I’m surprised at how lucky I’ve been getting with parking. It took me 2 hours to get downtown. Many of the streets were blocked off for pedestrian use only. I felt like I was in New York City at rush hour, but I finally made it to the ACC parking garage 10 minutes before missing my check-in time.
I was ecstatic when I received my list of assignments. I would be shooting Porter Robinson after a lineup of other electronic artists and electro-rock bands. I grabbed dinner (my lunch) early and headed over to Empire Auto & Club 606 to check out the venue (hosted by BandPage). It was a converted auto shop garage with barely enough room for three vehicles! The stage was set up inside and the first band was in the middle of a sound check.
While I waited for the sun to set, I made some new friends. Austinites are some of the friendliest and unique people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. They are the epitome of the modern, tattooed, hole-punched, go-green hipster. My new friend Alex made a road trip from Richmond, VA to attend SXSW Music with 4 friends, all of whom were intoxicated and scattered throughout the city. We shared a hand-rolled cigarette in true hipster fashion and chatted of music, photography, and the convergence of media and technology.
The first band to perform was Gemini Club, a three-piece indie dance pop rock band that included an electric guitar and synthesizer of equal parts over a poppy drum line. The lead singer was very interactive with the crowd, often times jumping off stage and serenading the single ladies in the audience. His high energy was contagious and I repeatedly caught myself toe-tapping and grinning widely.
The second act was a very talented multi-instrumentalist by the name of Robert DeLong. His set was the most interesting and inspiring by far, as his carrying voice sang uplifting lyrics over a steady synthesized beat and electronic melody. What was most fascinating was his utilization of an electronic joystick that he must’ve pulled from the box of a 1990’s flight simulator video game. He sampled multiple sounds from the game and programmed them into the different directions of the joystick controller! Songs like "Happy" and "Change (How You Feel)" gave me an uplifting feeling that everything will be okay. I was glad to have discovered such a great new artist!
The following two DJ’s to play all-electronic dance sets were contradicting in appearance and presence, but similar in sound and feel. It’s amazing how music is such a great communicator, where genres can appeal to and bring together people from all nations and histories. I find this especially true with electronic music in particular. Cassian, a mellow mixed-race Australian sporting a spring-loaded afro, preceded Clockwork, a bouncy white New Yorker wearing a jump suit, tilted cap and gold chain.
The man who followed, a happy and energetic blonde Australian named Riton, would soon realize he’d have his set cut short after making a rookie mistake. About 20 minutes into his heavy fist-pumping electro playlist, he jumped feet first onto the foldable wooden table on which his decks were sitting, resulting in an instantaneous crash to the ground, toppling his electronics and sending him into the air. Trying to hide his embarrassment, he shrugged his shoulders and was ushered off stage. It was very entertaining to witness.
The penultimate artist, Mustard Pimp, was not as enjoyable, as his now-defunct decks were skipping tracks and looping subpar mixes. His agitation was evident through his constant disapproving head shakes and shoulder shrugs. It was almost as painful to watch as it was to listen. Luckily, it was not long before his set was wrapping up and Robinson was on deck.
At 19 years old, Porter Robinson is considered the new kid on the electronic music block. In less than a year in the scene, he is already used to headlining shows and touring with the veterans. His performance at Empire Auto did not fail to impress. The crowd was extremely receptive, as the temperature and humidity of the garage must’ve tripled.
After the show, I was able to meet up with my friend Julie Kennedy, who was visiting Austin from Brooklyn. She works for SPIN Media and, like me, was able to enjoy SXSW on both a business and personal level. She gave me a lanyard to attend a SPIN-sponsored party at Stubb's the following Friday afternoon.