It’s a few weeks since I returned from SXSW and thought I’d take some time to reflect on SXSW. I’ve reviewed SXSWi on my work related blog. So I’ll concentrate on SXSW Music.
The first thing to say about SXSW Music is that it’s a cool festival. For many, SXSWi is considered to be the ‘cooler’ but for me SXSW Music was far better. It’s just so chilled and everyone I met was there for the music.
SXSW takes place in venues across Austin. If there’s space for a stage, then it will be turned into a venue. Everything from courtyards and churches to the Austin Conference Center become temporary venues to a wide range of music.
I’d never been to SXSW before. With 1900 bands I wasn’t sure how to approach the festival. Do you concentrate on bands you know or go to random venues? My initial approach had been to listen to SXSW radio before leaving for Austin to identify bands to listen to. This approach didn’t last long.
The great thing about SXSW is that many of the venues are in clusters around the town. About half of the venues are clustered around 6th street so it’s easy to jump between venues. I’d expected it to be difficult to move between venues, and it’s true the bigger venues with the big big names bands can be difficult to get in. But I never experienced any problems moving between the smaller venues. I think the longest I waited was 10 minutes. This meant that I could catch many more bands each day.
The great thing is that during the day there’s numerous official and unofficial showcases. Many are country related or organised by companies such as Sonicbids. There were also a number of stages around the main Conference Centre and I found that I alternated between spending the afternoon around the Conference Centre and flitting between unofficial parties.
The full Music badge or the Platinum badge gives access to the SXSW conference. This featured talks about many aspects of the music business with several big named speakers. The only session I attended was the keynote given by Bob Geldof.
Many who lived through the 80s view Bob Geldof with an almost saintlike status. We know he’s a gruff, miserable bastard, but he’s also the person who along with Midge Ure managed to bring the world together to act over the distressing events in Ethiopia. He’s achieved things that no one believed could happen. The standing ovation at the end of this Keynote highlights that no matter what he says, you can’t separate this action from the man.
Bob Geldof’s keynote was a rambling but enjoyable monologue that touched on the terrible inequalities in the world, how America’s becoming tired and how rock and roll can change the world but that now it’s a bit crap. His belief is that that rock and roll is at it’s most powerful and dangerous when it’s used as a voice for the disaffected. Whether it’s Bob Dylan or the Sex Pistols, rock works best when it stands up and tries to change things. He wondered why, when the world is in financial turmoil and bankers who’ve caused it walk off with massive bonuses, today’s rock music isn’t challenging this. He has a point.
He also managed to annoy a large percentage of the audience by dismissing the power of the Internet to support actions. In his opinion, people writing on the Internet are all wankers who just want their voice heard. As there’s nothing pulling these voices together, as he did with music, these voices end up being noise. But it’s amazing how he managed to dismiss the power of the Internet with all everything that’s happening in the Middle East right before our eyes.
The thing I loved about SXSW was that it gave me a chance to listen to loads of new music. Overall, the standard was pretty good. There were only a handful of bands that I didn’t like but it just gave me an opportunity to move on to a new venue. The quality of the venues varies considerably. Also with so many changeovers, there was the odd sound problem. But none of this distracted from the festival.
I think over the four days I saw around 70 bands. These are the bands I noted down, but there were many more:
Dutch, Dicta, Said the Whale, Boat People, Ximena Sarinana, James Vincent McMorrow, DeVotchaKa, Chapel Club, The Black Angels, Black Joe Lewis, Shilpa Ray, Woodsman, Erland & The Carnival, Harrys Gym, Blaqstar, White Denim, Adanowsky, Gustavo Galindo, DJ Yoda, Streets of Fire, Kinch, Matthew & The Arrogant Sea, The Black, Mr Lewis & The Funeral 5, EatLiz, Dry the River, Fences, Mr Heavenly, Jonquil, Clock Opera, Bobby, Bell Gardens, Josh T Pearson, The Loom, Twin Atlantic, Admiral Fallow, The Hounds Below, The Bangles, King Creosote & Kid Canaveral, Thavius Black, Pitch Blond, Screaming Females, The Joy Formidable, The Kills, Austra, Little Comets, Esben and the Witch, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Burning of Rome, Endless Hallway, The Black Cloud Collective, The Belle Brigade, Scars on 45, The Republic Tigers, Veronica Falls, The Jezabels, The Seedy Seeds, The Bangles, Suck Piggy, Joan of Arc, Dinosaur Pile Up, Pulled By Horses, Filligar, The Chevelles, Capsula
The highlight from this long list was The Joy Formidable. I’d been hearing that they were a great live band. Before heading out to Austin I’d purchased the album and a ticket for their London gig in May but it wasn’t my plan to catch them. But like many of the UK bands, they were seemed to be playing everywhere. Taking the opportunity to play as many gigs as possible while in the US. So I ended up catching two of their gigs. In both cases I just happened to walk past venues they were playing. Both gigs were warmly received and rightly so. The Joy Formidable were amazingly tight and despite being a three piece, have a sound that fills venues. Bryan the lead singer, storms through the sets like she’s possessed. Definitely worth catching.