All I wanted was a set of ear plugs. I couldn't find the pair I had brought and searched frantically past the pills of Mucinex, my headphones and random stickers and swag in my backpack only to come up short. So as a friend told me they were giving away some at the front of the venue, I made my way through the crowd only to be berated five times with a what looked like a plastic discount card containing a code to some website for something I was supposed to check out at some point, but instead ended up tossing every single one handed to me in the trash on the way back to the outside stage. Maybe it was the fact that I was fighting a cold brought on by the lovely Texas weather of the weekend prior or maybe it was the muggy weather that made me feel back at home and worse, or maybe it was the exhaustion of sleep and lack of food between putting on shows, going to shows, writing reviews (I gave that up halfway through the week) or the fact that everyone was partying around me and I looked like an extra in The Walking Dead. Needless to say, this South by Southwest wasn't a blast like it was last year - and the hoards of sponsors shoving their products in my face wasn't helping this punk rock kid enjoy himself past how rundown his entire body felt. I don't mean to sound like a grinch off the bat here. Because through all the muck, I saw a lot of inspiring things last week. I met a lot of inspiring young artists and talked to a lot of people that have come up from the underground to make the system work for them and make a career out of it. So before I get into my mental frustration, let me try to rundown the positives of the week and the reasons I didn't send Jason an e-mail on Monday saying, "Fuck this, I'm out. The system blows, and I don't want to be a part of it anymore."
During the week, I ended up putting together four shows (one of which I unfortunately couldn't attend due to prior commitments - which included our showcase in that mix), and putting on said shows, I brought in some talent I thought worth "showcasing" and some new acts that really blew me away. Mountains For Clouds really grabbed my attention the most early in the week and was the standout at the Count Your Lucky Stars showcase on Wednesday. Thursday's line-up felt underrated as hell. Mansions and Aficionado played the same venue last year to practically no one, and this year they packed in the biggest crowds of the night. Travis Shettel of Piebald even showed up to perform "Honesty" with Aficionado. Mansions played a couple of new tracks Christopher Browder has been working on for the new album. If Dig Up the Dead was his breakthrough, I expect the next record to be huge hearing these new cuts live. Then there was Look Mexico performing one of their best sets yet. A truly underrated act among the masses of the "defenses of pop-punk" - scholarly on another level past what I think some listeners can even grasp. A Great Big Pile of Leaves played to only about 25 kids. But they were attached to every word, and as the band knocked out a 40 minute set, all 25 kids were chanting for an encore. Like I said before - past all the "hype" going on downtown - that moment was bigger to that small crowd than anything else - that moment, to them, will be held special for a long time.
The show I put together Saturday was really something else though. It was a mixed bag of rock and roll to say the least, running the gambit of razor cuts and brash fury. Silver Snakes hopped on at the last minute and blew me away with their biting edge of alternative rock. The split set from Full of Hell and Code Orange Kids was something else altogether though. I already see Code Orange Kids being the biggest hardcore act of 2012 (the band are preparing to hit the studio to record their full length, discussing final plans last week), but it's their live show that just destroys. There are very few times when the heaviness of a band can transfer from album to show without feeling overly gimmicky and a bit misogynistic and so aggressive it's a bit laughable - but following in the steps of bands like Converge and even contemporaries like Trash Talk and Ceremony - Code Orange Kids are young and they're ready to tear shit up and bring their music to life in front of you, and I saw it at every show I watched them play last week. I let Full of Hell split the set, and they didn't disappoint either. It makes me even more excited to know there's another young band out there attempting something a bit outside of everything many kids will (and starting to RIYL a bit too much) base their new suburban bands around. Also, Jowls was the loudest band I heard all week - their new record is the real deal and I'm glad I got to see it play out in front of me. Seahaven put on a performance that will have me pay closer attention to the four piece in the future. All of this happened in a fucking pizza shop - that's what really blew my mind, that I even pulled off something so small when a 56-foot tall (?) Doritos machine is just five minutes away, and according to some, the best sounding stage of the entire week.
Before I get into the downer end of the week - I have to give thanks to Sargent House, and specifically Cathy Pellow for always putting this industry into perspective for the lost soul and fighting punk rock anarchist that lies heavily inside me. The consistency of Sargent House's roster is one thing we as subjective critics can argue, but the showcase on Friday night only proved my sentiments toward the label, and there wasn't a doubt it wouldn't otherwise. While it didn't contain any "secret sets" like last year, Pellow showcased a lot of the label and management's newest talent. Marriages (three parts of Red Sparrows) floored me with their performance of the entire Kitsune record. The album is one thing I can't get enough of lately, but to see it come together live and so flawlessly was entrancing. I was anticipating Indian Handcrafts, but a few live videos I searched across YouTube left me a bit weary. The tone, rawness and tight ship that came out of the two Canadians that night put whatever Death From Above 1979 had to offer last year to *ahem* death and any negative viral video notions I may have loosely had about their live performance in the same coffin. Then there was Chelsea Wolfe. Simply jaw dropping. Something of a cross between the vocal layering of tUnE-yArDs, the elegance of St. Vincent and the vocal eeriness of Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Wolfe is a real deal and she pulls all of it off more vibrantly live.
