photo by Tom Jowett. copyright, n that.
This is less of an all encompassing review filled with wastes of times, and more of a best of dot-to-dot trawl of things what haven’t been forgotten, documented for you, so you don’t have step onto a plane and drink yourself half to death fuelled only by enthusiasm, pancakes and two pits full of barbeque sauce drenched pig.
Remember this t-shirt epitaph: DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS.
Forget everything the movies promised.
Put on a slightly wider pair of jeans, loosen thy belt and sharpen your teeth, as this tumble through teehaw is gonna be all about the eating, drinking and filling your pockets with flyers and cdrs.
South by South West (will be referred to herein as SxSw) begins with a big slap ‘round the noggin, with the overbearing, overwhelming and outrageous list of bands set to play the official event over the coming few days. And then there’re the afternoon parties and fringe events. Don’t be fooled, I’m not playing the martyr here, there really are 60-or-so venues, and reportedly 1200 bands in town, all with their wares on show.
From folkish to foppish to fukkin-fuk-death-rokka-rawk!
They call themselves the live music capital of the world and frankly - despite claims that like in London and New York you’re never more than 10metres away from a rat, here’s it’s shotguns - we ain’t gonna argue.
Head down, best foot forward…
FIRST AND LAST
The Cribs start and finish the weekend. Let’s start at the end. Steve Lamacq is leaping up and down like a loon in the front row, dripping with sweat and crashing into NME journos and totally detached, drunk, messy haired, a&r people. You don’t see this in Camden. If you ain’t heard them, they're like a fun-dumb jangley geetar band with marshmallow hooks and sugary hearts. Yes they have slightly Liberscene riffola, but they're more Don't Look Back Into the Sun popsome than the dank of What a Waster.
At the start, at the Fader party, the weather blows The Cribs sound all over the place, not the best start. Then again, not every British bunch of indie-chancers here had pop songs playing in coffee bars and urban outfitters in New York just a few days previous. New album out of Wichita soon.
There’s a free beer in each hand and a scribbled list of interweb researched things to try and see. The free newspapers, flyer piles, Vice guides and chit chat reveal more and more, which just about fills every piece of the already dog-eared white paper with a name, note, venue, address and time.
SXSW VIRGIN LESSON 1: Get your bearings early, these lists are useless when you discover half the places you want to see 10 minutes of something and then 10 minutes of something else are miles apart. Especially when almost none of the official sets are staggered and all start on the hour and last for 30minutes.
You don’t wanna hear about bands you coulda seen in Camden or Leeds tho, do you? Indeed. So this DiS soul went ah-huntin’ to see some of the local talent and came back everso slightly gobsmacked. The Chapters for instance, swirl and snarl like an aloof Trail of Dead, and could well be Austin’s very own British Sea Power.
This Microwave World are such a shockingly well kept secret. They bash keys and rant like Radio 4 whilst kickin’ finger-lickin’ Hot Hot Heat hit shapes into a Marilyn-popped-up-by-Reznor wall spraypainted with k-k-Clash f-f-Punk but colliding with ideas from nu-darkwave (or whatever people are calling this whole Interpol ambulance chasing OC-scene). That said, the fact this is a set that ends with the mantra “Drop the Bomb! Drop the Bomb on Me!” just proves this was special.
Days later, the same Ryan Adams lookalikee of a singer-cum-star-in-waiting, was spotted rocking in his other band The Arm who’re twice as loud and go straight for the jugular. Something tells me this isn’t the last you’re gonna hear of local boy Sean O’Neil.
Seems strange then that a lot of the free local papers carry a massive distain for outsiders coming into town to talk shop and wander around like sheep in search of next years million sellers playing beer cellars, when what they could have spent their space and breath talking about is just how great the local scene is.
Where else in the world can you see M.Ward, Martha Wainwright, Statistics, Saul Williams and Buck 65 all slay in a variety of different ways in just a coupla days?? If you can name me a place, I’m gonna call it home and build a castle wall around it.
Statistics fella Denver Dalley may be better known as the other half of Conor Obersts side-project Desaparecidos but what you might not know is that his debut album was one of the records of 2004. Denver makes widescreen post-emo, like Remy Zero/U2 with the choruses of Saves the Day/Weezer. And live he makes for the perfect sing-a-long’n’swooning party companion.
M.Ward (whose scratchy, dusty, lo-fi pop new album Transistor Radio I’m currently obsessed with!) with his husk and Brian Willson-ness playing outside at dusk, in a rustic bbq specialist is just about the best thing in the world. He drawls and hollers gently with his echoey throat oozing over allsorts of country-folk action. Stick a fork in me.
Our Martha plays a coupla shows too which wow in various shades of purple honesty, both feminine and bruising. It puts a proud spring in thee step.
Saul Williams couldn’t be any more different to Martha and M.Ward with their folk roots, but artistic protest and lyrical beauty, they couldn’t be more similar. Although Saul is dogged with the new Gil Scott Heron tag he’s in fact one of the most important humanitarian voices in modern rock (Zack and Morello from RATM have played on his albums that makes him rock, surely?). Sure you could call and disregard it as ‘worthy hip-hop’ but when something hits with this much soul and venom, whilst making your feet move and yer bonce bounce the disrespect is your loss. Quite possibly the highlight of the whole festival. And oh look, his new record is coming out in Wichita.
