March 29, 2011


Free Metal!
All photos by Carmelo Espanola

Crustcake, represented by the intrepid Andrew Wilhelm and Van Damned, spent four days in Austin, Texas, at South By Southwest, one of the world's largest, film, interactive and music festivals. Between the two, they saw 49 bands, ate 10 tacos, four slices of pizza, four gyros, three bratwurst, and drank 52 beers, five whiskey and cokes, five rum and gingers and exactly one shot of tequila. They insist that you come with them to SXSW 2012.

South By Southwest is, essentially, a combination of spring break, Mardis Gras and Carnivale for music nerds. Thousands upon thousands of fans, bands and industry executives, from all parts of the globe, descend on the Live Music Capital of the World for a four-day orgy of cheap beer, warm weather and, appropriately, more live music per square block than anywhere else in the known universe. Van and Andy made their respective ways through the throngs of sunburned and drunk-by-noon festival goers and convened at Emo's, on Red River, a little before 2 p.m. The party downtown was already in high gear.

Best moment of Thursday afternoon? Fred Pessaro, of BrooklynVegan, and Andy wearing the exact same Ashdautas shirt. Too fly.


The first band we caught was Norway's ultra-hyped Kvelertak. Now that Turbonegro have been put on the All Tomorrows Parties waitlist, the tattooed six-piece are the Scandanavian party-rock band of our time. Even if you couldn't get into their music, there was a feeling you had to root for them anyway, given their passport fiasco. They do suffer a bit from Black Tusk Syndrome, though: killer live, so-so on record.

Longtime 'cake favs Trap Them put on one hell of a show, especially now that they've been strengthened by Andrew Williams, of Every Time I Die, on second guitar, but their energy was nowhere near the intensity of their set the following day. Their late arrival and prior van problems probably had a lot to do with that. Hull were about as good as they were the night before, and still much stronger live.

Word got out that Mellowhype were playing at Barbarella, and there was no line. We're music journalists! We love hype! It was a no-brainer. We had to see Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, a 10-heavy hip hop crew of teenaged skate punks, in some incarnation during our time at SXSW. Mellowhype is Hodgy Beats and Left Brain, but the rest of the Odd Future crew, including the group's unofficial leader, Tyler, the Creator, showed up, too. It was the punk equivalent of a hip-hop show – performer berating crowd, crowd coming back for more abuse, airborne Lone Star cans, skateboards, and a mosh pit. What's not to love about a group of teenagers getting hip folks young and old to shout, "Fuck tha police!" and "Free Earl?" Some people believe Earl is in juvie, and thus must be liberated, but he's actually grounded by his mom. Live music hasn't felt this fresh and exciting in a long time. Do OFWGKTL deserve the hype? In a word, absolutely. We really felt like we were a part of something huge.


We stuck around the Barbarella to catch the Nanotear showcase. Norwegian duo Arabrot sound like Big Black for these big, black ages. No subtleties, just rough penetration. Like Black Cobra had they been raised on Brutalist architecture and post-expressionism.

Amber Asylum

Amber Asylum's lush chamber-doom was rich and enticing, but hampered by the sound of whatever band was playing (loudly) next door -- one of the hazards of SXSW. Some idiot yelled, "Take it off!" during their set, in hopes the mostly-female ensemble would acquiesce and disrobe. If we had his name and picture, we'd send it to every venue in the Greater Austin Area -- and, for good measure, the D-FW metroplex, San Antonio and Houston, too -- advising that this guy should Fuck Off And Die.

Continuing the lucid music train was Worm Ouroboros, who, next to Agalloch, put on the best show of the night. Dreamy and slow, like lounge music for dark swingers, their self-titled 2010 album was one of Van's favorites. Drummer Aesop Dekker can go off when he goes off, but held himself back for this performance, showing finesse few drummers can match.

Since neither Andy or Van could make it to Christian Mistress, Witch Mountain were the next best thing. Girls singing classic metal never fail. This band reminded more of Candlemass than Christian Mistress' Angel Witch. More bands need to ape Candlemass.

Free Metal!

Finally, Portland's Agalloch took the stage. Sans incense, banners and medieval atmosphere, the foursome were still truly something to behold. Their set was truncated; they performed three songs from Marrow of the Spirit plus "Falling Snow," but every minute was as powerful and majestic as expected. Grey clouds rolled in and a chill wind blew as they began -- divine intervention, we'll never know, but it helped create an appropriate setting amid the tents, corporate logos and manic energy of SXSW. No abrupt shifts between metal and neofolk -- everything flowed like it was supposed to. Dekker gave it his all on the drums, tightening the group as a whole. Guitarist Don Anderson still knew it was a metal gig, pumping the horns every now and then, thrashing out during fast parts, and raising his guitar like Excaliber at the end of the show.

The enigmatic -- and hermetic -- Yob closed out the show, debuting new material and pulverizing the crowd after Agalloch. The few hundred lucky enough to be in attendance stood enraptured as guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt led a spiritual seance of crushing doom and psychedelic heaviness. An epic evening for an epic festival.


These Seans said...

I'm personally offended that between the two of you, over the entire event, ONLY 52 beers were consumed.

Andrew Wilhelm said...

Well, things get hazy after a while, so that's probably a conservative estimate.

Also, I had the Black Metal Stout. Which is amazing.

U mad?

Carm said...

Arabrot and Wizard Rifle are playing a free show this Monday at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. Show starts at 9:30 pm.

BTW, while you guys were seeing Mellowhype, YOB was playing that BV showcase. ;)

Seeing YOB twice = bragging rights in doom-centric Chicago.

Andrew Wilhelm said...

Yob may have doom, but do they have swag?