Technically, the South by Southwest Music Festival started on Monday, but on Tuesday, festival organizers presented the opening party at the Main. The annual event is an opportunity for programmers to highlight artists they can’t wait to share with the masses. The three acts that performed captured the essence of what makes the festival so special: it’s international, it’s edgy and it mashes together genres and styles into an incredible musical free-for-all.
Where else would you find a brutally aggressive (but adorably dressed) all-girl punk band from Japan, a darkwave dance collective from the Democratic Republic of Congo and an anarchic trap breakout from Maryland on the same bill?
With colorful vintage-cut dresses, well-coiffed locks and flawless makeup, the women of Otoboke Beaver don the image of airbrushed perfection that characterizes Asian pop groups. Then, the moment they begin to play, they brilliantly subvert it. Vocalist, Accorinrin sneered, snarled and screeched into the mic, while the band at her back unleashed a frenzy of furious noise. Guitarist, Yoyoyoshie gleefully abused her six string, pounding out maniacal licks with a trickster grin. She tossed herself into the crowd twice, kicked her microphone into the audience and took off her shoe and screamed into it before the set was up. The ladies are punk to the core and the crowd was there for it.
They were just as swept up in the riveting dance music of Kokoko! The band hails from Congolese capital Kinshasa, where they built themselves a studio and made instruments from found objects. At the SXSW showcase they played a percussion rig made of dish soap bottles and another one made of pots, pans and auto parts. They had homemade string instruments and a drum kit stuck together with duct tape and they used them to make urgent and powerful dance music propelled by hypnotic polyrhythms.
Though they didn’t speak much English, language wasn’t a barrier. They sang, danced and lifted spirits with the intensity of their art.
Rico Nasty closed the party out. She hit the stage to the rugged raw 2017 hti “Key Lime OG” with the defiant swagger of a soon-to-be-star and the crowd went wild.
Though she’s a rapper, Rico brings an unbridled punk rock energy to her sets. She whipped through a string of club bangers. A mosh pit broke out on “Trust Issues,” “Slap a (expletive)” was a full-throated shout-along and “Rage” was a massive primal scream.
Like most rappers of her generation, Rico relies on a backing vocal track more than we old school heads would like, but she has the charisma and commanding stage presence to bring a ruckus.
She’s about to break, and festival organizers want you to remember a hard-hitting SXSW week helped put her over the top.