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by Dane Johnson
26 March, 2011@3:38 pm
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Monday
This is my third time in Austin. The first was for SXSW in 2005. Things have changed. SXSW has been on the national stage most of the last decade, but even during the last six years, things have changed. The music festival hasn’t started officially, but things have been happening since friday due to the interactive portion of the 10 day long festival.

Various bands, djs and rappers have been in town playing official and unofficial parties hosted by various companies. Some you may have heard of like Pepsi or Youtube, others are being hosted by recent startups hoping they have a chance in the social media or web 2.0 business atmosphere. Most don’t. That doesn’t stop them from hiring Flying Lotus, TV on the Radio or whomever else they could get to come into town. I don’t have an interactive badge and I’m not on the programmer circuit so I haven’t been able to make it to most of these parties.

Monday was different. Big Boi was playing a show for Pepsi and Foursquare. It was a free show if you were in town. You had to check in on Foursquare randomly in Austin, follow Big Boi on the service and then if you got a certain award you could claim a free pair of tickets from Pepsi in their massive promotional space they set up downtown in the heart of about 6 hotels.

The tickets were free and the bar was open. Besides Big Boi there were also a couple rock bands opening the show. The show took place at the Seaholm Power Plant. A massive facility that Kanye would play later in the week. Its a mostly open space, built years ago its weird space to catch a show. They had illuminated the old stacks outside of the building with blue lights and the inside was illuminated by various bright lights aimed at promotional globes and other things hung from the cealing.

The crowd which was close to capacity erupted once Big Boi hit the stage. Despite the previous rock bands most were clearly there for half of Outkast. He played a little bit of everything. Luckily pretty much everything he’s done solo or as part of Outkast kills onstage. He started off the set rapping his verses from Outkast greatest hits going from Rosa Parks to So Fresh So Clean. Noticably absent was material from Atliens but it didn’t really hurt his set. Outkast has so many songs to pick from he could have just performed one of his albums and it would have killed the crowd dead.

Finally a little over halfway into the set he started to hit the huge songs from Sir Luscious Leftfoot and while the crowd was generally going nuts for anything played those songs didn’t resonate as much. Even Shutterbug which I have never failed to see move a crowd didn’t hit like songs from older Outkast albums. After about an hour he headed off stage and returned to play a quick encore. It was one of the best shows at SXSW and most interesting seeing an old facility turned into an awesome music venue.

Wednesday
The official start of the music festival things started to get crazy. After close to 20,000 people had left Austin after the Interactive and Film festivals were over somehow that’s when things started getting over the top. The Fader Fort officially opened at 12 and getting in and getting a wristband required hours of waiting. The biggest downside to these promotional parties is most of the artists not playing for more than 20 minutes so if you don’t hit them on time you might miss who you wanted to see.

I didn’t hit music until it started to get dark. I eventually headed up through the steadily growing crowds on Red River street to see Rhapael Saadiq playing at an Outdorr Venue called Stubbs. He came on after a few rock bands and played almost entirely new material he has coming out in the next month. He’s basically going for a late 60′s half rock half soul feel to his music. Like his last album only with more guitar. He played a quick and fast set jumping from song to song, with a great backing band helping him out. The music he’s making now is great but he does it with such ease, its hard not to think he could stretch himself and make something a little more challenging.

After leaving Stubbs I headed over to the Mohawk Patio, another Pseudo outdoor venue, it has 3 platforms going from the Floor where the stage is at, to a slightly elevated 2nd floor which is to the right of the stage and then a third floor that is up and to the back but provides a great view. This was one of the best hip hop showcases of SXSW and I got there just in time for Curren$y to hit the stage.

As he opened his set the speakers shut down and he mostly had to rap acapella until things got going. For some rappers they might panic, or stop and just wait until everything was set but he was able to keep things like, joke and talk with the crowd and make sure that everyone was able to keep enjoying themselves, backing tracks or not. He even opened his set by telling everyone he knew “my music is what you clean your rooms to” alluding to the laidback tone of Pilot Talk 1 and 2.

After the set got going for real he blazed through some of his new songs and hit some of the more known stuff on his past albums. He even brought up Fiend for a quick verse and Fiend was so good I was hoping they’d stay around and perform all their features together but he headed off stage for the rest of the set.

Next up was Big K.R.I.T. Who had down as a must see for SXSW. He was playing multiple slots during SXSW including parties which understandly lead him to delay the release of his newest mixtape. Normally I don’t think you have to see someone live to know if they’re good. Some people are just better at making music then they are at performing it, but seeing K.R.I.T. Perform I can’t say I was surprised at how much he killed it, but if there’s any doubt he’s gonna be huge, after watching him I can’t say it won’t happen.

He tore up the stage performing nearly every major song from K.R.I.T. Wuz Here bringing up both Curren$y and Smoke DZA to tear up the stage. He was rapping hard with a vengeance. The fact that he produces and raps and already knows how to kill it on stage is crazy impressive. I almost get scared that he’s so good his major label will get shelved out of confusion. He doesn’t make dance tracks or club songs though. K.R.I.T. reminds me of Big Boi crossed with David Banner. Whatever he ends up doing its going to be exciting.

After K.R.I.T. Played a lot of people in the venue headed out before Cyhi da Prince was set to play. I figured I’d stick around and catch his set. He was definitely solid. He raps hard and he moved on stage but he couldn’t relate to the crowd like Curren$y and didn’t have the fury of Big K.R.I.T. I’ve heard him before but he just doesn’t seem to stand out from anyone in particular and an entire room full of hip hop heads leaving his set doesn’t show a lot of promise for his future.

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