. YNGCULT retextured Lana Del Rey’s “West Coast” with percussive synths and amazing visuals to take listeners on a visual journey to the edge of the PCH.  The cover tracks become the reference point for explaining how great the performance you witnessed was — so bands do themselves a great justice by covering familiar material.

5. Law Enforcement Issues (and Brands/Event Producers Need Better Door People):

Police were in full effect this year after the tragedy of 2014. It was rumored that over 100 law enforcers from outside states and jurisdictions were imported to ensure compliance and no favoritism in Austin, TX. Judging by the plethora of boys in blue and the frequency of venue evacuations or clamp downs for capacity/fire code violations – it very well may be true.

While certain events are destined to bottleneck and get backed up like The Fader Fort and Stubb’s BBQ, so many others seemed to be stalled for dozens of minutes. Maybe there were better line-ups. Maybe the hype was extra real. Or maybe these extra cops were just that much more diligent about enforcing the law. Over capacity crowds at SXSW was not really the problem that needed a solution though. The drunken recklessness, the lack of adequate parking, the unavailability of transport other than a pedicab at key times and the potential for accidents between pedicabs and cars are all problems with the propensity to cause the same tragedy that occurred in 2014 — vehicular manslaughter because someone was drunk driving. In fact, forcing people out of venues prematurely is probably something that increases the likelihood of their being someone drunk behind a vehicle.

If the misguided attempt at the appearance of law enforcement was not bad enough, a glaring blemish on the entire SXSW week was the continued frustration of dealing with people who were just volunteers. They don’t care. They just want a free badge. Getting into a venue could be a real chore. Sometimes even when you or your client’s were performing.

When half of Los Angeles is in Austin, TX and it includes the half of Los Angeles that rarely waits in lines — making sure the right people are at your party can become a full-time job. So, someone should be hired for that purpose and should understand the performer, presenter and brand’s objectives. Too many SXSW volunteers and relatively uninformed people are tasked with deciphering who is important at the door. That guy that was just turned away may be about to skewer you to the sponsors putting on your event, or may have been writing for the New York Times, or maybe both. Of all places, at SXSW, you should not judge a person by their dress or the company (or lack thereof) that they keep. If anything is a good indicator, it is the number of cloth bracelets that say VIP…

6. Virtual Unknowns & Brands Can Still Leave Their Mark: I actually learned about new artists and new brands this year by virtue of the respective parties concentrating on what they do best: perform (for artists) and market/pitch (for brands).   Moving Castle pushed it hard with both by having a massive Austin takeover in their signature long-sleeve t-shirts that were perfect for that brisk, post-rain weather.   AO Beats, Robokid, Manila Kila, Jailo, Yung Wall St, Treehaus, Vices and crew also brought it behind the decks to make their point. JAUNT’s virtual world station at Revolt’s Block Party had my brain spinning over a Big Sean performance taking place in Los Angeles (or maybe that was #YNGCULT Cold Brew from Solid Coffee?). YNGCULT made sure you were awake for their sets by dishing out special limited-edition YNGBREW from Solid Coffee and also helped give people a healthy, caffeinated boost to their SXSW days until their tasty supplies ran out.

All in all – SXSW 2015 was an improvement from my last trip and leaves hope that the best is yet to come. In its 28th year, it clearly has the music done right, but the evolution of marketing, the evolving interactive component and multi-dimensional music programming means the best is still yet to come. SXSW as an art installation has a lot of space to grow.

There is still room for better food solutions. The food truck gardens are great, but mobile pick-me-ups like the free caffeine dished out by SOLID Coffee Roasters and the band YNGCULT were a lifesaver, as were the free Sabra dips. Artists could (and should) definitely fill the quality food void by shelling out better-than-average food as their marketing tie-in; it may be the best way to defeat the promotional Vietnam that is SXSW and cut through the ether to someone important.  The cost per acquisition might be high, but a lasting impression is hard to manifest on the SXSW battlefield. I know I would certainly remember any artist that served me something remotely healthy or saved me a thirty minute detour for a mediocre taco or slice of pizza.   Maybe next year there will be the Banana Band?