Monday, March 21, 2005

SXSW Wrap-Up

South by Southwest is a huge music, interactive, and film conference/festival held every year in sunny Austin, Texas. Years ago the music festival was the place to relax, have some beer, and see the Next Big Thing. Now it’s an overwhelming fiasco of 1300 bands playing at all hours of the day and night and a jillion people wandering around all trying to see them. If you think that meticulously planning out every show you will see will guarantee you full concert-going satisfaction, you are entirely mistaken.

While it’s tempting to play “Famous or European?” here, the game is not so effective as many of the Europeans dress like crap. While most people politely ask “performing or attending?” the real game turns out to be “Stalker or Stalkee?” since those monikers straddle performer and spectator lines. I saw members of headlining bands gushing all over members of practically unknown bands. Stalking is the great equalizer in Austin.

I am highly satisfied by the fashion display at the festival. Boys in not-quite-famous bands wear label-issued red shirts and black skinny ties and heavily productized hair. The girls in the Japanese pop bands are so cute with their chains and mini-skirts I just want to put them in my pocket. But the better thing is seeing these folks in the same night-crawler get-ups outside during the day, sweating off all the goop on their heads.

With so many performers mixed in with the regular crowd, telling them apart is pretty much impossible. The only way I could recognize anyone famous was by either seeing them play an instrument or overhearing a stalker hone in for the kill. At least the badge holders wore name tags, which resulted in thousands of people walking around staring at everyone’s stomachs.

As the days progressed, spectator brazenness increased steadily. The first night people stood diligently in their lines and gave the horse-mounted police officers nothing to do. The second night there was more milling around in the streets and occasional public urination. By night three walking though the drunken crowd felt like a scene from “Shaun of the Dead”. Saturday night their boldness peaked as we witnessed push-up contests in the street, barf on the ground, and finally, fireworks in the atrium of the hotel at 3 am, which sounds charmingly like a gun fight.

Highlights of the show for me include the daKAH Hip-Hop Orchestra, Radar Bros., controller.controller, the French Kicks, Benevento/Russo Duo, and the Kaiser Chiefs. As long as you go into SXSW with the understanding that you will not see all the shows you want to see, and that you may instead discover new bands that will make you flip out and love music anew, you will leave with a happy and exhausted vow to come back next year and do it all again.


Anonymous Steve said...


Fuck yeah!

10:12 AM  

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