SXSW 2009: Kanye West, Common, Erykah Badu, Devo, Red Riders, Big Boi and More

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Kanye West at the Levi’s/Fader Fort © Seher Sikandar

SXSW 2009: Kanye West, Common, Erykah Badu, Devo, Red Riders, The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, Big Boi, Janelle Monáe, Chin Chin, Beach House, Solange, Kid Cudi

Austin’s South By Southwest Festival is four days of new bands eking out a following and amplifying their buzz while established acts assert their influence or grasp at a comeback. Giant Step’s Resident Mawuse Ziegbe took in as much of the long lines, late nights and musical highs as she could. Here’s her review of a weekend of sounds in the South.

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Giant Step’s Resident 24: Rich Medina, Q-Tip, The Martinez Brothers, Santogold, Diplo and More

Photo of The Martinez Brothers © Phillip Angert
View photos here. Archive link here.

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Bless Rich Medina and Q-Tip for giving this city something reliable to do on Friday nights with their body-rockin’ weekly at Santos’ Party House. It’s still in its infancy (only a few weeks old) so it’s still all innocent and chill (although Solange, the underrated Knowles, and actress Jurnee Smollett did sprinkle a little stardust on the joint last week). It’s exactly how you expect it to sound if you kidnapped ‘Tip and Medina and forced them to play your favorite disco, hip hop, house and soul records – and they were into it. With tracks like MSFB’s “Love Is The Message,” Tribe’s “Find A Way,” and Shaun Escoffery “Days Like This” It was one of those, “I gotta leave but this is my JAM” type of nights. Come 4 AM and I was stumbling around Chinatown with soulful disco house still buzzing my ears. Word of advice: things don’t get jumpin’ till after 1 AM.

Speaking of Rich, The Studio Museum of Harlem nearly crumbled under the chunky Afrobeat and soul rhythms at the Kehinde Wiley opening. I was batty about his portraits of African youth but it was the subtle three-dimensionality of the backdrop that put a crease my pants. Very impressive.

And no groove was safe from my friend-in-my-head James Pants’ heady set at Studio B with Peanut Butter Wolf. It was the age of buggin’ out as Pants put the needle to everything from Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” to Smokey Robinson and The Miracles‘ “Tears Of A Clown.” The place wasn’t packed but we were shearing some rugs, honey. Then Pants jumped off the turntables and ended his set with a dance that looked like Napoleon Dynamite got the holy ghost. Lordy.

Shaking things up at Giant Step’s Hudson Hotel jump-off were the LP-loving zygotes The Martinez Brothers. At 16 and 19 years of age, they must have picked up taste for spinning in utero and favor the chunky thump of house gems older than themselves. They volleyed DJ responsibilities throughout the night and were as wiry as the classic house selections pumping through the systems speakers. And that kept a steady stream of taut bouncy beats they kept the feets moving like DJs old enough to vote and buy porn. I wasn’t mad at them at all.

I was, however, hopping mad at the Mad Fools Summerstage show featuring Santogold, Kid Cudi, Diplo and A-Trak aka The Seventh Circle of Hell. Too much of New York was there in the acute heat and the endless wait for Santogold. I guess the first two hours were supposed to be a big outdoor shindig with Mad Decent and Fools Gold DJs taking turns as lives of the party. But watching people do the Electric Slide on stage when you have no room to snap in a circle three times is infuriating. And watching it for two hours is Chinese water torture. By the time Santogold came I was fresh out shits to give. But here’s why she deserves the hype. She came out with her militant booty-poppin’ back-up singers to “Find A Way” all smiley, extra sweet and dropping a corny joke or two. Then launched into “L.E.S. Artistes” and “Shuv It.” She has weaknesses but knows how to patch them up (hence the fly-ass back-up dancers) and she’s just cool enough, breezy, but definitely in control. The suffering of the previous two hours melted away and I managed a sincere booty wiggle or two. She ended the show with the electric buzz of “Creator” and in her sweet-as-pie way told us she wasn’t doing an encore so please don’t ask. All praise be to Santogold who understands when the party is over.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 6

