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A Local’s Perspective – By Olivia Gable
Well everyone, it’s that wonderful time of year again. The time when everyone who cares about new music at all is talking up the happenings of this past SXSW Festival and speculating on its aftermath. Lucky for you, we’re doing our best in this post to be a one-stop-blog for band highlights, photos and anecdotes from SXSW 2010. So if you couldn’t make it this year, at least we can pass some of the joy on to you here from our humble experiences there. This year in Austin, I took on the role of the official, one-girl embassy for The Recommender. This was my fourth SXSW, as rather conveniently, Austin just happens to be the place I also call home.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Austin-based festival, every, and I mean EVERY, available club, bar, coffeehouse, vintage store, museum, park, walkway, car park, toilet and alleyway becomes a performance venue, some more ramshackle than others (*Cough* Purevolume‘s broken stage). Most of these are free ‘unofficial’ parties and shows open to everyone, badge or no badge. Covered below are some of the ones I made it to…
MOST CONSISTENT LIVE PERFORMANCE: Bear In Heaven
These guys did a nice job of kicking things off Thursday at Mohawk for the Billions Corporation party. They had a tough crowd at 12:30 in the afternoon but managed to keep everyone’s attention. Maybe it’s because they sound so huge live! I’m sure every sound technician at one point or another has wondered if an audience can in fact be crushed by bass. This show’s tech was clearly a man of action. It was hard not to be distracted from the band’s percussive prowess and ringing vocals by the walls of bass closing in on my internal organs. Still, if I had to die by crushing, I’d want the culprit to be something as good as Lovesick Teenagers. They also win my Most Amusing Photo award for this gem:
BEST LARGE BAND: The Bewitched Hands on the Top of Our Heads
It really was a pleasure to catch this French sextet rocking it out at the France Rocks Austin party. And that’s not only because when I stumbled into the club to catch them I discovered there was free food (tacos, of course), champagne and beer. Food mecca! After chowing down, I listened to them weave their lovely melodies and marvelled at their cohesion as a large band. “Could three guitarists really be necessary?”, I wondered. The answer is…probably, but that’s mainly because during their choruses, no one singer or guitarist can be picked out. They all contribute to the resulting lush soundscape. Their first EP will be released in early summer, but to hear them before that you can catch them live in their upcoming UK tour or listen to their excellent contributions on Yuksek‘s debut, Away From the Sea.
MOST ENJOYABLE TO WATCH: Rye Rye
I really just went to see her because I thought she’d put on a good show. She performed at the Knuckle Rumbler Lounge party at Peckerheads (ordinarily a frat/college bar). First of all, this girl is tiny. Secondly, she knows how to dance. Watching her footwork and dancing to her bass-heavy songs as she rapped over them put a huge smile on my face. She is so full of energy that it’s infectious. This show ended a run of performances she’s made at SXSW, but she still managed to get a somewhat reluctant crowd to Shake it to the Ground. Don’t just go see her because of her association with MIA and Diplo, do it because she’s got some sweet moves, and she’s willing to teach you. Who knows, she might just pull you on stage as she did with one The Recommender’s favourite bloggers, Sheena Beaston.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Solid Gold
These guys are the perfect example of the whole point of SXSW. You think, “Oh I have a few minutes to kill, I wonder what this band is like”. Then voila! You stumble into a fantastic show. Their Myspace doesn’t really do them justice to be honest. The keyboards and bass roar at you live, while the guitar rips high, whining melodies through the air. Their abilities as multi-instrumentalists were on show too, as between songs they switch to keys or toss guitars and bass between one another like it’s nothing. They won over the crowd so much that people begged for an encore (encores aren’t standard at SXSW’s 30 minute sets), so they unexpectedly closed with a cover of The Stone Roses‘ I Wanna Be Adored and we all drifted away for a few dreamy minutes.
