CJLO Takes Austin, TX: Metal Recap

Wow, at the time of writing, it's May. My how time flies! It feels like only a month and a half ago that I was down in Austin at SXSW, the largest, and arguably one of the most important cultural festivals in North America. I blanket statement "cultural festival" because SXSW has grown from a humble music festival to a behemoth, spanning nearly two full weeks with a tech, movie, and comedy conference rolled together to make a sort of unwieldy beast.

Oh... you know what? I actually have to write a review of SXSW. Shit... that's due at the beginning of May! Well, I don't have time to get further into the history of a festival. You can look it up on Wikipedia, so let me get moving on this review.

CJLO sent a bunch of representatives down this year for the music portion of the festival, and if you want to read about how our Head Music Director, felt about the trip, you can read their reviews, which I would summarize here, but again, there's no time, so go read it, I'll link our Head MD, Lisa's article

As we entered the city of Austin, we were greeted by a Tide-wrapped wine bar where, at least I imagine, patrons were greeted with enough complimentary shots of Tide All in One and sufficient Tide Pods to snack on to their heart's content. Of course, I could make a larger point about the corporate co-opting of a music festival, diluting the very meaning behind why the whole thing was started, but, as I said, I'm behind on writing this review, so I simply have no time.

After checking into the hotel, I immediately ran over to Swan Dive, which had been turned into Canada House for an extended portion of the festival. Kicking off my musical experience was the Saskatoon-ish, Halifax-ish based art punks in Grimelda, who I interviewed after their set. Perhaps, a synopsis of the interview would be something that I should bring up here, but there's no time.

There is time for me to say that you can check it out on the Grade A Explosives portion of the CJLO website, however, so go do that.

After checking out Grimelda, I took the trek out to my favourite Austin dive bar, The Lost Well, to see an unofficial metal showcase featuring all Austin metal bands including Ungrieved, Slumbering Sun, Secret Green, and Dim Light. Not only did I see an amazing show, interview Secret Green, see members of Destroyer of Light (who have their last and great new record out for you to listen to here, I also ate some delicious tacos, and was able to pick up a vinyl copy of Disfear's Live the Storm, so all in all, a great night.

But, it isn't all about music. Keen readers may have noticed the word "conference" in the initial paragraph, so I took the next day to attend a panel on cross-genre music where I learned such valuable lessons as "hip-hop is dead" and "no one cares about rock music," which, to be fair, we all know.

But enough of that learning nonsense, this is all about music.

So, after a nice interview with Vision Video, I went back to Canada House to catch a bit of the Indigenous hardcore done by Indian Giver, who are a collective based out of Toronto, followed by Calgary's own metal sons in WAKE. This was all pretty wild to think about since everyone at the venue was listening to punk, hardcore, and progressive grind in the middle of the day. That seems to break some unwritten rule that every music festival seems to follow, namely that heavy bands must be relegated only to when the sun goes down, and also must be segregated from the rest of the bands so the delicate indie sensibilities of other bands and fans can not be disturbed by the angry, loud music.

In fact, SXSW seems to be segregating all of the metal away from most of the festival.

This is the third time I've attended, and this year marks the lowest number of bands who label themselves as "metal" on the SXSW schedule. However, this is paradoxically the most interesting set of "metal" bands, with none of the typical "stoner rock" fair that SX seemed to highlight the most in previous years.

Among the artists listed with this designation besides the aforementioned WAKE include:

- Zheani, who is mixing hyperpop and metal,

- Crae Wolf, who is mixing hip-hop and metal,

- Blind Channel, who is the Finnish Eurovision entry and is making metal in a sort of nu-metal meets hair metal style

- WifeKnife, who are doing a sort of loud punk mixed with a sort of NWOHM sound

... and aside from a couple of what I assume are joke descriptors, that's it.

"But Andrew, wasn't there a hardcore showcase you mentioned in your pre-SX article? You must be forgetting those bands because you are biased and hate hardcore," and on this point, you would be partially correct; not about my bias, but I did mention this hardcore showcase that was going to happen, courtesy of Flatspot Records. And with that, I guess this is as good a place as any to talk about the, let's call it "kerfuffle" that SXSW was embroiled in.

Directly before the festival started, a bunch of artists, started by Squirrel Flower, decided to boycott the festival over two main points. One, they objected to the U.S. Army being a "Super sponsor" of the event, and two, they objected to a panel being done by defence contractor company RTX Corporation, who most of us might recognize by its former name, Raytheon, known for their production of missiles, some of which are currently being used by a certain country in the Middle East to do a bit of a genocide on another group of people. All in all, more than 80 bands drop off of official SXSW showcases, including all of the Flatspot bands, a good chunk of indie artists, and every Irish band except for two.

So, that seems pretty important.

How did SXSW choose to respond to this? Did they bump the Army down to a non-super sponsor? Did they ask the Raytheon panel not to happen? I'd love to tell you those answers, but SX chose a different strategy, which was to ignore the whole situation and hope that no one pays attention.

That is until Texas' supremely conservative, unliked governor, Greg Abbott, decided to tweet about it, saying bands that boycotted weren't welcome in the state. Suddenly, SX had a response, because being aligned with the military and defence contractors is fine, but tacitly agreeing with Greg Abbott by remaining silent, well that's just too far.

