Matson on Music
SXSW 2011 post #11: Mount Kimbie, Sharon Van Etten, Odd Future
Posted by Andrew Matson
My third day at SXSW was exhausting and inspiring. Three highlights, with extra photos:
After technical difficulties earlier in the week, London duo Mount Kimbie lucked out with the excellent sound system at Barbarella. Standing in the bar's back patio in front of the stage was like being hugged around the legs by an electric field of bass, while melodies and sound effects flitted at chest and head level.
In the burning midday sunlight, some hipster moved a pleather couch to the ideal viewing spot, dead-center in front of Mount Kimbie. He had a great view, but the really important stuff came out of the speakers.
At root, the music was about R&B chord progressions. Four chords, with all kinds of implied melody. Over that foundation, Mount Kimbie created surround-sound cave-like atmosphere with digital samplers and keyboards. Echoes with vague sources, bird-like squeaks, metallic clanks. Everything overlayed and more layers kept piling on, with initial melodies later revealed to be harmonies to more important melodies. Inevitably, a rolling/clacking beat and major bass were introduced, and that's how you knew it was dubstep, the electronic music subgenre Mount Kimbie belongs to but is constantly escaping.
Unlike dance music that repeats with little variation, Kimbie played "songs" in the rockist sense, and used instrumentation from that world, as well.
"Before I Move Off" featured a live snare drum rim shot, miked and digitally looped. "Field" featured electric guitar played ragged and distorted, as a disarmingly effective segue between pulsing techno and a beat borrowed from southern American hip hop.
Sharon Van Etten
Later that evening, Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten played in Central Presbyterian Church, my favorite SXSW venue by far.
Not only was Central Presbyterian a great place to rest barking dogs (SXSW is all about walking on pavement), it sounded the best and had the most respectful audiences.
Everybody was silent for Van Etten's last song "Love More," which she played on a harmonium, a standing instrument that sounds like an pump organ. The song was trance-y and dirge-like. The rest of her songs were throbbing numbers that could go rootsy if you looked at them the right way, but were essentially classic American pop, played darkly.
The singer/guitarist was losing her voice, and at the stage where you can't talk, but can sing. What came out was a grainy, chesty alto with a soprano falsetto, a beautiful voice Van Etten wasn't afriad to take to honest, groan-y places.
I was not familiar with Van Etten before seeing her perform, and was frankly quite moved. I caught Brandi Carlile vibes, Jessica Lea Mayfield vibes. But Van Etten had a less of their vocal nimbleness and more of a zoned-out "all in" quality, which is better than virtuosity sometimes.
Not much to say about underage L.A. rap group Odd Future's performance at the Billboard Bungalow, except it was angry and for one flash, brilliant.
The brilliant flash was rapper/producer Tyler, the Creator (comma his) performing "Yonkers," a slithering, doomy rap song with a little jazz in it, currently burning up the Internet. Wearing a plastic fox mask, Tyler darted all over the stage and acted out sly rambunctiousness with a killer instinct.
The angry part was when Tyler yelled about how much he hated Billboard Magazine, and ended the concert early by throwing his microphone on stage, probably breaking it.
Odd Future is on the cover of Billboard Magazine right now, and it was all over the building, on the bar, in the bathroom, on the tables. Looking around you would have thought Billboard was very happy to host the group, but the feeling was just not mutual.
Photos by me
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