SXSW 2018 – The Recap: Favorites, Surprises, etc.

Posted on by Ricky in Everything, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Starcrawler, March 15, 2018

The 10th Year. That is pretty crazy. At this point, I have spent over 100 days in Austin. I have spent over a month at the Sheraton on 11th. All because of this little tech and music festival in the heart of Texas.

This year was an invigorating year. I don’t know why. Everyone at SXSW just seemed happy to be there. There were the crazy years from like five years ago when Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga and Springsteen were all at SXSW, but really, that was not what SXSW is about. I’m very glad the organizers of this festival has withdrawn from that type of booking. It’s now looking more like what it was when I first started (which probably still looked different than it did when people first started going, but whatevs).

Anyways, we polled the people at the Panic Manual about their experience.

Best Act

Paul: While it was great to revisit old favourites like Gaz Coombes, The Wedding Present and Low (whose Tuesday night set of church organ driven arrangements of their latest material had me feeling like I was stuck inside an episode of Twin Peaks all night – in a good way, of course), I’ll go with London’s Shame as one of the best among the new acts I caught.

Derek: Toss up between Meute and Superorganism. I’m hoping both continue to churn out new stuff.

Gary: Between Nubya Garcia and Albert Hammond Jr, which oddly were among the first and last shows I saw this year.

Ricky: Two acts I really enjoyed (but have already seen before) were Cut Copy and Young Fathers. Those are unfair because I knew what I was getting into. Three acts that made huge impressions on me were Meute, Shame and Gangs of Youth. I’m a sucker for anthem rock and saw Gangs of Youth twice so I might go with them, although Shame was definitely a 1b.

Most Disappointing Act

Paul: LuxDeluxe. They’re talented enough guys, but something about their performance just didn’t gel for me. Points to the singer for dancing so hard though.

Gary: Yes I was paying attention… but I can’t recall anything that was disappointing enough for me to bother to write about it. Even ShitKid was disrespectfully charming. Perhaps the band that me and Paul walked into at the Driskill?

Ricky: Not sure what the hell Porches ever did to give them a closing slot for a day show. Was not interesting at all.

Most Pleasant Discovery

Gary: Gordi. I have always thought that sunset and an inanely-smiling crowd are prerequisites to a wholly entertaining show. Her singing was transporting enough to forget that I was bathed in molecules of rotting hipster garbage from the high-rise next door.

Paul: Meute was the most fun and put on an amazing show, though I’ll also give a shout out to a band on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of mood and energy – Holy Motors from Estonia. Their Mazzy Star gone spooky Spaghetti Western vibe made for a nice, chill break in the middle of Friday afternoon.

Derek: Meute were fantastic. I wouldn’t think that a German techno marching band (complete with uniforms) would be a thing I’d bug out to, but they had an amazing energy that had the crowd moving.

Ricky: Meute was amazing. Everyone has already said that. Aside from them I would say my most pleasant discovery was going to the China showcase, seeing a psych-rock act named Fazi and then watching a bunch of old Chinese people in winter vests dancing it up as if their lives weren’t pinned down by some overwhelming suppressive communist regime or something.

Anything new or notable about SXSW this year?

Paul: The continued downsizing of SXSW from the excess of a few years ago has continued into this year’s edition and it seems to be a good thing – the lack of huge big name headliners means a lot less FOMO and frees you up to explore a bit more.

Another trend I noticed was a large number of great female performers this year, including Starcrawler, Fruit & Flowers, Wye Oak, Anna Burch, Superorganism, Boytoy, Ex-Girlfriend and Rachel Bloom (of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), just to name a few. When I first got to Austin (or maybe it was at the airport before I even left – Monday was a long day) I noticed a woman wearing a t-shirt that said “The present is female” and based on what I took in at SXSW this year, that statement would appear to be true.

Derek: It definitely felt smaller and the lack of huge headliners was noticeable.

Gary: Austin remains as lively and friendly as ever, but it’s an odd mix of care-free and hyper-vigilance that is new. Ever since the truck accident they have been scaling back, first pedestrian barricades on 6th to thin the crowd, then dump-trucks full of sand at intersections as precautions. This year the new fire regulations and enforcement were really thorough, although fewer venues remembered to check my camera bag. Glad to see that even as our world spins out of control, it still needs music.

Ricky: The bands seemed smaller this year. When Rae Sremmurd is the biggest act, you know they have scaled it back a bit. I really liked that. Also, they were a lot stricter with capacity levels. Often times you would line up to get in to find out its only half full.

All in all, an amazing year. Here’s a spotify playlist of some of the bands we saw.

SXSW Food Report: BBQ, Taco, Japanese Food, Vegan?

Posted on by Ricky in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 10.37.00 PM

Here we go. No intro needed. Only reporting on new foods.

