Day One (3/9/12)
UPDATE: SXSWi is Live Streaming their interactive sessions. WATCH THEM HERE!
I’ll soon be headed deep into the heart of Austin, TX to the annual South by Southwest Interactive, Film and Music Conference. Whether you know it as “SXSW” or by it’s more common nickname, “South By,” you know it as the place where new technologies are born and/or embraced by the masses (Twitter, Foursquare), new films are premiered and new bands are broken. It’s the home of events like “LANFest” and “FlatStock” and during the music portion (in addition to the hundreds of official shows) you can also expect super-secret showcases to be announced spontaneously. Secret shows have been turned in over the years by everyone from Metallica to Foo Fighters to Muse, and if you’re not on Twitter every five minutes, chances are you’ll miss the set.
I’m furiously selecting the panels I plan to attend this weekend – names like, “Brands as Patterns,” “Storytelling Beyond Words: New Forms of Journalism,” “Designing Tomorrow’s Digital/Physical Interfaces” – and will be covering them all right here, so keep checking back.
Expect some up-to-the-minute coverage of the panels and parties starting first thing tomorrow morning, and most likely some guest appearances by former Food Editor, Katie Machol!
Stay tuned to the blog, or follow me on Twitter @joranslane
If you’re in Austin for the conference, and interested in seeing my schedule on the SXSocial site, here it is.
Day Two (3/10/12)
Day Two was a full one (a little too full). But registration went smoothly (big shout outs to Morgan Catalina and Amy Wanke at SXSW).
The first panel I attended was called “Brands as Patterns,” moderated by Marc Shillum. There was a great image on-screen when I arrived that looked like a cross between a DNA spectrograph and a subway schedule. Those who know me, know I’m a sucker for a good infographic.
- Marc Shillum: “If the brand is interface, then the brand is temporal … and it should have a theme.”
- From Robin Lanahan: “Branding is story. And dynamic storytelling is knowing what can move and what stays the same. Learn from Hollywood in how you plot your “story” structure, with attention to positive and negative tension for brands and products.”
- Walter Werzowa: “Composing music is similar to brand development … Females [and other demo/psychographics] feel and react to different key notes … Give up focus grouping, give the money to musicians instead … Motifs that repeat are measurable and means there is a way to anticipate user needs, and interaction with the brand.”
- The fields of music, art, neuroscience, branding, empathy are all closely connected.
- “Don’t make experts, make comprehensivists.”
Mashable Goes Print for SXSW
The second panel of the day was Emotional Equations for Connecting With Your Customers with Chip Conley
- Conley has developed emotional equations based on Robert Plutchik’s “Color Wheel of Emotions” including:
- Anxiety = Uncertainty (What don’t I know?) x Powerlessness (What can’t I influence?)
- Despair = Suffering – Meaning
- Authenticity = Self-Awareness x Courage
- Based on Albert Maslow’s pyramid of needs, Conley has developed his own version (Meet user expectations/Survival, Meet user desires/Succeed, Meet unrecognized user needs/Transformation).
- Unrecognized user needs are things like the fax machine or the toilet, that once adopted fall to the bottom of the pyramid.
- Brands need to “be a mirror for the aspirations of their customers and create an ‘identity refreshment.’”
- Humans have “a predilection for loss aversion” (we don’t want anticipated regret) and 2/3 of people will choose $100 now vs. $0 or $200 from a coin toss.
- Greater choice=greater regret
- Audi showed an increase in buyer happiness by restructuring the way users select the various features on their vehicle (interior, colors, transmission) by adjusting the selection process to begin with fewer choices and end with the most.
- Head and Shoulders increased sales by 10% by narrowing their product line from 26 to 15.
- As a brand or business, ask yourself three questions:
1. What business are we in? (Ask this five times, answers should drill deeper each time, usually by the fifth response, an “identity refreshment” should be indicated).
2. What courageous, rebellious decision have we recently made that could be perceived as brilliant or foolish?
3. What would it mean to the world if we didn’t exist anymore?
A lot of the panels I pre-selected ended up being way out at The Sheraton on the other side of town (including one by friend and former Creative Loafing alum, Max Linsky), so I missed those and am hoping to listen to them all when the podcasts go up.
