South By So What may read as a knock against the long held festival in Austin, however, it’s quite the opposite (in this photographers opinion, at least). It’s a three day festival focused on a lot of the bands you’d read about in Alt. Press, Substream, HM, etc., with a focus on more of an all-ages experience and less a 21+ experience that’s down at SXSW. I attended the first SBSW when it was held at the Plano Centre, I believe with Chiodos and All Time Low as two of the headliners. It was a completely different beast and wasn’t much different than many of the festivals Third String Productions. But it has grown. Immensely. This year’s three day fest boasted three stages situated on a baseball field in Grand Prairie, Texas – about an hour from the location of the first SBSW – where 130+ bands played, both touring and local.
Friday, March 14th. Easily the most beautiful, perfect day you could ask for for an outdoor music festival – sunny, moderate temperatures, light breeze. I wish the rest of the weekend could have stayed that way, but you can’t always get what you want, ya know? Anyhow, the first day was slated to close out with a walk down memory lane – Taking Back Sunday, The Used, August Burns Red, Chiodos, and Emmure, along with some newer bands like We Came as Romans, Volumes, and Hollowealth (ex-Euphony, ex-Dorian Grey, long time local metal/metalcore favorites).
I was stoked.
I got out to the fest early to run around and grab some documentary type shots of load-in, maybe try to grab a portrait here and there, before gates opened and things got way more hectic. The crews running these stages were on top of it, plain and simple.
HOLLOWEALTH // UNSIGNED // TEXAS
Hollowealth was the first band I photographed at the festival. I’ve been going to shows with Shaun, Brandon, and Jeff as long as I can remember going to shows and I’ve always been a fan of their music. Their new band has a totally different feel, with a heavy emphasis on good, solid, clean vocals from Lucas Cote, while Shaun, Jeff, Brandon, and Dakota nail the instrumentals. The best way to describe it is nice, technical, metal, overlaid with catchy vocals and songs that will get stuck in your head for days on end. These dudes kill it and I hope to see them around playing more shows in the future.
THY ART IS MURDER // NUCLEAR BLAST RECORDS // AUSTRALIA
Thy Art is Murder brought out what was easily the heaviest set of the weekend. I sprinted out of an interview with Chiodos to make sure I was able to cover their set at the behest of some longtime friends who were attending SBSW. I’m so glad I did. Not only was the Australian deathcore band’s set filled with blast beats, shredding guitars, and immense energy, I couldn’t have asked for them to play at a better time of day for that stage. The light was nothing short of epic, and while it’s definitely brighter than what I’d normally imagine for a band playing a song titled “The Purest Strain of Hate,” I can’t help but love these images. I was also pretty pumped with the fact that their vocalist CJ McMahon, agreed to let me grab a few post-stage portraits.
After Thy Art is Murder’s set, I noticed Micah Kinnard (Oh, Sleeper, Violent Lighting) was finishing the set up of the lighting rigs he had worked on for The Used’s tour. I nabbed a couple of Micah working on the lights and made sure to nab some portraits as well. I’ve been listening to Oh, Sleeper since one of my best friends since elementary school showed them to me our senior year of high school. I loved the build-ups, the vocals, the concept of their only album out at the time, The Armored March, and it was great seeing a band like that coming out of my local scene.
EMMURE // VICTORY RECORDS // CONNECTICUT
Goodbye to the Gallows was one of the heaviest albums I listened to when it first came out – I remember grabbing Emmure’s first Victory Records release as soon as my friends started talking about it and jamming it for months on end as I began the transition from high school to college. I remember seeing them live at The Door in Dallas and the intensity of their set, partially inflated by the energy of the crowd as well. I had always meant to photograph them, but things never seemed to work out for me to get to the show, or the show was at a venue with lighting that was…not easy to work with…so I jumped on the opportunity of nabbing some photos of the Connecticut metalcore quintet.
And I’m glad I did (cue breakdown)
Fine, that lyric drop was terrible. But seriously, their set, the energy, emotion, so good. I hadn’t kept up with a ton of Emmure’s recent releases, but they dropped in enough from Goodbye to the Gallows to make me feel comfortable watching their set.
