CJLO x SXSW 2019: Metal Recap

SXSW is a difficult creature to try to describe to someone. Sure, one could just say: "It's a music festival that's in Austin, Texas." But that fails to describe many of the nuances that are present at the festival.

For instance, the festival has expanded to more than just music. It has now incorporated tech, film, comedy, and video games under it's umbrella. True, all of them are segmented into their own "mini-festivals", but they overlap with one another over nine days, making a combination of artists, business people, film critics, gamers, and general festival goers into a large mass.

On the music end specifically, more competing ideas are present. Independent artists of every genre come to play alongside venues being taken over by the most corporate entities like Showcase, Universal, Warner Brothers (just to name a few) at both official and unofficial showcases being held through the city.

So with this backdrop, CJLO went to bask in the above freezing temperatures of Texas. Now, as a metal person, SXSW isn't an established name, though it has hosted its fair share of up and comers in the scene. After discussing with some show goers, the current abbreviated set of metal has only been present for the past couple years. Of course as a metal person, who knows how much of that is the metal communities sometimes hostility towards those who don't worship at the alter of metal. Regardless, the main point is the official showcases highlighting the genre are not as numerous as I would like.

After spending a whopping 1.25$ USD to take a public bus into town, I went to one of two heavy events happening concurrently. One was another year of "Black Smoke Conjuring" happening this year at Maggie Mae's. While there, I got to witness some pretty solid thrash laid down by California natives in Warcloud. Stealing the show however is the psych / stoner tines of Deathchant, whose first album seems like a welcome breath of fresh air in the "stoner rock uprising" that's been brewing in the past couple years.

After chatting with the good dudes in The Munsens, who are delivering some pretty good sludgy stuff, I headed over to Lambert's, a BBQ restaurant with a venue upstairs. I cannot impress upon you the torture that is going to a place that constantly makes BBQ and smelling the delicious flavors which are now baked in to the very fabric of the building and not being able to order said BBQ. It is hell... a delicious smelling hell.

While in this delicious smelling hell, I got to see a bunch of bands at the Small Stone Records showcase, which featured bands from, as you may have guessed, Small Stone Records, known for rock music with lots of fuzz attached to it. I got to check out the tunes from Vancouver's La Chinga, North Carolina natives Irata, and some pretty stellar tunes from Boston's Sundrifter.

The next day the CJLO crew decided to check out some of the panels at the Convention Center. I sat through a poorly described panel on concerts being sponsored by main stream radio stations, one of the only radio based panels I must sadly add.

Dejected about the lack of radio based info, I went to the Aussie BBQ located again at Lucille Patio Lounge. I ate some delicious food, had coffee from Australia, got to partake in Australian wines and spirits, and got to experience some good old fashioned Australian hospitality.

My hopes restored, I went to Canada House, hoping to see what an event sponsored by FACTOR, SOCAN, and various federal and provincial governments would bring. I walked in, expecting to see familiar beers and spirits, probably not the best, but at least a Molson or something. Imagine my surprise when I found none present. No real Canadian representation of any kind, aside from the bands present, of which the loudness of Tunic was on display. It was BreakOut West, a supposedly western Canada focus and they offered food to those that attended. And what food would you expect there to be? Well, you guessed wrong, because it was the Canadian classic, Spanish Rice and various vegetables. Truth be told, I could write much more about this disappointment, but I'd rather focus on good things.

This was followed by a trip to the Katacombes of Austin, The Lost Well, where Big Daddy's Hot Sauce's showcase. Big Daddy's Hot Sauce might be known to you as the maker of metal themed hot sauces from such groups as Eyehategod, High on Fire, and the headliner of the showcase, Goatwhore. I got to check out some Austin talent from the likes of Black Catholics and the great Destroyer of Light, and got to enjoy a delicious Goatwhore bloody mary, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

After that I headed to the shining star of metal during the festival, Stoner Jam, where more than 40 bands coverge to play on multiple stages. Featuring the likes of such sonic powerhouses as Backwoods Payback, Stonecutters, Luger, and The Hazytones (the two latter being from Montreal). After enjoying many bands, members of Luger, The Hazytones and myself annexed a table and declared it a sovereign embassy for Montreal in Texas. If you go to Spider House Cafe, feel free to visit the Montreal sitting space, and enjoy a milkshake while getting a tattoo, which are also present at the venue for... reasons.

On Friday, a few of us decided to check out the poster section of the festival, Flatstock, where somewhere between 50 to 75 artists were present with posters commissioned for shows of every type and variety. In case you're wondering what the trend is this year for posters, it's lithograph. There's a fun factoid to tell your friends.

I then made the decision to go check out the gaming portion of the festival. After walking through the metal detectors to get in, which apparently needed to be there, I was immediately bombarded with lights from consoles and screens filling an otherwise dimly lit room. After my eyes adjusted, I got to see true madness. Cosplayers and small children alike walked around and stared at the various demos and cabinets of old. Axe, of body spray fame, was present, driving a bus into the convention center and having set ups for people to play. In front of them, a set of screens glowed as people participated in a Halo tournament, and minus Mountain Dew and Doritos, all the stereotypes were then fulfilled.

Well, that's a bit unfair of me. Indie developers were also there showcasing games that they had worked hard on, shunted to the side of the room, but I didn't stop long enough for any of them to make an impact on me. In truth, I spent little time in the room, because as much as I enjoy gaming on my own, being bombarded with the lights, sounds, and forms in such massive quantities was not what I was prepared for. Upon exiting, I did see a family that came from the room, light up Minecraft pickaxes in hand, saying how they had fun and they wanted to make games too, and I had a gleam of hope that perhaps these bright young minds would one day come back to this paradoxically dimly lit yet brightly illuminated place and showcase something they had made.

Speaking of feeling inferior to children, I then went to interview and watch the sound check for a band from Japan called Asterism, whose median age is 16. As I sat, watching them set up, along with employees of the venue and members of the SXSW team sent to record the night of Japanese bands, I wondered how this would translate to a live setting. I had listened to their record, and was sufficiently impressed, though wary as I wondered how much of the technical prowess I was hearing was real and what was studio magic. They then kicked into the soundcheck. I have been to many shows in my time, but never have I witnessed an entire room of people dumbstruck by how good a band was. As I watched a 15 year old shred more guitar than I was able to muster in my entire life and then proceed to also be one of the most energic frontwomen I have ever seen, I began to question what exactly I had wasted my life on. I then watched their 16 year old bassist pick up a 7 string bass and play it as if it were something he had been playing since he was born and the feeling continued. After they were done, nothing but a stunned silence filled the room. If, by some unbelievable set of circumstances you are able to see them live, only do so if you wish to feel inadequate in all ways.

It was with this that I wrapped up my experience. Which leads me to ask the inevitable question: what did we learn from SXSW? Well, when it comes to metal, the festival isn’t really set up for it in an official capacity, more relying on unofficial means to get your fix. If you’re a fan of hip-hop or indie rock though, you will literally have an endless amount of bands to see at any place that has a stage, which seems to be every single space you can imagine. But above all, I think the main takeaway is Austin is far better to be in during the winter than Montreal, and if you’re going to get out of Montreal for winter anyway, SXSW is probably the most badass thing you could do while you’re there.

Andrew Wieler is CJLO 1690AM's Metal Music Director, and is the host of Grade A Explosives, which airs every Sunday from 4:00 to 6:00 PM EST.