Author: Ben Farrell
This Wednesday, SXSW really got going. As the goes on, more and more concertgoers descend on the press heavy festival. Walking the streets of downtown Austin, music seems to blare from every door, back alley, and improvised stage around. Here are some of the musical highlights of my second day at SXSW.
If you haven’t seen or listened to Whack World by now, you’re missing out in a massive way. The audiovisual masterpiece shot Philidelphia youngster Tierra Whack from relative normalcy into superstardom. Now, one Grammy nomination and many millions of fans later, Whack is killing it nation-wide.
The unique aspect of Whack’s music lies in its seeming truthfulness and sincerity. The 23-year-old sings and raps her way through her issues and insecurities, rendering the listener more of a friend than a fan. Whack’s Wednesday evening performance at the Doc Marten’s showcase all but confirmed this belief. As soon as she stepped onto the stage, the glee of music and performance shone across her face. “Hey everyone!” she exclaimed, exuding excitement and nervousness,“To be honest, I didn’t know if anyone was gonna show up, so was kind of scared!”
Whack performed her album in its entirety, straight through. Bouncing from one minute track to one minute track, she performed with the comfort and charisma of someone who had been at this for much longer than she has been. A perfect microcosm for her performance came when, about 30 minutes into her set, Whack brought her mom out on facetime. “Say hi everyone!” she urged the crowd, beaming. As the show drew to a close, I asked an audiencemember from Texas A&M his thoughts on the show. “She’s just the best” he said “that’s not a persona, it’s a real ass person.”
I started off my day by seeing Japanese girl-group Chai. This four-woman power pop ensemble had the back room of the Mohawk packed out 20 minutes before their sound check began. Clad in matching pink outfits, they opened the show with a Japanese-language cover of Daft Punk’s get lucky.
This funky streak carried through the rest of the show. Slapped bass, swingy guitar riffs, and high-pitched j-pop style vocals cohesively combined sounds with seemingly no business being around one another.
What set Chai apart from the pack, outside of their unorthodox music, was the tightness of their performance. There was not a dropped note or missed cue. Chai even danced with metronomic precision, synchronized in their perfectly calculated, self-described “super-kawaii” aesthetic.
The reigning king of dream pop blessed SXSW with a late-night show at Stubb’s Barbecue. Breezing through most of his set, Cuco stood solitary in the middle of the stage, hands in pockets, crooning his teenage-dreamlike ballads. Backed up by a full band, Cuco took his bedroom pop sound and applied a stadium-rock filter.
On his most popular track, Cuco ripped a beautiful trumpet solo, which sounded even better than the in-studio rendition of the same track. The crowd, including Blake Anderson of Workaholics went wild as the LA native dished his brassy tones.
The real surprise of the performance came with the final song of his set. Cuco, who to my knowledge has never released a rap or hip-hop song, spat an frenetic and freewheeling verse over a psych trap beat. After opening up a moshpit, Cuco dropped the beat and went nuts. With the confidence and swagger of a veteran emcee, Cuco hopped across the stage, hyping up the crowd and rapping every line of the track. Big things have come for Cuco, but perhaps even bigger ones are on the way.