(‘Intrepid’ – read: ‘booze-hound’ – Beat Music Editor Jaymz Clements grabbed a passport, a pair of shorts and jeans, some underwear and some drinking money, and headed to the ‘States to see what was on offer at the world’s biggest music industry showcase, the annual SXSW music festival/conference in Austin, Texas. Here’s his review, pulled together from his hastily, drunkenly typed notes.)
Flying into Austin on only a couple of hours sleep, after three booze-packed days of LA was never going to end well. It almost didn’t start well – a 6.30am flight from LAX is shit to make, and having a strange cold sweat and almost passing out on the American Airlines flight is not an experience I want to go through again. Regardless, driving into Austin for one’s first-ever SXSW is a great feeling – like Dallas, it rises up out of the flat Texan plains, with the steel and glass skyscrapers gleaming and looming over you while making your way through the low-rise backstreets of Texan suburbia. There are cars on blocks, still-bare trees stripped from a long winter and chain-link fences aplenty. There’s also a sweet taco joint I’ll hit on a later walk.
Anyway, driving in the first aspect of SXSW that stands out are the throngs of people everywhere. Like, fucking everywhere. It’s Tuesday, the start of the music part of SXSW, and that means all people there for the film/interactive portion of the festival are still there. Still, settling quickly into the excellent hotel which is handily smack bang in the middle of everything, it’s out into those crowds to sort out bearings and grab some lunchtime beers. I am on holiday, after all.
It’s straight into it. The layout of Austin, and the way the festival operates, is something that takes a little getting used to. Austin itself is easy to get around on foot (for the most part) and it’s easy to quickly figure out the city, but knowing where to go and when shows/parties/good things are on is the bigger challenge. The SXSW app is more than handy, but so is the daily streetpaper, checking bands/venues websites and, of course, simple, good ol’ word of mouth is still king here.
Essentially, there’s a music trade show going on at the Convention Centre, which is laid out like any other convention – rows of businesses/companies/countries/products and so on all spruiking themselves to curious onlookers – as well as the industry conference panels/workshops/meet-and-greets and so on all taking place across the six days. If you’re wanting to learn about how to do anything in music, that’s where you’re headed. The one part that catches the eye more than anything is the Flatstock graphic design exhibition – basically, gig and band posters from designers from around the world. It’s amazing, and it’s hard not to want to spend hundreds of dollars on 47 different The Bronx posters.
Back out on the street and among the beers, 6th Street is cordoned off for pedestrian traffic, and it’s lined with bars for the entire six blocks it’s blocked off for, providing the central spine for carousing. It’s off sixth street, however, that most of the sweet parties happen. Tuesday is spent essentially walking into different bars on and off sixth street and getting a feel for the festival and some of the venues. The idea of sixth street, though, is unlike anything else anywhere – when the phrase ‘lined with bars’ is used, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. The only places not bars, pubs or club along the strip are seemingly pizza places or 24/7 convenience stores. Which, suffice to say, is awesome.
The initial run ins with bands in these bars are alright – a couple of woozy blues bands, an alright bluesy-psychedelic band at The Bat Bar who play a fucking Wolfmother cover, of all things, and another heavy-alterna rock band at the Dirty Dog Bar that wouldn’t be out of place in Melbourne. A couple of bands that catch the eye are the badarse Clutch-esque stoner rumblings of Hyde Park Showdown at Red Eyed Fly, and a couple of other bands called Amplified Heat and a flat-out hilarious weed-rock band called Honky. I meet some dudes from Chicago who tell me to check out their showcase the next day, so I do.
But not until after checking out Sydney colonial-misfits The Snowdroppers at Rumblers Lounge – for an early arvo gig, and considering my hangover, there’s a pretty damn substantial crowd. Luckily for them, Jonny and The Snowdroppers are in fine form; there’s prowling, seething and more bluesy-convict rock than you can throw a drunken five-year-old at. Imperial Fallow follow, and their cutesy indie-doo wop with horns is great fun. But there’s a lot on today. Like Saskwatch – Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire never sounded so good, or so mandolin-y. Washington has a showcase at the convention centre, so I swing by – it’s tough, she’s out there by herself, it’s all brightly lit and it’s exactly how an acoustic showcase probably shouldn’t be. She holds in there nicely though, but the lack of atmosphere kills any point of me sticking around.
There’s a Fat Possum party at Club De Ville, so it’s off to that to see if Smith Westerns are any good live. They’re alright, but their wishy-washy Americana lacks the stones to make me give any more of a shit than I should. The rest of the party is great though. Catch a garage-punk band called Cheap Time out the front of Beerland who are fucking unreal. Totally brutal, and in the heat of the afternoon playing on the side of the street, surrounded by cunce like myself who’re simply wandering past and getting dragged in makes for a wicked setting.
At The Thirsty Nickel Emisis prove that indistinguishable dudes with questionable facial hair who spent the majority of their youth listening to Tool grow up to make bad music everywhere in the world. The showcase I catch at Friends bar is great; the drummer in one band who sound like .hinge looks like a mini Blake Griffin. It’s pretty weird.
It’s over to Buffalo Billiards for the Billboard Showcase for Gold Motel (not great) and The Boxer Rebellion (who are excellent) and a great spot at the bar for two-plus hours. Chatting to an elderly couple who are hosting two bands at their house (they get freebies in return), I learn that the locals are, for the most part, extremely happy to have a bunch of drunk musos hanging out in their city. It’s like Melbourne, but without all the fuckwits complaining about living near a pub. Suffice to say, after a day of boozing, a full-on drunk is being thrown on. Wednesday ends up with a stupendous arse-kicking by British post-hardcore Pulled Apart By Horses – and a raccoon that I spy wandering across the top of the bar, which is awesome – frontman Tom get his shirt off and screams his guts out. Literally: he spews into a bin side of stage. They are undoubtedly the hand-down highlight of the first two days; my ears are ringing, I’m as drunk as a cashed-up Irish man and I’ve tried the vego tacos and pizza as drunk food and been pleasantly surprised. Onwards and upwards.
Loved: The fact that the everywhere in the city is hosting a band or playing loud music.
Hated: That Mumford & Sons have ruined music for everyone – every band of buskers suddenly has a mandolin and look like they stepped out of private school fifteen minutes ago.