SXSW 2011 kicks off today. I’ll be diving into the music portion of the festival with abandon next week and reporting on it for Bitch. For those interested looking for suggestions on what to check out, here’s my rundown.
But before we get started, let’s check some things off our list.
1. Are you wearing comfortable, close-toed shoes that can weather days of walking and standing?
2. Do you have earplugs? Some shows are really loud. You don’t want to be yelling at people during polite conversation days later.
3. Are you staying hydrated? Sure, Lone Star flows freely (and is marked up, though Brooklynites don’t notice), but make sure you’re drinking lots of water.
4. Have you checked the weather before going out?
5. If you’re especially susceptible to cedar fever and the like, did you take any allergy medication?
6. Do you have a schedule? More importantly, do you have several options for each time slot? A lot of us want to see Raphael Saadiq, which means many of us won’t. It’s nice to have contingency plans.
7. Do you have a little bit of sunscreen handy for the day shows? Remember what Darlene Conner learned from her grandmother. Skin is a gift!
Also, some industrious folks can pull a Hilah and make potables to nosh on and barter. I will not be one of them, though, as I’ll most likely be macking on Kebabalicious. For a guide to vegan-friendly fare, check in with Vegan Smurf.
Oh, and musicians. Please don’t spend your set futzing with tunings. You aren’t playing an evening at the Paramount. Yes, I realize that SXSW is a bit of a grind and no doubt showcases feel dehumanizing come Saturday. But if you’re really great, we’ll see you again in an actual concert where you can dazzle us for two hours. For now, you have maybe 50 minutes. Make it count.
Okay. So here is who I’m excited to see.
First, there are the acts that I already know I like. Folks like Thao Nguyen, Jean Grae, Invincible, TOKiMONSTA, Dessa, Glasser, Screaming Females, Julianna Barwick, Grass Widow, tUnE-yArDs, Nite Jewel, Smoosh, Andreya Triana, Indian Jewelry, Sharon Van Etten, and Schmillion.
Then there are legendary types. Did you see that Hazel Dickens is playing? What? Yes, I’ll try to see her. Thanks, “Hot Topic,” for nudging me toward all kinds of important women and/or queer artists.
For better or worse, hype is a big part of what drives SXSW. Hell, it’s what drives the music industry writ large. In addition to all the people lining up to see James Blake, Gold Panda, Weekend, Dum Dum Girls, Tennis, and maybe Fang Island, I’m sure folks are going to try and catch Cults, Yuck, the Joy Formidable, and Ear Pwr. I hope Butts catches some of that buzz. At first, I firmly classified this duo as a novelty act. But their 20-second songs about things like running out of toilet paper are pretty catchy and basically the kind of music I’d want to make with my friend Curran. Also, this band came together after some drinking. The B-52s formed while getting drunk at a Chinese restaurant, and if you call their first two albums “novel,” I’ll fight you.
I’m not sure where Big Freedia and Esben and the Witch are in their careers at this point. I feel like they might be waning a bit. I thought Freedia’s performance at the Kool Keith show was underwhelming and Esben’s debut record was poorly received. Yet I’m still interested in seeing if Freedia will pull out a great show. Also, I heard that Esben gave a great performance at the Matador anniversary weekend in Las Vegas, so I’m still interested.
There are also acts I’d like to see get more attention. Big Freedia’s celebrity has somewhat eclipsed Katey Red, another artist associated with bounce who I actually like more. Wye Oak is a longtime favorite and have steadily built a sizeable following. Their new record is also making me itch to do a comparative analysis between them and Beach House. White Mystery have gotten some good reviews and were a festival highlight for me last year, so I’m going to check in with them again. I haven’t seen the Shondes, but I’m so excited to see them that I encouraged readers to donate money to replace their van so they could play here.
I also like to find a few acts I think have a shot at universal appeal. Folks like Thao Nguyen make accessible, interesting music that I think most everyone I know would like. Maybe you can think of it as “the NPR vote.” Some contenders this year are Carla Morrison, Quadron, Wonfu, Gold Motel, Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, Khaïra Arby, and Frazey Ford. I’m also interested in seeing Japanese funk group Zukunasisters.
