SXSW Music 2011 Day 3: Part 1 - "South By South Death"
Band Photo: Havok (?)
Friday, March 18th marked day three of SXSW Music. I attended the afternoon session entitled “Writing About Music in the Twenty Tens,” as it sounded like a great fit for what we do here. It was actually more geared toward the individual writer, but was applicable nonetheless. The panel of speakers had some prepared questions and discussed the need to learn multimedia and how writing professionally is a skill set in itself. Some of the examples about the latter were particularly interesting - writers get asked to do a wide range of things and the thinking is that rising to the challenge makes you a better writer. They also talked about saving your articles so that over time you’ll have enough material for a book or some sort, and discussed self publishing vs a book deal and how to find a good agent who works with your topic/kind of book (and recommended agentquery.com for searches).
There were two big day shows to choose from on this day: The New England Metal and Hardcore Festival at SXSW and MetalSucks’ “South by South Death.” I had planned to stop by the NEMHF before heading to the MetalSucks event. The New England Metal and Hardcore Festival was being held across the street from Emo’s in a tent. Being highly visible on the main strip, and featuring more well known bands, it was already packed and there was a line to get in - no special treatment for having a badge even. That made it a no-brainer to walk a block down the street to Headhunters to check out the MetalSucks event.
When I arrived, it had yet to start, but Meek Is Murder was setting up just minutes later. The main floor of Headhunters is not very big, especially if you don’t count the stage, sound board, and bar. I’d guess there’s about 15’ x 25’ of usable floor space. Meek Is Murder began playing to the dozen or so people there at the time. Their sound lies somewhere under the progressive hardcore umbrella. I liked the more progressive parts, as well as the occasional cool riff or groove, but was not a big fan of the screamy hardcore parts. But it was still an enjoyable half hour set anyway.
Next up was Wormrot. I am not a fan fan of grindcore at all, so I was skeptical. They blasted out song after song, many of them in the 1 minute or less category. Several songs in, a nice thrash riff caught my attention. Then later a more punky, crossover style riff got my attention again. There were a few more of these moments, which at least redeemed their set to me. Really, the straight grindcore wasn’t even that bad. The vocals seemed moderate rather than extremely annoying as some can be, but I’m just not a fan of the short blasting song format overall. (You can currently download Wormrot's new album, “Dirge,” for free.)
Red Fang has been getting a lot of buzz, so I was interested in checking them out. I had heard the name, but had yet to hear their album or see them live. I couldn’t help but notice that the place was starting to get a bit packed now too. Red Fang began belting out some tunes with a guitar tone similar to fellow Georgian neighbors Mastodon and Kylesa, but with their own hard rock take on the sound. The driving guitars directed their music most of the time and the singing was a moderately melodic yell. The sound worked well for them the band played a good, high energy set, despite lingering in the mid-paced speeds at times.
Havok was up next and I didn’t immediately connect the name to the music. Once they started playing, I said “I know these guys,” and was thrilled to see them live. They played a bunch of songs off their new album (not yet released at the time of their performance), “Time Is Up,” including the title track and “Scumbag In Disguise.” Havok’s sound was dead-on, and their brand of thrash leaves nothing for one to make “retro-thrash” complaints about. Their set was absolutely amazing, high energy thrash that sounded like it came straight out of the Bay area. This was my 80’s thrash experience I never had. The show could have ended then and I'd have been content. I look forward to catching Havok tour the first time they come to town.
The room was completely packed by this time and the band members could hardly move to get their gear in and out of the venue at this point. Kvelertak was the last band on the bill and they’re another band that was getting lots of hype. The Norwegians launched into their set and it was super-loud. I’d gone without ear plugs up to this point, but had to put them in for this set. Kvelertak played a very loud, balls-to-the-walls style of rock n roll with some punk and extreme metal moments thrown in. The vocals were screamed in a way that made it all seem a bit more extreme than the driving guitars let on.
With the floor completely packed, you could hardly move and it was hot and wreaked of sweaty bodies. The band members almost all went shirtless from the start, but several songs into the set, the singer decided to remove his pants as well, performing the rest of the set in his boxer briefs.
The sound was so loud that I felt like the performance didn't do the music justice. Sure, it had enough energy to power the entire block (plug them into an air conditioning unit next time!), but it was simply too loud to appreciate the finer points of their music, which may be nitpicking a bit.
At the end of their set, the crowd broke into a chant of “one more song” and the band was ready to oblige, but the sound man would not turn the power back on for them to play.
Regardless, “South by South Death” was a huge success and I was happy have been able to to see every band in the lineup for the first time live.
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