Kent Black’s BBQ
Kent Black’s BBQ was in San Marcos. A 3rd generator pitmaster, Kent Black’s BBQ was a vital stop for us to fuel up as we drove from San Antonio to Austin. The BBQ was average, I would say. I ordered brisket and pork ribs. The pork ribs were better, the brisket would have benefitted from a bit more fatty presence, but the seasoning was nothing to write home about. What was actually really good was a bit of beef rib we got to try after we had ordered (the manager walked by and gave us a sample). That was melt in the mouth with the right kind of smokiness good. Maybe we just ordered the wrong thing.

If anything, it was better than Rudy’s which was the place we stopped at in Houston last year.

Pueblo Viejo
This place had PHENOMENAL breakfast tacos. It made me regret settling for shitty free breakfast tacos. We went here twice and next year I’ll go there like five times probably. Cooked to order, their secret is their tortillas, which they fry up a little on the grill as well, giving it a nice crispy texture. The sauces accompanying the tacos were also flavor bombs.

I had
Taco Don Chago – Beans, cheese, bacon and avocado (with egg added)
Taco Bueno – Egg, potato, chorizo and cheese
Taco Al Pastor – Marinated pork with pineapple and fresh onion and cilantro and a lime wedge

The queso was also very good. It was also pretty cheap ~3-4 USD a taco. A great discovery.

Bodhi Viet Vegan
I know it sounds scandalous to eat vegan food in Austin, but after a few days of heavy heavy food, veggies and vegan sound like a great idea. This Viet food truck is run by buddhist nuns and volunteers and the profit goes to some temple. Best of all, it was by far the cheapest bang for your buck food truck available.

I had the Bun which is vietnamese vermicelli served with salad, cucumber, mint, jalapeno, pickled carrot, green onion, and a golden fried roll. The meat substitute was some sort of bean curd and was tasty. I think it was served with a fish sauce variant. The vermicelli was as you expect, refreshing and clean. The kicker here was the addition of the jalapeno flavor. While some viets give you those thai chillies in the bun sometimes, the addition of the jalapeno actually added quite a layer of complexity to this dish I did not expect. A nice texas touch.

Texas Chili Parlor
We went to Texas Chili Parlor because we were intrigued by Tex-Mex, it was close to our hotel, had decent ratings and also I vaguely remember Anthony Bourdain went there. Upon getting there, Derek was immediately pleased by the cheapness of the menu. “This is what we get for leaving the core!” we thought, as this restaurant wasn’t really downtown. The look of the restaurant had all the aesthetics you would expect:

Lunch at the Texas Chili Parlor

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Yet, when the food came, it was a bit disappointing. The Chili Con Carne had some flavors, but the quality of the meat was not that high. I opted for a enchilada / tamale / chili combo, but had problems deciphering the enchilada from the tamale. I guess you get what you paid for.

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 10.48.53 PM

Kemuri Tatsu-Ya
Man this might be my favorite place to eat in Austin. Forget the bbq’s (I know that sounds preposterous) this Texas based Japanese izakaya was ahhhhmaaazzing. They basically took texas bbq concepts and applied it to Japanese izakaya food and the recipes were great. Here is what we ordered:

“Hot Pocketz” – Gouda/Brisket
Imagine a pizza pocket with smoked brisket inside. I would be 30 pounds heavier as a child if this was served to me.

Monk fish Liver
This is like Fish foie gras. It’s like fishy butter that just melts in your mouth. It’s a strong but not too strong umami bomb. The first hit is the best, as the flavor just pops in your mouth and you get this dorky look on your face.

Shio Kara (Squid marinated in it’s own guts)
Looks like something Quentin Tarantino would inspire. I think this was raw squid that was somehow marinated in it’s guts or something. But the end result was a SUPER squidy tasting squid. Most squids have their taste diluted because its usually deep fried or infused with citrus, this is just real hard shit. It’s straight out of the ocean, kinda has a shrimp/squid paste kinda taste. If you are asian, you probably know what I mean.

Chicharon, Thigh and Scallion Yakitori
Charcoaled and delicious, you can never actually go wrong when you fry up some chicken skin. The thighs were juicy and this was just nice.

Smoked Fish Collar
Smoked BBQ Eel
These smoked dishes had the Texas touch. Fish collar is a part that is popular in asia, but I’m not sure it has caught on here. It’s the part near the gills and has a nice texture and is flavorful. Eel is eel. These things tasted amazing. I assume they were smoked in the same smoker that smokes brisket cos the meat on these aquatic animals had smokey mesquite or hickory or whatever wood kind of taste infused into it. Combine the flavoring from the smokiness with the cooked to perfection tenderness of the fish and you have yourself a magical dish. I literally laughed when I ate it, it was so good.

