SXSW may be a music festival, but it has the soul of a business conference. There are hundreds of sponsored stages, all handing out free booze and branded sunglasses. Proper festival passes for attendees cost upwards of $600 (£401) and most people that have them work in the music industry. They attend shows in between panel discussions on how to monetise your social media engagement. Rock'n'roll!
That side of the festival, however, is fairly easy to ignore. Most shows don't require official accreditation, with free parties running all day long. So you can pretty much float from one stage to the next, being plied with tequila and tacos. It's sort of like the Edinburgh festival except it's always sunny, everyone's drunk, it doesn't cost anything and Tim Vine isn't here. It's ideal.
On Tuesday the technology side of the festival starts to wind down, but the music festival is only just warming up, with a couple of events helping to bridge the divide. I almost get the bends re-entering the dotcom bubble at the Yahoo Music party, which is full of free "purple Yahoo" cocktails and flashy promotional videos that burst with early noughties internet naivety. Ryan Leslie, an R&B songwriter and businessman turned yuppie rapper, is a fitting booking for the event. His set shows that hip-hop's obsession with guitar solos and cock rock, demonstrated on Lil Wayne's recent flop album Rebirth, is far from over. He waves his hand from side to side as his band attempt their best Red Hot Chili Peppers wig-out. It's like The Social Network .
Things are more idyllic at Haim's show at the Roc Nation party. It's held on a stunningly-lit outdoor stage on the outskirts of town, where members of Peace are getting smashed on margaritas and J Cole is perusing the crudities. A bloke in a Stetson sits in the corner, hand-rolling cigars and handing them to passers-by. As the sun sets, the LA sisters' windswept rock seems fitting. They play their first couple of songs, including a sultry cover of Fleetwood Mac's Oh Well, with the mastery of an old touring soul outfit running through the hits. Then, four songs in, there's a technical problem with the keyboard and they seem to disappear. The crowd seems perturbed, for a moment, then looses interest and returns to the bar.
Technical problems also plague Icona Pop's show at the Pitchfork party. The Swedish duo have written some of the best pop music of the last couple of years, and are currently winning new fans after their song I Love It soundtracked Hannah's night of coke-fuelled excess in an episode of Girls. Things start well with a dubstep re-working of their debut single Manners, which sees Aino furiously fiddling with a huge desk of digital trinkets, seemingly re-moulding the track on the fly. Then suddenly, all the low frequencies from the stage cut out, so their next song sounds as if it's being played through the speaker on a Sony discman. At first it's funny, watching two girls wired on adrenaline and booze screaming "Where is the bass? We have to find the bass!" After 25 minutes, it's a bit tiresome.
If Tuesday was the dress rehearsal, then the shows at least run smoothly on Wednesday. At the BitTorrent party, British DJs Jackmaster and Oneman are playing to a room of sickeningly cool kids wearing velvet Supreme caps and limited-edition trainers. They get people warmed up for Ratking, the New York rap three-piece named after the urban myth about rats whose excrement-covered tails become entangled, forcing them to grow together and form a single being. They stumble on, in food-stained shorts, looking like they just got out of bed. But they quickly get worked up and their set is fantastic. It's the bratty hip-hop of Odd Future, but with fewer gimmicks and faster flows. Playing on a stage sponsored by a torrent service used mostly for illegal downloading, their anti-establishment raps create a brief moment where the festival doesn't feel like a giant corporate branding exercise.
Then it's over to the Vans stage where fans have been queueing for hours because there's a rumour that Iggy Pop will be showing up. We think they've just misheard things and that it's probably just Australian rapper Iggy Azealia. But lo and behold, at 9pm he plays a full set with the Stooges, including the premiere of a bunch of new songs: one of which is about gun control, another about double-D sized breasts and another about "scary stuff like fucking assholes and death and all that shit". The set is full of the topless flailing you've come to expect, although it's becoming difficult to tell whether he's touching his crotch because of his raw, on-stage sexual tenacity or just readjusting himself. It's a spectacular show, with Iggy dangling his legs among the tiny crowd as he screeches through Fun House and 1970. His onstage banter is blissfully bizzare, after I Wanna Be Your Dog he asks, "Do you like songs about dogs? Cause I could sing them all night."
We don't hang around to see if Iggy is true to his word, instead heading to the last couple of songs by R&B legend The-Dream. Playing on the Soundcloud boat to a surprisingly small crowd, his full-band set is emotional, slick and everything Ryan Leslie wasn't a day before. At one point he removes his sunglasses (leather, obviously) and runs off stage. When he returns it's clear he's been crying. "Sometimes, it's just too hard," he says, "sometime it's just too fucking real."
Oh yeah, I know just what he means. I put my cocktail down, collect my final pair of branded sunglasses and turn in for the evening. 4real.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk