Survive’s creepy, cool ‘Stranger Things’ synths draw big SXSW crowds

Survive’s in an unlikely success story. Before office water-coolers were abuzz about this show “Stranger Things” and its creepy, cool synthesizer score, I would have thought a retro instrumental electronic band finding a massive audience would be as likely as ASCII printer art replacing photography. But Thursday night, the audience they found was at Hotel Vegas Patio, where the speechless Austin four-piece played to a packed backyard with fans watching from the line outside.

A good space, good sound, and good lineups at the East Side venue have really cemented Hotel Vegas’ place as a top SXSW Music destination the past couple festivals, easily warranting the 10-minute jaunt from downtown. The venue’s soundsystem was put to the test with Survive’s massive, moody horror-film sound summoned from an assortment of analog synths and drum machines.

Survive’s set opened with waves of cross-panning static washing into warbly keys and peckish snare and cymbals clicks and continued on across one seamless sweep from song to song. The performance was paired with psychedelic visualizations projected on top of the band, a good distraction, as watching four guys softly bob their heads while toiling over synthesizers is about as thrilling as watching four guys checking their email.

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But, as the crowd there knows, Survive is about the sound, not rock-show spectacles.

That sound is one of nostalgia, not just for a time, but a tone — the warm, foggy songs of VHS horror movies and the chirp and hum of Nintendo boss battle music, simple but effective machine-made music. As the set powered on, android arpeggios wove their way through the menacing crawl of bass and synth roars and screeches in one continuous mix of dystopian robot dance music. As fans bobbed their heads, smoked, chatted and held up smartphones to record what will surely be the most riveting live concert footage to hit social media, Survive played on, offering up a chilling and chill ending to another SXSW Music day.

Residente talks Trump, fascism, and baseball at SXSW All Latino Resist Concert

Residente performs at Auditorium Shores during the 2017 SXSW Conference March 16. 03/16/17 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Latinos have been at the center of many contentious issues lately, from raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement across the country to a controversial border wall debate. At South by Southwest on Thursday, the nonprofit organization Voto Latino brought together activist musicians for a free concert at the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake.

Featured performers included Mexican ska-fusion band Panteón Rococó, Los Angeles-based Latin music mashers Ozomatli, and Residente, who headlined the special All Latino Resist Concert. Festivalgoers waved Mexican and Texas flags and at one point chanted, “Latinos! Latinos!”

Former Calle 13 rapper Rene Pérez Joglar aka Residente pumped up the crowd with a memorable, high energy performance that kicked off with his latest single as a solo artist “Somos Anormales.” His new album was inspired by a DNA test the artist took years ago. His journey around the world to retrace his genetic makeup is also the subject of the “Residente” documentary that premiered at SXSW. In it he features musicians from China to Niger.

“My band is made up of immigrants from around the world,” he told the cheering crowd. “F*** Trump.”

Ozomatli performs at Auditorium Shores during the 2017 SXSW Conference March 16. 03/16/17 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

From past Calle 13 hits like “El Aguante” to his new hip-hop/world sound, Pérez Joglar united the crowd at Auditorium Shores by dedicating the goosebump-inducing performance of “Latinoamérica” to all immigrants. At the Drive-In’s Omar Rodríguez-López joined Pérez Joglar on stage for several songs where he played lead guitar. His mad skills are also featured in the new Residente album, set to drop later this month.

At one point Pérez Joglar, a self-professed baseball fanatic, asked the enthusiastic crowd to chant “Puerto Rico! Puerto Rico!” so he could send the video to the Puerto Rican baseball team competing in the World Baseball Classic. He also gave a platform to festivalgoers holding a “Refuse Facism” sign that said, “In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.” Pérez Joglar asked for the sign, read it aloud and displayed it on stage for all to see.


On twerking, joy and acceptance: Tunde Olaniran’s SXSW show is a celebration

Tunde Olaniran plays Thursday at the Sidewinder during South by Southwest 2017. Eric Pulsifer/For American-Statesman

On paper, what Tunde Olaniran does in his live show should be a well-intentioned trainwreck, derailed by trying to be too much. A socially conscious mash-up of hip-hop, punk, funk and R&B with choreographed dancing and an audience on-stage twerk-off at its close? How could that possibly work?