WE CAME AS ROMANS // EQUAL VISION RECORDS // MICHIGAN
CHIODOS // RAZOR & TIE RECORDS // MICHIGAN
Holy trip back to high school, batman. The number of drives that All’s Well that End’s Well soundtracked are countless. Almost every other drive was spent blasting the Michigan six piece’s debut full length, screaming at the top of my lungs. They were yet another band I had seen before, but never had the chance to photograph. They killed it. Plain and simple. Craig Owens brought out a phenomenal vocal performance that covers a rather expansive range from the high-pitched vocals that characterized so much of the early 2000′s post hardcore to the screams that seem to bring out even more intensity and energy from the crowd. Mix that in with a [mostly] original lineup with the addition of The Fall of Troy guitarist and vocalist Thomas Erak and you’re guaranteed one of the most intense, energy riddled performances of the weekend (outside of a couple others, that I’ll touch on here in a bit). Chiodos also played a fair bit of older material, but also a few brand new songs off of their recently released full length, Devil.
AUGUST BURNS RED // SOLID STATE RECORDS // PENNSYLVANIA
The band that I credit with getting me into heavy music. I went to a show of theirs to see Haste the Day (and maybe Scary Kids Scaring Kids?) and was blown away by ABRs performance, message, and music at The Door’s original location in Dallas (where my dog now goes to play, kind of weird how that happens when a local favorite venue gets torn down to develop “condos” and ten years later, it’s still an empty field…). Anyhow, August Burns Red, heavy, shredding guitars, drumming that can often be described as unimaginably precise and perfectly matched to the guitars and vocals, and Jake Luhrs energetic approach, a positive message, and probably some of the nicest guys I’ve met. Which is cool, because one of the first band t-shirts I bought was theirs and it is now nicely quilted along with many other shirts into a blanket gifted to my wife and I at our wedding by my family.
TAKING BACK SUNDAY // HOPELESS RECORDS // NEW YORK
Musical heroes. On a very short list of bands I have always loved, through lineup changes, sound changes, reunions, and to top it off, a band I’ve been singing along to since before I could drive. So it’s been a while listening to TBS. This was my second time to photograph them, the first being at Vans Warped Tour a few years ago. I’ve gotta say this set was even more impressive, they just seemed to be in their groove by comparison, and a longer set that let them have a bit more fun with mixing crowd favorites like Cute Without the E (Cut from the Team), There’s No I in Team, Make Damn Sure, along with some new singles off of their recently released full length Happiness Is… couldn’t hurt, either. Once I was done photographing my one song, the cameras went away (outside of a couple quick crowd shot photos for some atmospherics), and I couldn’t help but just sing along and love every last minute of it.
Oh, and amazing light. Especially on Shaun. Wow.
That beautiful weather that was around for Friday? It left. Quickly. Saturday was filled with rain, drenching the stages, bands, photographers, and fans. While that reads like the most depressing, worst possible thing that could happen for an outdoor music festival, it was pretty rad (until it wasn’t, which is when the rain turned into thunderstorms and unfortunately shut down the remainder of the show, including headliners Bring Me the Horizon and Of Mice and Men).
Fans do something weird when it starts to rain. The energy seems to skyrocket. Everyone becomes a borderline fanatic for their favorite bands on stage and want nothing more than to go crazy while they can. I believe this energy greatly influences the bands, and they too, start to go a little crazier, the antics get more exaggerated, and the crowd feeds off of that in an endless cycle of one-upping. It’s amazing to be a part of and to document. I snagged a few more portraits on day 2 and tried to use my Mamiya 645 as much as possible, but unfortunately that wasn’t much because of some anxieties of using a film camera in the rain like that.
FIT FOR A KING // SOLID STATE RECORDS // TEXAS
FFAK is one of those bands that also came out of the scene here in Dallas, but because of me distancing myself from the music scene during college so that I could, you know, finish, I really missed out on the growth of bands like this. The Dallas area quartet are now on SolidState Records.
