Airplane Mode Crew
(Ed’s Note: I’d like to thank my good friend Mac Smiff for taking the time to write about his trip to SXWS this year for We Out Here Magazine. Hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.)
Without divulging too much, I can tell you that the last few months have been amazingly difficult for me. In desperate need of a temporary change of scenery, I decided to go to the music convention known as SXSW (South by Southwest) this year with my little brother Hanif, aka Luck One. Not having any current project of my own, I figured I’d use this trip to help promote his upcoming project (True Theory), network with the music community, and maybe inspire myself to get more serious with my music. I accomplished all of these things during my trip, and not without a few stories to tell. So let’s just go ahead and jump in, shall we?
In fairly standard Mac Smiff fashion, I neglected to do much research on where I was traveling to or what I should focus on seeing. To me, a vacation means I don’t have to worry about piddly details such as where I plan to sleep or how I plan to get around. Instead, I prefer to live in the moment, or in the words of the great Vin Diesel, “one quarter mile at a time” (in The Fast and the Furious) and let the adventure come to me. So when I touched down in Dallas and surgically removed myself from the over-crowded Southwest Airlines flight, I immediately got on the horn with Luck to get the address to the hotel he’d booked.
I called the hotel to see if they had an airport shuttle, and I was told that while there is no airport shuttle, there is a shuttle from downtown. Eager to outwit the ravenous cabbies who drooled at the mere thought of me spending $35+ to take the scenic route to a hotel I’d never been to, I discovered (by harassing not-so-friendly Texans) that the public bus was only $1 and went straight downtown.
Downtown Austin was an odd sight during Tuesday’s sunny and warm early afternoon. Much like home in Portland, 75° in Austin means hordes of hardly dressed natty-haired white people take to the streets and dance recklessly. Avoiding all contact with the aforementioned, I sought for higher ground and found the capitol building a good place to collect myself. A follow-up call to the hotel resulted in further clarification that the hotel shuttle cost $20 per day per person. Appalled that this was not explained before I’d caught a bus downtown, I resigned that I would not take the hotel shuttle under any circumstances during this trip. Period.
So me and my matching luggage hauled ass to the visitor’s center to get some info on public transportation. A nice employee named Gus kept the center open late just for me and helped me figure out how to take the bus to within a few blocks of the hotel. After profusely thanking this man for saving me $19 on a hotel check-in, I boarded the # 7 and proceeded to end my trip at a Wal-Mart approximately two miles from the hotel. By the way, a huge difference between West Coast and the South is that you never have to wonder if you’re in the hood… Yeah, so me and my matching luggage walked the next two miles on the side of the freeway, and arrived at the telly sweaty but intact. Complaints to the desk staff regarding everything gained me a free room upgrade, so my already exhausted jets got cooled quick.
The rest of the night was spent reading, tweeting, and trying to determine if I could somehow hit this Kanye audio/visual production and still get back to let the rest of my people into the hotel room later… Decided I could, but didn’t want to spend the money and I certainly didn’t have the spirit for anymore adventures today. So Luck and Ibeth arrived around 1 am – they had the good sense to split a cab – and we stayed up most of the morning plotting our week.
My second day in Austin was the first day for most of my friends. The hotel had free breakfast of which I eagerly took part, and I have to shout out the Ramada Limited in Austin for having a 4-piece waffle iron and unlimited orange juice. I spent the rest of the morning mapping out how to catch a bus downtown (Luck and Ibeth were also sparked by the concept of a dollar bus) and by noon we were making the short hike to the bus stop.
During that trip, we witnessed two bums quarrelling over a freeway exit – another Portland/Austin parallel – but here they don’t hold signs, they wash windshields. At one point, the old veteran white bum swung at the younger black bum with his wiper and almost took his head off. Luck immediately started instigating, and I thought Ibeth was going to cry. Younger black bum decided to find another exit to work and the older white bum didn’t skip a beat. He immediately ran over to wash the windshield of a new Camry who’s driver, understandably shocked by the violence, refused to roll his window down. The walk to the bus stop also brought us an offer to buy “green” from a strangely thin woman and was capped by a rescue by the Animal Farm crew who’d rented a car and let us cram in for a ride downtown. Yes.