Picture: Before his SXSW Music showcase slot Thursday night at The Sidewinder, two vertical banners are unfurled: “This is a safe space.” A sound bite of a TV news story about the lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, plays as two dancers in all white save for black string veils over their faces stoically take the stage, followed by the towering Tunde Olaniran himself. In glimmering golden garb he moves at a deliberate, thoughtful pace as if in some sort of ritual.

By this point, you may find yourself deep down wondering if what you’ve walked into may be too much reality for a festival that serves as an escape from the real world’s headlines and heartaches. Free beer! Buzzworthy bands! But you’re intrigued.

Olaniran introduces himself. He lives in Flint. He explains the banners. He wants this to be a place where people can be accepting — of themselves and each other — a place where we can “exchange a little joy.” OK, you think. Maybe joy’s something you could get down with.

Then the music starts. Heavy beats rumble in the air. Tunde springs into action with his dancers and he lets down his hair, setting long braids free in a wild whip of circular headbanging. The crowd loses it.

Tunde Olaniran is currently opening for Sleigh Bells. (“We call them ‘Bae Bells,’ because they’re so sweet,” Olaniran said.) And the two acts make an oddly perfect pairing. Olaniran’s banging boombox beats have a similar bone-rattling effect and there’s an energy to Olaniran’s performance — an energy that would leave you feeling fully charged even if he swapped the positivity and conscious messages for more trite and tired song topic fodder. He’s equally well-equipped at soulful singing and funky falsetto as he is at rapid-fire rapping and layering piles of auto-tuned vocals into a futuristic distorted robo chorus. Then there’s that bit about joy in the set’s mission statement.

Of course, songs about acceptance and joy may sound a bit too kumbaya for SXSW. This is SXSW, after all, all corporate and cynical and tiered with primary and secondary access and you’re not allowed in here, sirs.

Olaniran’s triumphant set and the crowd’s enthusiastic reception of it — with its joyous and silly moments (like the aforementioned all-hands-on-deck twerk-off) — proves there’s still room for heart and human moments at SXSW, if you know where to find them.

SXSW fans get a whole lot of Snoop, no whiff of Trump controversy

Snoop Dogg performs at RIO on 6th St. during SXSW on March 16, 2017. (Tamir Kalifa/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The one thing rap superstar Snoop Dogg wasn’t interested in Thursday night at the Rio nightclub was courting controversy.

One wonders if the veteran party starter regretted the timing of President Donald Trump’s Twitter commentary earlier this week about the questionably controversial “Lavender” video. It happened just before Snoop was to hold a fairly high-profile event during South By Southwest with media partners Twitch, Reddit and his own Merry Jane marijuana-centric digital platform.

It was obvious from the drop on Thursday that the event was almost entirely about furthering Snoop’s brand.

From early performances by protégé acts Stix, Southern Playas, Beach City (Ladies) and October London, to a nearly two-hour marathon of long-form videos – think the extended video/film that accompanied “Murder Was The Case” in 1993 – that make up a chunk of Merry Jane’s content, the crowd was slowly boiled in all things Snoop ahead of his walking on the stage that was stocked with bottles of his Snoop’s Premium Nutrients plant food.

It’s worth noting that the “Lavender” video was not among the selection shown, and the rapper made no mention at all of the heat he’d received earlier in the week nor the support given by other entertainers unhappy with the Commander In Chief.

Instead, the main attraction of the night delivered a lean but tightly packed 40-minute set of material from throughout his 20-plus-year career. Hits like “Who Am I? What’s My Name?,” “Gin And Juice” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot” haven’t lessened in their crowd-pleasing impact, and the man behind them can cruise through a set like Thursday’s on muscle memory if he wanted.

Thankfully he was suitably engaged for the set, veering into crowd participation with a brief “Holler if you love…” tribute to departed rap heroes Eazy-E, Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac, and getting the audience primed for St. Patrick’s Day with a brief interlude from House Of Pain’s “Jump Around.”

These kinds of sponsored content/new act introduction/superstar performer cocktail seem to be the house specialty for activations during SXSW now. Thursday’s bid at Rio was a tough swallow at first because of the sheer volume of branding and promotion involved. But the night’s star delivered the hits to give it the smooth finish it needed.