Supergroups are important too. It’s nice to see awesome musicians come together on a new project. Wild Flag is getting much attention, and “Glass Tambourine” is a rad song. However, please note that Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda, that dog.’s Petra Haden, and Shimmy Shimizu of Cornelius have a promising act called If By Yes. Their songs are breezy and refreshing, like a glass of lemonade with a shot of Tabasco.
Alongside Glasser and Barwick, some ladies are tending toward the dreamy and the mystical. I’ll refrain from comparing any of them to Kate Bush because that’s lazy. However, I’m planning to check out Braids, Grimes, Phantogram, Tamaryn, and Austra. I’m especially interested in artists who do interesting, unsettling things with atmosphere. Lookin’ at you, EMA, Lower Dens, Las Robertas, Blank Realm, No Joy, Christian Mistress, and the White Eyes.
SXSW is a festival that prioritizes rock music. Unfortunately, dance acts and hip hop artists tend to get the shaft. There’s a shocking dearth of hip hop this year beyond what I already listed, though I strongly recommend you follow Scratched Vinyl‘s coverage (founder/editor/personal friend Chi Chi Thalken will be giving a rundown on KOOP’s “Hip Hop Hooray” this Sunday at 2 p.m., so tune in). However, while I don’t want rock to be the festival’s default genre, I do upon occasion enjoy a cold beer and an electric guitar. For folks looking to rock out, might I suggest Heavy Cream, Fever Fever, Puffyshoes, Those Darlins, and Le Butcherettes?
Austin is a thriving music community in its own right, so check out some of our local talent. Christeene‘s an international superstar, but she’s ours. Schmillion are opening for the Bangles, so they’re due to break huge any day now. Agent Ribbons and Soft Healer spin a moody, beautiful tune that befits our vast landscape. Most everyone can get down to Akina Adderley and the Vintage Playboys‘ retro soul.
Likewise, there are some great showcases being put on by locals. I already mentioned GayBiGayGay, which will nurse you through your Sunday hangover. Mess With Texas has become a big-tent tradition. Girls Rock Camp Austin is partnering with Bitch for their day show and is holding a benefit where attendees can receive a guitar signed by Susanna Hoffs. Veronica Ortuño is holding her third annual Night of Rage. KVRX and Party Ends are putting on some good shows as well. And even though Terrorbird Media isn’t a local promotion company, it’s run by some very nice people with good taste. Also, apparently the good people at Karaoke Underground are doing their thing at Dive on Saturday, the 19th. Belt your favorite indie rock tunes, regardless of whether you have a voice left.
I attempted to be comprehensive here, but I’m sure I forgot some important people. Feel free to leave endorsements in the comments section and I’ll see you on the fairground.
First off, the official launch of the music festival was laced with sadness. It was reported yesterday that Alex Chilton of Big Star and The Box Tops died of a heart attack in New Orleans. That Big Star was going to be playing this Saturday is not to be overlooked. And on a personal note, we just got my partner’s dad to start listening to Big Star last week, as he missed them the first time around.
While Big Star is still somewhat obscure, their influence can’t be denied. While some may have never heard of the band, their music has seeped into the pop lexicon. Cheap Trick’s cover of “In the Street” was the theme to That 70s Show. “Thirteen” has been covered by just about everyone, Elliott Smith’s version a highlight in what I found to be an otherwise disappointing Thumbsucker.
My personal favorite is a brief moment in Adventureland when James and Em have an exchange about her copy of Radio City (dig that iconic cover, then recognize that photographer William Eggleston is responsible for awesome album art).
But the impact they had on other artists is astounding. Smith, R.E.M., Yo La Tengo, Garbage, Wilco — basically what became alternative rock was directly influenced by this Memphis outfit. I found out about Big Star via Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Kanga Roo,” which was often his set closer. As a result, I knew who The Replacements were singing about in “Alex Chilton” and where The Bangles got “September Gurls” from.