Luck and Mac being saved by Fury of Animal Farm
Downtown was packed when we got there and temperatures were in the mid-80’s with high humidity. Our first show was at the Thirsty Nickel and when we got to the venue it was nearly empty. There was a duo outside though garnering a ton of attention on the streets. One of the guys played a portable drum set while the other fellow played what I thought was a giant kazoo, but which I later learned from Leigh Feldman was the Australian instrument known as a didgeridoo.
While DJ Gen Erik and Luck One setup inside, Ibeth and I went outside and tried to direct the crowd into the bar. I was temporarily distracted by a guy dressed like Jack (in the Box) and I had to get a picture with him. By the time Luck was ready to rock, there were only about a dozen people in the spot, but by the time we finished the intro, the crowd had nearly tripled! The didgeridoo band was losing listeners, but the Luck One x Mac Smiff performance was gaining fans. Leigh Feldman and Casey Jarmin from Portland also showed up, and it was good to rock with familiar faces in a foreign city.
While Casey took off and was never seen again, Leigh and his fanny pack joined the walking contingent of myself, Gen Erik, Luck One and Ibeth. In search of food, we came across a cipher in the street. I immediately told Luck that he shouldn’t jump in till after I rap. He agreed, but quickly reneged when he found an opening and shut the cipher down. Damn you and your unmatched freestyle skills, Luck One. Damn you.
Soon thereafter, Luck and Erik ran off to go meet with some folks, so Ibeth, Leigh and I went to little underground dance spot called Barcelona’s where Leigh claimed they were playing dub-step. Eager to rest our feet and charge our phones, we went along. When we got there, there was certainly dub-step playing… as expected. What we did NOT expect was DJ Michael “5000” Watts of Swisha House absolutely murdering the mix! I’ve never seen anyone spin a hip-hop fused dubstep set like that before, and I’m not sure I ever will again. We should bring that to Portland…
Our next show was around dusk at Fuel; a two-star venue where beautiful latinas were dancing to hip-hop downstairs while some rock dude was screaming to a crowd of zero on the upper level. Even the bartender upstairs (who had no customers) looked like he wanted to leave. Once again, Ibeth and I went outside to get people in the door, and in the process befriended the door man. Before I knew it, I heard Luck performing without me, and ran upstairs to a nearly empty room. Ibeth followed with the crowd we’d manufactured and much to our surprise, Cool Nutz Bosko, and DJ Fatboy also slid through to show love. The performance went so well that Luck and I went back and did the first couple of songs again for the folks that had missed it.
Afterward, we used our Animal Farm connections to get us into the Quality Control Showcase. Big shouts to Karim aka Nightclubber Lang for hooking us up with wristbands. I was pleased to witness dope performances by One Be Lo, Nick Javas, Artifacts, DJ Premier and more. Afterwards, Ibeth wanted to take a picture with DJ Premier. I wanted to give him a Luck One press kit. The latter happened, but Ibeth’s camera was out of memory so her picture didn’t. Too bad, so sad Ibeth! I’m just happy you got my Jack in the Box picture!
Later that night we heard rumors of a mobile recording studio that was putting together a SXSW mixtape. So Luck and I found it parked just off the strip and invaded. We were initially met with some resistance, but the slick talking of the Smiff Boys was too much and we ended up dropping a flame Coolax Remix in under 30 minutes. The engineers were impressed by the cool Portland dudes with the efficient studio game, and we ended up having some good convo in the amazingly plush studio bus.
Luck and Ibeth bounced out early and I stayed in the streets with Erik and the Animal Farm contingent for another hour or so. I got back to the telly around 4 am, and set my alarm to wake me up for breakfast at 8 am.