Being a hometown show, I expected a lot of crowd participation and energy. I did not expect to have to put my camera down at times to run over and try to help security by catching crowd surfers after singer Ryan Kirby called for 100 crowd surfers during one of their songs. I was impressed. That was something I had only seen go that well at a Comeback Kid show.
letlive. // EPITAPH RECORDS // CALIFORNIA
Where do I even start with this band? The obvious spot would probably be Jason Aalon Butler. That man is one of the kindest I’ve met offstage with some of the most intense performances I’ve ever seen in my life. Mix that with something that seems to remind me vaguely of glassjaw and some solid rock/punk/soul/post-hardcore and holy shit you’ve got something special. I saw letlive. on UnderOath’s farewell tour and couldn’t quite grasp what all was going on while Jason tore across the stage. After listening to some of their recordings off of Fake History, I quickly understood why so many people were raving about this band. The band makes some genuinely interesting music that makes for some incredible sing alongs with the crowd, and Jason’s high-energy performance, climbing scaffolding, drumming on other kits that are on stage, diving into the crowd, they all make for one amazing performance. And then to meet him just minutes before he took the stage and to see how mellow he was and willing to let me grab a few different portraits super quickly was awesome.
BORN OF OSIRIS // SUMERIAN RECORDS // ILLINOIS
Fun fact: BOO was the first touring band I shot promo photos for. I totally clipped the highlights and lit them terribly. And shot them against a red brick wall. And cranked that clarity to 100. So I’ll spare your eyes those, maybe I’ll set up a throwback thursday post with my terrible first attempts at photos…
Anyhow, I hadn’t photographer BOO in years, again, because of many scheduling conflicts, playing venues where I’d rather just watch, etc. They still kill it with their brand of death metal/technical metal infused with some rad keyboard parts. It was good seeing these guys play again and see how much they’ve grown since playing at strip-mall music venues and how their fanbase has exploded.
CROWN THE EMPIRE // RISE RECORDS // TEXAS
Yet another locally grown band I seemed to miss out on during my time away from the scene. Holy crap these guys have gotten huge. I recently met up with one of their vocalists and his girlfriend to shoot some portraits of them and wanted to make sure I covered their set. Unfortunately, it got cut short and it was the last set of the day due to storms.
We really got to experience most all of the weather Texas had to offer this weekend. A beautiful spring day followed by a drizzly spring morning that transitioned to a full blown downpour and eventually a thunderstorm, and finally, a 40 Fahrenheit temperature drop of a day compared to Friday. It was so damn cold and that cold kept me cooped up in the suites for much of the day while I wasn’t shooting just to try to stay warm. But there was absolutely no way I was going to miss the Sunday lineup that hit the hardcore side of the scene, hard. Comeback Kid, The Ghost Inside, Counterparts, the list goes on.
FOR THE FALLEN DREAMS // ARTERY RECORDINGS // MICHIGAN
I had always wanted to see this melodic metalcore act from Michigan, and even though it felt like my fingers were about to fall off, I’m glad I got their set in. Closing out with December Everyday was nothing short of spectacular and definitely made a solid way to get the day started for me.
KNUCKLE PUCK // UNSIGNED // ILLINOIS
SLEEPING GIANT // CENTURY MEDIA // CALIFORNIA
I remember driving in the car with my friend Cody and him showing Sleeping Giant to me. That sounds wrong. Whatever. He played Gang Signs off of Sons of Thunder and I was instantly in love with this Christian hardcore band from California. Tommy’s lyrics are overt and honest and are some of the most fun to sing along to for me. I had seen Sleeping Giant once before, but had never had the chance to hear Tommy’s story. He told it that Sunday (fitting, eh?) and I was absolutely moved and found myself screaming along even more through their set. The Christian hardcore movement may not be for everyone, but man do I love this band.
I KILLED THE PROM QUEEN // EPITAPH RECORDS // AUSTRALIA
Yet another band I’ve wanted to see for…forever…but never had the chance to until day three of SBSW. To me this is one of the coolest aspects of SBSW – the combination of bands I’ve seen [and love to see] countless times, with the bands I wish I could say I’ve seen countless times. This Australian quintet shredded some of their more anthemic metalcore riffs, pleasing the crowd, and also playing some new jams off of their recently released album Beloved (Epitaph). I managed to snag Jona shortly after their set to nab a few quick portraits as well, and I’m pretty freaking stoked on those.
COUNTERPARTS // VICTORY RECORDS // CANADA
I had never listened to Counterparts before this Sunday, I just knew they’d gotten pretty dang popular recently, and that I had bought a beanie of theirs the day of the show because I couldn’t find mine, it was 40 fahrenheit out, with 20-30 mph winds. My ears were frigid. I figured it was only right to give the band who’s logo I was rocking on my [very cold] forehead a listen. These guys killed it, despite the chill in the air and an unfortunately thin crowd by comparison to days one and two, even though TSPR offered free admission into day 3 with a day 2 ticket after the storms shut the show down early. Hopefully a lot of kids utilized the opportunity to discover some new bands, new genres, and a new scene.