We just happened to be standing on 6th Street when a flash mob decided to head straight for us. The timing couldn’t have been better (video below).
Day Three (3/11/12)
On Sunday, I was hurting (did I mention #gettingoldsucks?) and didn’t leave the apartment until around 5 p.m. but we headed straight to the steadily-growing line outside The Parish and waited for 2 hours to get into the PBS party. Normally, I don’t wait in lines – It’s just not how I roll at SXSW, gotta keep moving – but Katie was geeked (literally) about meeting Steven Moffat (writer for shows like Sherlock, Jeckyll and Doctor Who) and his wife Sue Vertue.
While in line, we just happened to realize we were standing next to former Apple evangelist and superstar blogger, Guy Kawasaki. Guy was as cool as could be, actually asking us where some of the parties were, and telling us about all the free drinks he’d just downed at the Rackspace party at Bat Bar. Good times.
I had low to no expectations for this party and it ended up being one of the coolest and most pleasant parties I’ve ever been to at SXSW. Moffat was kind enough to stand at the bar while a line to get autographs and photos snaked through the venue, PBS rolled a great video intro including clips from Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street and ending with previews of their newer and more popular shows (Sherlock, Downton Abbey) and the catering from Beale Street was some of the tastiest food I’ve had in Austin. We connected with independent filmmaker, Quark Henares (His father’s name was Atom, get it?) and we all got awesome retro PBS shirts on our way out the door. Mine is probably one of a few free shirts I’ll actually wear. Bravo, PBS!
We made a failed attempt to track down Omar Rodriguez-Lopez at the official Los Chidos party at El Sol Y De Luna and then cut over to Coppertank Brewing Co. for Tom Hanks’ Electric City presented by Yahoo! No sign of Hanks, but Blaqstarr was onstage when we arrived, turning in a truly great set that had the party moving while cyclists on stationary bikes doggedly pretended to be generating electricity for the building.
The Nokia Lab was next. It was a huge, triple-domed white structure set up in a vacant parking lot, spewing fake snow at passers-by. The Nokia crew, outfitted in white labcoats and goggles had been hyping this party on the streets all day, and we wanted badly to see what it looked like inside. It was impressive. 3-D renderings of the new Lumia 900 phone and tweets from attendees were being projected on the inside of the curved ceilings. The room was divided by yellow strips of industrial plastic hung from tubular blue frames. White cake balls and free drinks were being served, ping pong and foosball tables were set up, an interactive photo booth spat out your print while you waited and there was even room for a stage where featured artists will be performing over the next few days.
The interior of the NokiaLab
Our evening ended at Swan Dive (formerly Barbarella’s) after I got a text from Shawn Beauville that our friend Brad Register’s band The Tenant (formerly Summerbirds in the Cellar) was about to go on. Katie and I hustled over just in time to catch their set. The Tenant performs intense, 80s-informed rock with plenty of dynamics and hooks. If you’re a fan of U2 and Foo Fighters and wish that they would one day collaborate, stop holding your breath and just buy a Tenant album. You can thank me later.
Day Four (3/12/12)
I suppose when you get drunk and start telling stories abut your kids it’s a sign that you miss them, and that’s how day four ended. I did, however manage to finally track down my new favorite local brew Thirsty Planet’s Buckethead IPA at Opal Divine’s, so at least it ended on a high note.
The day began with Howard Rheingold. Rheingold is the grandfather of Virtual Communities, and the rise of “Community Management” among branded content and media companies continues to rely on his expertise and innovation dating back to the early 1980s. For two years now, at Creative Loafing, we grant the “Howard Rheingold Award” to site editors doing innovative and engaging work within their channel. And it’s all based on a document that he drafted in the 1990s.
His solo presentation was upbeat, informative, optimistic and charming. The crowd in attendance was inquisitive, respectful and visibly engaged. The two 20-something girls handling the sound and wireless microphones were utterly fucking bored.