Finally, we finished off with
Texas Ramen
Beef Broth, Brisket, pickled mustard greens, egg, nori

BBQ Tsukemon
kotteri dipping broth

A Texas take on two types of Japanese noodles. My texas ramen had a wonderful smokey broth which was unlike anything I have tasted from a broth perspective. It was accompanied by a nice piece of brisket, chewy noodles and pickled veggies. Combined it all, you had this weird concotion of smokey and sour flavors, which was quite different for a ramen but works somehow. It also came with smoked jalapenos which were very good.

Gary ordered bbq tsukemon, which is essentially a concentrated broth that you dip your noodles in. The idea is that the broth coats the noodles as you dip it in and its so flavorful you don’t need more then what the noodle collects.

The Tsukemon had an outrageously intense flavor that was delicious. Gary didn’t know it, but when he went to the bathroom i definitely helped myself to some of that dipping sauce. Once again, it was smokey, but also rich with beef flavors from what I assume was brisket fat. It was just a powerful but welcome punch to your palette.

Anyways, that place was amazing. It’s nowhere near downtown Austin but you need to go there.

SxSW Film Review: Science Fair (Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster)

Posted on by Gary in Movies, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment


If I had wanted to start my scientific career with… correction: if I had known that people still consider it meaningful to launch one’s scientific career by going through a pageantry similar to the Westminster Dog Show, I could have marched on and decimated my cynical optimism much more effectively and quit a long time ago.

For those of you unfamiliar with Science Fair, the International Science and Engineering Fair, run by Intel, is an annual convention that plucks kids around the world, together with their nerdy chemical-volcano-equivalent and drop them in front of the relentlessly all-seeing eyes of Sauron. Um, I mean, real expert judges in their respective STEM fields.

I was of course only half joking about the LOTR analogy. Pragmatically, everyone knows that the Science Fair is akin to a gateway-to-Harvard lottery. Once you complete the task, the world is your oyster, and your life will never be the same. Only differences being that you shoulder only your future; an unspeakable evil will not stop taking over both your mind and the world if/when you fail. And like Mario, you have a few tries. And to be perfectly blunt, no one “sciences fairly” at science fairs, either. At least, not if you wish to place or win awards. I would much rather a PhD helms the science program in my school, instead of running a program that tutors elite students to specifically win science fairs. Yet the disparity between true experts and a teenage prodigy can still be devastatingly vast. A unprepared, raw experience can still recall being chased by the Predator, or cowering like the lamb in the jaws of the Jurassic Park T-Rex. So, kids do need guidance – but is it worth the cost of everything else?

All these conflicting lines of thoughts are what make this film so fascinating to watch. Co-directed by a past participant of the Fair (Costantini), Science Fair is an uproarious, hilarious, naive and yet aching look at how we glory in our own (apparent) success in preparing the next generation for the most technologically advanced society humankind has ever seen. While there are really no surprises given the current sociopolitical context, I won’t give anything away about the narrative, except to say that it is the wunderkind characters themselves who really drive the film. How can you not be drawn into the youthful energy focused 123% on curing malaria one moment, 314.159% on head-banging to trap music the next, while holding a religious certainty of your unique significance in the universe? Ostensibly, the film wants to promote the continuation of the Science Fair, as Intel has been decreasing its funding recently. What we should also do, besides rushing to watch this documentary, is to re-live and reflect on whether it is the best way to promote scientific learning. Just remember – your tube-full of all-3-meals each bedridden day at 98 could come with a side of shitty rave music (or perhaps we would all be reprogrammed to love rave music). Shudders all-round.

SxSW Review: Gordi, March 16, Blackheart

Posted on by Gary in Music, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Gordi, March 16, 2018

Listening to the demo from Sophie Payten, AKA Gordi, you may jump to the conclusion that Gordi relies on a lot of voice modulations and overlay. And you may then surmise she was trying to cover something with technology. I am glad that I was of course completely wrong on this count. Having listened to her live, one would have to be a deaf, luddite curmudgeon to insist otherwise.

While not a soprano that would wow at first blare, her contra-alto is forthright and firm. Coupled with similarly solid and varied songwriting and a slightly stern yet forgiving stage presence, her performance at Blackheart was a convincingly complete package. I daresay no one expected to be transfixed in a sandy pit as she worked through most of the tracks from her 2017 album Reservoir. And yet there we were, fighting the oddly melancholy and triumphant melody with what lingered from the last. If that is what she can do with an outdoor set for 80 people at 5pm over a not insignificant hint of refuse wafting through the air from the adjacent apartment, imagine what she could sound like in the Presbyterian or Moody Theater.

I find “Can We Work It Out” and “Bitter End” to be two stand-outs. Check out the “Bitter End” video for some normal feelings – I find it comforting that these feelings still resonate with 24 year olds in this day and age.

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