Don’t mess with Texas. So we’re told. It’s the tagline on most Lone Star State memorabilia. Quite an understatement, you say? We had no idea.
We arrived in Austin, TX after an 11hr flight at 7:30pm local time and you could already feel the buzz of SXSW drafting alongside of all the people in the connecting flight from Houston to Austin. Was this going to be as epic as people have said they couldn’t describe it? In short: yes. Oh yes.
It’s the first time Same Teens have made their way down to SXSW for this conference/festival of all festivals. With around 2000 shows officially confirmed, and quite a few more unofficial showcases announced, we had our work cut out for us. Here are the numbers: 1 main street, closed off by police for 5 days, filled with 85 venues, 300 bars and clubs and 20.000 people, all of whom wouldn’t dare to mess with Texas by now.
After attempting, and shortly after failing, to get some sort of schedule together, we had decided on two main bands that were a must see: Spoon and Local Natives. The latter had just recently played Club Academy but clashed with our good friends The View at The Deaf Institute. Spare time was to be filled with recommendations, funky looking parties and legends such as Smokey Robinson and Muse.
Jetlagged and shattered, the sight of thousands of St. Patricks Day celebrating ‘Irish’ lads and lasses got us right into the southbysouthwest mindset and we decided to check out some of the acts on. First on our list was Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley who was performing with rap-extraordinaire Nas at Emo’s Main Room. Unfortunately, this showed us what was going to be the case with most of the major acts: A queue stretching around the block and fairly reminiscent of the legendary Hacienda queue.
Skipping Motörhead at Austin Music Hall, turned out they would be staying in the same hotel anyway so ran into them later on, and turning our attention to the grimier sets said to be taking place. With MRK1 and N-Type booked to play one of the sweatiest clubs on 6th Street, Barcelona, we went with the sound of bass to kick-start our SXSW experience.
Rough and chirpy, we visited the convention centre the next day. This is where all the stories and discoveries of previous nights get shared and bragged about. Be it The Veils or Warpaint. But this is also the place to check out some of the numerous panels on hand. Smokey Robinson, the Motown legend himself, was one of the most anticipated guests and with panels on the shift from major labels to DIY promotion, new applications such as mFlow and a Q&A with Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead), it’s another part of SXSW that enables the festival to brand itself the leading music conference in the world.
The vast amount of live shows can also be explained through the fact that quite a few bands play more then just one gig whilst in Austin. Local Natives, for example, would be playing nine different showcases, up to three a day! Their gig at the Cedar Street Courtyard was definitely the highlight of the day. But with showcases powered by the likes of Rolling Stone and Bella Union on the schedule, it gives for a very interesting line-up.
One of the main acts that day was the freshly reunited Stone Temple Pilots. Unfortunately, and this is a situation that you face on an hourly basis in Austin, they clashed with another favourite of ours: Drive Like Maria. The three-piece stoner rock outfit from Belgium have been very busy in Europe and after having crossed path with some of the Belgian industry people around were recommended to go see them. They didn’t disappoint.
The Bella Union showcase featured another two bands which we have read and heard a lot about: Midlake and Efterklang. The latter Danish lo-fi outfit has played SXSW in earlier years but has yet to break through so it seems. With a crowd that seemed to be more focused on the band on after, Midlake, it’s hard to tell whether it’s the right venue and right time for them.
Another folk outfit from the states that have been creating a bit of a buzz in their regions, The Low Anthem, were to play the Rolling Stone showcase, as was Deer Tick. It just comes to show again that this seems to be the year of the folk revival. Though looking at the pace that music trends are coming and going, it’s hard to tell if it’s going to last, but with Mumford and Sons leading the way and featuring on plenty of radio playlists these days, I dare say it very well could be a folky year.
Ending the night on a high, again with a visit to the highly addictive Barcelona club, we had LA-based DJ Ludachrist playing some nasty dubstep and keeping us keen for what the next day had in store for us.
The next day was the day of Smokey Robinson. People had been talking about his gig for a long time now and we felt it was definitely not an opportunity to pass up on. Another highlight was to be provided by the Brazilian tropical/indie five piece Copacabana Club, a band that has been quoted by the recent radio hit bombarded Bombay Bicycle Club as an inspiration and it was obvious that they got some directs links in their sound. Playing at a just as tropical looking venue, Esther Follies, which was filled with seats, it took the Same Teens crew to come in and get out on the dance floor and get people up and join in with the funky times. They’re worth checking out, though it doesn’t look like they’re coming to the UK anytime soon.
Some of the showcases around proved to be of consistent quality, as today’s Dickies showcase featured Surfer Blood and the folky duo She & Him, featuring 500 Days of Summer star Zooey Deschanel. Though having the bonus of a Hollywood Star included in the line-up, it was the four piece from West Palm Beach, Florida, Surfer Blood that stole the show. Their debut Astro Coast has been on our iPod playlist for some time now and from the looks of their live show will probably be promoted to the ‘On repeat’ side of our music players.
Fanfarlo, Miike Snow and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart were another addition to an already splendid day. TPOBPAH had been recommended to us and again showed that you couldn’t survive the days in this Texan mayhem without these o-so-needed tip-offs. Though clashing with Muse, who were doing a “secret” gig at SXSW’ biggest open-air venue, Stubbs, they can definitely add another sale on our part. Playing in one of the multiple courtyards around, this time at a venue called Mohawk, it made us wonder whether this beautiful place had any bad locations at all!
Coming up to the final day, we felt the need for a bit more noise and electronica. With Memory Tapes and Major Lazer playing the Rhapsody Rocks SXSW showcase at Cedar Street Courtyard, and a well stocked, though time-limited, free bar at our hotel, it had not even turned 7pm and on a Saturday night, Austin showed us it’s much talked about nightlife. This is where we learned that aside from all the live music around and drink promotions on offer, that apparently 6th Street gets closed off every weekend for people to come out and have a good banter, something which seems unimaginable in the UK!
Taking a break from the electro and heading down to the Galaxy Room Backyard, we got ready for plenty of ear-piercing noise, provided by Darker My Love and The Black Angels. We are still unsure whether it was the feedback-laden set by the latter or the follow up set by Japandroids, inside the actual venue, that seem to have left us a present in our ears even now. Finishing off with Plastician playing a 2hr set in Barcelona, he made sure we went home with wobbly legs.
It is hard to describe what actually went down in Texas in those couple of days, be it partially due to the holes in our short-term memory, but all the name dropping is necessary to provide a good insight of the wide range of acts and how diverse a festival it actually is.
With great people, great music, gorgeous surroundings and open-mindedness never experienced anywhere else ever before, it truly is an experience that anybody who thinks of himself as a music fanatic needs to undergo. Don’t mess with Texas? We wouldn’t dare.
Watch the SXSW 2010 trailer here…
Words by Alex Dorweiler, Same Teens
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