Key takeaways (Here’s a graphic courtesy of Ogilvy Notes):
- Self-election is what makes open-source work. New ways to participate are born every day.
- There is no general definition of a virtual community. Some use it as a lifeline, some as an escape from reality.
- Peer-to-peer universities and cooperative learning are coming. Wikipedia is just the beginning if collective knowledge.
- Capital opportunities arise from trusted networks.
- The difference between mindfulness and hyper-vigilance? Take a breath, pay attention to your body.
- Position matters within a network. Thriving is based on centrality and how many people need to go through you to meet their needs.
- Don’t just keep up with the hardware or software of new systems, keep up with the literacy.
- A schoolteacher asked how she could motivate the under-served, specifically low-income students and those who don’t self-elect. Rheingold replied that gamers are peer learners, it may work to reach them with a medium/platform they understand.
Later, outside the CNN Lounge, I bumped into Jesse Thomas of the agency, Jess3. Thomas is known for the ubiquitous colorful posters and diagrams plastered all over Austin during SXSW, primarily illustrating new models of content delivery and the “State of the Internet.” He’s also known for his work as a Forbes contributor and as Social Media Adviser to NASA, organizing the first geosocial check-in from space. I’d been collecting their street art, posters, infographics and data visualizations for five years now and was pleased to finally meet the man behind all the artwork hanging in my cubicle at the office. Thomas was a humble dude, and gracious enough to offer to send some t-shirts and posters to the CL office for the staff. Thanks, Jesse, we’ll sport them proudly.
Of course, The big news of today, was that CNN and Mashable are in talks for a deal hovering around $200 million. We’ll keep you posted.
Day Five (3/13/12)
You know, I thought it interesting that a band was setting up while I was browsing through vinyl at Waterloo Records. It turned out to be Delta Spirit, whose new record hit shelves yesterday. In the time I had my head down, the room had filled up completely. I couldn’t make my way to the register, so I camped out and got some video (see below). I was then humming this song for an hour.
I got a tip (thanks, David) that St. Petersburg City Councilman, Steve Kornell, and his partner Rob had arrived in Austin for the music portion. I hit them up and we grabbed dinner at Garrido’s, a sit-down, Mexican restaurant that I remembered being better two years ago, but it being the first sit-down meal I’d had in four days, I couldn’t complain. We discussed the music scenes in Austin and St. Pete, talked about participatory government, recounted how many times we’d had bicycles stolen in St. Pete, and agreed to text if we found something cool.
My good friend Shawn from The Beauvilles was sitting in on lead guitar with Thomas Wynn and the Believers at the Club 606, so I busted ass across town to catch the last song. Luckily, I got some pics and video, and they sounded great! After their set, the MC took the stage and told the crowd that he was “out front listening” to their set when he overheard someone say, “Damn, them niggas got soul,” and reminded the crowd that none of Thomas Wynn’s band members were black.
Downtown Austin is walkable, but damn, tonight was a challenge! All the way back across town to La Zona Rosa to try and catch Santigold. I was with my friend and INMotion game designer, Chris Ledwith, and as I had a badge, we had to stand in different lines. Non-badge holders were notified that the show was at capacity and that no amount of money or showing of tits would get them in (seriously, this happened). They were only allowing badge holders, one-in, one-out. Luckily, when Theophilus London ended his set, a group of ten people decided to leave and I squeaked my way inside and muscled my way into the crowd near the stage just in time to see Santigold.
Holy shit, Santigold.
There was already an energy in the room – everyone dancing and head-bobbing to the dubstep being played between sets, and the sound at La Zona Rosa was pristine. When the band took the stage, the room exploded. They were in full costume, players outfitted in white caps with flat tops to look like albino frankensteins and the backup singers/dancers wearing colorful jackets with white sunglasses and gold pom poms. Santigold appeared wearing a gold crown and tore right into the first song. There were at least three costume changes within her 45 minute set – including black and white bowtie ensembles, sparkly gold tunics, black and white parasols and a huge white horse (which must have contained at least two crew members) that danced center stage while the dancers twirled lassos above their heads on either side. The backup dancers moved easily from expressionistic modern dance and Thriller-style zombie moves to booty shaking hip-hop and cheerleader kicks and tumbles. Santigold’s voice was flawless and she sweetly and casually engaged the crowd between songs, stating at one point (when the backing track crapped out), “I’ll sing a capella for y’all if I have to!” This show will be hard to top this year. A great set by a great artist.
