Stories » The Comet Is Coming at Empire Garage makes '10 great 2019 SXSW musical discoveries' / RollingStone

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The Comet Is Coming at Empire Garage makes '10 great 2019 SXSW musical discoveries' / RollingStone

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Can a music festival have a mid-life crisis? In its 33rd year, over two weeks in Austin, Texas, SXSW made its biggest headlines in the opening interactive phase, hosting a widely reported forum of prospective Democratic candidates for president. The SXSW film festival featured major premieres and director Q&As, like a spring-break Sundance with a Texas drawl. And a new SXSW sideline – gaming – drew huge lines at the Austin Convention Center. The original founding energy of SXSW, the music festival, was spread out over an entire week, but big names were thin on the schedule. Most of the handful were keynote speakers, including T Bone Burnett, David Byrne and the surviving Beastie Boys, Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz. Joan Jett did perform – at an Interactive party.

Shabaka Hutchings was on his own tour of SXSW - three shows in as many days - with this electronic-groove trio, another project in a searching ethic that includes his straight-ahead Afrofuturism with Sons of Kemet and Shabaka and the Ancestors. The jazz, in this case, was relative - Hutchings soloed on his tenor sax in quick, frantic deviations from his husky, chugging riffing. The effect on the audience was immediate and sustained: a mounting repetition of keyboards, programming and Hutchings' raspy firepower over live drumming with house-music inflections. This was EDM with spiritual implications (one piece was simply called "Unity"), distinguished by Hutchings' hypnotic draw on the funky, circular drive of Fela Kuti's sax attack and the raw higher-plane peals of Pharaoh Sanders and Albert Ayler with some of Nik Turner's smearing temper in Hawkwind. The group's 2016 album, Channel the Spirits, was nominated for Britain's Mercury Prize; a new one, Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery, is released in the U.S., appropriately, on Sanders and Ayler's old label, Impulse!.