Day one of the music portion of South by Southwest marks the exodus of tech geeks and hustling entrepreneurs from the interactive part of the festival and the descent of decidedly grubbier, longer-haired music fans, prepared to wait in block-circling lines to gain entry to hot-spot venues like the Spotify House and Hype Hotel. Thankfully, there are upward of 1,500 bands playing in Austin this year, so if you game the system right, there’s plenty to be seen and heard without having to make small talk with your line neighbors for hours.
Electro-funk duo Chromeo headlined the Funny or Die party at Lustre Pearl, whipping the backyard crowd into a gyrating frenzy with their thudding beats and eclectic, groovy breakdowns. Singer Dave 1 commanded the mic and strutted the small stage, while P-Thugg, rocking a gloriously power-clashing sweater, worked the turntables and, to the crowd’s delight, casually threw down retro dance moves like the Macarena. As slick and suave as their music sounds, the duo seemed to be letting its guard down a bit, stretching out over the crowd to high-five as many hands as possible and even snapping an on-stage selfie using one ecstatic festival-goer’s iPhone.
Late afternoon on Tuesday found noise-pop darlings Speedy Ortiz searching the Side Bar for an extra hi-hat cymbal as the eager crowd sipped bloody marys and squeezed onto picnic table benches. Frontwoman Sadie Dupuis, killing it in a leather mini-skirt and see-through lace top, sipped a beer in the crowd as said hi-hat finally made its way onto the stage. The band wasted no time in summoning an almost apocalyptic blast of distorted noise, with guitarist Matt Robidoux smashing his fretboard between cymbals and against the back of a plastic chair. Lingering issues with the vocal mix largely drowned out Dupuis’s Liz Phair-esque vocals, yet the aggressive instrumental onslaught made for a refreshing alternative to the more restrained sound on their recent album, Major Arcana.
The Harvest Records showcase at Haven delivered a three-part series of pop bands fronted by charismatic female singers with serious vocal pipes. Australian pop sensations the Preatures belted their hit “Is This How You Feel,” while the U.K.’s Arthur Beatrice grabbed the crowd’s attention with Chvrches-like doses of dream pop and Banks closed out with sultry, meditative R&B reminiscent of Lorde.
Black Violin summoned a curious crowd off the street and into the backyard of the Empire Control Room and Garage, adding drums and synthesized beats to the classically trained talents of electric violinist Kev Marcus and violist Wil B. The band’s fusion of contemporary hip-hop lyrics with skittering violin solos and pizzicato string picking makes for an infectious sonic mix; though I ventured to the Empire to see flannel-clad, distortion-happy rockers Brass Bed, I couldn’t help but keep straying back to the yard to hear Black Violin cover Imagine Dragons’ hit “Radioactive” among an impressive series of originals.
SXSW runs March 7—16.