BEING AS AN OCEAN // INVOGUE RECORDS // CALIFORNIA
Another band I had not listened to up until the fest, but after telling a few friends I hadn’t listened to BAAO before on Friday, getting the “Are you f*cking kidding me?!” response, I knew I had to shoot their set. Before the first words were sung, singer Joel Quartuccio had jumped down to the barricade and had become the focus of the entire crowd [and photo pit]. I blindly followed Joel from edge to edge of the pit, trying to nab a few unique, close angles of him interacting with the crowd and then remembered that shooting the remaining members on stage would be infinitely easier with all the other photogs focused on Joel, so I switched back and forth from there. Their whole set was intense, and Joel and the rest of Being as an Ocean thawed the frozen crowd.
THE GHOST INSIDE // EPITAPH RECORDS // CALIFORNIA
The band that has probably graced my blog (and lenses) the most. After I started working with The Ghost Inside rather randomly in 2008/2009 outside of a venue in Fort Worth, Texas, I stayed in contact with the band and made an effort to cover pretty much every show I could from that point on. They played songs off of all three The Ghost Inside full lengths, including Chrono, Engine 45, Between the Lines, and closing out with Faith or Forgiveness. Even freezing their collective ass off, the guys in The Ghost Inside brought the same energy they’ve had with them every other time I’ve seen them play, and that’s a really, really good thing.
COMEBACK KID // VICTORY RECORDS // CANADA
Touring on their new album Die Knowing (Victory), but also on their 10 year anniversary of releasing Turn it Around, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the band that got me into hardcore seven years ago. Was the set going to be filled to the brim with classics off of Turn it Around, overflowing with Die Knowing? Interestingly enough, it was neither. They definitely included some throwbacks, and some brand new tracks off of Die Knowing like Wasted Arrows, but they played the staples of the sets I’ve seen them play over the years – False Idols
Die Fall, Talk is Cheap, Broadcasting, and of course, closing it all down with Wake the Dead (I mean, how the hell else does Comeback Kid close their sets? They may do it everytime I’ve seen them, but I’m not, nor will I ever complain, about hearing Andrew Neufeld yelling “We said we said we said” and letting the crowd take it from there).
BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME // METALBLADE RECORDS // NORTH CAROLINA
A bit of a shift from the rest of my coverage, progressive death metal band Between the Buried and Me did what they always do, in spite of frozen fingers, and annihilated their set, opening with Foam Born/The Backtrack, the crowd was instantly hyped, singing along with Tommy Giles Rogers, banging their heads, and encouraging every solo, drum fill, and breakdown. This is one of the most diverse, unique, and technically proficient bands I’ve ever seen play, and they’re fun as hell to watch, too. I swear you could watch them play with a good mix job at the sound board, and mistake it for the album being backtracked and the band playing along. They’re that good.
THE STORY SO FAR // PURE NOISE RECORDS // CALIFORNIA
You tell me there is a pop-punk band that ripped their name from a New Found Glory song that performs with the intensity of a hardcore band, and you’ve pretty much made sure my ass will be there. TSSF brought all the intensity I was promised, and even though the mass of photographers in the photo-pit was called out by Parker Cannon, TSSF’s singer, this band still impressed my frozen ass as I found myself mouthing the words as I tracked Parker and the rest of TSSF back and forth across the stage.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA // ROADRUNNER RECORDS // OHIO
Prada closed out the set, and even though I had originally thought I was going to skip their set and go warm up and begin working on photos, I had a change of heart and wanted to get that one last band in before this amazing weekend came to a close. TDWP brought everything they’re known for and more.
One of the big things I told myself I was going to do as a part of this festival was to work to grab some unique, exclusive type backstage/interview portraits on my [new to me] Mamiya 645 film camera. These images of Jason Aalon Butler (letlive.), Craig Owens (Chiodos), Adam Lazarra (Taking Back Sunday), and fellow photographer, friend, and recent transplant to Seattle, Ray Duker are below.