I've moved around all my life or so (Taiwan, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta), but have been able to stay in LA for quite a while now. It's six years and counting, although I did live in three different apartments before I was able to situate myself where I am now. I live near Sunset Junction (Los Feliz/Silver Lake border) in LA, mere yards away from the Elliott Smith Figure 8 album cover wall.
Anyway, Jason asked the staff members to throw up some pictures of where we live and all that, so here we go. I was packing the night before heading out to NYC for a week so that's why there's luggage and things strewn about. I live with three friends in a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house. Also, as you can probably tell, I'm kind of a clean freak. This is my room and bathroom:
Besides the room, here's pictures of my living room and kitchen:
You can read the older updates about SXSW 2008 in my blog
This last update of SXSW 2008 comes a bit late because while, technically, I could have written this as soon as I got back in to LA on Sunday morning, it would not have been anything remotely legible. The fact that I only slept for half an hour the night before would have caused my update to become one of the worst written things you've ever seen on this website. While you might think that the last day of SXSW would be a little calmer than the rest, you'd be very wrong. In fact, everyone tries and squeeze in one last big party/bash/show the last day, and the options to choose from are more than I can count.
Heading out of my hotel room, my one thing that I absolutely had to go to was, as lame as it sounds, Rachael Ray's party. Held at the Beauty Bar, it was probably the only chance I'll ever have to try Rachael Ray's food (even though I'm not her biggest fan, I admit) and the fact that it was free and came along with great music (The Raveonettes, Holy Fuck, etc.) made it the day party to be at for me. I got there just in time to try at least a bit of her food - some of the best mac and cheese I've ever had, and a 7-layer slider that somebody made a custom vegetarian version me. Love or hate Rachael, but she makes fine food. Along with the food, there was music of course, seeing as how SXSW isn't a food convention (although I'd love to attend such a thing), and I was able to catch some of the set from The Raveonettes, the Danish pop duo who released their latest album just last month through Vice Records. Their music is rather hard to describe, with lots of layers of dischordant noise and unexpected vocal harmonies, and it translated better to a live setting than I had imagined, this being my first time seeing them.
Up next was the Scion showcase at Stubb's, where I went over and watched Digitalism and Chromeo. Digitalism is German electronic duo who released their album Idealism to less acclaim in America than you would think, although I am a big fan. Their setup was different than almost any electronic group you've probably seen, with one of the guys using an electric drum kit and the other member singing into an old-school, '50s-ish microphone, and then triggering samples and making beats using a couple of Korg synthesizers. There's nothing quite like pounding electronic music at two in the afternoon sometimes. Next was Chromeo, the electrofunk group that has suddenly blown up to be the next big thing, at an almost overnight pace. I've seen them play a couple of times and they grow on me more and more every time, and the show was exactly like you'd think it'd be - fun, upbeat, well received by the crowd and, of course, funky.
I sped off after their set to a San Francisco party (yes, entire cities hold parties at SXSW) where I caught the tail end of a set from Port O'Brien, who had one of the best climactic endings to a set I can think of. Probably about 10-15 people on stage, banging pots and pans (along with regular instruments of course), and all singing a pop melody that was stuck in my head for most of the rest of the day. I'd describe it more but that's about all I caught before they ended. Who I really came to see at the show though was The Dodos, the San Francisco duo that I've considered one of the best new bands of the past couple of years. Their manager described them as "Animal Collective-ish-folk-pop-freak-out" (I think that's what she said, at least); their debut album was self-released to 2006, and I consider it one of my favorite albums of 2006 that I unfortunately didn't hear until 2007. Their new album Visiter is out on Frenchkiss Records today and, well, you should get it.
From that I went to catch a live set from The Ting Tings, the latest electro-pop buzz band from the UK, who performed at a live DirecTV performance. It was a bit odd, with cameramen telling people to cheer here and there in the beginning and giant cameras on cranes swinging around during the show, but I still enjoyed the show as the band is one of my favorite new buzz bands to be on the lookout for. Their songs are some of the catchiest to come from the UK in the past few months.
