I just returned from the SXSW music festival in Austin once again. It’s still a ridonkulous clusteryouknowwhat of humanity, but the conference has appeared to cool off just a bit in terms of spectacle (even if the actual attendance numbers are still ballooning), and that’s great news for music fans, at least in my opinion. I couldn’t care less about John Legend or Guns N’ Roses opportunistically helicoptering in at the last minute to play a “secret show.” The event originated as a showcase for unsigned and unknown bands to get attention and, although the music business doesn’t work that way anymore, this year seemed to be more about those hard-working under-the-radar acts playing their asses off to make a breakthrough, and not wondering if Lady Gaga was going to appear inside of a giant Doritos machine. And, even if they’re not really that far under the radar, it’s still a great opportunity for discovery.
The band Hinds alone played 17 shows in 5 days. Seventeen. You could have just called it SXSHinds. A lot of bands I saw played 10, 11, 12 shows over the course of those days. You get a sense for what a band is really like when you see them multiple times. Car Seat Headrest‘s shows were completely unpredictable: not just the song choices, but the very tone of the set. The day I saw them they were punchy and aggressive, but my friends reported that at other shows they were the exact opposite. I chose to see TEEN, a Brooklyn band whose new album I love, at the Flood magazine party which Sir the Baptist basically turned into a raucous St. Patrick’s Day karaokefest – in other words, not the ideal setting for a band with thoughtful lyrics and Krautrocky grooves – but then was able to see them later in a more suitable venue. And I was happy to go back and see Beach Slang twice – they already are like The Replacements on Red Bull, but at their last-slot-of-the-night show at Sidewinder they basically tore the venue a new one, in the best way possible.
Small is spectacular. Here’s hoping that the festival will continue to grow that way. Here are some clips from last week.