CJLO @ SXSW : Zak Slax Coverage Part 1


Listening to Mint Field’s new LP ‘Pasar De Las Luces’, and seeing them on stage at the Hotel Vegas Patio was a markedly different affair. On the plane to Austin I easily passed out listening to their record, which is not at all to say it’s ho-hum; on 4 hours of sleep it’s pretty much inevitable that a barrage of dreamy atmospheric shoegaze with soft ‘n sweet vocals will lull you into an unconscious haze. Later that day however, just after dusk, they appeared as less ethereal; still spacey and swirling but well-anchored in concise bashing and demonstratively passionate riffage. Singer/guitarist Estrella Sanchez announced she had lost her voice after their previous South by Southwest appearances and that they would try an altered approach, somewhat ironically cranking up the energy and volume to rely more on heavy instrumentation than vocals, delivering a set which drew the crowd in further and further with each sweeping oscillation and propulsive groove.

Then, much earlier into the trip than I expected, all hell broke loose - courtesy of UK post-punx Idles. Up-tempo thunderous drums, piercing guitar feedback, and a mic stand raised in the air like a broadsword cleared the way for the pure chaos and furious mosh-pit that immediately erupted once the bombast of the full band kicked in. Much of the crowd was as unhinged as the performers; the two became one. Beer cans flying, limbs flailing, guitarists getting naked, guitarists crowd surfing, guitarists climbing trees, all to glorious snarling vocals and strings rapidly vibrating to distorted oblivion. As I ducked out of the fray to grab a beer (if you’re gonna get doused in it might as well drink some) an amazed crowd member asked me “what’s the name of this band!? You never see this type of crazy sh*t at SXSW anymore!”. Indeed sir, precisely what I’m seeking at this fest: that which transcends the immense pools of tame, commercially viable ‘indie’ music. Where are the groups that offer unbridled passion, a taste of danger, an encounter with the bizarre? Idles delivered early on, with a set about as perfectly explosive as punk rock gets.

It was a tough act to follow for Spanish garage gals Hinds who seemed temporarily frustrated after a few songs that their carefree guitar pop did not evoke the same visceral reaction, “Why aren’t you moving, is it because we are girls?”. I think not, though it does raise interesting questions about equity and the tendency for testosterone-fueled performance to be more readily valorized in rock circles. Hinds also deliver an energetic, unhinged party but in a less destructive way. Perhaps it was simply poor chronology on the part of the organizers, or maybe no one could have foreseen the sheer intensity of Idles.

Later that night at The Belmont, Pussy Riot employed a more stridently feminist approach to get the blood flowing. I was, perhaps naively, expecting some kind of political punk prayer but was instead greeted with a patriarchy-smashing audio-visual barrage of heavy electro pop; danceable dissent if you will. “Pussy is the new Dick!”, the masked insurgents proclaimed as they jumped around the stage, bolstered by banners and alluring video projections which ensured that every word was understood. It was a well-produced lambaste against corrupt power and nefarious norms, less a musical performance than a call to conscious action. Though the themes maintained broad relevance, there were particularly pointed jabs at their eternal nemesis, the inexorable Russian autocrat. The battle of Pussy Riot vs. Putin is far from over, and to see the heroines draw fresh blood in Austin was a thrill.

The next afternoon I caught my first sunlit set of the festival, and there couldn’t have been a brighter choice than U.S. Girls. The 9-piece band was fantastic, meshing synths, guitars, saxophone and percussion into rich grooves that grounded Meghan Remy’s distinct, sumptuous vocals. 

Immediately afterwards I set my sites on the Hotel Vegas once again, where Texas legends Bubble Puppy were slated to perform; an occasion not to be missed. Their 1969 hit ‘Hot Smoke and Sassafrass’ is a wildly imaginative rocker which broke new ground, and their debut LP ‘A Gathering of Promises’ is a true treasure from the original psychedelic era. The reformed group were in fine form, soaring like silver eagles, playing hard but with a relaxed gracefulness, joy radiating from the stage. 60’s psych elements remain in the lush 4-part vocal harmonies, but this is a new breed of puppy, clearly informed by the following decades of heavy rock wizardry. Of course, this is an approach that BP was ahead of the game on, pioneering the use of twin guitar leads since their inception. Upping the ante however is this lineup which features a triple guitar assault, all making whirlwind tours of the fretboard with just the right amount of distortion; a very ‘dialed-in tone’ as they say. And don’t think drum and bass solos were left out of the equation - fantastic players, each and every one! All this shredding didn’t feel gratuitous in the least as it sometimes can; it was a genuine gift to an adoring audience comprised of many generations. Even Nardwuar was there…..


Part 2 of SXSW 2018 vs. ZAK SLAX coming soon!

Check out the latest episode of Slax Trax for an interview with Rod Prince and David Fore of Bubble Puppy, as well as tonnes of tuneage from SXSW showcasing artists: https://www.mixcloud.com/ZakarySlax/slax-trax-97-sxsw-special-w-bubble-p...