We had no shows planned for Thursday, so I made the early decision that I would be getting decisively throwed. Not to mention it was St. Patrick’s Day. But first, we welcomed The Good Sin (an up and coming Seattle rapper) into our hotel room as his flight had just come in that morning. It was Luck’s idea to have him come stay with us, but he was far from happy when he arrived and the two of us started yammering away while he was trying to sleep. Sin’s bellowing voice and my constant replies of “We didn’t come here to sleep!” certainly didn’t improve his outlook. But soon enough, he realized he couldn’t win and just joined in.
After tee-shirt time, the four of us walked over to the bus stop and caught a bus downtown. I should note, buses in Austin are SLOW. Cheap, but remarkably slow. After zig-zagging through the countryside, we arrived downtown about 90 minutes after we’d boarded.
The drinking started with vodka and cranberries at Peckerheads where we posted up for a while and peeped performances by Emilio Rojas, Mac Miller and Kendrick Lamar. I was constantly attacked for my less-than-favorable views of Miller and Lamar, but I must admit those guys throw great live shows. I’d met Emilio the prior night, but had no familiarity with his music. I’m definitely a fan now though. His song, Fuck My Day Job is the business and I share the sentiment. I also got to meet Paul Cantor, a distinguished writer/producer from New York whom I follow on Twitter and I’m quite the fan of. And this was all during daylight.
By the evening we’d split all split up and most of our phone batteries were dead. I’d left my charger at the telly so I made sure I stayed close to Sin who was doing a good job of keeping his iPhone4 charged up. We ended up at Studio 101’s OnSmash Showcase where we caught up with Logics and watched dozens of performers take the stage. We left for a while after seeing some weak performers, but after losing track of Luck (who’d hit the Kweli/Pharoah Monch performance) and Logics (who’d disappeared off with Freeway) Ibeth, Sin and I went back to the OnSmash Showcase. Great timing on our part, because just as we’d resolved to drink the night away, people started talking about how the skinny white guy on the stage was Paul Wall. We laughed about it, but then we started looking and sure enough, it WAS Paul Wall, and he’d lost about 50 pounds! Skinny Paul rocked the crowd with Drive Slow and Still Tippin’, and afterward, Slaughterhouse came through and delivered a rather lackluster performance.
One of the waitresses found herself taking a liking to me, so I gave her my math and instructions to call me in the morning so she could scoop us from the hotel. I wasn’t trying to catch the bus again…
Sidenote: Sin (who can’t handle them double Henny shots like I do) has some pictures in his camera from that night that I really need to confiscate. Something to do with a Baltimore record label and some really happy girls that like girls. No worries, I behaved myself… just saying.
After the club closed, everyone managed to meet up again and we mobbed up to Jake One’s hotel where we caught cabs back to our hotels.
If Thursday was great, Friday was perfect! I only slept a couple of hours, had no hangover and I was ready to repeat by breakfast time! Shorty from the club didn’t call in the morning, but we hustled ourselves a ride downtown nonetheless.
Once we got downtown, we patronized the Dizzy Rooster where I finally got to see Macklemore perform. If I’d not been told, I would have never guessed that he’d rocked 5 shows the prior day, and the crowd participation he demanded nonetheless was second to no one I’ve EVER seen. Instant fan. Also got to see and meet a Memphis rapper named Skewby who really did his thing, and witnessed a historical DJ set by Mecca from 2DopeBoyz.
Shortly afterward, I headed over to the South x Seattle showcase and got to see Solzilla rock with DJ Nphared. I was excited to see Fatal Lucchiano’s set next, but then got a tweet that Big KRIT was about to rock back at the Dizzy Rooster. Figuring I could catch a Fatal Lucchiano set back home, I ran 10 blocks in my Timbs, only to walk in just as KRIT was walking out. Damn.
Tired and hot, I decided I’d chill with Logics for a bit and wait for Freeway’s set. Just as my stomach started rumbling, Freeway sits in the seat next to me with some great looking pizza. I was kinda mad about that, and would’ve gone to get food for myself if it hadn’t been for the sudden rash of attention I started getting just because I was sitting by a celebrity. Free things started flowing, and suddenly I must’ve seemed like a good guy to network with. So I stuck around, after all, I didn’t go to Texas to eat!