In short Chilton will be missed, but at least we have his beautiful music.
Now, onto the festivities.
So I got to the TerrorBird showcase a little after 4:30, in time to see a student I work with at GRCA walk out of Red 7. Pretty sure when I got there, Toro Y Moi pack up. Apparently, according to my friends, Chaz Bundick was pretty boring. I was afraid of this. As much of this chillwave is “just” some dude plinking on instruments and playing samples in his bedroom, I’d imagine that it’s hard to make this music presentational. I might try to check him out again at the festival or later. I really like Causers of This.
Real Estate – Last show I saw of the TerrorBird showcase. I’ll be candid – I thought this band was really boring on record. I was like “yeah, so the slow, dreamy parts of Daydream Nation. I kinda like member Matt Mondanile’s solo project Ducktails okay . . . next.” So I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked their set. I really got a sense of how the band interacted and an appreciation for their sound. I will point out, though, that if the musical contributions of the ‘teens will be something of a 90s revival, Real Estate indicate how influential jam bands were to indie touchstones like Pavement.
I wasn’t really into seeing A Sunny Day in Glasgow and The Rural Alberta Advantage. You know, I’m a working lady who walked down to the Red River scene from work and had an empty belly. Went to Frank and packed away the Smoked Andouille. Goin’ in for a repeat on Friday.
Denitia Odigie – Trekked over to the Garden Inn Hilton to some dining area. Eh, her set was aight. I heard a song of her’s and was interested. My partner’s assessment of the music was that it was perfect for a contemplative moment on Friends and I think that’s accurate (I’m specifically thinking of one of the many scenes where Ross or Rachel are looking out of a rainy window). She’d be an ideal candidate for the VH1 artist to watch series. It’s not that it’s bad, so much as pleasant but forgettable. There was one song she did about waiting for a lover to show on Saturday night that I thought was good and had an interesting guitar line. Maybe she just needs more snarl in her sound.
The Strange Boys – Couldn’t get in to Emo’s because for some reason there was a crazy long line, possibly for Basia Bulat. There wasn’t anyone we were dying to see, so we decided to idle over at Palm Door before Wanda Jackson’s set.
The Low Lows – Remember how I recommended earlier that festival goers welcome surprises? Here’s an example. Didn’t know about this group at all. Didn’t even know they were local. But dude, so good. This band would make a hell of an opening act for Castanets or Calexico. Spare melodies on guitar, keys, and I believe I saw a mellotron, with the volume and reverb ramped to eleven. Haunting high harmonies. A brass quartet. Sold.
Wanda Jackson and the Green Corn Revival – Kind of a no-brainer, especially since I’ve lived in Austin for so long but never made it out for any of her birthday concerts. Unfortunately the show will also be remembered as the moment where some dude behind me at The Village Voice confirmed for my friends that Alex Chilton had died, which he discovered via his iPhone. Fortunately the show will also be remembered as the time we met back up with our friend Allison, who we previously saw at the TerrorBird showcase. Jackson’s band, a ringer from Jackson’s home state of Oklahoma, had some issues. I also think Jackson’s Daisy Rock guitar gave her some sound and tuning problems. But she’s a legend and her hellcat voice is still in fine form. Plus I like Southern women who wear red fringe pantsuits. I hope we carry these traditions on to future generations of grand dames, especially ones who cover Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” While I always feel a little like heritage artists are at the risk of pandering when they cover contemporary music (i.e., Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”), they also remind you of their artistry and originality in these moments. Without Jackson’s legacy, Winehouse couldn’t be a rock n’ roll bad girl. And for those of you who wanted to hear “Fujiyama Mama,” last night, here you go.
Afterward, we went to Best Wurst. Ya’ll, I’m sad to say that I’ve never eaten a dog from the downtown staple. Had a few bites from Allison, and will thus impart how you should order yours: beef dog with grilled onions, sauerkraut, and curry ketchup. You won’t be disappointed.