Photo of Jazzy Jeff © Nick Digital

When I told my friend about my weekend, she flatly informed me with thinly-veiled horror that it was “bizarre.” I’m on the fence about the term. You, gentle reader, can be the judge. Let’s pretend the weekend started on Wednesday where I was eagerly awaiting a performance by Kid Cudi at Left Village bar Le Royale. The whole hourly-motel air makes my head hurt (where do establishments still get mirrored walls after 1978?). Anyway, I was excited to see Kid Cudi hit the stage because his MySpace page be poppin’ with his spacey brew of intergalactic hoodness. But live…wow. He rocked the crowd with all the vibrancy of a Saltine. His stage presence was desperate and inelegant. Overall, crappy. There was a lot of shouting out “peoples” that helped him through the struggle. Once again, desperate. The anti-climactic set wrapped up at midnight as the crowd unceremoniously filed out into the stinging cold.

The bizarreness really cropped up Thursday evening when I saw author and Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis interview Mos Def at the 92nd Street Y. Mos ruminated on everything from his childhood (“too much basketball” nurtured his interest in acting) to his reservations about the good life (using the complimentary Bentley shuttle at a snooty hotel was a trifle much). He spoke with candid wit, dazzling the crowd with low-key astuteness and even previewing a freshly recorded track from his upcoming album, The Ecstatic. However, the question and answer period devolved into bedlam as the restless crowd began to claw at lofty echelons of inappropriateness. Shouts of “next question!!” rang out as an older woman told Mos his music had changed her son’s life. A fan behind me kept screeching “Mos!!” arbitrarily (or perhaps for the optimal annoyance factor) in my ear. Brassy women began loudly interrupting each other, vying recklessly for Mos’ attention. There was a bit of a “WTF” factor watching grown people ready to wrassle each other for some eye contact with Mos Def.

Friday night, I hit one of my favorite bizarro events, Flavorpill’s One Step Beyond jump-off featuring DJ Jazzy Jeff at the Natural History Museum (Rockin’ next to rock formations just never loses it’s heady “where-the-eff-am-I” appeal). This time, instead of the usual infestation of downtowners it was very grown n’ sexy: lots of wizened uptown cats and fly broads who bought “Summertime” on vinyl. The vibe was much more “family cookout” than “tight pants competition.” Jazzy played it safe but his comfort hits straddled a gang of genres. There was Crystal Waters’ never-say-die dance jam, “Gypsy Woman,” Mims’ mind-numbing ode to braggadocio, “This Is Why I’m Hot,” and Dee-Lite’s sunny heart-pumper, “Groove Is In The Heart.” The brazenly cool, Retro Kids made an appearance, bedecked in parachute pants, split-level fades and jocular dance moves that made the early ’90s the hotness. Between the Kids, Jazzy and the tunes, it was like 1992 came back for a quick spin around the planetarium. I was entertained.

The actual weekend was a furious blur of hookah smoke, karaoke, Sparks and disco as my posse and I decamped to this loopy loft party in the Brooklyn. One minute I was chatting up locals in a plastic spaceship, the next precariously creeping down an iron ladder in my pin-thin stilettos and later screeching on stage to an oddly captive audience with my boozy pals. When we finally stumbled out of the rabbit-hole into the pale dawn sunlight, we cabbed it to my friend’s Midtown hotel and ordered $17 fried chicken. However, I wasn’t licked yet and spent Sunday afternoon with my artist friend, Alexis Peskine in Hoboken, NJ (aka Stepford. I mean, is that place serious?) who asked me to pose for a painting. It was slightly disorienting to discuss the tension in the “subject’s” face when the image was my own surly mug.
Since I went this far without sleep I decided to keep the party going by hitting up the 718 Sessions with Danny Krivit. If anyone is deserving of a loyal groupiedom it is Krivit. He spun my brains into jelly with tons of extended mixes of plucky disco and early ’90s Euro-house. As I bounced to the beat, I felt like I was in the New York you see in movies. Lots of dark corners, never-ending vocal house and people having moments on the dance floor. This wasn’t a pageant where everyone is casing each other but a party where people swayed to the music with their eyes shut. Bizarre must be another word for “damn good time.”