Imagine, if you will, that all the hipsters and rockers from your town emigrated, founding their own indie-rock town somewhere else, and you'll have a rough approximation of what SXSW is like. Unlike its New York counterpart, CMJ, SXSW is concentrated into one relatively small area of Austin, so it has the feeling of a town founded by and for indie rockers. Black T-shirts, bed head, dudes wearing eyeliner, and tattoos abound.
It sounds obnoxious, and it is to a certain degree. SXSW is a musical meat market in both the best and worst sense of the word.
Best: The days begin early with parties and barbecues, and they end late with shows everywhere. Unlike CMJ, a lot of bands end up playing multiple times at SXSW because of the various parties. So it's not a big deal if you can't get into a show-–you'll probably have another chance to see the band.
Worst: A certain air of desperation lingers in the air, as bands try to stand out from each other, industry types talk business, and people size up other people to see how they can benefit from those other people. It concentrates the general pretentiousness of it all into lethal (spiritually) doses. As I type this, the founder of eMusic–he sold the company years ago to Universal–is sitting next to me in a café, pitching some kind of new business to various label people. There's much talk of revenue streams, royalty payments, and–probably–synergy. (I'm guessing on that last one.)
But SXSW has a festiveness to it that acts as the spoonful of sugar to make the soul-sucking elements go down. It's hard to complain when there are so many good bands, warm (if cloudy) weather, and Shiner Bock.
So: Day One in review:
1. J. Mascis likes Thai and/or Vietnamese food. Don't believe me? Check out the photo I surreptitiously snapped as we waited for our table. I also have it from a good source, who's played with the Dinosaur Jr. frontman many times, that Mascis farts a lot.
2. You know what SXSW has always missed? A celebrity red-carpet party. Wait, not it hasn't. But that didn't stop Blender from valiantly trying to fill that perceived void with a party at a produce warehouse. The celebrities on hand included that guy from that thing, and that other guy who I think was in that band. Alert Us Weekly!
3. Even when it takes The Go! Team an eternity to set their gear up for the last slot of the night–1 a.m.–they easily win over the audience with their ebullient music. The English band couldn't have looked happier to be on stage, and it was contagious for the capacity crowd at Exodus. The club's stage is at street level with windows along the back, so passersby could watch the show from behind if they couldn't get in. That's the other thing: You can't walk down the street without hearing a cacophony of music from various clubs, all of it blending together. Last night as I walked down Red River street, I could tell Neko Case was performing with The New Pornographers because I could hear her clearly across the street. (If you didn't mind not seeing the stage, you could hear everything fine–stick it to the man!)
4. Artists at SXSW have the option of getting a badge or getting paid at their show, one artist told me. So, as a band, you can have a badge worth a couple of hundred bucks, or you could get paid up to many times that (if you're on a good show). "You know all that stuff they say about SXSW being for the artists?" the artist asked me. "It's all bullshit."
5. Thieves could have a field day breaking into vans and trailers here. Not that I'm thinking of ways to supplement my income. Say, is that Orange Rockerverb 100 head yours? Nice. Oh, and that vintage Moog too, huh? Are you gonna be around all night?
6. Speaking of vans and buses, they're all here, from 20-year-old shitheaps to gussied up Nightliners, to one van that had a PA mounted inside of its rear doors (And a band performed inside.) "We had hoped to have the only white van, but it looks like we're out of luck," Eric Elbogen of NYC indie-poppers Say Hi To Your Mom told me. Maybe next year.
7. Russian Circle played "Death Rides A Horse" at the Flameshovel showcase last night, and the Chicago instrumentalists once again stole the show. Great song title. There's also ample fodder here for my annual "worst band names" list. Today's addition: Lesbians On Ecstasy.
That's it for now. I'm heading up to interview the Beastie Boys soon. Josh's suggestion for a first question: "Is Tibet free yet?"