May/June 2019

by Hanju Kim

On Foreign Soil: Hans at SXSW 2019

by Hanju Kim

On Foreign Soil: Hans at SXSW 2019

Hans (actually hans.) is the stage name adopted by Auckland hip hop artist Hanju Kim, who first featured on back in 2017 with the release of his debut EP titled ‘1995’. Talking with Cassandra King then, Hans said his next step in music was to produce a lot more of his tracks himself, rather than relying on other producers – unless they were the likes of Kanye West or Mac Miller. March this year found Hans in the States performing at SXSW 2019 in Austin, learning how to get ahead in hip hop, as well as about his own musical intentions. He kindly summarised of his experiences in the Texas live music capital for NZM.

ofs Hanju Kim 2Around September 2018, I got back word that I’d been chosen to play at SXSW in Austin, Texas. In all honesty, I didn’t think I’d get picked in the first place, so learning the news was something very, very special. On top of things, that it would be my first overseas shows, and also my first time in America.

Push forward six months and the time had finally come around to get going. In the lead up I’d heard many stories of what the festival was like from people who’d gone to SXSW before, and this, to a degree, gave me an idea of what it’d be like – but in reality, I was in for a lot more than I had pictured.

ofs Hanju Kim 5We had already been in LA the week before SXSW, and so were pretty adjusted to American life when it came time to catch our flight to Austin. Excited, but also not knowing what to expect, we arrived at midnight at Austin Bergstorm to a relatively busy airport for 12am. Waiting for our bags we saw Chance the Rapper’s younger brother Taylor, as well as a flurry of other people who probably were artists.

That’s when it started to sink in, what everyone else had told me; that ‘everyone is here’. Even the Uber driver to our accommodation was playing his own music for the whole ride and proceeded to give us his business card… it really felt like everyone was showcasing themselves at all times, even in the most subtle of ways.

ofs Hanju handOur first day of the music festival was spent getting to grips with the layout of the city, as well as a general idea of where the venues are. There are literally venues everywhere – and what really caught me off guard was the sheer volume. There are hundreds and hundreds of venues inside Austin, a city that has a smaller population than Auckland. It really is a city of music.

People I’d spoken to prior had called SXSW hectic – but ‘hectic’ can’t really convey just what the festival is like. It’s an adjective that definitely fits the mould yet there’s a certain aura to it that can’t really just be put under hectic. We learned pretty quickly that there is something going on 24/7. Whether it be bands/acts playing, people doing talks, tech exhibits… just a bunch of everything. One major helping hand is the SXSW app, which lays out for you the timetable and allows you to favourite things into your own personal schedule. For me, it helped to slightly condense a festival that isn’t really condensable!

ofs hanju Stephen HorsleyOur showcases weren’t until Thursday and Saturday, so having touched down on Monday we had quite a bit of time to just enjoy the festival. A few standouts for me in terms of the acts were Tierra Whack, Loopy, Pink $weats, JID and Say Sue Me. In particular, Tierra Whack really set me aback with her stage presence, live performance techniques and charisma. She’s an up and coming, yet also relatively established hip hop artist I highly recommend checking out – so good I ended up seeing her two nights in a row.

Another important aspect of SXSW is the industry information available to share, from the organised talks to just meeting random people on the street or at venues. One of the most valuable talks for me personally was a panel discussing advice for independent hip hop artists, which quite literally applied to my situation. This again highlights my earlier point about there being so much going on… because there is. There literally can’t not be something for you going on some time, someplace, and that’s what I think is truly magical about SXSW.

The NZ Showcase at the Parish was a very cool affair and it was very nice to catch up with everyone and talk about everyone’s experiences as well as how their shows were going. One thing to be super proud of was the Kiwi presence in Austin and the sheer number of acts that were able to represent New Zealand this year. On a lighter note, it was also nice to hear some familiar accents!

Our performances went pretty well. Perhaps our most interesting show was one we played in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel. With a set time of 7pm-8pm, the show was pretty much just that… playing in the lobby of a busy hotel! What really made things funny was our sound engineer telling us that because one of the higher-ups of the Hilton was staying around, our set wasn’t allowed to contain swearing. Considering the nature of my music, not menacing but still containing a fair bit of vulgarity, that night was probably one of the most mentally challenging shows I’ve ever played – trying to bleep myself live! Still, the show went fine, and gave us another valuable South-By memory to last a lifetime. I’m not sure how many rappers can say they’ve played in a hotel lobby in their careers?!

Thinking back on the week spent in Austin, the experience of going to a major festival like SXSW was extremely eye-opening – externally to what’s going on out there in the world in terms of music,film, tech and gaming – but also internally eye-opening. The week before we caught our flight I had done a bFM interview and Zac had asked me, ‘What do you want from music?’ to which I had no ready answer. I’d never really thought about it that deep, I’d always just done music because I loved it and it felt normal.

Part of growing up, I feel, is asking yourself those sorts of questions, and after attending SXSW I think I’ll have a much better grip on answering such questions. I can’t stress enough for anyone reading this: if you have any interest whatsoever in attending the annual SXSW festival, I say go for it. This sounds so corny, but it might just change your life…