And here we are with Part Two of our SXSW coverage! Be sure to check out Part One.
DAY 4 – Thursday, March 16th 2023
Thursday afternoon was a late start, beginning in the Red River District where we popped into The 13th Floor to catch Militarie Gun, an LA hardcore band that formed in 2020. Through their thrashes and screams comes a real sense of tenderness being conveyed by lead singer Ian Shelton.
The Plastic Picnic guys and I enjoyed some free hard seltzers at a random spot and then sought the promise of shade at Stubb’s, where Sunflower Bean was in the middle of their set. I realized the last time I saw them play was their EP release at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn in 2015. At that time, I had no idea who they were yet, but the friend who brought me was pals with Julia Cummings and promised a good show. There was even a little mosh pit. On stage in Austin, Cummings was wearing what looked like a horse hair collar around her neck, the words “unsigned” emblazoned in black across it.
Up next was a band I was unfamiliar with, but quickly learned were Austin darlings from the early aughts: Voxtrot. They are a five-piece indie band, somewhere between the sound of early Vampire Weekend and Arctic Monkeys, that had reformed not long before SXSW. After breaking up in 2010, their set at Stubb’s was part of the reunion they started last year with a short East Coast tour that hit NYC in September 2022 at Webster Hall.
I next crossed over east to Low Down Lounge where my favorite identical twins were playing back to back sets with Die Spitz—a noise-punk match made in Hell. Venus Twins is comprised of only bass and drums, and Jake and Matt Derting are the only twins I know that lean into the whole telepathy thing. I first saw the two play at the Brooklyn DIY spot Rubulad just before the pandemic and have been hooked on their explosive music ever since. Their 2022 album RAXIS is a tight production but their live shows are a whole other beast. It makes sense that the brothers champion Venus, the hottest fucking planet in the solar system.
A SXSW highlight for me was getting to see Die Spitz up front and personal. It’s thrilling to recognize the band you’re watching is fronting the next wave of Kathleen Hanna’s and Joan Jett’s in the post-pandemic era. For a relatively new band where the median age is 19, this group of four is catching fire in the local Austin scene. The lead singer has the face of an angel and the voice of Satan. The bassist looks ecstatically possessed. The guitarist and drummer swap instruments effortlessly. What is it about this band that makes me think of blood? Fresh meat up on the industry chopping block? Or in the teeth of the very youthful, very hungry?
In any case, when Cyndi said girls just wanna have fun, I’m pretty sure she imagined a Die Spitz live show.
DAY 5 – Friday, March 17th 2023
Cheer Up Charlies made another easy day for me with their excellent line up of grunge, punk, and noise bands. Brooklyn-based Native Sun was a great way to start the day, these guys are notorious showmen and their midday set on the outside stage was jarringly loud—vicious for the hungover crowd. My eardrums have still never recovered from the last show I saw of theirs with my friend and fellow photographer Nico Potosme at The Dance before it closed for good in 2019. Watching frontman Danny Gomez lose it, you have to wonder what kind of toll it takes on someone to exorcise themselves over and over for their music. Of course shows like these are always the most fun to shoot; guitars being thrown, bodies rolling off stage…one man’s hazard is another man’s opportunity for a really exciting shot.
Model/Actriz played the outdoor stage again and with their tour dates selling out the way they are, I wasn’t taking a free show for granted even if I had seen them earlier in the week. That grinding bass detune Aaron Shapiro does was especially good this set.
Enumclaw was up next. A Tacoma band with excellent shoes and an honest sound, their tenderness caters to anyone with emo tendencies. You could feel the hometown angst dripping off their music and it kind of made me wish we were at a house show sipping warm beer from cans in the dark.
I tried to catch Gargoyle, a friend’s new EBM/synthwave project, at Hotel Vegas but got confused and lined up for the wrong indoor stage. Instead I caught the tail end of another Miss Grit set, but the happy coincidence kept me from queuing in another long line. Sorry Gargoyle, next time!
Avoiding said long line, I didn’t leave the room when the next band got on stage and ended up getting to see a really fun show by Le Couleur, a Montréal based band I hadn’t heard of before but belong side by side with French electro disco artist of a similar psychedelic caliber like L’Imperatrice and La Femme. The lead singer and keyboardist, Laurence Giroux-Do, had all the energy to match the Baltimore Ravens cheerleading outfit she was wearing and more. The crowd ate it up, welcoming the opportunity to finally get to dance like it was a proper nightclub, not a dive bar in the middle of SXSW. This was definitely the most fun show I saw outside of the punk/noise genre during the entire festival and it was a great way to end the night.
DAY 6 – Saturday, March 18th 2023
Dawn of the final day of SXSW. I couldn’t call it a slog, it was too enjoyable and too full of good musical surprises to complain about, but it did feel way longer than it actually was. I was glad to be on Plastic Picnic’s show schedule for the last day because having three sets already booked removed a lot of waffling over what shows to see.
First up, a twenty minute drive south to the Do512 Presents showcase at Far Out Lounge. While the band loaded their gear into the green room, I got to give my online friend Aarvi a big hug for the first time IRL. We connected over Instagram after realizing we had both been taking photos of Plastic Picnic at their 2019 show in the basement of the old Songbyrd Music House in Washington DC. After finding out we were both at SXSW earlier in the week we made a point to meet up at this show.
Aarvi was hyped for the band just about to play, an indie rock band called Personal Trainer from Amsterdam. I was impressed they managed to get all seven members on stage, let alone all the way from The Netherlands. Their music was somewhere between Cake’s kooky, Franz Ferdinand’s panache, and Pavement’s earnesty; the effect was an entertaining genre-bending whirlwind.
Plastic Picnic has been together for several years now, all past and present members are PNW transplants that moved to Brooklyn for music. Their shimmery sound is surf-pop dreamy and consistently about love, loss, or more often both. Despite this, the average person has been known to sway, or even occasionally dance to, their self proclaimed sad songs. They’ve been compared to The 1975, Tame Impala, and Alvvays. I know these guys too well to feel comfortable writing about them more extensively but their Far Out Lounge show was a well played set to a full room.
Afterwards I watched Sorry Mom, who have a ridiculously irreverent song called “I Fucked Yr Mom” that I was happy to finally see live. Their other tracks are more serious but still tongue in cheek, with a grittiness reminiscent of Le Tigre, GRLwood, and Destroy Boys. Their debut album babyface is being released May 12th of this year.
Before driving to Plastic’s next show in East Austin I caught the tail end of Dream Wife’s set outside. Classic, unapologetic femme punk at its finest.
The next stop was an outdoor show at Fair Market but the weather was weirdly cold and dreary at that point in the day. The venue was being sponsored by an energy drink called C4, most of which were too tooth achingly sweet to enjoy. Oh, and there was also no food, no alcohol, and no water available once inside the gates. The band had sound checked in the morning but to little effect; the sound engineer had seemingly deleted their settings. All these things led to a lukewarm showing for Plastic Picnic, but honestly, by no real fault of their own. Afterwards a few fans stopped by the stage to say hi and buy some merch before we were all quickly and unceremoniously kicked out of the space…but at least it was a paid gig.