I've been to SXSW three times now. Last year was definitely different because I was hooked up with Duck Down Records which meant way more access. But 2009 was really eye-opening because I didn't know what to expect, and it seemed like a real turning-point because there was a big contingent of hip hop acts going, names like Clipse, The Cool Kids, Kid Sister, Wale and Kid Cudi. It was pretty much everyone that was on the XXL Freshman cover issue that year - I saw Blu, Charles Hamilton, Mikey Factz, Curren$y, K'Naan, veteran dudes like Bun B, Erykah Badu. It went on and on - it was ridiculous how many dudes I saw that year.
I'd been invited to play but at the time we didn't have any people on the ground to help, so it was hard work going through the formal process of applying to be there. I got my music in order and I got business cards and stuff, and then I just tried to roll with it. I was there with P-Money, and people had been telling him to go to SXSW for ages - he was sceptical about it but after the first day we were sold. There's nothing like it.
There's the official SXSW which is what gets you your pass, and they schedule you once you get invited, but that's only half of what the festival is. The other half is all these unofficial parties, and often those are the main event - MTV will be having a party and they'll have whoever their hot acts for the year are, or something like the Fader Fort which is as big as SXSW itself. It was like the Big Day Out but it took over the entire city and it goes for three days. Imagine if you blocked off Ponsonby Rd for foot traffic only, and that's only the epicentre of the festival. Basically every bar in the city - and Austin has more bars per capita than any other city in the world - is packed and you're constantly bombarded by live music.
Cut Off Your Hands were one of the hot bands at SXSW that year - they were the shit. They were playing the coolest parties, and it was real sick to see the buzz around them. I Bang! Bang! Eche! was another buzz band at the time, and those two were going off.
I met a lot of the hip hop bloggers - that's where my relationship with the Smoking dudes started. I met a bunch of artists like Blu, but I think the most important thing I got out of it was knowing that I could stand on stage with these people and hold my own. Another thing that tripped me out was a lot of these emerging acts are completely untested and they've never performed in front of a crowd. My music sounded huge - I was playing songs like Indulge Me and material that were mastered for radio, so dudes were tripping out. Because we have to compete on radio here with songs from artists like T.I. and 50 Cent which is mixed and mastered in million-dollar studios, we really have to go in on the sonics of the song so it stands up in a live environment.
When I returned to SXSW in 2010, I knew the codes - I knew what to do, where to go, knew who to talk to - it was an easier transition. But I still think the most fun I've had was that first time I went - it was sick. It's just like a festival taken to epic proportions.
What: SXSW 2009
Where: Austin, Texas
When: 18-22 March 2009