Finally this year, Absolutepunk.net made its presence known at the shit show of a festival. Packed into a 500 person cap of Purevolume House, we had quite a line-up. But alas, our showcase was the most troublesome for me to cope with. Each band put on a terrific set, but the night boasted one of the most heartbreaking moments I've ever seen at South by Southwest. For all the bands that stirred shit up and put on a show or a fight or pitched a new product or whatever their soapbox was for the week (not necessarily at our show, but in general) - I watched as one of our users, setting up for only his third show ever, had the curtain fall on him before his festival moment. Due to technical difficulties and wiring troubles none of us could figure out, Malcom Lacey (Arrange - user: WakeUp) didn't get to perform. Here's a kid, no gimmick, only hyped by the likes of ourselves and Pitchfork, getting a moment and having it taken away due to unforeseen technical issues. For some reason, that hurt me. I think deep down inside, I wanted to see something special that night. I'd seen all the other bands and I knew they were capable of pulling a great show (I mean, that's why we booked them - bangarang, amrite?!), but I wanted to see Lacey get a bigger chance, and I think I wanted to see this special South by Southwest moment of unnoticed talent on a larger scaled stage go noticed. It didn't happen, and it was gut-wrenching. Now, add that moment early in the evening to the crowds of belligerent drunks, half filling the room with disinterest in what music the showcase had to offer and more what the bar had to give them for free past 2 a.m. when 6th Street shut down its services, some attempts of attendees to get into an "exclusive" V.I.P. area that wasn't that big of a deal and the line of people who didn't get to see the show because of it - it was just disheartening. I even got to meet Adrian Villagomez, one half the reason I started working for this site, but it was all cut short by the bullshit of the evening. For some reason it all got to me. All the bullshit of South By Southwest ruined this bigger moment.
My one day and night in the pit of downtown Austin for South by Southwest was miserable. The bands I wanted to see were great - don't get me wrong. I was lucky enough to see Say Anything blaze through themost punk rock set of the entire week, and it made me think about this: for every harsh critic on the web or in print, there's always ten fans there screaming every word to both songs old and new. That's rewarding in seeing. I finally got to see Braid not outside a venue looking through the glass and leaving three songs in. I saw those three songs again, and more, five feet in front of me. I saw the band help out a marriage proposal. To me, that's the special moments of South by Southwest. It's those small moments when you forget you're at a festival the size of Disneyworld, and you feel you're just at a show watching Foundation stir shit up like it was any other night they were holding the crowd's attention from the pit's perspective. One of the best parts of South by Southwest is that I got to spend it with my friends in Former Thieves for the most part between both our hectic schedules. The guys played 9 shows in six days. One day they played three shows. That's insane to me, but it's not an uncommon element for South by Southwest either. The guys' first show was a house and their last was the closing of a bar on Sunday when most of the tourism had cleared itself out. It wasn't their "official South by Southwest" show that was their favorite. It was their last two - a pizza parlor and opening what could be deemed a hip-hop extravaganza featuring Bad Rabbits and Doomtree - both killed it as well.
It's not that my South by Southwest experience was completely miserable. I only had to sit through a handful of awful bands (mostly all Wednesday afternoon leading up to fun.), it's just that the business end of the deal ruined the enjoyable aspect of the annual festival this year around. I took notice of it more. I took notice of the crowds that stood in line for free booze and food instead of the line-ups on the bills. I'm not even talking about a lot of the official showcases that went on, I'm referring more to how overrun the majority of free shows have become. There are more venues and more companies and more sponsorships and more of "COME SEE ME!" for all the wrong reasons. Maybe all this hate and anger is just steaming off the little punk rock kid inside me that won't die. If I sound bitter, it's because I wish a bit of the deadwood, the party, the ad-space that the festival has become would die off a little bit and that it would just be a bunch of shows to check out or being able to see a band you love in an intimate setting for free and not standing in line while half the room is just there for all the free shit and "to just be there" - and this is coming from someone who has no problem getting into much of anything during the festival without a badge.
Maybe this year, because I was more involved with the production of South by Southwest, I began to see the festival from a whole other light. The fact is I couldn't believe the small amount of crowds for some showcases and the long lines that lasted blocks around the corner for others. It just doesn't make sense to me. The business end of it all doesn't make sense to me. At the end of the day, I'm no authority and I'm no one special. I'm just a guy who writes for a website to offer some insight and to unload his thoughts and confusions and to stir discussion. That apparently is not an occupation at South by Southwest or this industry. So instead, I just want to be dead with my friends. Until next year, goodnight and good fucking luck.