Mike Huguenor at the Pagoda. // Photo by Aron Cooperman.
For a city that struggles year in and year out to foster a vibrant local music scene, the SVSX festival—which featured over 20 bands in 9 venues—was a success. Mike Huguenor, who opened the Pagoda Lounge lineup, took a moment during his set to comment on what an incredible event SVSX was turning out to be.
“I’ve lived most of my life in San Jose, and until very recently it seemed absolutely impossible for art to get any kind of foothold in this sprawling, vastly economically imbalanced city,” he said. “A festival like this seemed unthinkable until very recently, and I’m extremely happy to be a part of it.”
His band, which included Bob Vielma (Shinobu) on bass and Hank Richardson (Yulia) on drums, gave his solo material a driving rock edge. Yet, unlike Huguenor’s work with Shinobu and Hard Girls, these songs were notably mellower, while still holding true to his trademark blend of thoughtful lyrics and offbeat chord arrangements.
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The largely college-aged crowd slowly trickled in as Huguenor played. By the time Fierce Creatures went on, the Pagoda boasted a nice amount of attendees, all ready as Fierce Creatures soared through several of their lush, indie-rock, soul-inspired tunes.
The hip hop lineup at the Blank Club showed a diverse cross-section of rap styles. Antwon and Memphis rapper Cities Aviv were major highlights. Cities Aviv is gaining some buzz music blogs all over the web right now with his fresh, unusual interpretation of rap. As innovative as his album Digital Low is, live, he was on a whole other level of strange. He mixed atonal music, bizarre electronics and outer-space beats with rapping that was heavily processed and mixed at a volume barely above the music, which made for a surreal experience that fell somewhere between neurotic, spastic hip hop and avant-garde performance art.
Antwon took the stage afterword. His music and performance, while not as out-there as Cities Aviv’s, is totally distinct from anything happening in hip hop right now. He’s falls somewhere between nerd rap, stoner rap and hipster rap, yet not fitting into any of these already conceived models. The audience couldn’t decide if they were with him or not. Despite being local, he rarely gigs in San Jose, yet he’s developed an impressive following in the East Bay, San Francisco and all over the Internet (he has +120,000 views for his “Helicopter” video on YouTube).
Local favorite Dirtbag Dan, who was accompanied by Skylar G and DJ Ichy the Killer, put on one of his best, hard-hitting shows to date to an enthusiastic audience. It wasn’t long ago that Dan toiled in obscurity locally—even while being one of the biggest names in battle rap all over the world. Headlining the SVSX festival to a packed house was a monumental moment for Dan.
Before his actual set, Dan had DJ Ichy the Killer perform a solo DJ routine—the same routine that got him into the DMC online DJ competition finals. He flawlessly mixed different genres, popular songs and obscure beats, using crazy spinning tricks and strange rhythms into six mind-blowing minutes.
With nine venues total it was hard to see everything that was happening, yet there was more than enough people to go around. Johnny V’s was packed, so was San Pedro Square Market and Mezcal restaurant. The other venues did well, too, and the pub crawl element of the SVSX festival was a nice touch. Walking from venue to venue and seeing so many people enjoying good local music—rap, punk, reggae, indie rock, folk—was a nice feeling.