After the Ting Tings came the Diesel U:Music Party, where I saw another lively performance by Port O'Brien, and then a somewhat disappointing set by She & Him, the new project between Zooey Deschanel (the actress in Elf, Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and more) and M. Ward. The set was just, to be blunt, fairly boring, and I felt that most people were standing there watching only to be polite, as the songs rambled together one after another. I was hoping for better, as I'm a big fan of M. Ward (on Merge Records), and, although this should be no reflection on her musical talent, I enjoyed Zooey's movies, so it was a letdown to see that the band was in no way greater than the sum of its parts. Afterwards, I wanted to stay for a set from LA's Ra Ra Riot and another one from The Ting Tings, but I had to find my way over to the Vice party. My friends and I were prepared to walk the full thirteen blocks over to the party, but we had a savior come in the form of a empty yellow school bus that offered us a ride. No joke - the bus pulled up, we jokingly asked if the driver would give us a ride, and he said yes. Not only that, but the fact that he was blasting funk music in the speakers of the bus the entire ride made our night; thank you very much, Robert, wherever you are.
At the Vice party were a couple of interesting live sets that I saw, including a quick one from hardcore punk act Fucked Up, who had to cut their set short when one of the guitarists had a light bulb smashed on his head and they had to take him to the hospital. The only thing that would have been more hardcore would have been if he had kept on playing, but c'est la vie. After that was a set of pure insanity from Dark Meat, the 17-person psychedelic rock band from Athens, GA that just recently signed to Vice Records. Their performance had the atmosphere of Polyphonic Spree/Flaming Lips, including lots of confetti, sing-alongs and jumping around, but the music was, well... different. Calling it psychedelic would be in no way incorrect, and other than that, I had no idea how to describe it, from a live perspective at least. It's an interesting show to say the least. And with that (at about 4 AM), it was time to go back to my hotel room, pack my bags, take a quick nap, and head to the airport to come back to LA. Who needs sleep anyway?
The problem with scheduling things at SXSW (or, rather, making a schedule that you "have" to follow) is that, inevitably, things will happen which totally screw with everything. In my case, it was A) losing my schedule somehow so I had no idea what parties/showcases were where and B) having my phone die, which totally screws everything up. Somewhere, somebody in Austin has my schedule.
In the beginning of the day, all was fine, as I went to check out Lykke Li, who is Sweden's hottest export as of now. She has this one song "Little Bit" which has been taking the industry's ears by storm and the performance was pretty spot on, although her other songs that she performed were not as good as "Little Bit" (although they were still good, just not AS good). Also, if you're wondering, it's pronounced something like "Leaky Lee." I think.
After Lykke, I trotted over to Filter's day venue, trying to catch Los Campesinos!, who I've been trying to catch live for a while now. The set times were a little behind so when I got there, I was able to catch the last half of the set from Shout Out Louds, who is only coincidentally also from Sweden. I admit, it took me a while for me to warm up to their last album (for some reason, I didn't want to like, but I did), but with a performance like the one they gave, it was hard not to like. It was a hot day, probably in the low-to-mid-90's, and yet the band gave a great performance, ending in the single "Tonight I Have To Leave It," which is one of the great little indie-pop jams of last year. Unfortunately, I couldn't catch Los Campesinos! like I wanted to, even though they were the ones I had wanted to see originally, because I wanted run and see Eagle Seagull, the Nebraska band that are opening for Tokyo Police Club on tour, so I felt obliged to find out more about them. There wasn't anyone really at the show, which I felt bad for the band for, but they still played a great enough set that I'll be keeping them on my radar for a little while.
