SXSW 2008 Festival Review

What do you get when you put two overwhelmed magazine staffers, a few hundred bands, a shit ton of industry people, and a gay horse all together? You get Redefine Magazine’s first SxSW adventure! And though the weekend was a hot sweaty blur at best, we’re reminiscing about the best, worst, and craziest parts of the whole shebang (at least the parts we got into — fuck you, Rachel Ray).


Cadence Weapon

Saturday morning at the Mohawk bar, I caught Edmonton-grown hip hopster Cadence Weapon. It wasn’t the largest crowd I had seen, but I’d bet the overbearing heat had much to do with that. In fact, the heat didn’t make it very easy for Mr. Rollie Pemberton; his mixer broke down midway through the set due to overheating.

Temperatures were blazing and Mr. Pemberton was obviously a little worse for wear (most likely from partying it up with fellow Edmontonions from Shout Out Out Out Out), but the man truly rocked the house, whether it was screaming his lungs out for “In Search of the Youth Crew” or charging up the crowd with “Real Estate.” I can’t help but marvel at the enthusiasm of the crowd — one of the many trademarks of SxSW as a whole.



Passing by the outdoor lot on Red River Road, I saw a name that I never expected to see at any music festival, much less SxSW. Soul survivor Darondo was performing in the hot Austin sun, and his charismatic banter and incorrigible voice was a welcome refresher from the boys-with-guitars that I had been seeing up until then. Though it was obviously being framed as a mom and pop type event, Darondo brought smiles to everyone in the crowd — young and old. Nothing really beats sucking on a free popsicle in the 90 degree heat while hearing Darondo talk about his mad cache of bitches.



Watching the crowd dwindle from a packed house to half-capacity must not have been the most encouraging sight to see, but if the Constantines had a twinge of sadness in their hearts, it didn’t manifest itself during their night set at Antone’s. The boys from Toronto did their best to impress the skeptic remnants of both Vampire Weekend and Devotcka, mixed in alongside a dozen or so of their true fans. Ending with a rousing cover of “Thunderstruck” (you have no idea how long I’ve waited to hear it), I couldn’t help but walk out into the Austin street with a smile on my face.


Ms. Bea’s

My favorite “venue” of SXSW had to have been Ms. Bea’s, which was really just a rickety patio behind a Mexican bar, a bit from the main strip of Austin. It was more than obvious that this setup was not so much a permanent fixture as it was a way to cash in on the out-of-towner crowd. But this second-thought setup boasted one of the more quality lineups I saw during my stay in Austin. In only about two hours, we were able to catch Old Time Relijun, HEALTH, and Wizzards back-to-back-to-back. And if we had stayed for just an hour more, we could’ve caught Atlas Sound and No Age.

But lineup aside, even the setting itself was incredibly surreal. Ms. Bea’s epitomized what I had come to love about Austin. It gave off the feeling that a fantastic, life-changing show could happen anywhere. Kids sitting on top of their vans in the parking lot, photographers hanging off of rafters, and the crowd packed so tight you could’ve licked the drummer’s cymbals. While the glitz and glamour may have stayed on the main strip, the action was most definitely alive in the sticks.


Jay Reatard

I arrived at the Pitchfork/Windish bash at Emo’s just in time to catch the last bit of Jay Reatard’s set. Though I’d never heard their material before (only their unrelenting hype), I could see how they were a “safe” pick for the hard rocker demographic. But alas, they were nothing special, and looked particularly bored after their set, which may be their shtick (or not!).


Fuck Buttons

Shifting between the interior lounge and the outdoor main stage was more of a chore than I’d imagined, so I was only able to see a small portion of what Fuck Buttons were trying to do. But it sounded very interesting, and I’ll have to catch them when they come through town.


Bon Iver

I, unfortunately, did catch quite a bit of Bon Iver’s unimpressive set. The slow, multinstrumental and oh-so-subtle brand of indie rock sounded not much more than a Band of Horses retread — incredibly dull and depressingly vapid. Bon Iver were the complete opposite of immediate. I could probably read three novels in the time that it would take for me to learn to appreciate this sort of nonsense.


Atlas Sound

I was able to see the entire Atlas Sound set, even though I was warned by a friend of mine not to see them because of their amateurish approach to a live show. But I found little wrong with their set. Besides an apparent lack of material, they were solid and pretty much what you’d expect from a toned down Brandon Cox. I mean, it wasn’t necessarily interesting, but it wasn’t offensively bad, either, which was a welcome turn from the dreck that was Bon Iver.


Lykke Li

Lykke Li’s set at the Fader Fort was surely more enjoyable because of the flowing Stella offered by the magazine. Lykke Li sashayed and pranced on stage as her very Nordic backing band performed her cute arrangements with the apathetic visages that had become the standard at this point. Lykke Li has talent and gumption, but unfortunately, isn’t very forward-thinking and sounds like everything else coming from the wintry European north.


All in all, my first visit to SXSW was no less than a success. I met a great deal of interesting people and saw a couple dozen fantastic acts in the most pleasant settings imaginable. I can’t wait to go back again.



Written by
Allen Huang

Allen is a writer/organizer/manager based in Taipei, Taiwan. You can read his work on Redefine and Asian Junkie. You can follow him on twitter at @therealhojo.

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