Thanks again to everyone who contributed to this feature -- we hope you enjoyed it, dear readers. We're not sure if this is the year SXSW finally jumped the shark (what with that collapsing deck at the Elks Lodge and Damon Albarn shopping at Factory People and all), but we are sure it's pretty safe to say that we'll all be back for the fun next year.
This was my first time. For years I'd listened to the stories, exactly half of them about how SXSW is the greatest thing ever and exactly half about how it is complete and utter hell to be avoided at any cost. In my normal life I tend toward misanthropy, introversion, and solitude, and I was inclined to trust the latter. I'm not sure if it says more about SXSW or my true nature that once I got down there, to paraphrase Sheryl Crow (whose set at the Cook's Illustrated/Claritin day party was a highlight), all I wanted to do was have some fun. But
that's what happened.
It helped that my only actual obligation -- our show at the 4AD night at Emo's -- was out of the way by Wednesday night. Unlike a lot of people I ran into, who had carefully prepared spreadsheets listing options and priorities for the week printed out onto micro wallet-sized cheatsheets for easy reference, I hadn't even looked at a schedule. Instead, I'd compiled a mental list of maybe a half-dozen friends I needed to hang out with, and I knew that I wanted to see Prisonshake on Friday night. Apart from that, I cast myself upon the winds of chance.
It worked out. I saw my friends. I saw Prisonshake. And I spent whole days in a giddy haze of alcohol, barbeque and music (add me to the list of people who were moved to tears by Shearwater's set at the church, by the way), and never once made it to bed before five in the
morning. Good times, on the whole.
I took my friend the consummate SXSW vet John Vanderslice's advice and left a day early, on Saturday. He'd said it would feel like getting away with a crime. Instead it felt like leaving a party too soon, but I'm still kinda glad I did, much as I hate to admit it. No matter:
I'll be back.
Peter Hughes, who is generally 1/2 of The Mountain Goats (unless they tour with a drummer, and then he's 1/3) , is a connoisseur of fast cars, New Order and BBQ.
Photo credit: Kathryn Yu
Aside from one evening a couple of years ago, this was the first SXSW I have attended since I started Largehearted Boy. I have attended SXSW at least a dozen other times, but I was still surprised at how much the SXSW experience has grown. Day parties were everywhere, and often as interesting (and difficult to get in) as the showcases. Without a badge or wristband this year, finding a showcase in the evening was often nerve-wracking.
Since this was the first SXSW for me as a music blogger, the highlight was meeting the people I have met through my blog. Sure, I saw 38 bands in three days. Some blew me away, some disappointed, but the atmosphere and the opportunity to talk music in person with people whose opinions I have come to value over the years made the trip worthwhile for me.
Dave Gutowski IS largeheartedboy.
The coordinators of SXSW probably weren't setting out to confirm yet another niche in the proliferating field of musical nooks, but the lineaments of something like anthemicmelancholymajestic did converge this past week in Austin. Denmark's Mew sounds like Black Sabbath via Slowdive and Sigur Ros. Mark Burgess of the Chameleons UK is still making luscious, shimmering rock songs. 'Scott Walker: 30th Century Man' is a documentary about the godfather of the whole dark baroque shebang. It's all quite psychedelic really, even if the aura is more Svankmajer or Bergman than hashish and Haight Street.
If you've ever felt the undertone of sadness that comes with taking that leap into the unknown, you probably identify with the string swells of Scott Walker's 'Rosemary' or the synth and guitar washes of Mew's 'Am I Wry? No.' Mark Burgess prefaced a brilliant new track 'Beast' by explaining that the lyrics would reveal why he moved to Hamburg from Manchester--the refrain being 'I don't even know if I can make a stand anymore...' There was a sense of the journey and of its lifeblood in that confession of confusion. Mark is a bit greyer than some of his nubile festmates, but more convincing. That isn't to say that age equals vitality (as the Buzzcocks proved at their MTV Spring Break-esque performance) but only that, with a few exceptions, the kids and the grown-ups alike were missing something. (I had the privilege of sharing the stage with Burgess' new band, Bird, and I rate it as perhaps the peak moment in my musical career.)
Brian Eno, when interviewed for '30th Century Man' complained that Scott humiliates artists, since nobody's gotten past those early Talking Heads or Roxy records except for Walker. It was both humble and arrogant, but nevertheless all-too-true. Arrogance and narcissism are probably intrinsic to the process of making pop and rock records. The point isn't learning to be humble or selfless--the point is making the parts you stick out for the world to see matter. The point isn't innovation for innovation's sake--it's opening someone up. I have to say that, though I missed plenty of SXSW acts, the boys from Copenhagen, the gents from Hamburg and the fellow from Hamilton, Ohio shone like bright beacons through a muck of boring, fashion-driven rock and roll conformism.
On the sleeve of 'Scott 3' there is a quote from Camus: "A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to discover through the detours of his art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened." At least a few artists at SXSW, both young and old, with pose and without, managed to touch on this for me, proving it isn't style or age--it's simply about making that trek. I suppose you only fall in love with possibility amidst a haze of stagnation--but a few times last week in Texas I did and it was pretty mind-bending.
Josh Strawn is the frontman of Blacklist and a recent graduate of the Eugene Lang College at the New School for Social Research in New York City, where he studied with the contrary Christopher Hitchens.
Photo credit: nariposa @ flickr.