A little while later, I saw a short bit of the set from The Mae Shi, the LA band that just released their new album HLLYH and is one of the better albums I've heard this year so far. I've seen them off and on for the past few years and it was great to see them bring the same spastic energy from LA out to Austin, where I think they gained a few new fans (hopefully). I had a few meetings after that show but a few hours later, saw The Black Ghosts again (third time this week). This was the point at which I realized I had lost my schedule, and so things went a bit downhill from there. My phone was on its last bar and so writing a few phone numbers on my arm was all I could think of doing
I wandered around to a few showcases here and there for the next couple hours, never catching anything that really caught my ear too much, and ended up at the Blender afterparty somehow, standing way too close to the speakers at a set from The Cool Kids and then a dual set from Diplo and A-Trak. Both were as fun as you would expect, and the venue was out of the way enough that it wasn't 100% packed, which was nice for acts as big as them, but at this point it was about 4 AM and sometimes Red Bull can only help so much. Plus, I have a Rachael Ray party to go to today (as I write this Saturday morning before heading out), so I needed my energy.
There's a high possibility that these updates will become slightly more delirious and more filled with rambling than actual sentences in the next couple of days, as I'm sitting in bed here and running on another night of very little sleep. Just fair warning, you know. There are two things right now that are my biggest assets, and that would be the gel insoles I bought before I came (they do wonders, really) because I knew I'd be walking around a ton, and packets of Emergen-C. It's amazing what a packet of Emergen-C will do in the mornings, and I swear I'm not being sponsored by them (although if somebody from Emergen-C is currently reading this and is interested, I'm all ears).
The first day I didn't really start seeing shows until about 2:30 PM, so yesterday I decided that was useless and went to see my first show at 11:40 AM, also partly motivated by the promise of free breakfast burritos at this daytime party. The band was Nico Vega, the LA trio that has one of the most powerful voices that a frontwoman has nowadays. Although almost the entire sparse crowd was staff of the party and other bands setting up, seeing as how Nico was the first band to go, the band is on MySpace Records and releasing a debut full-length album soon, so this is one of the few cases where slot time does not necessarily correlate with popularity and/or talent. After Nico's quick set, the band to go on after was Morning State, a jangly little indie rock band from Atlanta which I had never heard of before seeing them. They were surprisingly peppy considering how much the singer's jokes fell flat, and now as I listen to the music on their MySpace page, their recorded material doesn't seem as energetic as them live, so we'll see how they fare in coming future.
It was quite the contrast then to go from a party like this one that was only mildly busy to head over to the Paste Magazine/Stereogum party, where Nada Surf was scheduled to play an acoustic set. This was my first time seeing Nada Surf ever, and I probably should have seen them full-band at least once before, because while the songs were good, the entire thing was a tad lacking. The songs started to blend together halfway through and the band was playing mostly newer material it seemed, so I think that I should see Nada play a regular show now in order to properly judge them.
A little while later, I found myself checking out Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong, a band with one of the worst band names I've heard in a while, although I have to admit that it's hard to forget at least. I had heard the name floated around before and so had to catch them for at least a bit. They definitely have the whole "Brit-rock" look down, and musically, they sounded about as much as every other Brit-rock band as their look implied. Great energy, but nothing stood out as particularly original or different.
I spent the next few hours doing some business things and helping set up for other parties, but got back into the show-watching rhythm with Noah and the Whale, a British pop-folk (I guess?) act that had a bit of buzz going on about them. I was in the back of the venue so it was a bit hard to hear but I imagine they were pretty good. It's the kind of music that it's hard to screw up live, I think. I went across the street in the middle of their set though to a BBC party to see Florence and the Machine, a British duo fronted by spunky girl named, well, Florence. It would be kind of cheeky to compare her to Kate Nash musically, but in other aspects such as offbeat humor and looks (kind of), she'd be dead on. Her voice, however, was something on a whole other level than Kate, something that I would not expect from, well, a little white girl. She had the fiery personality to match her voice, ending the set by dragging a friend out of the crowd and jumping into a small pool, so it was quite the show.
