Courtney Barnett at SXSW
Courtney Barnett at NPR Music’s SXSW showcase (

From Athens to Austin: SXSW 2015, Day Three

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This week, Ohio University School of Media Arts and Studies instructor Josh Antonuccio is leading a class of 24 OU students on a week-long trip to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

Follow Antonuccio’s adventures at or via Twitter @woubarts.

The Music portion of SXSW is now in full swing, with day stages littered across the city from multiple countries and genres too numerous to count.

SXSW is about pacing: There is simply too much great content to experience in such a small period of time. It’s also based on trying to strategize how to best take in the acts you know and the acts that are breaking in real-time.

Therein lies the exploration and excitement–getting to see a band with 50 people this year, who may be playing to 5,000 people next year. The pace and volume of music is as exhilarating as it is overwhelming.

The day started off at the Convention Center, which houses all of the programming content for badge holders. Two of the big words that were repeated ad naseum: data and curation.

It is clear that the industry has turned a corner on the future of music delivery. While vinyl is still regarded as an appropriate niche product, all eyes are on who can control and curate the best streaming music experience.

Of the three panels I attended, this was a major topic of conversation amongst panelists from labels, the largest tech companies and digital distributors. As Ian Rodgers of Beats Music said, “the race is on to win the trust of the listener.”

Some big names showed up for interviews. Big Sean and Wiz Khalifa were on hand to discuss their careers, while Colin Hanks discussed his work on the new Tower Records documentary that he directed.

The KCRW Day Stage hosted phenomenal performances throughout the day, including sets from James Bay, Milky Chance and a stunning set from Laura Marling. Marling’s set debuted many songs from her new album, Short Movie, as well as standout tracks (including a fierce version of “I Am a Master Hunter”) from her previous release I Was An Eagle.

The SXSW premiere of the Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck took place later in the day. The Paramount Theater sold out and was filled with Nirvana fans old and new to get a first look at this film, which is being critically acclaimed as a milestone for music documentaries.

It’s easy to see why. I don’t think that there is a music documentary to date that has gained such immediate and intimate access to its subject. The director did a Q&A to talk about the process and explained that Courntey Love, and the other meaningful people in Kurt’s life, gave him full access to all of their home movies and audio recordings of Kurt.

It is a haunting experience. Cobain’s own voice narrates and his journals are animated to show their creation and unveil his creative and broken psyche, while the story of his life unfolds and implodes at a terrifying pace.

Without giving away too much, it’s safe to say that this film stands out on many levels. For one, it’s the only documentatry to be given rights to the music of Nirvana, inlcuding troves of demos, rehearsals and unreleased covers (including a gorgeous Beatles cover Cobain recorded solo).

In addition, the viewer is given a visual and aural journey through Cobain’s brokenness, the likes of which have not been achieved in previous ventures. One interesting thing: Athens, Ohio, makes an appearance in the film, as Krist Noveselic dons a Casa Nueva shirt for full minute of screen time.

From there headed into the thick of SXSW nightlife. Around this time, the streets fill up, packing downtown 6th Street with musicians, concertgoers, conference attendees and spectators. It’s a sea of people trying to catch as many shows as possible while wading through ever-growing crowds.

I made my way to the Mohawk, which has been hosting some stellar showcases this year. Girlpool started the night, with Alvvays following up. This new band has been trending at the festival on the heels of their self-titled debut, which has been generating a lot of favorable press. Their song “Marry Me, Archie” is a standout and elicited a singalong from the crowd.

From there, I headed down the street to Stubbs for the NPR Showcase with TV on the Radio, Stromae and Courtney Barnett, who debuted her new album, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, for the entirety of her set.

Sounding like a cross between Nirvana and Liz Phair, Barnett’s new material shined and demonstrated why she is a rising artist this year. Her ferocious guitar and Velvet Underground-inspired rhythms drew enough people to have Barnett herself exclaim “we didn’t expect this many people to show up!”

Next was the YouTube Showcase, hosted by The War on Drugs, who where scheduled for two sets. Adam Granduciel and company drew a huge crowd to the event, delivering songs from Slave Ambient and last year’s gorgeous Lost in the Dream (which was my number one pick from last year).

The band encountered some technical issues with their drum machine which clearly frustrated Granduciel, who walked off stage twice as a result. Nonetheless, the set was a clear reminder of why The War on Drugs has become so popular, especially with tracks like “Red Eyes” and “Ocean In Between The Waves;” songs which rounded out a set that put Granduciel’s powerful and urgent anthems on full display.

To close the night, I walked across town for the Jansport Bonfire Showcase, where I caught a bit of the Waxahatchee full band set, which was the precursor to the closing set by Real Estate.

After last year’s success with Atlas (again another top pick for best album from me), the band has come off a successful tour for a few SXSW showcases. Without a set list in hand, they played most of the songs from Atlas, which included songs such as “Talking Backwards” and “Had To Hear.” Without a set list in hand, they solicited crowd requests, which inlcluded some earlier rarities.

With that, another day in Austin came to a close as music fans headed back to their hotels to get a few hours of sleep before it started all over again.