If there’s one thing that’s true about South By Southwest, it’s that much of it is based on access–the combinations of badges, wristbands, hand-stamps, and nods that get people into and behind the scenes of shows can be downright dizzying. To figure out what, exactly, it’s like to experience the festival with not so much as a wristband, we enlisted chief assumer (and former Austinite) Andy Beta to give us the outsider’s perspective. In his second dispatch, he gets a glimpse inside the Fader‘s downtown marketing complex.
Austin has an unparalleled ability to destroy its finest institutions. In Wednesday morning’s mist, one can barely make out the skyscraper that was once venerable rock club Liberty Lunch. Ruta Maya, once a huge downtown café hang, has now become The Fader Fort, which is at once an upscale Levi’s store and a labyrinthine mess of padlocked doors, empty blogger rooms, mis-directional signs to non-existent restrooms, and office space for Fader personnel. If you can make it through all of that, the Fort opens out into a hip shotgun shack and giant tent in a parking lot, housing a booming soundsystem and a bar full of free 180 Energy Drinks and SoCo shots.
Still reeling from a mild dose of food poisoning (thanks Ruby’s BBQ!), we abstain from said shots for an hour or so, time enough to catch Kenna, a towering Ethiopian who knows the major label shuffle all too well; he recorded his debut for Interscope, only to be dropped, then have it ignored on his new label, Columbia. He was then dropped once more, only to be signed by–wait for it–Interscope. The music itself, rock but with an emphasis on beat suggestive of late ’90s big beat, would stupefy most A&R reps anyway.
Kenna has a look not unlike that of a grime MC, lean and crouched over his mic in a black hoodie, a matching cap pulled low over his eyes. Yet his grandiose emoting involves no spitting. And due to the soundsystem, it also involves not hearing a single thing he is belting. The immense breaks and twinkling keys (which are both new wave and new rave) conspire to bury the bwoy in the mix, and it’s not until the end of the set that we can make out his voice in the bass-first mud.
Faring far better over the PA (and looking like he had scored some of those sweet Levi’s western snap-button shirts, though his bass player was rocking some Reservoir Dogs suit) is David Vandervelde from Chi-town. His renown stems mainly from his prowess as a studio engineer, but he’s capable of conjuring some prime Neil Young and Crazy Horse riffs that make us want to run back to his Secretly Canadian debut.