Another Black Ghosts show followed after that, this one at a venue that oddly enough seemed kind of Hollywood in the middle of Austin. Despite some technical difficulties with Simon's midi controller, all seemed to go well. After their set, I had one last stop for the night, and that was the Playboy C3 party, where I was helping out with the Shadowscene videobooth. The line-up was Justice, Moby (DJing), MGMT, and The Heavy. I was in the other room for most of the night helping out with some stuff, but I did manage to catch MGMT and The Heavy at least, and neither were disappointing. The Heavy have a great sound that is fairly hard to describe, but it's some of the catchiest soul-infused rock around (just listen to "In The Morning") and their live set, complete with dancing Playmates, only made me like them so much more. MGMT were surprisingly good, and not because I really dislike their music (I am pretty sick of hearing "Time to Pretend" everywhere I go though), but because I had never seen them live and everyone else had seem disappointed, so it was nice to see them for myself and discover that they actually were pretty good. They're "the hot new band" so it's always good to see that they're not ALL overhyped (much). As for the other acts on the bill, well, I've seen Justice too many times to count now so I skipped their DJ set and Moby DJing is cool but still is basically just a DJ set, so I only paid attention every so often, wandering over to the performance room. After 4 AM, while the party was still going, I decided I had to head back to my room, and it's a good thing or else I'd be even more dead right now typing this than I already am. Time to go to a brunch and have a bloody mary to wake me up.
This is my third year here at SXSW and things are a bit different this time - for the first time, I finally have a badge (so I can go to all of the official showcases and panels now), and I finally have a hotel room in downtown Austin. What isn't different, however, is the jampacked list of parties and shows that start even before the music portion of SXSW even officially starts, which was yesterday the 12th. My flight left LA at 6:50 AM to head over to Austin, and having to wake up at 3:30 to catch my shuttle, I had several friends advise me to just stay up the whole night and sleep on the plane, but I reminded them that basically as soon as I got to Austin, I'd have to hit the ground running, and hit the ground running I did.
Checking into my hotel around one or so and picking up my badge got me diving headfirst into my schedule - this year, I tried to be as organized as possible, and I have the seven-page excel sheet to prove it. The first band I went to see was Foreign Born, a favorite LA indie rock quartet of mine. Their live set yesterday seemed to sound a bit "fuzzier" than their recorded material (releasing their debut album on Dim Mak Records last fall), but to an extent also more upbeat, enough to keep the crowd more into it than you would expect, considering the slow pace of many of their songs. They played several new songs, including soon-to-be-a-hit "Vacationing People," which means good things coming up. Walking out of the venue after that and heading over to the Purevolume Ranch, I was enticed to go into the IODA Opening Day Bash down the street by the free beer and food, but I was kept there by the sounds of Frightened Rabbit, a Scottish act on FatCat Records. The band will be releasing their sophomore album in April in the US, recorded with Peter Katis (who produced the first two Interpol albums), and is definitely something I recommend to keep on your radar.
After Frightened Rabbit's set, I continued on my way to Purevolume Ranch, where I wanted to see Wild Light, a band from New Hampshire that I didn't know a ton about except that they had opened for Arcade Fire last year, which made me at least somewhat intrigued to see them. Watching them live, it's easy to see how they would be picked to open for the indie titans, considering their similarity not only in dress (the suspenders, the military-esque jackets, the sharply-dressed-and-yet-raggedy wear) but in moderately epic songs one after another, complete with an almost orchestral use of countless instruments and occasional use of yelping vocals which has worked greatly to Arcade Fire's success but hasn't quite reached its peak with Wild Light yet. While it would have sharply negative connotations to call them a "poor man's Arcade Fire," it's not that far off to call them a lesser Arcade Fire that still needs some more shows and recordings under its belt before it reaches the potential that they seem to have. Not bad, but not great.