Local Austin hard rock/metal band Scorpion Child was already playing across town when Santigold’s set ended, but I hopped in a cab and made it to Hotel Vegas just in time to catch their last three songs. Scorpion Child sounds like a cross between Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers with a little Judas Priest thrown in for good measure, and I’ve been a fan of theirs since I caught them here three years ago. I spoke with singer Aryn Black (by day, a bartender at Barbarella’s) about the changes in their lineup (specifically a new, and visibly younger, lead guitarist named Chris Hodge) and about their new record. Scorpion Child usually has between 3-5 appearances booked for SXSW, but this was their only date on the festival this year. When asked why, Black said, “We usually get asked to play a bunch of parties, and that just didn’t happen this year.”
I also ran into music blogger and German marketing director, Tina Kavanagh, who has recently worked on Suzuki’s “Mehr Vagen” campaign (“vagen” means both “car” and “courage” in German) and also campaigns for Play Doh. It was fascinating to hear stories about shooting in an empty swimming pool containing a green screen lifted by balloons and how Play Doh’s only German competitor is a product without a name or brand that’s available widely in the market and used in elementary schools.
Trending Topics: There’s been some backlash against the Homeless Hotspot project in Austin, saying that the organization is exploiting the homeless by paying them only $50/day to promote their free wi-fi locations for SXSW.
SXSW staff have denied the rumor that Gibson’s sponsorship is the reason for excluding the Vintage Guitar Show (a much-lauded used gear showcase) from this year’s conference. We’re told the two are “totally unrelated.”
SXSW has also announced the winners of 2012’s Film Awards, including Battles for Best Music Video.
Day Six (3/14/12)
After mailing a postcard, and watching The Christopher Brothers’ impressive-but-quickly-busted street performance (see the YouTube channel), I met up with photographer Kelley Jackson at Manuel’s. We had an amazing dinner and got our game plan on.
Even if both of us split up and saw one song each, there was still no way to catch it all. I wanted to see Dan the Automator’s new project, Pillowfight. She’s heard that singer-songwriter Emily Wells was in town and wanted to track her down. We headed first to 512 to get in line for Pillowfight, managing to snap a pic with Automator after his soundcheck.
It turned out that the lead vocalist for Pillowfight was none other than Emily Wells. She was joined by Kid Koala on the turntables, a triple threat (piano, vocals and beatbox) named Butterscotch, and an “all-star” band that included Automator himself on the laptop, Kaoss pad and mixer. They performed “Sentimental,” which is the single from the forthcoming record, but the rest of the set proved to be much stronger than the lead track. For fans of Automator’s Lovage record, this one is a must. Really dynamic stuff, ranging from full-on turntablism and heavy beats to sparse, sultry vocal harmonies accompanied by piano.
It was then on to The Haven to catch Band of Skulls. These guys were a surprise discovery of mine a couple years ago at SXSW, only to get home and find that half the world had already heard of them after being included on the Twilight soundtrack. I admit, that one slipped by me. But for two years now, I’ve been telling everyone I could about them, describing them as “Black Sabbath meets The Pretenders by way of the White Stripes.” It might not be the best pitch, but it’s mine.
Band of Skulls flat-out killed. Katie’s boyfriend, Karl Simon, even came down for the set and was blown away. he said it was the first “proper concert” he’d seen at the festival. Basically meaning that they weren’t set up on a riser in a parking lot and that the sound was decent.
Tennis and Kasabian had to wait for another day, as we needed sleep. Had to get up early this morning to get in line for the Springsteen keynote. Stay tuned.