Dâm-Funk – I’m gonna try checking him out again. The showcase at Speakeasy was promising, as is any bill that features him, Peanut Butter Wolf, Egon, and Madlib. And the set-up was actually pretty interesting, as all of the artists were deejaying round robin-style. The song selection also suggested to me that the 90s revival is going to involve revisiting and reclaiming cheesy, quiet storm R&B, which I’m fine with (RJD2 anticipated this in 2003 with his overlooked Lobster and Scrimp mix, as well as certain cuts on 2007’s The Third Hand). Good set, and saw a mutual friend on the KOOP softball team. My only problem was the venue. The Speakeasy is a bit labyrinthine. There’s actually three different stages within the club that I know of. Went to the roof, then downstairs before stumbling upon the showcase in the mezzanine. And the space was cramped and had poor air ventilation. No good.
We tried to catch the end of Sharon Jones’ set for NPR at Stubb’s with the intent of sticking around for Broken Bells. Impossible. Line around the block. Who knew this supergroup had such a hold on people? Perhaps people have heard of this band Spoon who were next on the bill as well? Kept walking over to Club Deville, where we ran into a friend from KVRX and my partner’s high school bestie and his girlfriend.
Bowerbirds – Okay, these kids harshed my mellow. Granted, I was already tired at this point and am currently in denial about a cold I hope I don’t catch. This band is great on record. And I hope they get to open for The Swell Season or maybe even lead singer Phil Moore’s idol Joanna Newsom. But the band committed a cardinal sin at SXSW: worrying too much about set-up. The band incorporates instruments like the accordion, mandolin, and violin with acoustic guitar and drums, and they wasted far too much time futzing with their mics. If you can’t get the mandolin miked just right, leave it aside for now. This is SXSW and some loud rock band is drowning you out. And complaining about the sound and your performance detracts what was otherwise a lovely selection of songs that beautifully highlighted Moore’s clear tenor and Beth Tacular’s airy harmonies. Save it for a proper concert. They were so behind that they ate into a half hour of Califone’s set. We were tired, so we went home. Didn’t even try and sneak into Warpaint’s set at Emo’s Jr. or venture to The Phoenix to see if Flying Lotus translates in a live setting. What did I miss?
I anticipate today being a bigger event. Explode Into Colors, Phantogram, and Jean Grae are to be seen, along with Drawlings, The Besnard Lakes, Mountain Man, Wye Oak, and many others. May also try to sneak in and see a bit of Golden Triangle’s set and the Liars’ day show. And of course, as Kristen at Act Your Age also mentioned, the GRCA day show is on Friday at Cafe Mundi. I’ll be there and I see no reason why you shouldn’t be too.
Wristbands for SXSW went on sale today. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the music festival is my favorite time of the year. I get no sleep, somehow go to work during the day, my feet hurt real bad, I smell like garbage soup come Sunday morning, and I usually end my nights with deliciously greasy food to soak up the beer. Absolute best. But since I know the proceedings can be a little overwhelming, I thought I’d offer some tips.
First, some petty bullshit.
-Calling it “South By” sounds like you’re trying to break into the industry. If you keep going, you’ll find that “South West” rolls right off the tongue. Okay, you can call it “South By.” Especially if we’re friends. I won’t correct you or make a face. But I will call it “South By South West.”
Now, some practical information regarding comfort.
-Relaxed dress code, ya’ll. Many follow the impulse to get styled out. And hey, power to you if you’re young and like playing with clothes. And if you decide that leather jodhpurs look great with your aunt’s vintage blue sequined tube top and later discover that you’re horribly wrong, Vice or Look At This Fucking Hipster might still take your picture and you can tell/text/Tweet your friends. I’m more casual, however. Hence why you haven’t seen me. The best you could hope for from me is being the brown-haired girl in a red hooded sweatshirt standing almost out of frame smirking at the girl wearing a tube top and jodhpurs.