A couple hours later was Does It Offend You, Yeah? (all punctuation included as part of their name), a British band that, in all honesty, I didn't realize was an actual band until just fairly recently. They hit my radar last year with the monster track "We Are Rockstars," which was played at every hip club and venue in LA for a while, and for the longest time I assumed they were just DJs or a production team or something similar, how they had a heavy electro sound. Apparently though, they're an actual band, and while they killed it playing "We Are Rockstars," the rest of their set was rather unassuming and all too similar sounding to a lot of other music that I've heard.
Afterwards was Brooklyn experimental pop duo Free Blood, whose sound is hard to compare to many other bands, but whose material should be looked out for very soon, as I'm personally a big fan. I hopped over from their set quickly after though to see electro-pop act The Black Ghosts (disclaimer: TBG are a band on the label that I help run, IAMSOUND), who played at the Modular Records showcase. Obviously, seeing as how they are on my label, I am a huge fan, but even I was pleasantly surprised to see their hybrid DJ/live set (with Theo, formerly of Wiseguys, on the turntables and Simon, formerly of Simian, singing) get the entire crowd into it; I guess more people know about them than I thought, which is a good thing of course.
It'd been a busy day but I thought I'd hit up one more venue, going to La Zona Rosa to catch the last couple of songs from Yeasayer, the indie-rock act from Brooklyn/Baltimore which took the blog world by storm last year with their song "2080." I pretty much only saw them play "2080" and one other song, but their live show, which to me could be compared to Animal Collective or so (live, not recorded, I'm saying), showed that they are one of the few blog-buzzed bands that actually could translate into good physical presence, not just a band that has some songs that sound great only as MP3s. Afterwards was the last performance of the night, by Simian Mobile Disco, the British duo that is at the top of their game of the electronic/dance world. I've seen them play several times before and their live set can be accurately be described, I'd say, as a kind of "Daft Punk Jr.," considering the giant light displays that go along with their energetic live set. Anybody who even remotely likes electronic music should catch a SMD show if it rolls anywhere near you. Considering that I had woken up so early, I had planned on going to bed somewhat early (before 1 AM) the first night, but it was impossible to tear myself away from Simian Mobile, so that didn't really happen. Almost too bad, because there's no way I'll be sleeping before 3 AM or so the next few nights...updates to come when that happens.
Fridays of SXSW may be the peak of the festival – everyone who is going to come to Austin has already come by Friday, and most people who leave somewhat early leave Saturday morning or early afternoon. Essentially, almost everyone who planned on coming to SXSW is here on Friday, and it showed at a few of the shows that I went to.
The first show came rather late for me (relatively), when I went over to the Village Voice party at 1:30 to meet up with a couple of people and while waiting for them, caught a few songs of Mando Diao's blistering set. These Swedes may be just another “Swedish band” to many of you, but these guys play garage-rock in the vein of The Hives (sort of) and their energy really comes through in their live show. They're one of those bands playing a million times this week, being at just about every party, (the other band playing a million times being Architecture in Helsinki), and I'm glad I caught them at least once. I rushed over to Pitchfork Media's miniature Pitchfork Music Festival over at Emo's to watch Beach House, out of Baltimore. This duo's extremely mellow sounding songs (mainly composed of a keyboard and a guitar) translated well live to a packed Emo's where it was hard to move even a few inches, let alone try and see around the giant guy who was standing in front of me for the first half of the set.
