Words and photos by: Jon Hadusek (@jhadusek)
Last year I went to SXSW on a whim. A plane dropped me off with only a backpack and my camera. No wristband. I had to make my own fun. It forced me to investigate the deeper recesses of Austin and the alternative parties and unofficial SXSW showcases. The festival gets a lot of slack from locals and the people who were around for the original iteration of the festival, before it “sold out.” Their resent is not misplaced. The official SXSW is a parade of PR, pomp, and glad-handing. Also terrible traffic. But on the east side, the original rock n roll spirit of SX lives on in seedy dives, co-ops, and house parties.
After discovering places like Hotel Vegas, Cheer Up Charlie's, Hole in the Wall, and the Lost Well, I went into this year’s SX far more prepared — and with the goal of seeing the best young bands in the world. I drove down in an SUV with my sister this time, and each morning we would check event listings for the sickest parties. For five days, we crammed in as many awesome bands as possible, driving all over central and east Austin.
A central headquarters for the week was Hotel Vegas, a tri-stage complex themed after an old tavern saloon located on 6th Street. Thee Oh Sees had a five-night residency, playing every day at the various Hotel Vegas parties. Catering to garage punk and psych, Burger Records, Levitation Fest, Panache Booking, and Good Vibrations each had a day to themselves. At any given moment, you could walk into Vegas (no cover before 6 p.m.) and see sets by bands like Hinds, Feels, Nobunny, Shannon and the Clams, etc. Legendary krautrock band Faust headlined Levitation’s showcase, though the band was not equipped for the necessary live soundcheck. In a way, the ever-partying Vegas was purgatorial in that we always seemed to end up there every day. The vibes and bands were too good to pass up.
For a change of scenery, we ducked out to house parties and co-ops to catch some of the DIY bands that made their way to Austin. The two-day party hosted by Broken World Media and Funeral Sounds at the Eden co-op was a highlight, with a lineup that included Kal Marks, Two Inch Astronaut, Woozy, and Echo Base. If you didn’t make it to that, many of the same bands played Post-Trash’s party at Todd’s Mansion. I found myself able to jump between spots without fearing of missing a set — I could just see them someplace else the next day. Perhaps the best curation of punk and indie rock came on Friday at Exploding In Sound and Stereogum’s party at the Hole in the Wall. The tiny dive on Guadalupe was jam packed by the early afternoon for sets by Big Ups and Mothers, an especially satisfying back-to-back billing. The loaded lineup also included Car Seat Headrest, Dilly Dally, Japanese Breakfast, Diet Cig, and Mitski, among many others: a who’s-who of young songwriting talent.
I didn’t stick around for the end, though, because I had to make it to the Lost Well for American Icon Records’ Heavy Metal Parking Lot 3. Headlined by Pentagram, Bongzilla, Weedeater and Mondo Drag, the two-day festival wasn’t just the craziest metal party of SX, but one of the best metal parties ever. Maybe the Lost Well was over capacity, maybe it wasn’t. All I know is that people got lit. Pentagram’s set was the closest I’ve ever come to witnessing a debauched ’70s concert scene. It was like something out of a mondo film: drugs everywhere, nudity, chaos, 115 degrees and packed like sardines. I saw a guy piss in the corner because he couldn’t even make it to the bathroom. If you took out your earplugs, it physically hurt. Shows like this don’t happen anymore, especially in the tame corporate atmosphere of SXSW proper.
If you like rock n roll and making friends, you have to make it to Austin and experience the DIY/alternative SX. I’ve done it twice and see myself going every year. It’s such a crossroads of cultures and like-minded souls — every one sharing their music and art and having a good time. A week later, and I’m back home, restless, still yearning for more adventures even as I write this recap. I truly feel like I saw the best young bands in the world, but more importantly, I feel awakened and affirmed by my experiences and the people I met and the friends I made.