Anything but plain Jain is SXSW’s rising pop import

Jain, a French singer-songwriter, performs at Youtube at Coppertank during SXSW on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

If pop is what you seek, Parisian solo sensation Jain should not be missed this SXSW. With an infectious dancehall-tinged take on electro-pop, the French solo artist charmed the crowd at The Gatsby Wednesday night, one of many shows the up-and-coming import is playing this week.

In a thick French accent she politely requested crowd participation. “Do this, please,” Jain said waving her hand side to side. (And they say manners are dead.) Time and time again the crowd respectfully obliged — besides, those beats are no joke. Her set was without a slowdown or a low point: Every song felt like a well-crafted would-be hit.

Jain was alone on the stage but the crowd was immediately on her side as she played an acoustic guitar covered in Sharpie scribbles and worked a wedge of electronic wizardry, blasting out thumping four-on-the-floor beats in time with the Pandora stage’s strobing lights.

For an extended take on the absurdly catchy “Come,” Jain sampled a member of the audience singing the chorus. His off-key voice cracking in the sample repeating as Jain jammed on may have been the most I’ve laughed all week.

“Do you want to dance for real now? Like this is the big party of South by Southwest?” Jain asked as her set came to its foot-moving finale. I suspect every Jain show just may be the big party of SXSW. Fans of Yelle take note. Or as Jain would sweetly put it, “please” take note.

Jain plays again at 1:50 p.m. Friday at Cedar Street.

Today at SXSW: Rock-ska Mexican band Panteón Rococó plays free outdoor show

Panteon Rococo. SXSW 2017

Even though they have toured extensively through Europe, Panteón Rococó has traveled less in the United States. Until now. This wildly popular rock-ska Mexican band will be in Austin for the first time, playing at the SXSW festival Alt Latino concert on Thursday at Lady Bird Lake. Ozomatli and Residente (formerly of the Calle Trece duo) will share the bill.

“We’ll see you in Austin, it’ll be a great show,” said Francisco Barajas, the trombone player. Last year, Panteón Rococó celebrated 20 years of existence with a concert before an audience of 22,000 in Mexico City, he said.

The group, which melds rock with ska, cumbia and ballads, will get hips moving to their sound. Some of their influences began in the 1990s with Latin American groups Mano Negra, La Maldita Vecindad and the Fabulosos Cadillacs.

Panteón Rococó has seven studio records and two live records to date, including the one they recorded live in Mexico City last year. They are preparing songs, talking to their producers about their next record.

“Last year was very good for us, we played a lot,” Barajas said.

In terms of Mexico’s political climate, he said, “it’s bad. There’s a lot of inflation, the price of the (U.S.) dollar has affected us a lot, the price of gasoline, people are very angry with the political leaders we have.”

Their songs talk about “the issues we see everywhere, from love to politics, to social issues, as well.”
However, people should not feel overwhelmed by problems in both countries (the United States and Mexico), they should instead, “remember that we are all united as humankind. It’s not a time to separate ourselves from the Americans, or from anyone,” he said.

If you go: Panteón Rococó is scheduled to play at 6 p.m. Thursday at SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake. Free with guestpass

And also: Panteón Rococó plays at 11:30 p.m. Friday at Half-Step.

Danny Brown celebrates birthday at SXSW and the crowd gets the party

Danny Brown performs during South by Southwest on Wednesday at Empire Control Room. Photo by Andy O’Connor

When Detroit rapper Danny Brown hit the stage at Empire Control Room on Wednesday night, he had just turned 36 years old. Spending your birthday at South by Southwest? Of course that’s a cause for celebration.

His wishes were simple — he just wanted the crowd to hit the nae nae. They gave him a whole lot more though, a welcome relief from Tuesday night’s restrained Wu-Tang Clan set. There’s also a perpetual youth in Brown’s voice, high up and scratchy, worlds away from trap’s drawls. He’s always been a bit of an alien in the rap world, collaborating with dreamy pop duo Purity Ring in the past, and naming his latest record, “The Atrocity Exhibition,” after a Joy Division song, which in turn was named after a book from science fiction writer J.G. Ballard. On record, he sounds frantic and almost paranoid, which translates surprisingly well live. He’s able to take all that worry and put it into getting everyone bouncing.

