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SXSW Music Review: Charli XCX

SXSW Music Review: Charli XCX
March 18, 2013 BRUCE RUSSO JR

Charli XCX

Last Wednesday was the first official day of SXSW‘s music portion of the festival and I made sure to catch goth-pop princess Charli XCX at Hype Machine‘s Hype Hotel. I’ve waited over a year to see Charli. Last year, she only played one showcase at SXSW and that was Pitchfork‘s which took place in a church and featured Fiona Apple. There were not enough prayers in the world to get into that showcase.

Hype Hotel has become an institution in Austin during SXSW. The wristbands are a golden ticket to many of the best showcases of the festival. Their day parties are just as good as their night showcases and they’re free with a RSVP. The lineups are incredible thanks to the music blogs that create the content for blog mp3 aggregator, Hype Machine. Along with great music, Hype Hotel is presented by Taco Bell which means there is unlimited Doritos Locos tacos for everyone. Well, not everyone. I’m vegetarian so I couldn’t partake in the free food, but I did partake in the free drinks!

Wednesday’s lineup was curated by blogs Gorilla vs. Bear and Yours Truly and consisted of not only Charli, but Brooklyn’s own Empress Of, The Polyphonic Spree and Ryan Hemsworth. Because of scheduling conflicts, I couldn’t stay the entire time, which is something you get used to quickly at SXSW. It is impossible to see and hear everything you’d like to. The lights dimmed and Charli took the stage in a plaid orange skirt and a black top which exposed her midriff (and sometimes her bra when she threw her hands up). She completed her look with a leather dog collar and huge black platforms on her feet.

Charli XCX

She opens her set with “You’re the One,” selling everything she’s ever promised. Goth-electro-synth-pop-goodness. She’s adorable, sexy and full of energy. She’s engaged with the crowd which is mixed with fans and random onlookers. We might be in Texas and the sun might be beaming down from the sky, but we’re inside a dark building, so when Charli sings she is “dancing in the dark,” she truly is. She’s not the only one dancing either. She has the crowd’s attention. “You’re the one that’s been stealing stars, your golden arrow went through my heart,” she belts out as she presses her hand to her chest.

“Nuclear Seasons” which isn’t one of my favorites, took on a whole new meaning watching it live. Charli XCX is quite the headbanger, throwing her hair around like the best of them. Think 80s hair metal and Kurt Cobain‘s long blonde locks. Hearing this 80s throwback track produced by Ariel Rechtshaid (who has worked with Blood Orange and Sky Ferreira) live did something good to me!

The dance party didn’t get into full swing on this side of the stage until she performed “You (Ha Ha Ha).” I have been known to really get into this track in the comfort of my own bedroom, so it felt great to unleash these dancing demons in a public setting. Especially with Charli herself! Just before the track begins, she thanks Gold Panda for letting her sample “You” for this incredible jam.

But it isn’t always a dance party in the heart and mind of Charli XCX. The dark synths and percussion of “Stay Away” start playing and I know we’re going for a gothic ride into the pains of loving the wrong person. “I knew you were no angel, But God, what did I do,” she asks herself. This track is just as haunting live as it is with headphones on. I can hear the echoes of her voice long after her set is over, wishing it lasted longer than just a few songs. Little did I know I would see her again, a few days later …

2013 looks promising for Charli XCX. She’s touring the US with Marina and the Diamonds this May and her debut record True Romance is out on April 16th via IAMSOUND.

Charli XCX

PHOTOS | JAMES GHAZARIAN

Bruce is an existential pop culture aficionado and writer from New York. His many vices include the constant consumption of live music, coffee and Taco Bell. If he’s not tweeting about his adventures in New York City he’s probably holed up in a movie theater watching movies no one has ever heard of. You can follow him on Twitter @octoberxswimmer.