SXSW Music: Odd Future steal the show
There are some shows which are destined to live long in the memory. Over the weekend at SXSW, Los Angeles teen tearaways Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All came to town and played a handful of gigs which were …
There are some shows which are destined to live long in the memory. Over the weekend at SXSW, Los Angeles teen tearaways Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All came to town and played a handful of gigs which were chaotic, messy, riotous and, above all else, downright thrilling. Yep, gigs to live long in the memory.
They came to Texas with a lot of people wondering what the hell OFWGKTA were all about. After the shows they played over the last few days, no-one is in any doubt about what’s going on here. If the Wu-Tang Clan provided SXSW with a storied vision of hip-hop’s past at their St Patrick’s Night show at the Austin Music Hall, Odd Future are about, well, hip-hop’s future. And that future is swag.
At this stage, many readers will be familiar with the backstory, but a recap for those at the back. An eleven-strong bunch of teen rappers, producers, skatekids, video makers and troublemakers from LA, Odd Future came out swinging in 2010 with a fabulous series of free, self-released albums by such cast members as Tyler, the Creator (whose next album “Goblin” will be coming out on XL), MellowHype (Left Brain and Hodgy Beats have now hooked up with Fat Possum) and Earl (my favourite of the Odd Future releases to date comes from the kid who has now seemingly disappeared).
Many albums are given away for free, but what made the Odd Future mass giveaway stand tall was that the material was really, really strong. Yes, many will find the XXX-rated rhymes to be rough, ferocious and offensive and there are surely a slew of moral outrage opinion pieces to come provoked by those lyrics. The beats, though, are low-slung, dramatic and deep, with the Odd Future members (and especially in-house producer and sole female member Syd) displaying a lot of vision and imagination when it comes to what they’re doing on record.
It was a show-stealing performance on the Late Night With Jimmy Fallon show a month ago which sent the Odd Future buzz rocketing out of the underground. Suddenly, it was no longer just clued-in music fans and hip-hop bloggers who were wondering what happened to Earl or why the group hated Steve Harvey so much. More mainstream coverage followed, including the cover of music industry mag Billboard.
The Billboard piece also introduced some of the behind-the-scene players, such as co-manager Christian Clancy, a former marketing dude at Interscope who had worked on campaigns with Eminem. Clancy contributed an interesting sidebar to the feature on how Odd Future represent a new model for the music business: “what’s the new model? Find authentic artists and let them be themselves, let them create the music and art they want to. If it’s coming from a real place, it will stick – maybe not immediately – but if you hang on long enough and keep exposing it in an organic way, kids who feel the same will slowly find it. Emotion attracts emotion…Nothing will ever be more important than staying authentic. And in today’s world, I guess that is odd.”
It’s hard to know if the crowds who turned out for the Odd Future shows at the Scoot Inn (where the crowd bumrushed the venue), the Fader Fort (where a mass beer and water fight broke out between band and audience), the Mess With Texas party (5,000 kids going nuts) and the Vice bash were attracted by “authenticity”, but they definitely wanted to check out the buzz. Few could have been disappointed because these shows were real slam-dunks, hugely punk rock performances where stagediving, chaos, broken noses, broken cameras and mayhem were the norm.
These shows were exciting because you genuinely didn’t know what the lads onstage were going to do next and no other act in the SXSW bunch demonstrated as much exhilirating energy. But the shows were also exciting for reasons other than watching a bunch of kids get their kicks. Odd Future’s music is genuinely on another level. This is hip-hop rebooted and retooled by kids who are smart enough to know that the sound needs a new lease of life and a kick up the backside. Watching people go buckwild to tunes like “French” and “Sandwitches” truly was something to behold.
And this is where it gets interesting. If hip-hop has lost its creative way of late, Odd Future are pitching a whole new direction. Forget the bling and the shiny beats. Forget the hit tunes which sound like candyfloss and the formulaic videos. Forget what hip-hop has become over the last decade. Think of what hip-hop might be if Odd Future have their way. The reason they resonate with so many people is that they remind us of how downright awesome hip-hop once was as a form. Odd Future may not exactly be groundbreaking, but they certainly shake things up, something which is badly needed. I would imagine that some of hip-hop’s creative permanent establishment at looking at the Odd Future rise with bemusement and thinking “what the fuck is going on here?”
That permanent establishment probably caught the band at their official showcase at a terrible venue called Buffalo Billiards. Instead of playing to all-age mobs of skater brats and hip-hop punks like they’d done all weekend, Odd Future faced a typical industry audience. While some near the front were shouting “Wolf Gang” and “Free Earl” with gusto and knew what to expect, the majority faced the band with their arms folded and “impress me” looks on their faces. After three songs, Odd Future stomped offstage. They didn’t need to play this show. They didn’t need to play this game. They’d already played to 5,000 mad kids in a park on the eastside a few hours earlier and that was their real audience. They didn’t need the old-school, established music business – but it’s clear that that same music business needs something like OFWGKTA to come along and shake things up.
It’s going to get interesting over the next few months as the Odd Future story unfolds some more. There will be more tours and more attention as this becomes the music story of the year in many quarters. It will be fascinating to see what happens from here on in. Messing and mixing with the mainstream doesn’t usually do an underground phenomenon like this any good. Can Odd Future keep the faith or buck the trend? Or do Odd Future even care what the hell happens? LIke I said, there’s fun times ahead.