-Keep in mind that you’ll be on your feet 98% of the time. You’ll be standing in lines or in front of bands or walking to places where you’ll be standing in lines or in front of bands. Some of these places will be outdoors where you’ll kick up dirt. It could rain. Some asshole might drop a full beer bottle or step on your toes. This is not the time to break out those pointy flats, gladiator sandals, platform pumps, peep-toe booties, jellies, or whatever fashionable shoe begs an audience. Think sneakers or, if you must be cool, flat-heeled boots. Also, since the 90s are back, maybe you still have a pair of floral print Doc Martens. If you have them in a size 5 and don’t want them anymore, give them to me.
-Free beer is great. If candy be dandy, then liquor be quicker. But you’re gonna need to drink lots of water. Dehydration is not the move.
-Remember that deliciously greasy late-night food I was talking about? Might I recommend Star Seeds or the vegan-friendly Kebabalicious for your cravings? Can’t go wrong with a treat from Mrs. Johnson’s either, especially since you can get a fresh glazed donut for free. I haven’t been to the 24 Diner yet, but it might be worth pursuing. If you wanna go the drive-thru route, What-A-Burger is Texas’s gift to tourists. I’m not so into Kerbey Lane or Magnolia Café, but they get it done. These are just some after-hours options. Entertaining the idea of what restaurant to eat at in Austin is a decision to step into a larger world. We’ve got good food locked down. If you’re looking for vegan fare, Lazy Smurf was good enough to provide a comprehensive list of restaurants. Happy eating!
-Sunscreen is a buddy. Earplugs are buddies too. But I always forget to bring them.
And now, the music.
-If you wanna gadabout and maybe see some shows, there’s lots of options. The festival offers tons of free, all-ages stuff put together by good people like Todd P. They’re even nice enough to offer those listings in neat little indexes you can fold in your back pocket. But if you want to see specific acts, particularly buzz artists covered by The Onion, Pitchfork, NPR, or others, you’re most likely gonna need a wristband. This is an international festival. Venues fill to capacity. If you can’t make this happen but you’re a student on spring break or can take off work, day shows and after-hours parties are your buddies. You can see a lot of up-and-coming acts that will be playing in the evening for little to no cover.
-Even if you can make it happen, take some time to enjoy the day shows. KVRX always delivers. TerrorbirdMedia put together great showcases. Yard Dog is for sweethearts. NPR is a buddy. GRCA is putting together a great day show.
-If you are coming in from out of town, please make sure you check out our local talent. Austin’s touted as the live music capital for a reason, as the city is lousy with awesome bands. One only needs to check out Matador’s Casual Victim Pile compilation for recent evidence (note: the title is an anagram for “live music capital” — har har). As a local, I tend not to see so many local bands during the evening because they’re around and I have to prioritize. But if I didn’t, I’d see as many Austin bands as I could. You should too.
-If you like an act, check to see what label they’re on. Chances are you might like another band on the roster. If you do, it’s probably worth checking out the label’s showcase. Some record labels I follow: Merge, DFA/Astralwerks, Warp, Kill Rock Stars, K, Stones Throw, anticon., XL, 4AD, Carpark, Kranky, and Sub Pop. They usually put on day shows as well, sometimes with other labels.
-If you feel like exploring new sounds or are intrigued by an act because of its name, do a little investigating. Might I suggest checking in with that thing called MySpace as a starting point? It has to be good for something.
-Don’t be afraid of bands you don’t know. Trust your friends and their tastes if you have evidence of compatibility, because you might discover something really special. In 2005, I remember going to the Church of the Friendly Ghost (RIP) to see a band because someone I knew thought I’d really like them. They were a British dance band and I don’t believe they had a deal in the states yet. They were a polite, brainy bunch who put on a great show and had lots of energy. They even did a charming cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Miracles.” Their name is Hot Chip and I haven’t been able to catch them since.
-Build a schedule. You can do it through SXSW’s Web site. Print it out or plug it into your phone. You’ll want it with you at all times.
-Stay connected. I posted this today, but acts will be added up to the last possible minute. Check SXSW’s Web site, Twitter, Facebook, listservs, various e-mags, etc. I will also update this post as more acts I like are announced.
