Dear Austin: Excerpts from a SxSW diary
Thursday 22 March @ 12:17:39
by STEVE McPHERSON
Last week, I headed down to Austin's South by Southwest Music Conference, and, given the sheer volume of stuff going on, it was decided the best way to cover it was just to keep a running diary of events on the Pulse's Music Blog. You can check out the whole shebang at pulsemusicblog.com. We'll pick it up here the night before Day One. My companions are Jesse Stensby, Jerry Steller and Matt Perkins (of Vitriol Independent Promotions, vitriolradio.com) and Lindsay Kimball.
Nothing much is cracking other than an open bar at Sidebar, but we're rolling in half an hour shy of midnight, which is when Sidebar's shindig ends, so instead we meet up with the folks from Pirate Publicity for karaoke at Beerland. It's always a bit odd to meet people you've only dealt with via e-mail. It's not so much that they aren't like you expected--you just never expected anything to begin with. You begin to think you might kind of know these people, despite the fact that all you ever talk about is what bands are coming to town or what you're running in the paper that week. Which, by the way, sorry Brooke, but I still haven't sent you that tear sheet on the Annuals.
Karaoke apocalypse ensues. First of all, I don't care if you can't sing and you do karaoke. Honestly? That's part of the appeal, but this is just transcendentally bad. "Welcome to the Jungle," etc. Things take a turn for the better with Brooke and co.'s killer rendition of "Tempted" by Squeeze, and then it shifts into overdrive with Stensby's heartfelt rendition of "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M.
There's actually more to SxSW than just the music. It's also a film and interactive festival, and that part's happening right now. So basically, what you have in town are film geeks, computer geeks and people who do everything with music but play it. It's like a high school where some strange disease has killed off all the popular kids. It's like "Revenge of the Nerds." Take that, you jocks.
The night ends with a trip over to a party sponsored by Virb and PureVolume called Tejas2007. Virb is a kind of MySpace-type joint, but even more musically-oriented, apparently. PureVolume is also some kind of music promotion thing. Regardless, we show up at the front, where there's a staggering line to get in, and then, magically, the Pirate people pull a "Goodfellas" and go around to the back where we're ushered in. And it was all filmed in one shot.
There's a Wii going with some folks playing the bowling game from Wii Sports, plus free drinks. It's hotter than a muhfugger, but we dance anyways. The DJ's spinning mashups of The Knife and other indie darlings and I wonder to myself what this space would be used for when it's not a dance club for the music industry. It's probably an empty storefront, but tonight, it's like the AV club and the tech crew for the musical and all the kids from band hanging together, reveling in their self-made world. And it's good, because if I had a comfy bed to go home to right now, I probably would, but because all I'm looking forward to is a loveseat and a sleeping bag, I'm down for whatever.
DAY ONE - WED., MAR. 14, 2007
No rain today, but there's mist, and plenty of it. Walking around on 6th Street is kind of like having someone blowing spittle in your face constantly--especially when it's misty. Ba-dum ching. Seriously though, the rockers and rollers are starting to roll in now and, as a Texas tour bus rolls past us, I think I overhear the tour guide say, "If you'll look to your left, you'll see a bunch of fucking hipsters."
The general air of local fed-upness with this whole thing is confirmed at various points throughout the day, most pointedly by the bearded dude in a coffee/cigar shop wearing a T-shirt that reads, "Welcome to Austin. Remember to Leave."
After a delicious lunch at Iron Cactus on 6th, we meander towards the Fader party, which is known to be the jam year in and year out. On the way, I wonder: Are moustaches still ironic? Or are they now post-ironic? Is it now legit for a man to just have a moustache, not as a punchline, but as a bona fide fashion statement? Has the 'stache jumped the shark?
In case you don't know, The Fader is a music/culture magazine, and they throw a party every year here with plenty of free drinks, so it's pretty much the place you want to be. This year, they've turned a warehouse into a maze-like structure they like to call The Fort. There's a Levi's store in there, although it looks like bands are getting pants for free (damn bands), a blogger room (which is not where I am as I write this), press rooms, an "Adult Swim" lounge and, primarily, a big outdoor area with a covered stage where bands play all day long. Providing the beverages? Southern Comfort, which, I'd like to note, is not actually whiskey, but is technically classified as a liqueur. Personally, I think it's crap, but whatever. Most of the people there seem to disagree with me. I spot Snowden, who are playing at the PureVolume outdoor stage later in the week, wandering around the party.
Around about 3:45 p.m., Kenna hits the stage with a band of awkward white guys. I was a big fan of Kenna's first album, New Sacred Cow, but it's been nearly four years since that came out, and he obliquely alludes to the delay before explaining to us that his new album, Make Sure They See My Face, has nothing to do with that one. His stuff is hard to peg, really, a fact that's been noted before in the press. He's a black man with a hell of a set of pipes, but he's not really doing either R&B or rock and roll, and he's not really doing a combo either. It's largely epic, generally funky, and definitely futuristic. He plays nothing from his old album, which is a little disappointing, but at least one of the new tunes is an absolute banger. Despite the outward bombast, his stuff is largely built around tiny pieces that are more than the sum of their parts, so I'm looking forward to hearing the new disc in full when it drops in June.
After some considerable technical difficulty, England's Foals take the stage. Their singer may be the shortest frontman ever, plus he's playing an old Ampeg guitar, the kind with a metal neck. Once they get everything sussed, they explode into furious and spiky post-punk, blending the velocity of Wire's first record with some of the more experimental aspects of their second. The songs are built upon almost incidental sounding riffs that sometimes stray a little further towards technical proficiency (and away from melody) than they really should, but the truly admirable part of the sound is a stuttering, bookish funkiness. They seem like the kind of band that might really open up on record, where texture can take primacy over energy and melody.
Towards the end of the day portion of the Fader party, I start running into lots of Minnesota people: Oren Goldberg and Ryan from the Turf Club, musicians James Apollo and Matt Palin, Modern Radio honcho Tom Loftus, Minneapolis transplant and current San Francisco firecracker Sarah Sandusky and even Chris Riemenschneider from the Strib.
Loftus told me to check out Call Me Lightning, who hail from Milwaukee, WI (not NY, as the sign outside Red Eyed Fly reads), and are on Frenchkiss Records. They could handily be categorized as a Frenchkiss band, sharing as they do a penchant for propulsive and shouty post-rock that never gets too angular to be impactful, much like labelmates Les Savvy Fav and The Plastic Constellations. Plus, they're a power trio, and there's just something about power trios. It's an elemental musical combination, sharing something with genre pics like westerns and kung fu flicks. A guitar, bass and drums are tools, and you use them a certain way in a power trio. They mostly stay out of each other's way, frequency-wise, so they're never fighting for space in the mix. They can all just be themselves. I look around and realize that I need to buy some slip-ons or some Vans or something. No way can I get my legs into the kind of jeans I see everyone wearing. Josh (who's joined me) and I decide to weather the storm and wait for baggy jeans to come back in style ...
Check out the rest (including a sweet photo of Isaac Hayes, a brief interview with Menomena, Andrew Bird, local bands Little Man, Martin Devaney and an Iggy Pop sighting) at pulsemusicblog.com.