I considered leaving to go see Mew play, but I instead chose to stay at Pitchfork and watch Fujiya and Miyagi. Three British guys who happen to highly enjoy things of a Japanese nature, their krautrock-influenced sound still sounded good technically at the show, but their stage presence was fairly lacking. Just standing there and barely moving around doesn't bode well for an energetic live show, wearing their trademark tracksuits or not. I left after about half of F&M's set though, partly because their stage presence wasn't impressing me and also partly because I had to go over to the Spin party in order to see Kings of Leon. Kings of Leon are one of my favorite bands and I absolutely love all three of their albums (their second one being the best), but I, surprisingly enough, hadn't seen them live since I saw them tour about three or four years ago when them and Regina Spektor opened for The Strokes (man, what an amazing show that was). Thankfully Kings of Leon played just as well as when I last saw them, playing a good mix of their older material and songs from their upcoming new album Because of the Times – buy it when it comes out. Kings of Leon went on at 4 and Presidents of the United States of America were playing at another party at 5:10, but I wasn't about to leave Kings of Leon early – I ended up not heading over to try and see POTUSA and I'm glad that I didn't because they ended up canceling the show, according to a friend of mine who tried to see them.
It's fine that I didn't see them though, because instead I stayed at the Spin party and watched the special guests, the legendary Buzzcocks. These guys got together in 1976 and were such a driving force in punk rock that I couldn't help but stay and watch them – how often can I say that I saw Buzzcocks play? After being introduced by Perry Farrell (of Jane's Addiction fame), Buzzcocks played a set filled with all of their most popular songs and a few random ones as well. The energy was still there and you could see that these guys still loved to play music, but I still was a little reserved about heaping too much praise on their live show. I was painfully aware of how heavily corporate-sponsored the Spin party was and how it seemed a little out of place to see influential punk bands play at an event like this, but after thirty years, I suppose that you can tell everyone to bugger off and you can play wherever the hell you want.
There were a few hours of scattering around for various things after the Buzzcocks show, but I eventually found myself at a Diesel-U-Music party late at night with a number of great acts. Illinois had a great live show and despite the fact that I wasn't really a big fan of their newest EP, I was still impressed by the live show. After them was Brooklyn's Matt and Kim – I swear, I've seen this band so many times (this makes, I think, four) without ever meaning to see them. They always just seem to open for the bands that I like. Like Illinois, I'm not terribly impressed with their recorded week, but Jesus, they know how to play a live show. Out of almost every band I've ever seen, Matt and Kim are very up there when it comes to bands who truly, truly seem like they think playing live shows is the most fun thing ever and that they love playing music more than anything else. This translates into some extremely energetic and, well, happy live shows. Buzz band (who isn't one nowadays?) Tokyo Police Club followed them – I saw them play last year and their show was just as fantastic this time as it was before. If you're a fan of TPC (or, actually, The Strokes, since they remind me of them), I'd tell you to see them live in order to get the full experience. At the end of the night was everyone's favorite, Girl Talk. I had seen Gregg play about a month and a half ago at The Echo and it was an extremely fun experience (now perhaps would be an appropriate time to use the much-hated adjective “awesome”) and his live shows have now become, well, whatever the word is that is one notch below legendary. He played at Pitchfork's party earlier and reportedly was ace in his performance there – if you've seen him play before, you know that it's a tiring experience, what with all of the dancing and stripping, and that's just him, that doesn't count the crowd. After a while of dancing on stage, I got tired and began to just wander around the venue and hanging out with various friends, but I'll say that his show was still good and everyone who likes to dance should see him. There were surprisingly less people to see Girl Talk than there were to see Tokyo Police Club, but that's probably just because everyone was tired as hell and needed to go home in order to rest for Saturday's festivities, and by festivities, I mean the AP.net/Indieclick party that everyone and their mom will be at.
When you're at SXSW, it starts to get pretty easy after a while to figure out who's been here before and who hasn't. The people that carry around with them the 10-page thick printed out sheets of parties and showcases, with which ones have free food and beer and whether or not these require RSVPs or not – these people have been here before. They know how to prepare. The first-years are the ones that come without anything like this and expect to be able to do everything that they want with just the normal schedule that SXSW provides you with when you check in. They think that if there's one band they want to see every hour, that means they'll be able to see all of those bands. They don't account for running from one end of Sixth Street to the other, waiting in line for half an hour even if you have a badge, and a lot of people forget to schedule in time to eat, actually. It's more like every other band.
