On December 15th in Austin, Dell and The FADER tip-toed into an early stream of SXSW excitement in a way that was both reminiscent of the sensory entrapment of the festival and marked with a coyness and ease that the city exudes during the rest of the year.
As guests circulated into a multipurpose space downtown, Brooklyn three-piece Wet quietly stepped onto a makeshift stage. The trio work in a sound that is calming and more than a little slinky, though lead vocalist Kelly Zutrau can throw a sharp hooks. Her voice is confident as the lyrics step in and out of emotional exposure. Marty Sulkow’s guitar moved from dreamy to pointed, and drummer Joe Valle beat a set of drum pads that alternately sighed, shook with tambourine echo and thudded softly. Working in a style where neo-R&B and dream-pop slowly circle, Wet are spacing out a niche that has the tonal curiosity of an electronic outfit like Pallers and the declarative openness that marks Solange’s work and even Frank Ocean’s. The band have just one EP to their name—they told me that their next step is to record a full-length and “work on our live show.” When they return for SXSW, they will surely play much bigger stages.
As Paz, the next act, set up his enclosure onstage, local musician and artist Rex Hamilton began painting a backdrop of eyes and a reclining figure on the white canvas facade facing the audience. Asked whether or not his spontaneity was actually part of Paz's performance, he shook his head. “I was going to keep going until they told me to stop,” he said. Paz’s music compliments Wet’s in that both artists are rawly emotive, but he looked to be laboring hard under the duress of running his stage show and singing and rapping, seeming most relaxed when he took over the boards and didn’t need to leap back and forth between the front of the stage and the back.
Local DJ Johnny The Boy closed out the night, and while the mellow crowd moved and began to lurch more receptively to the music as the hours frittered away (open bars are great for that), I curiously approached a few spectators to get a read on whether or not it was too soon to begin thinking about SXSW. I stumbled onto a native Austinite who seemed amenable to the pre-festival, wrapping it up in a larger context that is true enough for a pop-up in December as it is for the big-production machinery of March: “Live music is what we’re all about.”