Freeway and I chopped it up a bit, and I also met Shane Eli, whom I clicked with quickly. Also had a dope convo with the folks from MathAddicts clothing and talked about bringing their brand out West. After flooding the stage during Freeway’s performance, I finally caught up with the homie Chase Freeman and we somehow ended up back at Studio 101. This time though, the NW had packed the building: Luck One, Ibeth, Spac3man, Fatal Lucchiano, DJ 100Proof, Alpha, Macklemore, Sin, Leigh, Pomz, SOTA, Logics and probably more that I can’t remember.
They’d already taken over a couch booth and feet tired from 4 days of stomping around, it was decided – without speaking – that this would be where we’d end the night. Waitress from the prior night said hi and started making a half ass excuse, so I told her to go away. About an hour later, we were getting ready to watch J*Davey and one of the hostesses tells us that we have to move because someone had our space reserved. Chase got on his Rosa Parks and peacefully refused to give up his seat by asking a simple question, “How much to buy it back?” A few minutes later, the bottle of Goose on the table was ours and the party officially began. Suddenly, not only were we deep in the club, but we were also the center of attention. Girls were dancing on a table behind us and we started down the path of obscene intoxication. When bottle #1 ran out, I copped another. Had to keep the party crackin’… I took some time out to kick it with the Pac Div guys (who were headlining the show) and I must say they are some good people. By the end of the night, the Northwest contingent (and then some) were standing on the sofa, bar, and a few tables chanting “APM! APM!” (That’s Air Plane Mode for those of you that don’t know.) Pac Div actually stopped their set at one point while everyone stared at us, but then continued when they realized it wasn’t going to stop.
What a night. As the club was shutting down, the waitress managed to find me again and wanted my info again. Imagine that.
I woke up the following morning to texts from the Studio 101 waitress who was apologizing for having to work and not being able to pick us up. However, the good folks from Seattle’s Sportin’ Life Records came through the hotel in the morning and picked us up in their rented 3-row SUV. Big shouts to Devonne and Jen for that.
We went out for lunch, and had an awful service experience at what seemed like a reputable restaurant, but I must say that my chicken and waffles (which took over an hour to get) were excellent. We got downtown super late and caught up with Chase at the Chicago Showcase. Later, Chase, Sin and I went to the Snoop show, but I was unable to get in due to the pints of liquor in my cargo shorts. Eh…
This was probably for the better though since we had a show way off the strip in under an hour. So I hiked that way dolo and arrived in time to watch Illmaculate and DJ Fatboy rip a set. Luck, Gen Erik and I followed and Luck, frustrated by technical difficulties, blasted the crowd with a viscious freestyle. I stayed behind to watch Animal Farm rock afterward, then took the long walk back alone, which I enjoyed with a bottle of Bacardi Light.
All the while, Chase was pinging me, telling me to get back to the Chicago Showcase because DJ Jazzy Jeff was rocking the rooftop party. I stopped on the way as I passed a location where Luck and Ibeth were watching a dope set from Cool Nutz, Dubble 00, DJ Fatboy and Bosko. I took the opportunity to stick my phone on the charger, and then ended up in a super long convo with Cool Nutz. When we’d finished our discussion, I turned around and found my phone missing. Super fail.
So I angrily marched over to Light Bar where the Chi-Town showcase was going down. When I got to the roof everything was winding down and I found Chase bugging out with Devonne and Jen. They excitedly told me how I had just missed a surprise performance from LL Cool J. Mega fail.
And that’s how it went down in Austin for my first trip to SXSW. Tons of fun, sore feet, dozens of new contacts, lots of free stuff and very little sleep. Next year is a go and I hope the NW can make an even bigger impact.
Thanks for rocking with me through this lengthy write-up. I hope you’re thoroughly entertained.