In March Dutch trio Kraak & Smaak — Mark Kneppers, Wim Plug and Oscar de Jong — made a pilgrimage to Austin, Texas to play a string of shows at South by Southwest. Though the annual congregation of music industry types, aspiring and established bands and tech geeks is mostly focused on the rock side of the musical spectrum, K&S came to represent their brand of electronic soul and all things Dutch. Performing songs from their 2013 album, Chrome Waves (download Futurizm’s remix of “The Future Is Yours” here), K&S and their live band took Austin by storm, partying and barbecuing with locals, drinking their share of Lone Star beer and dazzling with a rockier version of their live show. K&S share a first-hand account of their SXSW experience in this exclusive tour diary.
Although we’ve frequented Austin’s South by Southwest Music festival in the past, it had been a while so we were looking forward — slightly jittery yet positively excited again — to the prospect of returning and doing a couple of showcases in March. Besides, we had a new U.S. agent as well and were going to return in May for some proper club and festival gigs across the country, thus keen to impress.
Arriving Saturday afternoon at George Bush’s own Houston International airport, we picked up our rental van and set out for our quest. Not directly to Austin actually, but first to the little rural town of Leander, about a 30-minute drive from the state capital. As luck would have it, a good Leiden friend of ours had some relatives there and they invited the whole wild bunch of us to stay at the Springer family mansion for the duration of the trip. King of the castle was Mark Springer, an ex-college ice hockey player, Harley Davidson fanatic and Dutch crooner lookalike Piet Veerman. All we Dutch city folk had to do was to appreciate Texas-styled BBQs going on 24/7 and the abundance of local wildlife we would normally only see at our local Zoo, such as rattlers, coyotes, armadillos and tarantulas. Nice, eh?
“Errr, aren’t those vultures circling above us??” Still, Sunday’s extensive BBQ was theeee bomb. Those Texans sure know how to throw one, with loads of ribs, shredded pork and brisket that had been slow smoking all through the night in a colossal barbecue installation the size of an M1 Abrams tank.
Add to that our singer Ivar did some songs on acoustic guitar throughout the day (here and there accompanied by our drummer, Joris, who found a crappy drum kit somewhere in this enormous house), an ample supply of potato salad, home-made bbq sauce and a bathtub full of Lone Stars. Yum and burp with some ear candy thrown in.
To top that long, hard working day off, in the evening we dragged our asses over to the Oasis club at Lake Travis, where the salsa band played on the coolest stage ever, with three levels on top of each other and the musicians placed accordingly; damn, we ought to do that too!
Vinyl time! On Monday we just had to pay a visit to our fave second-hand record shoppe in Austin, Friends of Sound. We always do that when we’re around town. It’s located in an alley behind South Congress Avenue, which is a nice strolling area as well. Sadly had to skip that Mike James Kirkland original Hang On In There album at a whopping $140 but instead walked out with, among other things, an original mint copy of Johnny Cash’s Mean As Hell at a more sympatico price of around $20. Holding on to that vibe we cruised around a bit and checked out some over-the-top cowboy hats and boots, with our bass player Alex leading the way as you can see.
Next up was a good look at our clubhouse for the first two SXSW shows: Bar 96, also the home base of all the Dutchies around that week.
Liking what we saw (especially that they served big cans of Lone Star) it was time to move on again.
Finally, show day number one had arrived. Still recuperating from too many Corzo tequila shots from the night before (has anyone noticed the fact that you don’t get drunk but stoned from drinking them?) and after a very healthy lunch at Mouton’s Southern Bistro, involving their house speciality fried gator bites, we arrived at the club late in the afternoon and waited until we could set all our stuff up and perform later that night. But, we’re not your average rock ‘n’ roll band, and we do need some set up time for our electronic and laptop stuff to work properly alongside our analog drums and bass. Of course we already had taken that into account before we left for Austin — we knew from previous SXSWs that that could be a major ball breaker, but unfortunately it still took more changeover time than anticipated, especially due to the local production crew that didn’t bother to have a look at the specs until half an hour before our set (sigh). Anyway, we plunged into the Dutch Fellows show with enough enthusiasm and power to make the crowd go wild, if only for just 30 minutes, with our singers Ivar and Berenice leading the way, and our drummer losing his kick pedal about five times. Satisfied with the energy released, and after some more well-deserved Lone Star beers, it was time to head home again, as we had to do two more shows the next day and that’s what we were mainly here for, right? You’d almost forget….
Wednesday’s afternoon set was at the same venue, this time for the Dutch Impact showcase, went technically far better, which was nice and the best of the week. It felt satisfying creatively as well and we seemed to have delivered the goods to the crowd yet again, but now even better. Also checked out some other Dutch bands on the move that day too: our fellow Leiden locals Birth of Joy (really, really good) and the act playing after us, KiT, a mix of dirty Dutch house with Caribbean drums and percussion, which ought to be a perfect fit for any big dance music festival.
Before our final show in the evening at the Iron Bear bar, just off 6th Street, we grabbed an excellent tasty burger at one of the many organic food places around the city center, which seemed to be a big thing now. Still, the size of those things….
At least we resisted America’s seemingly favourite pastime of eating oversized meat by gulping down daily doses of Naked, bottled smoothies and juices stuffed to the extreme with fruit and vegetables, a habit we picked up from our earlier live tours across the U.S. (although the Green Machine combination of sprouts, endive lettuce and broccoli was a bridge too far as far as taste buds go).
But anyway, we survived and made ourselves comfortable at the Iron Bear before we had to go on, having a nice listen to DC’s Young Summer before us. For a reasonably sized crowd we then peformed for the last time, again with the energy and drive needed to make up for the too simple technical set ups we already had encountered before. But hey, most K&S songs could handle that situation, as could the band, so we just transformed into a plain, straightforward rock ‘n’ roll band for the occasion; gabba gabba hey, etc. Afterwards, London-based act Dems took the stage — one band to look out for for sure. After packing up our gear we all hit 6th Street to engage in some serious partying. To be honest, since that point in time it all became a bit blurry…..
So that was our first live visit since 2010, and Thursday meant a return to cold, rainy Holland. We only heard then about the horrible accident the night before, in which a guy fleeing the police drove his car into the SXSW crowd and wounded and killed several people. Shockingly too, it turned out that one of the victims was a Dutch colleague, who worked for a well known Dutch muscial company we were doing business with once in a while. Djeez, what are the fucking odds??
Off we went in our rental van, but this time in the opposite direction. Then a smooth flight back brought us back in daily Dutch reality again. But overall it was a well spent trip, with maybe not the best possible shows but we came across in the right way and at least it led to a confirmation of a number of cool US shows and festivals for May, so it seems we’re going to be back soon again. See you then!
K&S Upcoming U.S. Tour Dates:
May 17 – Joshua Tree Festival, Joshua Tree, CA
May 21 – Roxy Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
May 23 – 1UP, Denver, CO
May 24 – Lightning In A Bottle Festival, Bradley, CA
+ More TBA
Images by Kraak & Smaak