Contributed by Ted Chase
One of the best, in fact probably the best, of the unofficial showcases at South-by-Southwest has long been the FADER Fort, which sets up just east of Sixth Street & the interstate in a giant tent, free drinks & free music for all of SXSW (including a preview show on the Tuesday). 2015 was going to be a particularly important year for the Fort, as it was its last time there (word is that their lease is up and the lot is going to be turned into condos). So FADER made the event invite-only, though it was relatively easy to get invited, as invites were sent out to everyone who’d RSVP’d in past years. Still, the Fort was a major spot for everyone from music industry snobs to locals just looking for fun, March 17th to 21st.
While the main body of the Fort ran Wednesday-to-Saturday, there was a special “preview” show on Tuesday. The first day of SXSW Music and the last day of SXSW Interactive, Tuesday is always a light day at SXSW, even when it also happened to be St. Patrick’s Day. But Tuesday at FADER Fort had two of the most must-see acts of SXSW ’15, Passion Pit and Mew. Both acts are returning from hiatuses with new albums out in April, Kindred and + – (respectively), and their sets were naturally dedicated to those, but also had the time to get into prior releases. Admittedly the crowd didn’t really warm up to Copenhagen’s Mew, but definitely did to Passion Pit, who also played their earlier hits like “Take a Walk” and “Sleepyhead”.
The first ‘proper’ day of FADER Fort, Wednesday, did start off a bit slow. Stromae, a high interest artist at SXSW (and not just because of the “Who the Hell Is Stromae?” posters up around Austin) only played with a DJ, while the following Cribs didn’t ignite. Meanwhile, U.K.’s Sam Hunt had a little too much of a polished-by-committee sound that you might find on Pop Idol, not really daring to set foot in any genre. But then things took off with Dej Loaf, the lady rapper taking the stage like she owned it, and largely did. Headlining it all on hump day was Chance The Rapper & The Social Experiment, his new band crew, who did come on a half-hour late and only played six songs, but made every moment up there count. It was particularly nice to see how excited to the point of nervous Chance was, pulling at his shirt.
Early on Thursday Wolf Alice and Seinabo Sey wowed the crowd with their new styles. Shlohmo played his first time ever with his new band, and was distracted by technical difficulties for much of his set, but still sounded good. Skepta brought U.K. grime-rap to the otherwise largely American hip-hop FADER Fort. Toronto’s BADBADNOTGOOD started with free form near-jazz, but were soon accompanied by the legendary Ghostface Killah – it was cool to see the very white Canadian boys jell so well with Killah & his posse. Shifting gears a bit, Bleachers were a different style of big hit, the electro-rock from Jack Antonoff & co. putting them on par popularity-wise with Antonoff’s ‘other band’, fun.
But this presaged the biggest event of all of FADER Fort ‘15. “Mike Will Made-It & Friends” was the headlined bill, and while first he brought out some new artists, the big friend was none other than Miley Cyrus. Yes, it was a madhouse when the once-upon-a-time Hannah Montana came on to the packed stage as she delivered such songs as “23” and “We Can’t Stop”, all while smoke billowed upward…
After such a strong Wednesday & Thursday, Friday & Saturday couldn’t help but not quite reach the same heights – with the inclement weather playing a major part, pushing people under the Fort’s large tent (that did have some holes, including one cut out for a tree stretching up from the open bar). Friday had some indie acts early like The Districts and Viet Cong, but it was all about the special guest headliner: T-Pain. Shorn of his once trademark dreadlocks, T-Pain played a mammoth 42-song set (long for any show, but especially amid the usually short sets of SXSW) with hit after hit after hit.
The weather only worsened on Saturday, and FADER Fort really started to feel it, as the space under the tent got tighter & tighter, while the bar started actually requiring drink tokens, after having been free-flowing until then. Kevin Gates’ gangsta rap hit the Fort hard, but the place was buzzing about the possible appearance of none other than Kanye West. A “special guest” slot was listed after Hudson Mohawke, who is a producer on West’s GOOD Music label, but it was not to be (Kanye rumors often never are…). Instead, it was Travi$ Scott who was the special guest, but he seemed more into listening to Mohawke than performing himself (word is that he was inebriated, and even had to be carried off stage at the end).
Who knows where and in what form FADER Fort will exist at future South-by-Southwests, but it was certainly a memorable close out to this space at SXSW 2015.