Friday before SXSW music starts, and I’m already drowning in stress. There are time tables to be made, flight schedules to coordinate with arriving friends and about three and a half million other things. On top of this, the venue for our SXSW kickoff show cancels last minute. Two days before the event. Everything else would have to wait. I won’t accept failure as an option, so I start hitting up everyone I know in this city with a house to inquire about throwing a show at their abode. No one bites. Until I take a last ditch Hail Mary and ask the dude who had just thrown the Off Top kickback the night before. Like the genuine homie he is, Payton Long offers up his house for a successive round two rager at his beautiful house right off of the north side of the Drag. I can sleep easy now.
March 13 11 a.m.
With a sky as blue and sheer as a piece of sea glass with not a blemish to be found, I knew it was going to be a good day as I’m rolling down Oltorf, heading through the Bouldin watershed to pick up some last minute gear for the show. Two 15” Yorkville PA’s later, I’m booking it to the Party Barn on north Guad to pick up a keg, as is essential for any proper SXSW kickoff event. Rolling in fashionably late, we get to Payton Long’s place, a not so subtle nod to modernity with a sprawling front yard and plenty of floor to ceiling glass. The Grand Le Mans is parked on the driveway, half symbolizing a “do not park” sign, half showcasing the classic lines of the producers vehicle.
The keg is tapped and people are trickling in one after the other as Casual T throws down a set for the first hour of festivities. It’s a true day show vibe: sparse crowd, close knit huddle of peeps sitting under the awning, talking anticipation for the next week, reflecting on the year as a whole and more or less just straight chillin’. Payton casually descends from upstairs, sits in his chair and sparks a joint to mellow into the afternoon that is approaching steadily. I act as bartender for a bit, mixing up margaritas for those who are interested, perpetuating the lazy Sunday vibes anyway I can.
The second producer to roll through is Yoshinobu. You probably heard his “Hotrine Bring” remix he collabed with Graves on over the summer. Yoshi takes a few minutes to set up his interface and APC 40, and then the house starts jamming. More people start to trickle in, but not too many as to make it feel crowded or hype. There was a certain exhibit vibe to the day, with people slowly perusing through the large, white walled living room to listen to music and out again to talk and chain smoke in the yard. It felt like a true exhibition of the producer’s talents, each and every one with a different method of playing their music. One grows tired of seeing the same old song and dance of a DJ rolling up with his USB stick, plugging into a pair of CDJ’s and just going for an hour. The day saw a plethora of gear that would make any gearhead (such as myself) perk up. From Yoshi’s APC 40, to the Roland samplers used by the Always Proper boys, diversity was the name of the game at Couchfest.
Now so far, the day has been stressful as hell. But man I owe it to The Deli and Lungfulls of Always Proper for setting my nerves at ease. With the sun teasing its departure behind the ever present tower cranes in west campus, the boys set up their array of Roland 404’s, threw up their hand shot VHS visuals, and the vibes were oozing from this point on. Always Proper is a killer hip-hop collective that found its home in Austin (thank goodness), and its making moves. The roster is stacked, and the most intriguing thing about the collective is the absolute diversity between the artists. Both producers that were present for the event had their own sound, their own technique, their own favorite effects on their sample pads. The Deli does not play tracks you’ve heard before. He’s not going to be dropping a Metro beat or the new Kanye. The same can be said for Lungfulls. I hate to say it, but hip-hop has become boring for me. Beats all sound the same, rappers get lazy or don’t give a fuck. But meeting the people I have in this city in the last few months has galvanized my faith in the local hip-hop community, and given me hope for the future of this cities rising hip-hop scene. And I am fairly certain that our friends at Always Proper will be instrumental in that scene.
With the sun almost waving its last goodbye, the nighttime portion of the event kicks in, and finally people start rolling in steadily. The house is starting to bump, and I start inching up the decibels a few cents. The maestro at this point is Mason Flynt, and if you don’t know Mason Flynt, start your research today because after indulging in a two-hour music nerd out session with the kid, I’m here to tell you he might be one of the driving forces behind the resurgence of the Austin hip hop scene. Former student of Payton Long, he grew up in this city since day one and knows his shit, so don’t question him. He also happened to open for XXYYXX a couple weeks ago, so he’s not messing around. Casually perched behind his S4, with a king sized spliff between his lips, Mason more than set the vibe for the night time, he dropped it like an iron curtain. This may have been the point where the 2,000 watt subwoofer went out, but alas, I can’t be totally sure. I promise I’m not blaming anyone.
At this point, the night is finally coming together. The legend himself Tim Curry (producer not the actor) even makes an appearance at one point, giving the party a sense of exclusivity. Andy, also known as Froogle is taking to the decks at this time, setting up his Pioneer controller and getting the future sounds off and running. Throughout his performance, he had to be one of the most enjoyable people to watch. He would not have looked out of place on the Ultra main stage, with his enthusiasm and constant movement, it’s hard not to crack a smile and jump around for at least a few seconds after watching him. “I just sit in my room all day listening to this music over and over so it’s really cool to be able to play it for other people,” Andy said as I inquire post performance about where his energy comes from. Props.
Booze is nowhere near gone, people are still showing up, and every ounce of stress I had about the day is flittering away, because the man of the hour, hell the man of the day Payton Long plugs in his Z2 and does what he does best. I stood back and watched, analyzing the scene for a second, and it was just too surreal. Payton can do his thing wonderfully in any state of mind, but watching him be just a bit tipsy, surrounded by his friends, just playing his favorite tracks was the most genuine I’d ever seen the guy. Here he is, his career about to blossom, with contracts and offers and checks flying by so quick I bet he can barely blink. But at his core, he’s a straight homie. In that moment, it wasn’t about any money, or any track that needed to be mastered and sent off to Atlantic, it was about Payton and his friends celebrating their hard work, celebrating all they accomplished when they were laughed at and told they couldn’t. There is a brief snapshot I have stuck in my mind, of Payton bouncing with a beer in one hand, a friend on the other arm, and everyone in the living room bouncing with a smile on their face, just reveling in the moment. If I had to sum up Couchfest and this day with Payton Long, I wouldn’t have written a single word, I would have simply posted that snapshot.
Things wind down with a cypher, and everyone starts to disperse. As the equipment is being packed up and furniture rearranged, a select few retire to the forbidden upstairs area and Payton’s room, where talks and post-show festivities ensue. After networking for awhile and becoming friends with Chris Bishop (of The Bishops), I decide to head out and go to Empire, to take a load off and prepare for the hell week that was about to start in the form of SXSW. Oh, and I casually ran into Ghostface and Raekwon backstage and watched them get called up to rap C.R.E.A.M. But that’s for another day.
(All photos courtesy of Micky Benthall)