SXSW 2018 has come and gone, and how glorious it was! We made our best efforts to catch the most action humanly possible. Many long days were had and many miles were walked. But coming away from this year's festivities, we feel so dang lucky to be in a city that hosts such a vibrant festival! Below we'll rehash some of our favorite bits from the 10 day music, tech, and culture festival. Accompanying the words are incredible photographs so you can really understand how great the festival was!
More bands play at SXSW than a team of people could keep up with. At 8 o’clock on any given night there are upwards of 40 showcases spread out across the city. Also, to be clear, by the time the music portion of SXSW rolls around, festival goers have been at it for 5+ days. All this being said, the incredible bands were too much of a draw for us to rest on our laurels. Below are our favorite picks, along with a gallery of photos from other exceptional showcases that took place this year.
Far and away Starcrawler was the talk of the festival, and for good reason. After we heard that Arrow de Wilde, the lead singer, was a woman possessed on stage, we dropped our plans to catch their next showcase so we could see the band’s antics in person. This turned out to be the correct-est choice as these newcomers are anything but timid and put on one hell of a show. From lead guitarist Henri Cash’s shredding-turned-summoning ritual that calls the raucous demoness to stage to Arrow herself spitting blood at the front row attendees, start to finish they raise a fresh kind of hell that we couldn’t get enough of. Pictures nor words do it justice so make an effort to catch them when they come to your city.
Descartes A Kent
Another hard hitting group, this show was breathtaking in its breadth. Heavy metal meets shoe-gaze with a healthy helping of vaudeville theater, this Mexico City-based band has Pussy Riot-esque raucousness with killer rock-n-roll sensibilities. Loud, obnoxious, and addictive, the frilly dresses the three leads adorn only serve to set the stage for an epic dashing of gender stereotypes. The end result is absolutely bananas. Their showcase, the better part of an hour, felt like an operatic journey that left the crowd overwhelmed and at the same time begging “más por favor!”.
Top Tech Talk
“Music and the Brain: How Sounds Become Pleasurable” was likely the most fascinating 60 minutes ever for any music lover who got in the room. The panel consisted of three premiere contributors in the field of researching what exactly, about music, makes us feel. Speaking were an engineer from Google working on building a machine learning composer that can write sonnets to rival Bach; a neurologist and professor from McGill University who has done groundbreaking research on how the brain reacts to music; and a neuroscientist and opera singer who, among other things, teaches singers how to evoke an emotional response in their audiences.
After the Google engineer demonstrated how they have developed the approaches to teach music composition to machines, the neurologist broke down, in intricate detail, what it looks like in the brain when humans are listening to music. The “pleasure” we feel when we listen to an amazing song is actually due to a release of dopamine. You know, the endorphin that perpetuates our livelihood (lust) and sometimes does it’s best to kill us (substance addiction.) That alone is mind-blowing: a sound can have the same effect as a drug?! This is something experienced by any music lover but to have it verified by science gives the experience a whole other level of gravitas. But what, exactly, differentiates music that evokes this response in us from music that doesn’t?
Well let’s take a step back. We as humans have evolved to be excellent at predicting near-future events; our survival has depended on it for many thousands of years. As such, when we are listening to a song we are subconsciously engaging the “prediction” portion of our brain. We are trying, as best we can, to predict which notes will follow the ones we are currently hearing, and, overall, where the song will end up. However, this engagement does not in itself prompt a dopamine response in our brain. What does give us pleasure is when we have predicted a song correctly, but the manner in which it arrives at our prediction is, in itself, unexpected. The end goal is what we thought it was, but we were surprised by how it got there. What is even more fascinating is that the same song will evoke the same response in the same person even after the person has heard the song multiple times. Taken thusly, we are excellent at predicting the general mathematical structure of a song, but we are quick to forget the details.
Far and away, the talk of the festival was Meow Wolf and their top notch media showing. As a film offering, they unveiled the documentary "Meow Wolf: Origin Story." This glorious 90 minute affair produced hand in hand with the Meow Wolf organization detailed the trials and travails of the burgeoning media group. From small beginnings in Santa Fe to grand ambitions of grabbing and keeping the world's attention, it was hard not to fall in love with the humble yet passionate core contributors at the heart of the organizations culture. The documentary itself was well paced, well scored, and beautifully trippy in the best of ways; sort -of like their world-renowned massive installation in New Mexico. If you care anything about contemporary American art, you must do yourself a service and see this documentary when it comes available for online streaming soon.
Also debuted at the festival was their first ever foray into Virtual Reality. With a custom built haptic feedback rig (the large metal structure in the picture above) and a stellar in house team of the industry's top talent, they premiered a top notch experience in immersive media. After the first day came and went, the word spread, and all free slots were snapped up in a flash. For good reason, too, their installation was yet another example of Meow Wolf's ability to push the limit of existing mediums in ways that would be impossible for us humans to consider.
All in all, this year's festival continued the perennial trend of blowing Austinites and visitors away with the one-of-a-kind combination of art, music, and technology. Now that we're done and rested, we can hardly wait till next March rolls around so we can get back on the most epic grind in Texas.