Day Seven (3/15/12)
Bruce Springsteen Keynote Address
We awaited the arrival of “The Boss” in the Austin Convention Center’s Ballroom D. There was to be no photography, no videography, no audio recording of any kind – and that included press. Kind of a bummer since I rolled Kelley out early to attend. Russell Marsden (vocalist for Band of Skulls) was in attendance and Radiohead’s King of Limbs played over the PA, echoing through the cavernous hall and keeping the still-groggy crowd from getting too restless.
With about 45 minutes left on the clock, Nora Guthrie (Woody’s daughter) took the stage in honor of her father’s birthday and introduced warm-up acts Eliza Gilkyson, Jimmy LaFave and Juanes. They stalled (read: performed touching renditions of Guthrie classics) while we waited for Bruce to take the stage. Colombian-born Juanes led off the classic “This Land is Your Land,” and it took them a minute of awkward silence, but the audience eventually applauded. When the trio was finished, Roland Swanson, managing director and co-founder of SXSW finally introduced The Boss.
Bruce took the stage to a standing ovation and when the applause finally died down, he said, “Why are we up so fucking early?” There was much laughter. “How important can this speech be if we’re giving it at noon?,” he said. “Every decent musician is still asleep – or they will be, by the time I’m done.”
Bruce then spent the next 45 minutes or so telling us about his musical journey. And when Springsteen started out (as he was quick to mention), he only had 10 years of actual rock music to draw on. Bruce’s personal journey through music – his storied career – is really the story of rock and roll itself, meandering through the 60s, 70s and 80s, both influencing and being influenced by doo-wop, soul, country, folk, punk, alternative and metal.
“Pop has become a new language and a new cultural force,” Springsteen said, and “rock continues its tradition as youth music and as a joyous argument starter.” He added, “U2 is the last band [that] I’ll know all four members’ names.”
A common theme throughout Springsteen’s talk was Elvis Presley (Elvis’ 1956 appearance on Ed Sullivan inspired him to create his own “transformative self”). More specifically, Springsteen based a large part of his theme on a small part of Lester Bangs’ now famed obituary of The King that stated, “We will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis.” Bangs was implying that we as a people would never be brought together by one music again and that “fragmentation” and “solipsism” ruled the day. Bangs may have been right at the time, but Springsteen maintains that we can beat those odds – that the “genesis and power of creativity” will not be denied and that the “power and purpose of music” is what still matters. He also alluded to the fact that music itself might be the new unifying force, as evidenced by the SXSW festival, as thousands of music fans gathered to celebrate so many disparate styles and genres. “The purity of human essence and expression is not confined to tubes or microchips,” The Boss reminded us.
According to Springsteen, the birth of rock and roll was the discovery of a new way of thinking about sex, race, identity and America. His description of doo wop was “the sound of bras popping all at once across [the country].” His description of Roy Orbison, “the true master of the romantic apocalypse that you knew was coming after the first night you whispered I love you.” Springsteen drew comparisons between the new music of the 60s and the tortured, heartbreak of the actual artist, giving voice to the “blue-balled limp back home after the dance.”
While the emergence of punk music from the likes of The Sex Pistols (“an informed darkness [whose challenge] you could not ignore”) and soul (“adult music performed by men and women, not teen idols”) was influential, it was the music of The Animals that truly made a mark.
“The Animals were a revelation,” he said. And while poking fun at vocalist Eric Burdon’s stage presence (and his inability to dance), he also credited their music with “the first appearance of class consciousness.” Reciting lyrics from their hit “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” and strumming the chords that went with them, Springsteen painted a picture his fans know all too well – the crumbling, industrial town; the greener grass of unknown places; sexual frustration and civic impotence – and joked, “That’s every song I’ve ever written.”
