AUSTIN — Ah, SXSW 2012! The explosive growth of the SXSW brand meant ridiculously long lines, hour-plus waits to get into venues, stage mishaps, a general disregard for scheduled set times — all of which made bouncing from one venue to another difficult. It also meant performances a good half-hour walk beyond the central artery of Sixth Street.
But enough of the grievances: there is still nothing quite like SXSW, a week that's a mecca for musicians, spring break for fuck-ups, and Disneyland for pasty hipsters covered in black ink, pink bracelets, and white-and-green badges. For music junkies, SXSW is still the ultimate Choose Your Own Adventure experience. If you want to avoid the household names, you can. But finding the "buzz band" is becoming increasingly difficult. In fact, it probably no longer even exists. Everyone, it seems, knows even the most obscure of acts, and the days of SXSW breaking artists appear to be over. Everyone arrives at Austin Bergstrom Airport with a cheat sheet.
Although you could go the entire South by Southwest fest without crossing their paths, the Austin hype machine belonged to ladies with prescription bottles full of ADD-pop: GRIMES and SANTIGOLD.
Canadian firefly Grimes reeled off several sets throughout the week that left young Clarie Boucher poised at the tip of a massive breakout year. The Montreal electronic pop pixie was one of the very few must-see acts in Austin, but it's difficult any longer to tab her "buzzworthy."
Santigold won SXSW before she even got to Texas. It's been four years since Philly/Brooklyn's Santi dropped her well-received debut record, but back in 2008 we still thought M.I.A. had something left in the tank. After another dud record from Maya and that "controversial" middle finger she flashed during Madonna's half-time show at the Super Bowl, Santigold is ready to steal the Sri Lankan's urban anti-pop spotlight. Ms. White's high-profile gigs at the Fader Fort, mtvU Woodies, and Spin's party at Stubb's BBQ set the tone for the week: her vibe was everywhere, and marked a rise to fame that's only beginning, despite the four-year delay. This May's Master of My Make-Believe should be everywhere, too; White continues to hit the hot spots, from Coachella to Bonnaroo. But I have to ask, where the eff has she been the past few years?
Speaking of feel-good comeback stories, Brooklyn's WE ARE AUGUSTINES continued their rise from the depths of post-millennial indie-rock purgatory where they were formerly known as Pela. Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson, mired in personal and label/management struggle in the late 2000s,have conquered with Augustines, and their Thursday night set at Maggie Mae's was a spirited roots-rock display that proved a band can take an emotional backstory and put it aside for the good of showing off pure rock-and-roll chops. In the Fader Fort on Saturday, Beach Fossils side project DIVE took cues from early New Order and created a shimmering sound not far from Z. COLE SMITH's main gig but with a greater sense of compassion and shyness. Following Dive at the Fort, as crowds started assembling for the "surprise guest" headliner (Rick Ross) were KINDNESS, a London post-disco dance act who would be better suited to MDMA and a 4 am set deep in the heart of club land. Their soulful disco didn't translate among the unwashed outdoor daytime masses, but they deserved an IOU from the crowd.