As the sun began to set here in Austin on Tuesday, St. Patrick's Day, I headed down to the fitness center in my hotel, just to get a bit of a run in, because due to the length of my stay (10 days / years), I have found it necessary to become one of those people who works out at SXSW. Trying to be healthy at SXSW is a lonely endeavor; there's a general sense that if you're not eating BBQ and tacos and craft beer for every meal you're somehow squandering your time in Austin. Of course nobody was in the gym when I got there, except for one early-casualty reveler asleep and drooling on the weightlifting bench.
Trying to be healthy at SXSW is a lonely endeavor
I got on the treadmill and started up one of my very old, very silly Spotify workout playlists (Mainstream EDM is my PED). I have a few Hudson Mohawke tracks on my various silly workout playlists, because Hudson Mohawke makes music that makes you want to run really fast. I had lost my headphones earlier in the day and in a pinch had bought some $8 earbuds from a kiosk in the convention center. The sound was dreadful, and the earbuds rattled a little with each step. The shuffle went to "Thunder Bay" from his 2011 EP Satin Panthers, and I turned it up until the poor little things started to distort (which honestly, was not that loud). The trebly screech of the already abrasive track was like getting slapped repeatedly in the face; as motivation, it kind of worked.
I had a great run; when I left, the drunk guy was still asleep, and another drunk guy was showering naked out by the pool. Like I said, trying to be healthy at SXSW is a lonely endeavor.
A few hours later I heard "Thunder Bay" again, this time at HudMo's set at House of Vans. (Seriously, it's killing me how many brand names you have to drop just to talk about what you did every day here.) The room was tiny and pitch-dark; the bass was so loud I could feel the air vibrations coming out of my lungs every time I opened my mouth. I've listened to "Thunder Bay" so many times while running that it felt weirdly constricting just to do the microshuffle to it this time, squeezed in between my neighbors. "Glasgow! Glasgow!" some guys in the back yelled, which made me laugh because when I was in high school Glasgow meant Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura.
Two days later I showed up at 9AM at the Spotify House for a SoulCycle class DJ'd by Hudson Mohawke, quite literally the brand-activated version of my St. Patrick's Day run. I had never done SoulCycle before, and as the class gathered and started strapping on their spinning shoes and sipping the free green juice provided by our corporate hosts, I wondered if my fellow early risers were secretly my people here at SXSW. And that would have made me feel weirder if I was fully awake.
It is not very authentic to work out at SXSW. It is extra not-authentic to do SoulCycle at SXSW. It's peak negative authenticity to do SoulCycle at the Spotify House at SXSW. But as the grand finale of my Hudson Mohawke SXSW triptych, it was, without exaggeration, the most authentic fun I've had thus far.
Exercise is an irony repellant
Here I was, in the front row of a room dense and steamy with beer-sweat, chugging away on my little yellow bike, while five feet away from me, the guy who produced "Blood on the Leaves" and that song from the MacBook commercial tried to get us all as turnt as possible. Our instructor, who would periodically dismount from her bike to twerk to the music, emphasized that there were "no judgements" in SoulCycle; I certainly hope none of the multitude of photographers on site judged me for the goofy, Kool-Aid-drunk grin plastered on my face, or the time I involuntarily did a Street Fighter-style energy blast for the drop on Rustie's "Raptor." Near the end of the class, HudMo and the instructor switched places, and the room erupted in cheers as he pedaled away on the bike, his baggy tee shirt swaying over his knees. It was one of the dumbest and best things I've seen all week.
I did not know Kanye's 'Send It Up' could be about the resistance dial on a SoulCycle bike, but now I do
Exercise is an irony repellant. When you're moving around and feeling good, any upbeat track sounds like heaven. Every track becomes motivational; I did not know Kanye's Gesaffelstein-produced Yeezus cut "Send It Up" could be about the resistance dial on a SoulCycle bike, but now I do. Being in a fitness environment, especially one as culty as this was, is one of the least critically rigorous settings in which to absorb music, and there's something very freeing about that in periodic doses.
When the class was over, I wrestled my feet free of the pedal clips and, dripping with sweat, went up to HudMo to thank him and ask him what the secret is to making a track that makes you want to run really fast. "I've had my times being in the gym six times a week, I know what I need to make that work," he said. At the same time, he was surprised at the turnout for a SXSW fitness event. "It's an especially difficult environment here," he said, in the understatement of the week. "I was expecting it to be empty." You heard it here first: both SoulCycle and Hudson Mohawke are very popular.