Portraits Of South By Southwest: La Sera, Santigold, Blood Orange, And The Men


In Waste Of Paint, our writer/artist team of Jamie Peck and Debbie Allen will review goings-on about town in words and images.

This week, we packed up our paint and headed down to Austin for the annual hurricane of musical adventure that is South By Southwest. I feel both like I just got to the jam-packed music festival and like I’ve been here my whole life, and I’m both bummed and relieved to discover that I do not actually live in a perpetual bubble of free alcohol, loud music, and promotional swag.

We made our first stop the idyllic grounds of the French Legation Museum, where recent New York expatriate Katy Goodman (a.k.a. Kickball Katy) was playing with her side project La Sera. Freed from the confines of the floaty “aahs” she sings as backup in Vivian Girls, Goodman’s lilting voice expands to sound eternally carefree, even when she’s singing about heartbreak. It’s hard not to view La Sera’s lighter sound as a study in the coastal contrasts between amazing pop songs; as VG frontperson, stalwart New York punk Cassie Ramone is at times awkward, sardonic, and unafraid to make people uncomfortable, while Kickball Katy seems like she’d rather wrap everyone’s troubles in a big blue blanket and take them for a picnic on the beach.

Next we hit up the Fader Fort, which has a massive stage and day-drunk, apathetic crowd that can be challenging for some of the greener acts that play there. Those things posed no problem for Santigold, who dominated the space with her elaborately entertaining show. Wearing a silver crown on her head, Santi delivered her genre-blending dance music with equal parts new wave, reggae and hip hop swagger, often letting her athletic backup dancers take center stage. At one point, two of her band members took the stage in a horse costume (!). She gleefully worked the crowd, inviting audience members to dance onstage for her paean to her own artistry “Creator,” saying, “just make sure you back up and don’t get kicked in the face by these ladies, because they’re kind of tough.” All in all, she provided strong proof that her line “Brooklyn, we go hard” isn’t just hollow showboating.

Another artist who made Brooklyn proud this week was Devonte Hynes, a multi-talented musician who was born in Texas and raised in England, but who has recently been claimed by NYC. After several busy years spent writing and producing for such big names as Florence and the Machine, Solange Knowles, and the Chemical Brothers, as well as playing in the short-lived band Test Icicles, Hynes has stepped into the spotlight with his solo project Blood Orange. Operating a laptop, guitar, pedals, and processors all at once, Hynes laid down sparse, post-punk beats over which he alternately shredded on guitar and sang in a pathos-laden croon somewhat reminiscent of Robert Smith’s. While he was able to do an impressive amount on his own, I’d love to see how much fuller his sound could be with a whole band at his disposal.

Repping the noisier end of things was Brooklyn’s proudly un-google-able The Men, who drove crowds to moshing and stage diving at official and unofficial engagements alike. When we caught them at the Sacred Bones showcase, they played a tight and brutal set of songs mostly taken from their excellent third album Leave Home, which freely incorporates sounds from punk, hardcore, post punk, grunge, psychedelia, college rock—and whatever else works. But for all the obscure records they’ve obviously collected, the band they most remind me of is the very non-obscure Nirvana. They don’t necessarily sound like Nirvana, but they combine aggression, melody, playfulness, and non-douchey male angst in a similar, ridiculously satisfying way. If their packed shows at SXSW and back home in New York are any indication, I’d say they’re going to ride that appeal as far as an “indie rock” band can in this strange, bloggy era. And unlike some buzz acts these days, they’ll deserve every bit of hyperbolic praise they get.

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