Thankfully, people like me who have been there before know that you have to plan a schedule around where the venues are (making sure they're near each other if the shows are one after another) or you just have to get pretty damn lucky, which is what happened to me yesterday. After enjoying a nice little “blogger brunch” (sponsored by Zune, oddly enough), I hopped over to the Spaceland showcase and caught most of Monsters Are Waiting's set. Singer Annabelle's haunting voice was fantastic – this is one LA band I've been fascinated with (no pun intended, their first single being “Fascination”) with for a while but hadn't been able to see live before, excluding the one song I caught at a random other show last month. If you're looking for a mellow female-fronted rock band, MAW is your band. After this is when I got lucky – I called around to see where the Filter Magazine day party was and, surprisingly enough, it was only one block over from where I was at – surprising because I was several blocks away from where all the venues were crowded together right next to each other. Walking over to Filter, I caught sets by Grand Ole Party, whose singer reminded me of Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Great Northern, a fantastic band on Eenie Meenie Records who were able to put on a solid performance despite a mic that kept on falling over. A lot.
Next was the Drive-Thru showcase. I'll be honest, I'm not really a big fan of really any of the Drive-Thru bands, I was just going to go to say hi to a couple of friends, but I ended up staying at the showcase for two hours. The open bar may have been a factor, but I'd like to blame it on some stellar performances. Steel Train put on a great performance that was a lot less “jam” than the last time I saw them, and even included a barbershop-quartet-esque singalong. I'm not sure if this is connected to the two new members who were added last December, since this was the first time I had seen them since then, but who knows. I'm sure someone will email me soon after I post this telling me if it was or not. A few more drinks with the guys in An Angle later (ha), The Early November played what would be most likely their last show in Austin ever, what with the breakup announcement and all. They played a good number of older songs for all of the more devoted fans out there and drove the crowd crazy, even enough that I was impressed and was enjoying myself.
I ran over and saw the last half of Margot & the Nuclear So and So's set at Hell Ya!'s showcase, who seemed like they were having a great time and put on a fairly good show, and then watched all of Birdmonster's set. The Bay Area band, who I've seen live one other time, puts on a damn fine live show – they know what it means like to be energetic and how to work the stage. After dinner, I caught a bit of Sage Francis's mildly-amusing-but-not-really-set and then took in a full set by Denmark's Under Byen, who put on a trippy performance complete with psychedelic visuals to correspond to their music. For fans of Bjork and Sigur Ros, I'd like to think. At Beauty Bar, I caught a set by dance rock band Foreign Islands. Their music wasn't very different or original and neither was their performance, I'll say. After them were Canadians Shout Out Out Out though, who put on a great performance punctuated with lots of dancing in the crowd. An electronic-rock band heavy on the electronics, their latest stuff has yet to be released in America yet, so I suppose this just served as a teaser. I kept on hearing rumors of a secret Daft Punk show that night which unfortunately ended up being very untrue, although I did freak out for a second because that would have been the highlight of my year. There are so many secret shows at SXSW that this would have been somewhat credible – figures that the one secret show I'd really want to see ends up being the untrue one.
Reportedly, there was a downpour in Austin on Tuesday, the day before all of the music celebrations began. That was during the “Interactive” portion of SXSW, where, as my friends who had gotten here early described it, Austin was filled with computer geeks with hot wives. However, I arrived late Tuesday night and I'd like to think that the arrival of my friend John and I changed the karma of Austin enough so that there was only a light drizzle during Wednesday which did nothing to dampen the spirits of SXSW goers. SXSW scoffs in the face of a light drizzle.
SXSW has often been described as spring break for the music industry and that description is fairly accurate. This is the one week where every corner of the music industry, from labels and PR companies to sponsors, distributors, journalists and just about everyone in between descend upon Austin to discover the newest buzz band and network as much as possible. That and the fact that there is free beer at just about every event possible. Here's a bit of a revelation for those of you in college/high school: even after college, beer still is a social lubricant for much of the real world.
