Of all the parties and showcases at SXSW, House of Vans boasts one of the deepest benches of talent. Stellar acts across genre lines — Speedy Ortiz, Courtney Barnett, Future Islands, Rae Sremmurd, many more — have packed in the crowds for day parties and night showcases the past three days on two different stages at the Mohawk. A long, winding, quickly moving line outside the club on Thursday afternoon for the Pitchfork day party testified to the venue’s draw.
Hitting the outdoor stage after Canadian indie darlings Alvvays at 2:15 p.m. was a man used to playing stadiums: Arcade Fire’s Will Butler. A native of The Woodlands, the multi-instrumentalist released his solo debut “Policy” earlier this month and brings something like stealth star power to SXSW. Butler and his band wore matching black-and-white T-shirts emblazoned with each of their names. (To backing band Carrie, Sara, Julie and Miles: Nice to meet you.) Apart from Arcade Fire’s baroque-disco-maximalist trappings, Butler is a power-glam-pop Svengali mining classic sounds with good-natured aplomb. Highlight: jumping on the keys to embrace the Elton John within for “Witness.” Just a couple hours later, Butler’s older brother Win was scheduled to take the indoor stage with his own own side project, the incredibly different DJ Windows 98.
Pennsylvania shoegaze/hardcore outfit Title Fight followed Will Butler, which was also incredibly different. Unlike Butler, the bulk of the audience on the ground seemed to be attending the party just for them. Proof: As soon as the band started their first song, the packed-in bodies collapsed within themselves for an outstanding SXSW-style mosh pit.
The two men from San Antonio standing next to me (who barreled into the flurry of flailing bodies immediately) said they drove into Austin early just to catch Title Fight. The band’s most recent album, the excellent “Hyperview,” flows with hazy, lazy summer ambience, taking a direction toward chillwave that worried my neighbors. Not to worry. There was plenty of raucous punk to go around, too. It’s a shame that Title Fight isn’t an official SXSW artist this year, because their sound is sorely underrepresented.