SXSW is a terrible thing if you've never been. It's this fabled code word whose utterance brings forth choruses of faux-orgasmic rapture from whichever smug members of the festival's secret cult of freemason-esque attendees you're unlucky enough to be surrounded by. "Oh, you've never been? Oh my godddd, you just can't explain why it's so magic... I dunno, you just have to go to understand." Eye-gougingly irritating, yes.
This year I finally got initiated. Luckily it didn't involve streaking blindfolded round the block with a balloon tied to me willy or anything like that. It did however involve being embarrassingly U-turn converted from a stubborn, bitter outsider into an inanely grinning, enraptured burrito-chomping covert within about three and a half minutes of stumbling wide-eyed into Austin's cordoned off sector of downtown makeshift venue hubs. Yup, what a sucker.
Austin's an oasis of arty yoof culture entombed within the rootin'-tootin' Lonestar state. For four days every year, a hefty 20 street by 20 street slab of its lovably grubby metropolis-collides-with-backwater-hickville downtown chunk of bars, clubs, shacks, warehouses, homes and commandeered street spaces are shutdown as the city erupts into the world's most deranged celebration of new music, old music, smiley-vibing and not paying for nuffin.
although I look pretty revolting here, I think it gives a snifter of that smug SXSW vibe
Basically anyone who has anything to do with music descends upon this 4 sq mile sector to shmooze, get inspired at the gazillions of free make-shift parties that seem to spill from every last phonebox and crack in the wall, gorge themselves on the free absolutely everything that seems to be sponsored by every brand in existence and generally feel a lot fairer done by by life, the universe and everything.
Imagine the lawless state of urban takeover that the fair coming to town enforces on an unsuspecting city slab, cept with the threat of being mugged or stabbed replaced by a dreamy daze of sun-soaked howdy-doody easy-vibin', and with the wafting smells of rodent burgers replaced by that of freshly grilled burritos and hog-roasts that infinitely spills through every street, as one dude plays acoustic stylophone symphonies to himself on the curb, Oregon's most bludgeoning new hardcore outfit warm-up in the garden of a Mexican take-away, next door to the town hall, where Devo are soundchecking. That kinda setup. God, the smugness is already kicking in.
Being the new kid in class, my SXSW experience naturally begun with a couple of hours aimlessly bumbling around highway bridges, parks and other miscellaneous areas of absolute irrelevance, holding a map two centimetres from my face and getting very hot and bothered.
That was until I stumbled upon the big white Jetsons-looking convention centre, where they hold all the lectures, talks, seminars and other stuff that no one really cares about.
I thought I'd kick off my South By by checking out The Golden Filter the latest in the spew of New York nu-disco outfits making retro-breathy-lectro-squiggles. They've got a couple of decentish choons, and do some cool remixes, so why the hell not.
Bizarrely though it was in a proper musty boardroom space at the top of the convention centre. Full of aluminum furniture with A&R men sat down, scouring maps and charging their laptops and twiddling their Blackberrys, the atmosphere was less than electric. Which made their abhorrent attempt at a live show all the more depressing.
Take all the bits that made everyone realise how awful New Young Pony Club really were, then dress them up in Glass Candy's period-pants. When plonked onstage together their once harmless claps and swirls are exposed as derivative bandwagon-riding trendiness at its weakest. Their interpretation of 'Favourite Things' runs, "Cute boys, fun girls, whiskey, vodka, these are a few of my favourite things." Yikes. Onward!
Next, map in hand, I headed where looked the most surefire bet for banishing that experience. I spotted a ridiculous looking all-dayer of hip-looking underground-indie and leftfield bits and bobs at a place accross town called Ms Bea's. It's the ragged old shack with a piece of garden decking out front for BBQ and out back from bands. It's pretty much crumbling with every step of each punter, but the burgers were smoky, the beer was actually called Lonestar Ale, and the line-up was crazy, so I settled down for an afternoon of stuff that was either on my hitlist of stuff I needed to scope or had such great names it was bound to be worth a watch.
It's worth noting that the fat, Mexican lady serving me my burger laughed for approximately four minutes when I requested "gherkins" instead of pickles in my bun, then bullied me into repeating it for another four.
The best band I saw at Bea's I hadn't heard of before. They were one of the ace names though. Called Explode Into Colors, they're three chubby grungey girls from Portland Oregan and make bouncy garage-kraut, that sounds like a no-wave stab at the B52's, or a funner, technicolour Ipso Facto. Definitely going to make sure I see them again before I go.
Explode Into Colors at Ms Bea's
Next up were Pochahaunted , who we had recommended in the mag a few week's back by Paul Tao from the IAMSOUND label in his LA scene round-up. They are gaggle of trust-fund hippies with half-hearted attempts at dreads, dual-girl singers, ironic bermuda shorts and a lazy-drone dream-gaze vibe that's a bit like a dirgier Telepathe fed on Sunn O))) rather than Timbaland. They were ok, but not as (ahem) 'haunting' as Paul promised us.
Another superb band name with music that almost lived up to it next, Yellow Fever, a local Austin's girly duo that make sweet, clunky indie with stripped-down drive and fey whispy melodies. Excellent primary colour anoraks too.
There was a bit of buzz working its way around these next lot. The Beets, started off with a demo consisting solely of a more garagey Moldy Peaches style covers of songs like Kylie's 'Locamotion'.
Today playing their own stuff, the trio of cute Jewish-looking geek-chics plunder their way through a set of clanging, fizzes mess that sounds like Black Lips if instead of recording with vinatge thrift store 60s amps with forks rammed through their tweeters, they did so with entire cutlery sets rammed through 'em. Great racket though. Bea's is SXSW at it's very best, dishevelled, woozy and eye-opening.
The Beets at Ms Bea's
WIth it getting dark now, and with the Lonestars working their evil magic, I headed down the road to the Fader Fort, a massive multi-brand sponsored compound wedged full of free booze, jeans, and a massive stage with shit-loads of well-known acts and hip up-and-comers. Maybe it was because of it being the first-day, maybe it was because it was full of dicks, but the audience seemed totally distracted with the free bevvies and each other's banal conversations to fully appreciate the ace flouncy new wavers Abe Vigoda tear through a set of jarring stabs or urgency.
There I also witnessed recent US urban bible XXL cover star B.O.B . later that night I was psyched about seeing him as the two singles/videos I'd seen had been awesome (check 'Lonely People' a surpsingly unshit reworking of The Beatles 'Eleanor Rigby'), but alas, aside from the tracks I already knew, which were banging, the rest of the set consisted of awful wanky live instrumentation, aimless funky warbling (always a warning sign for me with hip hop) and even some 'Gone To November' era Wyclef-style acoustic sauntering.
Right, I better go watch some more bands so I have stuff to blog about tomorrow.