The dance-music scene heats up Austin

Bodies moving
By MICHAEL C. WALSH  |  March 21, 2012

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"Like in 10 years, this is Lollapalooza— we're just ahead of shit," said Nick Hook of Cubic Zirconia on Saturday night, toward the tail end of his solo set during SBTRKT's collaborative shindig with burgeoning UK-label Young Turks. He then shouted out the evening's other performers — Machinedrum, Sinden, Jackmaster, Oneman — before dropping a rattling take on the instrumental to 50 Cent's "Ayo Technology," perhaps a nod to the night's rumored, but eventual no-show special guest, Timbaland.

Hook stated something that most of us inside the densely packed club had been aware of all week: SXSW isn't just a breeding ground for rockers anymore. There's too much important shit happening in the world of hip-hop and electronic for that.

This shouldn't come as a shock. The two most buzzed about media presences in Texas were Web tastemakers Pitchfork and the Fader. Both have long shed their indie-skin in lieu of something more diverse. And alongside Bruce Springsteen's mid-week keynote address, the next-biggest names tossed around Austin were Jay-Z and Skrillex.

I was able to catch the jet-setting, BlackBerry-peddling Diplo, left-of-center mega-deejay Seth Troxler, and a big boss of a different variety — Rick Ross. All three of those acts are endowed with a superstardom that outshines the South By spotlight. Diplo and Troxler were dropping through on their way to this week's massive Winter Music Conference in Miami, and the Ross was shilling his fledgling record label, Maybach Music Group — something he made clear with his ad nausea insistence that we chant its name throughout his set. A request to which I complied, by the way. Ross is a very insistent man.

But as we know, these already-household characters do not make South By, despite what headlines may lead you to believe. If they did, it wouldn't be South By. It'd be Bonnaroo. Rather, it's about buzz — in all of its gloriously muddled incarnations. SXSW, as you might recall, is not a music festival — it's an industry "conference."

Some acts come into SXSW riding buzz and — after confirming their genius to the industry hordes — leave on the verge of breaking. Like Danny Brown. The Detroit MC released an acclaimed mixtape last year on Fool's Gold, and he arrived at SXSW with his name on everyone's lips. He proceeded to play roughly 57 shows, where he continually graced the audience with his knowledge of cunnilingus and rapped alone on stage with the precision and intensity of a viciously articulate methhead.

Other acts arrive in Austin with little name recognition and leave with everyone and their mother checking Myspace to see who the fuck this person is and when they'll be stopping through their town. Blood Orange is the former frontman of London-based punk-rock shitkickers Test Icicles. He now makes sensually playful R&B, and was given an ideal slot before The-Dream on Friday's Fader Fort lineup. He was the only person on stage during his performance, setting loops with a laptop and knocking them into oblivion with his Prince-like guitar fills. At one point, his performance's resemblance to that of the Purple One was so overt that I half expected him to drop to the ground and start humping. On second thought, I was pretty far back in the tent — maybe he did.

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