SXSW – Freakout Pt. 1

Words by Jaimie Ahlquist
Photos by Luke Borsten, Polaroids by Skyler Locatelli

It is March and the music-media monster better known as SXSW has descended on Austin, Texas once again. The 2-week event transforms the streets of the beloved city into a buzzing hive of vagabond shredders and corporate agendas alike. The energy bubbles up and out, from the top of the W hotel down the river to the DIY dirt courtyard of Electric Church. For many attendees, it is a pretty penny that grants you access to endless music discovery. But for many artists it is a slog of free gigs and hopeful networking. The magic of SXSW really unfolds when you find yourself stumbling into the taco joint or house you were just about to pass by. You hear a tune that flicks your ear, turns your head, and draws you in to a warm but unfamiliar place where you find yourself bobbing away with a new set of friends, and giving the bands the love and energy they need. It is this sort of experience that makes the haul to Austin a worthy adventure every time.

Enter Freakout Records, a Seattle-based label born out of small-scale locals festival going into its 7th year. The festival is held every November, finding its home in the streets and venues of the Ballard Neighborhood. This year they hosted 50 bands from all over in a menagerie of genres. For the second year in a row, Freakout returned to SXSW to host an official showcase with a wonderfully eclectic lineup. If you were one of the lucky ones to find yourself on Rainey Street, an old neighborhood turned bar scene just a few blocks east on downtown, the Thursday night showcase at Javelina Bar promised bands from across the US, South of the border and across the pond.

The evening started off with local band The Mammoths, a crew of close friends that delivered soulful bluesy roots-rock that got the crowd swinging right off the bat. As good buddies to the label, The Mammoths frequent Seattle on their extensive tours.

Photo by Luke Borsten @rad_infinitum

The room was full and warmed up, perfectly prepared for the epic Albuquerque team Prism Bitch. Each in their own signature mono-colored adidas track suits, they became shredding acrobats on stage, prompting everyone to get into their own crazy groove.

Photo by Luke Borsten @rad_infinitum

After a cardio frenzy, the crowd warmly welcomed Mexico City’s Carrion Kids as they stepped up for their first show ever (!!!) in the United States. For many in the room it was a moment of pride and gratitude to celebrate a group of kids who have recently begun to experience more and more hostility with the escalating political and culture climate toward our southern neighbors. After facing harassment at the border and making it by unscathed but not unshaken, their set became a triumphant moment of love and celebration that is so accessible through music. The relationship with Mexico continues to grow deeper as Freakout Fest hosts a Latinx stage, most recently curated by KEXP’s DJ Chilly. Lookout for Carrion Kids and other friends rocking out this November!

With hearts full and muscles stretched, the showcase reached its peak as Seattle band Smokey Brights danced onto the stage. The Freakout label staple rises to any occasion to bring so much love and energy to their sets. The room was packed to the gills while the crowd let out whoops and wails in anticipation. Smokeys carried everyone into another funky dimension with a handful of brand-new songs and Freddie Mercury approved moves, a truly unforgettable performance that busted the barriers of the modest stage.

Photo by Luke Borsten @rad_infinitum

Just when everybody thought they couldn’t handle any more magic, label champions Acid Tongue dove onto the floor, pulling the crowd back in with their swingin’ garage bangers seamlessly backed by the Carrion Kids. With their latest album, The Night We Broke Our Lease dropping this month, new loves were created and old ones fortified by a mix of fresh tracks and steadfast sing-alongs. Frontman Guy Keltner, a partner in Freakout Records, never ceases to bring the fire and swoon the crowd with psychedelic musings. They finished the set by lassoing some Mammoths up onto the stage for doubled up keys and dueling guitars. A tambourine found its way into the hands of Freakout co-founder Skyler Locatelli, a cameo that is becoming a favored tradition among the loyal show-goers.

Photo by Luke Borsten @rad_infinitum

To ease the night into a reluctant goodbye, London based post-punk group Warmduscher, a love child of members from Fat White Family and Paranoid London, guided the crowd of seasoned veterans and liberated college kids into meditative head banging.

Lets just say… last call was more of a recommendation for some 😉

As music festivals and trendsetting events are popping up like wildflowers everywhere, it can be hard to decide where to put your energy. The Freakout Showcase gave a taste of what the label is capable of on the road, creating magical experiences in a variety of spaces and to fresh audiences.

Next stop, Marfa.

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