Funking Up the Future

Categories: SXSW, music

Day 2 of SXSW

In my last post, I predicted Holy Fuck's set would be very hard to surpass. Well, I think it was at least equaled by a few artists on the bill at Barcelona—all instrumental hip-hop artists, in fact (Nosaj Thing, Free the Robots, Gaslamp Killer and Flying Lotus). Who would've thought such types would be standouts at SXSW? I mean, there wasn't a guitar to be found in the joint all night...

But first some gigs that preceded the Barcelona extravaganza. At Soho Bar, Blues Control—a weird psych band from New York—kind of disappointed with some spectral, relatively mellow blues rock that wasn't as expansive as their self-titled LP on Holy Mountain Records hinted. Their attack was muted somehow. Consisting of a guitarist and keyboardist who manned a drum machine, too, the duo churned out restrained turbulence, saving their best track for last, "Boiled Peanuts," one of the most sublimely lugubrious songs of the decade, a liquid bummer of mood elevation (paradoxes rock).

Over at Vice, Fucked Up puked up a bilious barrage of metallic punk. FU are fronted by an ornery, bald, bearded fat man who strips off his shirt and roams into the crowd to shout in your face his indecipherable lyrics (possibly about the importance of maintaining efficient digestion). At one point, he head-butted the mic. Later he ranted about the copious amounts of piss on the men's room floor. Someone needs to address this rampant problem in rock clubs and I'm glad Fucked Up's on the case.

But the real sweetness was going down at Barcelona. I arrive midway through LA producer Nosaj Thing's spectacular set. Jagged, rugged and funky in a ruptured way, this was next-level instrumental hip-hop, for (sur)real.

Santa Ana's own Free the Robots followed with some dense, dramatic, progressive funk. Pitch-shifted vibes, unpredictable staccato rhythms, prog-rock keys reminiscent of Egg and Yes—the music toggled between whimsical and ominous with remarkable facility. It was exotic without sounding kitsch (a very difficult feat to pull off). Free the Robot's new stuff's staggeringly exciting and chaotic. Diplo (who was on the bill, but I skipped out on his performance because I've seen him many times) really ought to sign FTR to his Mad Decent label.

I caught the last 10 minutes of LA mad scientist Gaslamp Killer's set and, wow, it fit right in with Nosaj Thing's and FTR's graduate-school instro hip-hop deconstruction. And is he passionate behind his gear. You can't help getting inspired by his animated presence, which is just as fascinating as his music.

Winnetka, California phenom Flying Lotus (signed to prestigious Warp Records at age 23? Damn) proved he had many styles at his disposal, all of them so cutting edge, it's hard to formulate a vocabulary for them. I heard new strains of funk; five-dimensional hip-hop; evil, earth-moving dubstep; the "Amen" breakbeat julienned to the tune of "Popcorn"; and a bizarre remix of Gary Numan's "Cars" that substituted "trucks" for the title vehicle. There was also a sly mockery of/homage to Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat."

I told a friend from Seattle who was in the crowd that Flying Lotus was "the next shit" (higher praise is impossible, yo). Friend said, "You're right, and he acts like he knows it, but I don't care."

After tonight, the rockers need to step up their game, 'cuz the beatmeisters done stole their thunder Thursday.


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