Being a rapper in your mid-30s isn’t a death knell — in fact, Brown didn’t start popping until he left his 20s behind with his 2011 record “XXX,” and he wasn’t tired at all Wednesday night. What does he credit his longevity to? “You can be like this one day if you smoke five blunts a day,” he said. Not coincidentally, “Blunts After Blunts” from “XXX” and “Smokin and Drinkin” from “Old” got the most hyped reactions of the night. Just up the street at Cheer Up Charlie’s, the King of Teens Lil Yachty was performing at the same time, a coincidence that could have only been engineered by SXSW scheduling. Even with more than a decade more experience, Brown held his own, proving mindset is more important than age.

DJ Esco got the crowed warmed up with an energetic, if somewhat bizzare, performance. Here is the gist of his show: He and another person wearing a giant DJ Esco mask bounce around and vibe to other peoples’ songs. Since he is Future’s DJ, “Where You At,” “(Expletive) Up Some Commas” and “March Madness” — especially “March Madness” — made quite an impact. The nadir of artistry? Not quite — hip-hop shows are made and broken by rappers’ personalities, and he was jovial to a fault. Besides, who’s gonna not bounce around during “Bad and Bougie” at any given hour of the day? Brown sounded like he put work in, and DJ Esco may have been relying more on his famous friends (not unlike DJ Khaled, a marquee performer from last year’s SXSW), but the two didn’t clash. The latter’s infectious energy spilled over to the former’s set, and that’s why the whole show was a success.

Today at SXSW: Ozomatli to bring Jamaican-infused Mexican tunes to Lady Bird Lake concert

Ozomatli performs for fans at the Zilker stage at the Austin City Limits festival. The set was an energetic mix of Latin beats. Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. MIGUEL GUTIERREZ JR / AMERICAN STATESMAN

Austin’s longtime favorite L.A. dance band Ozomatli will perform at Lady Bird Lake on Thursday, as part of the All Latino Concert sponsored by Voto Latino and South by Southwest. And this time, they’ll bring Mexican classic and contemporary hits with a Jamaican influence, like a remake of Selena’s “Como la flor” done with a reggae shuffle.

“Three of the members in our band are Mexican, and for our 20th anniversary we wanted to bring out elements of music some of our members grew up with,” said Justin “El Niño” Porée, who does percussions and vocals for the mostly Spanish album, a first for Ozomatli.

The album features artists such as Juanes, Regulo Caro, Gaby Moreno and others and was produced by reggae legends Sly and Robbie. Part of the album was recorded in L.A. and part in Jamaica, he said.

Some highlights include a mix of reggae and banda music by Regulo Caro to a song written by Julieta Venegas, “something you wouldn’t expect,” and also another beautiful song with Gaby Moreno, he said.

MORE: Residente reflects on life after Calle 13, new film and album

Ozomatli’s grassroots efforts go back to the band’s inception, when some of its members had a Peace and Justice Center in L.A. In order to pay the rent and utilities, they would hold events on weekends to raise money with bands and graphic artists.

“The band started as a jam session,” Porée said. The six current members are all original members, he added.

An issue they feel strongly about is immigration, and one of the songs featured, “De paisano a paisano” by Los Tigres del Norte, touches on said issue.

“Everybody has an immigrant in their family unless you’re Native American,” said Porée. “Whether you’re white, black, red or brown.” He says that, basically, “people who come here want to have a better life for them and their family and live in harmony with other people.”

Ozomatli will share the stage with Residente, formerly of the hip hop duo Calle Trece, and the rock-ska Mexican band Panteón Rococó.

Austin has a “great communal spirit, the food is amazing, it has great art,” he said. “There’s support for music here, a sense of having some backing, unlike L.A. where it’s more like little pockets, maybe because it’s bigger,” he said.

If you go: Doors are at 4 p.m. for the All Latino Resist Concert Presented by Voto Latino and SXSW at Vic Mathias Shores on Lady Bird Lake, 900 W. Riverside Drive. It’s free to attend with a guest pass.