THE UNLUCKY TROOPER: Million Young
I went to see Mike Diaz at the Poptarts Suck Toasted blog’s party in a crappy club at the end of my longest day. It was during the evening, when the ‘official’ SXSW showcases were happening, so very few people were there. A few moments into the first song, which I recognized from his chlorine-dipped summer haze of an EP, Sunndreamm, everything went wrong. The speakers made an ungodly racket and went silent. He waited patiently for things to get working again. They briefly did, but a few seconds later it happened again. He did his best to salvage the evening, but he knew it was over. Still, I heard someone who’d been raving about his album mutter that maybe he just isn’t very good live. At least for us, he has much better luck in the studio.
MOST WORTHY OF THE WAIT: Yacht
In retrospect I think the reason I eventually got to see them was because I’d actually given up trying to. Friday was a general day of failure, so I wasn’t expecting anything to work out. Overall three of their SXSW shows were late, cancelled or rescheduled. I finally ended up seeing them because I stuck around after folk artist Lissie‘s performance, but they were still half an hour late. My patience paid dividends though. Despite the crowd not fully appreciating the set, for reasons unbeknown to me, I still loved seeing Claire Evans’ model poses and Jona’s crazy energy. He danced around so much during a choreographed part that one of his braces snapped and was dangling for the remainder of the show. However, I think we can blame Claire for the crazy cold weather the next day. She should never have said it “was great to be somewhere as nice as Austin after being in Canada’s freezing temperatures”! I think the city took that as a challenge, which it won.
This one kills me. I tried so hard to see this set with both artists playing together at the tiny, dingy Lovejoys, for the I Guess I’m Floating party, but in keeping with ‘Failure Friday’ as I dubbed it, the set was incredibly late. This year’s SXSW overall saw way more late shows than ever before, which meant in some cases all plans were out the window. This particular show was going to be over an hour late, and I’d already been waiting in that extremely loud bar for three hours. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. So I logged it away as ‘Biggest Disappointment’ and left for brighter horizons. Luckily YACHT’s groovy dance tunes made up for missing them.
It’s impossible to mention every awesome person I met or every band I wanted to see but couldn’t. That’s part of what makes this festival so unique and impacting. People get more time with each other, whether it’s over free breakfast tacos and beers, or just in the street. There are so many wonderful brief encounters that can change entire plans for the day. Here’s a wrap up of all the little memorable moments and aspects I can, well, remember…
Catching bands I never expected to see (Rye Rye, Solid Gold, YACHT, and yes, even GWAR). Having my city once again transformed by thousands of new faces, smells (mostly good), and sounds. All the free drinks and food that as strangers we were able to bond over. Exploring clubs and bars in my own town that I didn’t know existed.
Using Twitter to find people I’ve never met nor know what they look like. It worked some of the time. It’s astonishing how Mike (Recommender’s editor in the UK) managed to introduce me, whilst he was online, to people in real life, via his connections on Twitter. That wafting smell at Red River and 6th. Yeah, you know the one. Discovering that, despite careful planning, I can in fact go a whole day without seeing any of the acts I planned to and the experience is just as rich for it. Trying one last time to save ‘the day that wouldn’t be’ and having the universe tell me bluntly, with a kick to the head, “It ain’t happenin’, Honey, just go with it.” Watching a t-shirted town in the midst of Spring transform into a blustery winter wind tunnel overnight; in mid March no less!
Meeting some of the great people from Hype Machine, Mewbox, Strangers in Stereo, and TheMusic.fm. Chatting with the silly guys from Bear In Heaven totally made my week. Watching friends get excited about seeing Sean Lennon like it was John Lennon himself in the flesh. The constant accessibility of bands was awesome. To simply be able to say, “hey there, you have a minute?”, and suddenly find yourself stumbling through Frenglish with an adorable drummer or two. Meeting folks that are from all over the world who are just gushing about Austin. It truly makes me proud to live here.
Buried under all the tons of rubbish created by the thousands who came, there remains the pieces of your memories and your hearts that you’ve left behind. All the more reason to come back next year. Just tell us when to pull out the taco fixin’s. We’ll be here and we’ll be ready. (OG)