Vevo Hip Hop Showcase at SXSW

My Thursday night at SXSW was slated to go down at the Vevo TV hip hop showcase where I would be watching and interviewing The Chicharones. Before the sun set, however, I enjoyed a lengthy resting period at Halcyon, a unique coffee shop on the corner of Lavaca and 4th Street. The spacious, trendy business specializes in not just coffee, but also booze and tobacco and boasts “all your legal vices under one roof”.

Nighttime at Halcyon Coffee Bar in Austin, Texas

The Vevo TV Showcase was just across Lavaca Street from Halcyon in a relatively small building that stood alone with no neighboring structures. A large, fenced-in patio had been stocked with plenty of activities for party-goers: painted black picnic tables with neon markers for doodling, a padded bleacher-style lounging area for resting, corn hole for entertainment, and a special art gallery curated by Indie Walls.

img via Kirill Was Here

Neon markers attached to black picnic tables encouraged party-goers to create their own art between sets at the Vevo Control Room.

I spoke briefly with Ari Grazi of Indie Walls who told me about the collection on display by AV ONE. Outside, a wall acted as the medium to a piece of evolving art that the artist started on Tuesday.

The Vevo Building is one small part of the SXSW phenomena that Austin experiences every year. Venues, businesses, and other establishments crop up (often literally overnight) in spaces that are otherwise unoccupied for 11 out of 12 months. Arriving to the showcase moments after the doors opened, I watched event staff struggle with the suspension of a promotional banner before duct taping it to the wall. The room was sparsely decorated (with an even sparser drink selection), save for an elaborate conglomeration of faux TVs juxtaposed atop the back of the bar with the Vevo logo beaming from inside each of them.

The evening’s bill was long and many great artists took the stage before the night’s headliners. A series of regional up-and-comers rotated in an out of 20 minute sets, the most notable of which was a smooth emcee from Houston named Dustin-Prestige.

Karma Jonze of the 1987 Music Group gave the night’s first truly engaging performance, doing more than just rapping on stage. Her rambunctious and lively set was drenched in messages of female power and even contained obligatory audience participation (“Don’t just give it to them!” she scolded her DJ as she stopped the music and instructed the crowd for call-and-response with “Austin” and “Texas”).

Toronto-based electro hip hop group Ain’t No Love became my favorite performance of the night and remains one of the best discoveries of my week at SXSW. Striking a balance between intelligent electro productions, fiercely bold vocals, and acute emcees delivering lyrics with a purpose- Ain’t No Love deserves all the love they received.

Toronto Canada’s Ain’t No Love steal the show at the Vevo TV hip hop showcase

The Chicharones

The Chicharones gave a rare performance with an unmasked DJ, who dropped a quick scratch set during sound check and riled up the audience while they waited. The Vevo Control Room had started to fill by the time they took their turn and a thick crowd wrapped around the front of the stage to get close to their mile-a-minute, no-bullshit rapping. Be sure to read my interview with SXSW experts The Chicharones.

Austin-based tripped out husband-and-wife duo Riders Against The Storm performed with a full band and did their best to rock the house at The Vevo TV Showcase. Rooted in funk, steeped in soul, and topped with a dash of hip hop- RAS are true disciples of the study of music and its healing properties. Things got uncomfortable, though, when the group became displeased with the quality of their sound. The drummer repeatedly threw his arms in the air and shook his head, resulting in a lengthy lecture from leading lady Tiger Lily and multiple song start-overs- all of which were blamed on the sound man’s incompetence.

Boots Riley had been in the building all night, checking into the main room every so often until he and The Coup went on stage for an unannounced set. Talib Kweli followed; sharply contrasting the full band set that preceded him.

Later, riding Austin Capital Metro Bus 484 home for the night, my conversation about SXSW with a woman on her way home from work was interrupted by a sizable group of drunk young men singing some sort of celebratory song in a different language. They had the full attention of the jam-packed bus.

“I didn’t know there was a 484 showcase tonight!” my friend joked out loud.

Everyone was smiling and some people were clapping; nobody was visibly annoyed or rude to the obnoxious cohorts having a good time with each other. It was yet another incredible example of the approachability that Austin residents amicability uphold- the perfect ending to my second night SXSW.