The shows begin early on the first day as the thousands upon thousands of SXSW attendees slowly file their way into town and pick up their badges and wristbands. For me, I decide to be “that guy” and be the first guy in line to pick up my press credentials in the morning, getting there half an hour before the line even officially opens. That allows me, however, to start the day ahead of time and to get my first party at the beginning, which in this case is the party for IODA, which is the Independent Online Distribution Alliance. Getting there early in this case means that I'm able to grab a couple of free shirts before they're all gone, which is pretty clutch. As the drizzle steadily comes down on everyone's head, the lineup inside our fantastically dry tent begins with [b][url=http://www.myspace.com/thefoundryfieldrecordings]The Foundry Field Recordings[/url, out of Missouri, who play a short three-song set full of upbeat shoegaze-influenced pop rock that somehow verges on the adjective “cute” a couple of times. They remind me a bit of Fields at times, which is a very good thing. After them was folk-pop's Canada, which was surprisingly good despite the onslaught of indie folk-pop artists in the past year or so. The use of a xylophone in a couple of songs didn't hurt either, and I'd recommend this band to anyone was into the whole recent folk movement in indie music (i.e. me).
After watching another forgettable band or two and perhaps another beer or two, I ran over to catch Denver's The Photo Atlas, the “dance punk” outfit on Stolen Transmission Records (also home to The Oohlas, The Horrors, Permanent Me and others). Their dance rock sound had a bit more of a rough and raw edge to it than most similarly described bands out there and people who are fans of Head Automatica would probably be sort of into them. My friend was throwing a Canadian BBQ in a park nearby afterwards so I meandered my way over to there – the Queen had to sign off on all of the paperwork for the BBQ, so I knew it deserved at least some of my attention. Lions in the Street were first to play and, I must say, these guys look and sound like they're from the '70s. Flared jeans, denim jackets, really long hair bushy hair and beards to go along with their Black Crowes/Rolling Stones-hybrid sound. The keyboard really helped as well. Now, I'm one of those people who doesn't really like The Rolling Stones, so I thought it was only ok, but others who are big fans of classic rock could probably get into them more than I did. I went back to the IODA party (and its free beer) a little while later to catch Apostle of Hustle, who were surprisingly only mediocre in their performance, but I was there mainly to catch the band after them, The Black Angels. The Black Angels are a band that my friend Jax been trying to catch live for a year or so now and I wasn't going to miss another one of their performances. Their sound is accurately described as “drone-rock;” think of Sunn O))) except with a melody, a beat and many of the other normal standards of music that Sunn O))) normally eskews. Fantastic live show and highly recommended.
Then it was back to the Canadian BBQ to see Malajube, one of the biggest buzz bands to come out of Quebec since... I have no idea what other bands are from Quebec (but that's not the point). Pop rock that's song completely in French, I was a big fan of their full length album and somewhat enjoyed their live show, although it wasn't anything special – that might be because I had already seen a day's worth of shows and still had more to go, but whatever. A couple of other forgettable artists and beers later (although I must mention Matt Sheehy, who wasn't that bad), I finally arrived at the highlight of my day – Beirut. Beirut can be described as heavily influenced by Eastern European folk music and while that might not sound very interesting, I can tell you that their album Gulag Orkestar and their live show are both absolutely amazing. The band (or, rather, Zach Condon and his touring band) utilize every instrument imaginable, from french horn to accordion to a ukelele and a megaphone and combine them all to create a gorgeous sound that makes me happy every time I hear it. The venue, Emo's, was completely packed for this show (for a while, they were at fire code and only letting one in/one out) and rightfully so – for today, this is my one recommendation that you must check out if you haven't listened to Beirut before. Condon's voice betrays his youth, with his 21-year-old voice sounding more like it belongs to mustachioed 40-year-old European. Listen to Beirut.