The takeaways were many (Springsteen still practices his swagger in front of a mirror. “Don’t you?,” he asked the crowd. “C’mon, ya gotta check your moves.”) and his parting words, “Stay hard. Stay hungry.” will ring in my head for some time. But, the real message of his keynote address lay in his closing statement. “The true artist keeps two contradictory ideas alive in their head and heart at all times.” Springsteen spoke directly to all individuals harboring a creative impulse, and the time and place couldn’t have been better. The musicians and artists knew exactly what he meant. The interface designers and game programmers knew what he meant, too. The speech, while broken up by brief musical interludes (strummed chord changes, snippets of songs by The Animals and Woody Guthrie) was as finely timed and crafted as one his songs. It was grand in scope, epic, yet all too brief. It brought you one step closer to understanding Bruce Springsteen – the kid from New Jersey, the struggling young artist trying to synthesize new and sometimes conflicting concepts into one concrete musical language, the producer and performer with the ultimate work ethic. It left you empathizing with the underprivileged, yet impelled to go out and simply accomplish more, to never give up or put your head down. They were the words you want to hear from any boss, “Stay hard. Stay hungry.”
Torreblanca Y Amigas
We arrived expecting a solo set by Ximena Sarinana (as hers was the sole name listed on the time slot) but instead were told that the showcase would include Latin performers from as far as Mexico City and Chile and be a chance for many of these artists (who hadn’t rehearsed in advance, only through demos via e-mail) to get together and “jam.”
The word “jam” and “Chile” together, conjured up this image of tribesmen playing flutes on the small convention center day stage, and I was pissed. This kind of bait and switch was unprecedented. It had to have been a mistake.
But, here’s how it unfolded. Apparently, these artists weren’t folk musicians, they were pop bands, and what we witnessed in that hour was truly amazing, considering the circumstances. They’d all gone to college together, and had reunited here for one of the many Latin-focused showcases that music fest programmer Alicia Zertuche puts on annually.
For the most part, the backing band was Mexico City’s own Torreblanca, the project of Juan Manuel Torreblanca, who acted as “a sort of MC” introducing the players as they came on and off stage – sitting in on backup vocals, accordion, piano or percussion on each other’s songs. The performers included French/Mexican chanteuse Andrea Balency, Javiera Mena from Chile, and a new personal favorite, Natalia Lafourcadefrom Mexico City (who is apparently a big star over there, and was until then known to me as “the girl with the bow in her hair who was standing next to me at the Band of Skulls show”). The Torreblanca band also featured the beautiful and bubbly Carmen Ruiz on vocals and percussion, drummer Jerson Vazquez, bassist El Abuelo, and saxophonist el tio. Oh, and Ximena got to play a couple songs at the end.
Gracias, Torreblanca y amigas. Great to meet you all.
The minute Trixie Whitley took the stage, literally close enough to where I could touch her, I started to well up. I had met her father, Houston-based blues legend Chris Whitley, in 2003 here at SXSW shortly before he died of cancer. He performed a beautiful trainwreck of a set at Maggie Mae’s in front of an intimate crowd that somehow managed to keep the entire room in silent rapture and dumbstruck awe.
Two songs into Trixie’s set and tears were streaming down my face. Partly due to exhaustion, but also because Whitley’s music comes from a dark place where she struggles to reconcile the early loss of her father, reluctantly and painfully communicated in the language that he himself taught her. Their mannerisms are the same, from the strained facial expressions to their gaunt frames stomping on the stage floor – a thud that echoed out into the street and drowned out the surrounding din of rock and techno bleeding in from the neighboring clubs. Her set was even fraught with the same technical difficulties. Three times members of the audience took the stage to attempt to fix a keyboard (provided by the venue) that had way too many knobs and no sustain pedal. The audience waited patiently each time, while she sweetly apologized and thanked the crowd and sound man for their patience, all the while a visible rage growing inside of her.
By the time her set was over, there was a release of energy – part anxiety, part joy – that was palpable in the venue. We had been paid a visit by the princess of blues and soul. And we took pictures of her while she kicked like a pony and listened while she spoke to us in a language as old as man, handed down to her by one of the greats. The world never knew her father well enough, never understood him, and his memory is kept alive by the too-few brilliant albums that he managed to record, but he has left us with possibly the greatest gift of all – Trixie.
Also see photos of Cults; He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister; Kaiser Chiefs; Temper Trap; Madi Diaz.
