Every year, my favorite show from SXSW is a show I didn’t plan on seeing. That’s what’s really magical about the annual clusterfuck/music festival in Austin, TX: There are so many bands playing — everywhere you go — that you can’t help but catch sets by numerous bands you’ve never even heard of. And, invariably, it’s one of those bands who totally blow me away every year.
This year it was Dustin Wong, formerly of Ponytail but now a solo artist with two albums out on Thrill Jockey. Sure, I caught sets by Youth Lagoon, Grimes, Coasting, White Fence, Schoolboy Q, and many, many more, and many of them blew me away, too. But perhaps precisely because I wasn’t expecting Dustin Wong, I was the most fascinated by his set.
It was the second night of The Austin Imposition, the unofficial showcase put on by Impose Magazine. I’d played a set with Al Lover and was outside enjoying a few beers with my Austin friends. Then Al came out and said, “Dude, you should come inside. You’re going to want to see this.”
How right Al was. But it wasn’t just because it was unexpected: fascination really is the word for my response to Dustin Wong’s live show. With just his Telecaster and an arc of pedals at his shoeless feet, Dustin Wong built gorgeous, triumphant, epic post rock songs one loop at a time. He’d play a guitar line, loop it, then bend over, tweak the envelope filter or the delay speed, play another line and loop that, all with such precision and yet such incredible feeling that I honestly sat there thinking, “I have never, ever seen anything like this before.”
I normally pride myself on not being easily impressed, so you can rest assured that I really mean that. Wong would pile as many as 10 or so loops on top of each other, and instead of some kind of sprawling mess, he’d have these tightly composed songs that were just stunning. The post rock dork in me was hooked, as was the guitarist fond of looping myself. Technically and compositionally, I was thinking, “This is the shit, right here.”
To me, this kind of serendipitous discovery is what SXSW is supposed to be all about. Don’t let the marketing bonanza that is the official festival fool you: the soul of SXSW is alive and well.
Check out Dustin Wong’s track “Pink Diamond” below, and catch him tonight at the Hemlock Tavern.