March 18, 2016

SXSW Thursday: Tony Visconti, Don Cheadle, Kool Keith and More



Photo Credit: Gordon Lamb

Kool Keith

Things started picking up nicely after Wednesday’s disappointing experiences. The keynote from legendary producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex, et al) was relatively polemic-free and mostly focused on his own musical development. He did impart a sharp, noted instruction for record labels, though. “Look for the freaks. Don’t stay in Hollywood,” he said. Not bad advice for all the tiny label chasing sounds, too.

Notable music and cultural critic Jessica Hopper spoke deliberately and instructively on the issues of women and harassment in all areas of the music industry. She made a specific point about women simply giving up and quitting music altogether out of sheer exhaustion from everything being a constant, belittling battle. “What would the music world look like if women weren’t dropping out in the numbers that they do?” she asked.

Actor and director Don Cheadle was part of a great panel concerning his new film Miles Ahead. SXSW is great at archiving video of all the panels presented, and I know I’ve got to go back and watch it, because there was so much information I could barely retain a third of it. Suffice it to say Cheadle had pretty much unfettered access to a treasure trove of material provided by the Davis family, as well as their complete blessing.



Photo Credit: Gordon Lamb

Tony Visconti

The Fader hosted the 15th installment of its Fader Fort, which always combines a good mix of established hip hop and indie rock along with up and comers. Sliding in a little late on Thursday, I was able to catch sets by Neon Indian, Atlanta-via-Mississippi rap duo Rae Sremmurd (who gave a vocal shout-out to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the middle of performing “Up Like Donald Trump”) and a DJ set by Mexican collective N.A.A.F.I.

My old favorite Guts Club played a touching set courtesy of Athens’ Team Clermont. Jewish rapper Kosha Dillz hosted the best international bill of the night, with artists from the U.S., Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel and Ethiopia. Tel Aviv’s Tesha channeled Kate Bush through her laptop and MIDI controller. Houston’s Fat Tony played an expansively killer set that displayed a refreshing and disarming amount of male sensitivity and vulnerability for a rapper. Dillz himself was beside himself happy as host, and his goofy songs are easy on the ears at first, but then his flow kicks into high gear and it’s obvious he could hang with most anyone in battle.

The crown jewel of the night, courtesy of Dillz, was the godfather of weirdo rap, Kool Keith (aka Dr. Octagon). Running only slightly late (an honest miracle for any hip hop show, much less one during SXSW), Keith took the stage with a sequined scarf covering his bucket hat and never took off his sunglasses. Smiling all the way through, he never missed a beat or cue. It was fairly obvious that a good amount of the crowd had no idea what to do with him, but the old-school fans stayed packed at the front.

Austin has a strict 2 a.m. cut off time for live music—if your venue is one to follow the rules, that is. And this night’s venue was definitely doing that. They tried three different times to get Kool Keith to stop talking into the mic, but he kept going on and freestyling about taking a Greyhound bus to Boston, lying on the floor, whatever. It’s not so much he didn’t want the night to end, but possibly he didn’t know what time it was at all because, dammit, he’s Kool Keith and he’s timeless (i.e., without time). Eventually he gave up the mic, waved goodbye and the night was over on a perfect high note.