Rocket From The Crypt squeeze all the sweat they can from sole SXSW show

Rocket From The Crypt performs at the House of Vans party at The Mohawk during South by Southwest on Wednesday March 15, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

It’s almost unfair how easy John Reis and the other five pattern-and-bejeweled costumed players in Rocket From The Crypt make it look while playing nearly perfect scuzzy and high-speed punk rock.

They have been at it for going on close to three decades, of course, but they’ve somehow not mellowed a bit and Reis gets red faced from screaming/singing by the end of the first song.

The San Diegans’ Wednesday show at Mohawk/House of Vans had something from every part of the RFTC catalog, packing 17 songs into 40 minutes and still leaving Reis plenty of time to verbally joust with fans.

PHOTOS: House of Vans at the Mohawk at SXSW 2017

“Who’s ready to party?” he asked after walking on stage, with the packed outdoor crowd cheering in response.

“That’s unfortunate,” he answered dryly before the guitars/bass/drums/horns combo launched into “Venom.”

The run-through material from 1995’s “Scream, Dracula, Scream” (from the band’s improbable major label deal with Interscope… the ’90s were weird) was something of a highlight, with that album’s opening triad of “Middle”/”Born In 69″/”On A Rope” chugging with the force and control of a muscle car.

Somehow, this was the band’s solitary show during South By Southwest. They made every sweaty second count.

Fleetwood Fricke? A great SXSW conversation between drummer and journalist

Mick Fleetwood and David Fricke discuss Fleetwood Mac’s early years at a South by Southwest panel on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman

Given that the vast majority of the tens of millions of Fleetwood Mac albums that have been sold came after the mid-1970s addition of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rock group, it’s a fair bet that the folks who lined up for namesake drummer Mick Fleetwood’s South by Southwest panel on Wednesday afternoon may have been there to hear all about the making of “Rumours” and other band dramas from that era.

What they got instead was a fascinating, and more rewarding, deep dive into the band’s 1960s primal years. That’s largely thanks to the encyclopedic knowledge of journalist David Fricke, who interviewed Fleetwood for this conversation-styled session. That era is clearly what Fleetwood came to speak about, given that his new book, “Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, Vol. 1, 1967-1974,” covers those years before the British blues band metamorphosed into a pop-landscape-changing butterfly.

Fleetwood and Fricke went into great detail about the genius of original guitarist Peter Green, who was responsible for bringing Fleetwood aboard in the first place (before the band was rechristened for Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, actually after an early song that was named “Fleetwood Mac”). The significant contributions of co-founder Jeremy Spencer, and later transitional members Danny Kirwan and the late Bob Welch, also got their due as the discussion twisted and turned through early albums such as “Mr. Wonderful,” “Then Play On,”  “Kiln House” and “Bare Trees.”

Fleetwood took pains to remind that Green was, at the time, a guitar star in Britain on the level with Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck (noting you were as likely to see “Green is God” declarations as the more historically cited “Clapton is God.”) And they eventually touched on the Buckingham/Nicks era as well, but in a way that made sense, explaining how the group’s early-’70s records already had started gradually steering the band toward the harmony-centered pop sounds that became their hitmaking hallmark (with Christine McVie having joined a few years before Buckingham and Nicks appeared).

The session included several wonderful intersections of history and humor, too, as in this exchange, after Fricke asked if Fleetwood was at a Feb. 11, 1970, show in San Francisco where Green sat in with both the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers.

“Yes, on acid,” Fleetwood deadpanned, before asking the crowd, “Has anyone got that (recording)?”

“Oh, it’s out there,” Fricke assured.

“Well we WERE out there,” Fleetwood confirmed.

The funny stuff kept the hour-plus panel moving right along, but it was Fleetwood’s much more poignant remembrance that brought the session to a close. Mentioning a two-hour phone call he had with Green while working on the book — and yes, he assured fans, there will be a Volume 2 covering the “Rumours” glory years and beyond — he said he’d wondered why Green had taken a chance on a young drummer with little experience so long ago.

“Why did you ask me to play drums?” Fleetwood asked Green.

“Mick, you were so sad, and you were really desperately unhappy and brokenhearted,” Green answered, referring to a recent breakup Fleetwood had endured. “This is what you need to do.”

We all are still reaping the benefits of that.