Day Eight (3/16/12)
I’m completely fucking exhausted. Bouncing back and forth between sensory overload (read: 4th St.) and chaos (read: 6th St.) every night for seven days will test you. Yesterday, I had two peak musical experiences, one of which physically brought me to tears, and today it starts all over. The steady diet of water, Emergen-C, ibuprofen, caffeine and antihistamines will have to be enough. It’s time to hit the street in search of the new.
Shawn (The Beauvilles) had joined Thomas Wynn and The Believers on this recent tour as a lead guitarist, so the boys decided to return the favor and back Shawn up at a showcase at Casa Chapala, a Mexican restaurant downtown. Billed as “Beau and the Believers,” and scheduled for the “acoustic” stage (the corner of the upstairs bar), the lineup included Shawn on guitar and vocals, Thomas Wynn on drums, Dave Wagoner on bass and the amazing Chris Bell on harmonica. With one rehearsal in, they got through a handful of Beauvilles songs and stretched out the set with a little improvisation. The harmonica added real authenticity and power (especially when executed by someone like Bell) to The Beauvilles’ already roadhouse-ready blues rock. I truly hope to hear this version of the band (or something like it) again. It sounded true.
At the Easy Tiger patio, I finally got to see Ximena Sarinana perform a full set of her own music. The crowd was unruly and belligerent, while other press photographers refused to let Kelley (who was much shorter than they were) stand in front of them to get her shots. If you’re one of those photographers and you’re reading this, fuck you.
I was crouched near the monitors in front of the band when I started to sweat and noticed I wasn’t feeling well. There was a drunk woman tapping her knobby knees on my back that obviously had no idea who Ximena was, but wanted to continually scream, “Your dress is hot, girrrllllll!” and spill her drink down my back. This is where the night took a turn.
Ximena performed an amazing set consisting mainly of material from her new album, her self-titled English debut. She was joined onstage by drummer Alex Wong (A City on a Lake), guitarist Pete Lalish and a very animated bassist, David Lizmi, and ended her set with a solo piano version of “Mediocre,” the title track from her first record. Ximena was kind enough to talk to me after her set, even after a full day of giving interviews, and we discussed her recording (and personal) relationship with boyfriend Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (The Mars Volta), her vocal range (I refer to her as the “Latin Bjork”), and her strange musical identity. Sarinana has recorded volumes of music from jazz to pop to hard rock, and fits easily alongside the indie and experimental hipsters of San Francisco as she does the Mexican pop stars she went to college with that we had met the day before. Sarinana stated simply, “I don’t like being put in a box.” Fair enough, girl. Oh, and your dress was totally hot.
I was feeling worse by the minute, but stopped in for Zechs Marquis’ set at the Sargent House showcase and met Claire Ramsdell, of Boston blog Allston Pudding. Sargent House is a strange hybrid that serves as management collective/label/promotion company and more. I’ve always wanted to learn more about the success of its business model and hung around to try to catch a few words with founder Cathy Pellow, but Zechs Marquise was pounding away like a bunch of dudes that had just gotten some new gear and wanted to jam in strange time signatures. And I was in no mood to do math.
There is a sociological phenomena known as the “doughnut effect,” which states basically that as a city (or settlement) grows, the core will tend to crumble and decay as the inhabitants move outward seeking larger and better housing (a.k.a. “the suburbs”). Well, if the SXSW event were a settlement or a colony (which is hardly debatable), and the new layers upon layers of unofficial showcases and free shows that crop up around the edges of the festival proper every year are the suburbs, then SXSW has officially turned into a ghetto.
Last night was evidence of this, as 6th Street was teeming with thousands of people – more than I’d seen in five years here. They all seemed to be here for different reasons (seeing bands, spring break, getting laid, participating in a flash mob, drinking because it’s the weekend, giving out CDs no one will ever listen to, drinking because it’s Friday, working on a street team promoting a product no one will ever use, drinking because it’s SXSW, etc.) and few of them had badges or wristbands. Don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day, this 10-day period supports this city year-round and a lot of local businesses depend on it. But, as I tried to make my way from one venue to another, feeling claustrophobic in a wide open space (and on the edge of panic and anxiety), I finally understood why the locals hate it. It’s not about the money. It never has been. The locals would probably pay the businesses directly if everyone would just stay home. The problem is that the majority of people that come to SXSW don’t respect the city of Austin, the conference or themselves. They just want a piece of something, and they think it lives here.
