Sunday, March 20, 2011 at 10:52 a.m.
It was only because we both left his show early and in a huff that I got to shake hands with Tyler the Creator, the most interesting man in Austin this week.
In case you're not following South by Southwest buzz closely, Tyler is the face of the festival's most-hyped act, LA-based rap collective Odd Future -- "Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All," if you want to be technical about it. During a showcase hosted by Billboard, his group's last show of what's been a very busy festival for them, Tyler found the crowd of industry types assembled to be less than sufficiently "hype." So he led his group off stage after only about 15 minutes, apologizing to the excited fans up front and cursing about the barely-there gawkers in the back.
"Fuck Billboard, I don't even read that shit," he said.
Tyler later backpedaled a bit on Twitter: "Billboard Is Cool. That Show Was Stupid. Thanks To The Fans And Niggas That Was There In The Front. Wasn't Billboards Fault, FUCK THAT CLUB."
This sort of thing shouldn't really surprise any SXSW crowds -- even if Greg Kot from the Chicago Tribune got his panties in a twist over it. Earlier in the evening, a last-minute stage switcheroo at the Mess With Texas party almost caused a riot, and the group took full advantage of the overflowing enthusiasm when they did get on stage, whipping the crowd into a fury.
They might be a hip-hop act, but Odd Future is much more Sex Pistols punk than P. Diddy party. They're young and angry, with a flair for grisly rhymes that've had them mislabeled as horrorcore by some writers. That fierce rage a big part of its stage show -- maybe more so than any other mainstream rap act in recent history. Even when Odd Future is ostensibly having a blast, as they were at that raucous free party early in the evening, there's a strong undercurrent of anger in everything the group does. Tyler, particularly, barks his verses with a furious staccato that makes Weezy's flow look smooth. So who should be surprised when a crowd of industry types staring at their iPhones fails to win his favor? After cursing out both the soundguy and the passive fans in the back, Odd Future bounced.
I couldn't blame them because I was about to leave, too. At that point, I'd already made my way to the back of the club, having also been turned off by the crowd. I wasn't concerned about the hypness -- I am, after all, the exact sort of jaded industry fuck guys like the Screeching Weasel singer hate performing for at these things -- but instead unsettled by how the mostly-white crowd related to Odd Future's angry music. Something about wealthy white yuppies laughing and smiling as black teenagers pour out their rage at an unfair world through hip-hop didn't sit well with me. I get it, concerts are generally supposed to be fun affairs, but when music is that raw and angry and coming from a minorities there's something unseemly about white people getting a big kick out of it. Odd Future's showcase turned into something like a Pimp 'N' Ho party for the NPR set, and I wanted no part of it.
I was a little sick standing behind (edit: former as of this month) Los Angeles Times music critic Ann Powers -- she knows next to nothing about hip-hop and mostly ignored it on her pages despite representing a city with an incredible scene, including this group -- as she laughed and smiled, drinking everything in.
One of the Odd Future guys looking out at the bemused crowd put it best: "Ain't Shit Funny."
Shortly thereafter, they bounced, giving the crowd a big fuck-you and heading for the door.
The response from people like Powers? She gave a 10-second review of the show on NPR, calling the group "very insolent," and saying, "I thought they needed to go to bed without their supper."
Those are interesting words coming from a wealthy white lady who should, presumably, take this group as seriously as anyone considering she's the big-time music critic at the daily newspaper serving their community. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but treating Tyler and his crew like "insolent" children or, worse, a joke, makes me queasy.
Odd Future is an interesting phenomenon -- I saw them twice and wasn't blown away, so I'm no fanboy -- and the most interesting thing about it is how angry, aggressive and alienated these kids are. I wanted to hear what they had to say about their experiences growing up in a society where the cards are stacked against them -- it seemed like I might have been in the minority at the Billboard show, which is why I was in position to leave when the group announced its early exit.
And so it was that I caught the Odd Future guys in the alley around back.
I stopped to thank Domo Genesis for reppin' an Arizona Diamondbacks hat on stage since it's been a rough festival for the Grand Canyon State. When Tyler walked by I figured I'd give him a little encouragement, assuming maybe he was bummed to have such a shitty show to end his week
"Hey man, go have an awesome night, you guys earned it," I said. "Sorry that crowd sucked -- you had 'em going crazy earlier. Don't let it get you down."
He was far less upset than I was, it turned out. He shook my hand, gave a little smile and hurried off with a "Naw, man, I'm good!"
To me that suggests, Odd Future played people like Kot and Powers pretty well at the Billboard show -- they got some street cred and a little extra ink through a bit of controversy. People who like what they do will only like it more because people like Powers can't relate to it.
The joke is on Powers and her bosses if they want the people of Los Angeles to think of her as any sort of expert on the most important music anyone in her city is making right now.
And that, actually, is funny.
Other random notes from Austin...
- I saw a lot of music Saturday -- and walked a long way to do it.
- Foster the People killed it at noon inside the convention center. What a great band. Be sure to catch them in Tempe tomorrow.
- The Meat Puppets were really good at Waterloo Records on the far end of Sixth Street. I especially liked how they opened with this blog's titular track, "Up On The Sun."
- I hoofed it waaaay down First Street to see the River Jones label showcase at a Thai restaurant. Decent food.
- I caught the first hour of the big Bright Eyes show at a park. It was more like a "real" concert than any of the short sets I saw all week -- beginning with a pro-rock style spoken word introduction about Native Americans and continuing through a bass solo in the first song. I really enjoyed hearing "Four Winds."
- Every local band but Kinch had already fled Texas. Kinch was good at their showcase but not nearly as good as they had been at the Common Wall Media party the day before.
- Joey Cape disappointed me by not having a meltdown like other Fat Wreck Chords artists have done at SXSW.
- Jukebox the Ghost sounded bigger than any three-piece I've heard in awhile -- partly their sound, partly the acoustics in the church where I saw them.