The Rise of an Emcee: Chronicling Milli Mars at SXSW
A few weeks ago, I was blessed to spend my time at SXSW documenting an amazingly talented indie artist, Milli Mars, as he experienced his first appearance as an Official SXSW Artist. I arrived in Austin without a clue of where I’d be sleeping the next three nights, and ended up crashing on the floor of Milli’s friend’s grandmother’s house. Each morning, all ten of us woke up, folded up hand-crocheted blankets, and tiptoed around the house full of ceramic grandma trinkets. In the midst of our assembly line setup of shower, smoke (for those of us who are smokers), and breakfast tacos, conversation about how different the sleeping arrangements will be “when we make it” filled the air.
Then, each day, we piled into two or three cars and attempted to stick together as we drove the two traffic-filled miles to downtown Austin. There, we’d park and start walking. And walking. And walking. Between all that walking, Milli was rapidly perfecting his SXSW artist balancing act. Not only was he performing three or more sets in one day, he’s navigating questionable sound systems, different set lengths in each showcase, and different crowd demographics. One moment, he’s performing a full set in a bar packed with hip hop heads, and the next he’s doing three songs in a field peppered with about ten leftover fans from the punk rock band that just wrapped up (not counting the nosy neighbors peering over the fence on the side of the field).
After each set, drenched with sweat from climbing on anything he can scramble on top of, Milli reaches into the backpack of one of his crew members, finds a corner of the venue, and ditches his soaked shirt for a fresh one. With each set, I watched (and snapped away) as Milli continued to perfect this balancing act. Milli wants to take a second to be a fan and we venture over a few blocks to watch one of his favorite artists perform. Then, we get word that a journalist Milli has linked with over the internet has a free moment and we speed-walk a few blocks in the other direction to meet her face-to-face. Then, it’s time for another performance so we make our way to the next venue. Somehow between the networking, the performing, and being a fan, we even manage to stop at a food truck and inhale a meal.
By the end of my three days with Milli Mars, he’s losing his voice, his body aches from the combination of multiple wild performances each day and insane amounts of both walking and standing, and he’s left a trail of sweaty black tees all over Austin. But, he’s gained new fans, connected with old ones, and networked with some powerful people in the music industry. Above all the connections he’s made and all the tees he’s left behind, he’s taking something much bigger back to San Antonio. He doesn’t speak on it, but I can see he’s leaving SXSW knowing that he is doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing.
Even more comforting, he knows he has an amazingly supportive crew behind him who believes just the same. It’s as if surviving this artist boot camp, as taxing as it is on the body and the mind, rejuvenated his passion for his art. Having watched all this unfold over the past three days, I left SXSW knowing, without a doubt in my heart, that the images I captured will soon be iconic, and that someday we will look back, laughing about the time we slept on the floor underneath the dining room table, praying that we wouldn’t break the two-foot tall ceramic elephant in our sleep.