Just before Saul came festival staple (it ain’t a real festival if Buck65 and/or the Dandy Warhols ain’t playing, surely?) Buck65 slides his records out of a carrier bag and onto the deck, and charms Emo’s with an hour of his country-disco-punk take on Tom Waits at his most Mos Def. What a star.
And it’s fitting for all these solo stars to play the same festival where Willy Nelson headlines and owns most of the town, Daniel Johnston plays three sets (which we couldn’t get into, but heard were sensational and brought grown men to tears) this time around and where the late-great Elliott Smith once busked on the street show with Mary Lou-Lord. But don’t be fooled, this isn’t really what this festival is all about, certainly ain’t what the mainstream music press is going to translate back to you.
SXSW VIRGIN LESSON 2: If you’re planning to eat, make sure you do it about 5 o’clock - as unless of course you can manage to get by on a mere slice of slightly burnt pizza at 11 o’clock three nights in a row.
GREAT WHITE HYPES
Fucking buzz bands. It’s all anyone talks about and all seemingly 90% of the laminate wearing amassed are here to see about 10 of the 1400 bands playing. Not wanting to be completely ignorant we waste 10minutes of our time a day to venture into the flock.
Be Your Own Pet, more buzz than clouds of killer bee’s around this lot. Maybe because they have a cute 17-year old blonde girl for a singer. Maybe because they’re a radio-friendly garage rock band kinda like a female Kings of Leon doing Yeah Yeah Stripes kinda stuffs. Obviously, an obvious choice of band to hype, especially since they came here with an EP out on XL and features everywhere from Rolling Stone to Dazed and Confused. People are so good at discovering new music when it has already been dug up.
Two Gallants are a two-piece not completely unlike White Stripes doing something a bit more Country but with more stark darkness. Could be something to keep an eye on.
We Are Scientists and we forgot to say we’re another generic indie-rock band. I Love You, But I’ve Chosen Darkness are locals who opened up the Insound.com party in scorching cancerous sunshine. They’ve had a great name and some semblance of being another great epic American indie band, but lacked the fragility of say Mercury Rev or the urgency of a band inspired by Sonic Youth. Perhaps their records are better?
Film School we’d read lots of great things about this lot and really wanted to see them. Sadly, so did 400 other people. Reports suggest they were ‘ok’.
Kaiser Chiefs, ok, hands up, DiS is guilty of starting all this by releasing their debut single. Ricky, even with a broken leg, is leaping around like a Tasmanian Devil. They play the hits, once for Radio 1, once for the nice folks from Filter magazine. What’s clear is that America loves them for both their eccentricity and poppier than pop songs.
SXSW VIRGIN LESSON 3: If you’re travelling across the globe and planning to see lots of little bits of lots of bands, it’s worth paying twice as much for a laminate, as the wrist bands get you into everything technically, but leave you stood in queuing with 200 people trying to get into a 150 capacity venue operating a one-in, one-out.
OFF THE BEATEN BRICK ROAD
Wandering off piste a little…
The Dials are girls with thrashed converse, stripey socks and keys, add summery rants and a be-suited boy on drums and a singer who rocks and it’s little wonder they weren’t playing the official bill. Not unlike Sleater Kinney doing KaitO at a pop duel.
Pretty Girls Make Graves previewed loads of new stuff which hints at the new record being more spacious and hookier, but seriously, seriously good. Still one of the most enthralling live bands in the world.
These Arms Are Snakes fuck yeah! Fucking fucked up disco of the highest order! Big guitars mangled around a gigantic yankie drive-through post-boxes full of amphetamines.
An Albatross were nuts like a two trucks full of mixed nuts crashing into each other in a John Malkovich movie. Sixties psyche-Melt Banana key boards against massive mad walls of Locust and Murder of Rosa Luxemburg mentalism.
Veronica Lipgloss and the Evil Eyes try saying that after a day of free bars. Crazy ladies strutting around and bumping into the crowd against jagged guitars.
The Willowz should live up to their slightly strange 80s fantasy movie name, but despite having all the right strange-rock parts in all the right places and having already signed to Beggars Banquet, they’re, erm, not so good.
Teitur rather beautiful swirling indie from the Faroe Islands.
BONK, ok these Norweigan rockers with a funny name really weren’t very good, but it is such a good name… darn.
S.Rock Levinson London boys done good. Proving to be one of the most exciting unsigned bands around, still!
People in Planes welsh boys with serious band luck had gear break at the first show and then a thunderstorm rain-off their outdoor show, and then some.
The Panda Band interesting bunch of Flaming Lips’ish Aussies on record. Live, disappointingly, a bit of a mess and looked like hicks from the Camden circuit.
The Flesh are like Hot Hot Heat. Could be pop superstars.
After watching bats fly at sunset from the beneath the bat bridge, it’s then when it’s really all over. Time to leave. Put down your cocktails and take off that silly flame emblazoned stetson. Forget about ordering a margarita or eating spicey sausage and scrabbled egg fajita for breakfast for another year. Get out of town. Thank the lord you’ve left without being shot by some crazy slow-talking yokel-local, but with the simple desire to curl up into a ball and sleep. Leave. And when you make it home, if you don’t have the desire to make a t-shirt for next year that reads: TOO MANY GIGS, TOO LITTLE TIME; well then you obviously weren’t really there. There, meaning at a truly modern musical festival, where new music is fed to the world through the media and the international capitalist exploitation of artistry known as the music business sits comfortably beside tiny obscure gigs by local cult heroes struggling to raise enough money to record a demo.
This is and was the future.
You know you’ll probably be here next year.