-Finally, I’ll offer up lists of bands I’m planning to see so that setting a schedule can be a bit more manageable. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather my list. I’m not interested in being a tastemaker. I’ve taken the liberty of putting my selections in tiers. Tier 1 are acts you can only see during SXSW (last year’s example was Flower Travellin’ Band, a 60s-era Japanese psych-noise band). Tier 2 are the acts I’m really hoping to see. Tier 3 are the acts that have a lot of hype around them or staying power to them and are worth seeing. The Texas section is self-explanatory, and is all-killer, no filler. It’s a hierarchy, but it keeps things tidy. Also, I provided links to every artist so you can check ‘em out.
Aa, Julianna Barwick, The Besnard Lakes, Best Coast, Black Dynamite Sound Orchestra, Black Milk, Bomba Estéreo, Breakestra, Califone, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Exene Cervenka, Daedelus, Kimya Dawson, Dengue Fever, Dosh, Damaged Good$, Dam Funk, The Entrance Band, Explode Into Colors, Fashawn, Flying Lotus, GZA, Invincible, Jean Grae, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Les Savy Fav, Liars, Lyrics Born, Madlib, Major Lazer (their debut album didn’t meet my lofty expectations, but they should be fun in a live setting), Mayer Hawthorne and the County, Memory Tapes, MEN, Mountain Man, Murs, 9th Wonder, Peanut Butter Wolf, Jemina Pearl, People Under the Stairs, Phantogram, Pharoahe Monch, Psalm One, Smoosh, Themselves, Tobacco, Toro Y Moi, Total Abuse, Viv Albertine, The Walkmen, Wye Oak, The xx, YACHT.
Matias Aguayo, Andrew WK, Blue Scholars, BO-PEEP, Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles, Bowerbirds, Kría Brekkan, Broken Bells, Broken Social Scene, Buckshot, !!!, Class Actress, Cocktail Slippers, Crystal Antlers, Drawlings, The Ettes, 4th Pyramid, The Fresh & Onlys, General Elektriks, Golden Triangle, Ha Ha Tonka, Hole (if it happens), Horse Feathers, Hunx and his Punx, jj, Kid Sister, KIT, Solange Knowles, Sondre Lerche, Thurston Moore, Neon Indian, Nappy Roots, No Age, Denitia Odigie, Peelander-Z, Pocahaunted, Pomegranates, Ra Ra Riot, The Raveonettes, Rhymefest, The Ruby Suns, Rye Rye, School Of Seven Bells, She & Him, Slum Village, Surfer Blood, Thee Oh Sees, Titus Andronicus, Tyvek, Uffie, The Very Best, Visqueen, Washed Out, Wale, Warpaint, The Watson Twins, Yip-Yip, Jonneine Zapata, Zs.
Balmorhea, Best Fwends, Scott H. Biram, The Carrots, Dikes of Holland, Daniel Francis Doyle, Follow That Bird, Girl in a Coma, Paradise Titty, Pink Nasty, RATKING, Spoon (sorta local, though a big-tent act; they get a pass because Transference is my favorite album of 2010 thus far), The Strange Boys, T Bird and the Breaks, Ume, When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth, Wine and Revolution, Woven Bones, White Ghost Shivers, YellowFever.
Have fun! See you around town!
In her rad book Gender Politics and MTV: Voicing the Difference Lisa A. Lewis (drawing from Angela McRobbie’s seminal essay “Settling Accounts With Subcultures: A Feminist Critique”) recognizes that the street as a cultural space traditionally off limits for women and girls, both in subcultural practices and music video representations, as rape, harassment, and objectification could befall them. McRobbie argues that these gendered standards of space are formed out of a broader system of social inequality, which Lewis believes is resisted through “female-address” music videos, or music videos that feature female artists in a subject position, which can reconfigure the normativity of male privilege through appropriation of the street with female subjects interacting with it.
So, tonight I’m going to post two new(ish) music videos that show ladies and girls engaging with the street. Enjoy!
“Don’t Let Go”
Futuristically Speaking . . . Never Be Afraid
Note: NSFW, but worth watching at your desk if you’re chained to a cubicle.
Directed by Caleb Stine and Eric Diga