Day Nine (3/17/12)
Skinny’s Ballroom / New Granada Records Showcase
Led by Tierney Tough (vocals, bass, keys), Orlando’s The Pauses, took the stage at Skinny’s Ballroom promptly at 8 p.m. sounding like a cross between The Pixies and Shudder to Think. For fans of 90s alternative, there’s a lot going on here, including pop hooks, solid melodies and plenty of groove, but what impressed me the most, was the TV. The Pauses had travelled to Texas with a television and a couple of pieces of furniture in tow. Set up directly in front of the stage (obstructing the view of the band, depending on where you stood) was an audience-facing keyboard connected to a television screen displaying looped midi images controlled by the keys and modulation wheels of the synthesizer (encased in a vintage, wooden piano frame).
The Velvet Teen
Back when my own band showcased at SXSW in 2003, my drummer Tony Dolan came back to the hotel one night, saying he had discovered the most amazing band, “The Velvet Teen.” We all had a good laugh, after all, how could anyone have been better than we were, and Velvet Teen was a silly name anyway.
A couple years later, I had discovered the error of my ways. The Velvet Teen was not only an amazing band, I couldn’t myself figure out a way to describe them to people. They sounded different from album to album, sometimes from track to track. They carried elements of 80s rock, synthy hooks and breathy choruses. They sounded like The Police, they sounded like Jimmy Eat World, they sounded like Muse, they sounded like absolutely nothing else. And then they released 2010’s No Star.
No Star is one of my top ten albums of the past decade. The lyrics are straight out of prog-rock, flowery, medieval and optimistic, the guitars sound like an orchestra, the drums just go on for days. The 4-song EP stayed on a continuous loop in my car for a good four months (and it’s the perfect length for the drive across the Howard Frankland bridge from St. Pete to Ybor City every morning).
In a live setting, TVT did not disappoint, displaying plenty of energy (jumping into the crowd with a tambourine, climbing the speaker columns) where other bands, especially on the bill that night, were satisfied to simply rely on dramatic lighting. They played some new material (one track featured just sequence, tambourine and vocal), some older material and all the songs from No Star. I bought a t-shirt, the white vinyl, and had the guys autograph their set list for Tony Dolan. You were right, Tony. The Velvet Teen is a most amazing band.
I got back to Skinny’s Ballroom just in time to catch Creative Loafing’s official 2012 SXSW selection, Sleepy Vikings. They were almost done with their set, working the crowd over with the most sombre cover of Danzig’s “Mother.” The audience at Skinny’s was into it, but getting thin. It was our last night in Austin, and a handful of Tampa Bay folks including Shawn Beauville, John McNicholas and WMNF engineer Mark Perfetti, had all gathered at Skinny’s to wish each other safe flights.
St. Patrick’s Day (and my last night at South By) ended at the food truck lot at 4th and Colorado. I opted for the Longanisa Tots and a Pork Slider from the “Be More Pacific” filipino-fusion truck washed down with a Mexican Coke. Holy perfect ending, Batman.
Day Ten (3/18/12)
Goodbye, Austin. I’ve come to appreciate this strange relationship we have. We see each other once a year – the best and worst sides. No questions asked. And then we do it all over again. There’s a name for this. What is it?
I’ve shipped my souvenirs (and records) home, packed my suitcase full of crap from the conference and tradeshow. Thanks to Katie and Karl for letting me crash with them. Thanks to Chris for hanging out with me, even though I always have my own agenda and am checking my phone every other second. That’s what friends are for, I guess. Thanks to Kelley for taking some amazing photos (even some challenging group shots). Thanks to all the SXSW staff and the new friends I met this year, you’ll all be getting an e-mail from me soon.
I need antibiotics. I need a detox. I need to sleep for two days straight. There’s a name for this. What is it?
I’m saying goodbye now. Until next time