Cue the black text on white background statement starting with the most important thing, that they do not agree with Abbott, and then continued about how the military is a part of the local economy and how the military, and industrial complex surrounding it, often is the impetus for us to get technologies, like cell phones and the internet, so we all should know what they're working on.

And look, as an American, I expect the military to somehow be involved in every large festival in the United States, and I'm sort of confused how any other American could think otherwise. People from other countries may be, rightfully, surprised by this take, but it's sort of a reality of the US, and also very not surprising. I mean, just picture what you think of when you think about the US and the military is probably number three, right below Jesus and guns.

And, SX's argument regarding technology is not incorrect. We do, whether we like it or not, owe a lot of the technology we currently use without thought to developments from their original military applications. The rub here, though, is that you usually don't get to make that argument while a very active and very divisive actual war is happening. To do so, regardless of intent, makes you look like at minimum out of touch, and at maximum like you actively support what's happening.

I could go on about this topic, but again, I don't have the time.

After checking out the slightest bit of the Ranch Magazine showcase, I headed over to the Marshall Funhouse at Parrish to see Irish rockers Therapy? who did an amazing set, putting in a good chunk of classic tracks from their stellar album Troublegum, which ended my night.

After a good night's rest, I went to the top floor of the hotel to do an interview with other Irish lads from the band Chalk. And since interviews are good in pairs, I then chatted with LA comedy band Wolves of Glendale. And, since humans love things in threes, I also got to chat with the people who wrote one of my favourite records of 2023, The Perfume of Decay, Tigercub. All of these you can hear on a future episode of Grade A Explosives, so stay tuned for that.

After that, on the way back, I got into a conversation with a member of staff at SweetSensei, a cannabis seller, and found out all about their Congress Avenue location and Texas' strange cannabis laws, though maybe that's a bit rich coming from a place where the province managed to mess up selling a substance that seemingly everyone uses.

Realizing that I had now gone many hours without watching a band onstage, I went to Creem Magazine's showcase to meet up with some of the other CJLO peeps to see the hip-hop / punk / occasionally metal crossover act, NYC's Ho99o9, who put on an AWESOME show! Truely, next time they come to Montreal if you miss them you are missing something special.

Wanting to keep the hip-hop crossover vibes going, I saw Crae Wolf, who I mentioned above. Apparently, she has a whole band back in the UK to do backup while she performs, which, if her performing to a single DJ is any indication, must be amazing. Did I do an interview with her as well that you can hear on an upcoming show? I think you know the answer.

Finally, tired from my 11.5km of walking, I decided to catch one last artist doing an odd genre pairing, so I stopped off at the Jaded | FRIENDS:FOREVER showcase to catch the superb weirdness of the hyper-pop meets metal done by Alice Longyu Gao. I'd recommend you go listen to her tracks, but, quite frankly, they do not do the unhinged performance she did justice. I mean, still go listen to her stuff, but know that if you see it live it will blow you away.

And, of course, only then realizing that I had not eaten anything for the entire day, I stopped by the Misfits Barbecue food truck and had their spicy Hatch Mac & Cheese. I include them, not just because the food was great, but also because I deeply regret not getting the Brisket sandwich, and I pray you do not make the same mistake as me.

Perhaps, from all of this, you're getting an idea of what the atmosphere present at SX is like and in case you haven't, let me sum it up succinctly.

It is chaos.

Here are but a few examples:

- Did I get enough C4 energy drinks to power a human until the end of time? For a normal person, yes! For me, no.

- Were mics set up at every corner on 6th street so people can choose to perform? Yes! Were a good chunk of them rappers, thus bringing into question the "hiphop is dead statement". Also, Yes!

- Were there people who had plastic containers full of snakes for people to pet? Yes!

- Was there an industrial artist from LA called Azarene who performed a track while on top of a car until he was asked to move by security? Yes!

- Did I get to have free tastes of whiskey in my hotel lobby with the drummer from Channel Zero? Yes!

- Was there a "suspicious package" that shut down part of the street and thereby got me to chat with a delightful member of The Austin Chronicle until the bomb squad arrived to investigate? Yes! The package was absolutely nothing, by the way, and honestly, the drunken mess that people are down there, I'm surprised it even was worthy of attention.

- Did the previous five examples of all this happen on the same day? Yes!

... and that's part of the weird magic of SXSW. It’s a festival full of blatant contradictions. Deeply corporate, yet having weirdness around it that would make most PR firms run screaming into the night. The ability to have a panel with speakers who say hip-hop is dead and yet the festival has more hip-hop on its lineup than anything else. Even both making a cogent argument about the military-industrial complex and how it affects our everyday life, while not being cognizant enough to know how that argument will sound with what's happening in the world.

So, do I recommend buying a badge and going to SXSW?

Hellllll no; it's like 1,200 USD for the badge alone!

But... if you happen to have friends or family that live near Austin, do I recommend going for a day to see what madness you might be able to find over 8 square blocks? One hundred percent, yes you should do that, and until next year, when I'll be writing a brand new entry into the "SXSW controversy" articles, I bid the festival adieu.

Andrew is CJLO 1690AM's Metal Music Director and the host of Grade A Explosives, Sundays 4PM-6PM