Music

South by Southwest on a Shoestring: A Diary

Margaret Schwartz

Schwartz writes about her odyssey at this year's South By Southwest Festival in the 'Home of Live Music' [Austin, Texas]; the place where 'Music Still Matters.'


Starsailor

End of Starsailor Digression Part Two

The Elysium Bar, Downtown Austin, 1:00 am. Thursday 15 March. Barely standing. The Japanese band Acid Mothers Temple may or may not speak English but at any rate aren't letting on. Local Friend reports: "I was in the Elysium all night and they just sat there by the merchandise table, staring straight ahead and not talking to anybody." Their onstage presentation isn't any more inviting: a woman with hair pulled over her face, wearing headphones, hunched over a board of some sort with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth (Virginia Slims menthol -- Local Friend saved the butt of the one he is brave enough to bum). A man with waist length wavy, gray streaked hair and a mushroom-like hat, usually banging his head up and down violently while playing guitar (maybe bass). A shredding, wanking maniac with long curls bouncing all over his lolling, Slash-like head.

Oh yes friends, it is loud music. Very very loud and full of bleeding whistles and gut pounding hums. Then every once in a while they all stop, and look up, and sing this tiny melody together in Japanese. Local Friend, who has heard more of their music, reports that on their albums the Acid Mothers Temple are occasionally and quite terrifically quiet. We conclude it must have been the general loudness and obnoxiousness of the typical SXSW audience that led them to absolutely howl through their set.

My only basis for comparison is that once in Chicago I saw Ruins, who are similarly annihilatingly loud Japanese music. In both cases, I came out feeling almost purified.

Day Three: In Which I Protest That I Can Do No More But In Fact Do More

Friday morning I want to sleep and sleep, but the excellent Kembrew and fellow Iowan Laurel and her entourage want to go to the Yard Dog Gallery. Therein Bloodshot Records would host a bevy of straw-kicking, down-home bands. Yee haw. Imagine standing in an open courtyard with seven hundred strangers pressed up against you in awkward ways, some of them clutching revolting things like greasy fajitas, and of course the inevitable beer in a plastic cup.

I protest that I can do no more and retire with Kembrew to a nearby cabana of some sort, where we consume diet cola and mountains of chips and salsa. I am introduced to a man who I find out later is responsible for coining the term "punk rock." Whatever that means. He refers to my age several times and asks for it, finally, but this time to mock me for being just out of the 18-25 bracket. He and his younger companion are quick tounged men, trading statistics and clauses with rapid fire accuracy. His young friend seems a bit hung over. I consider this brush with critic greatness to be another interesting lesson in how the Smart People Are Not So Smart After All. Why on earth, in other words, is there any reason to talk about The Strokes? Don't believe the hype, say I (grin).

Invigorated by this blistering exchange, Kembrew and I saunter across the river and reach the Club de Ville by bus some time later. The air has begun to cool quite suddenly. We duck into a hotel lobby to use the restrooms and linger, awed by the luxury of this public space compared with the filthy bar bathrooms we've been forced to use of late.

I haven't described the Club De Ville exactly, yet. It's an outdoor courtyard sort of place, with a much smaller clubhouse/bar area in back. The back wall of this natural amphitheatre is a limestone cliff of sorts, overhung on top with creeping, scruffy greenery. When Kembrew and I arrive the courtyard is mostly empty, and white painted lawn tables invite us with their cool repose. As I sit here there have been a number of interesting and intelligent performances, as follows:

One really nice random indie rock band, Sanford Arms, and a delightful singer/songwriter guy who told the most tortuous, hallucinatory stories about his parentage and his college friends. One excellent girl-and-boy space rock outfit from England named Kaito. The lead singer and guitarist Nikki Kaito wears a printed tank top, green army jacket, and a blue striped men's tie knotted around her bare neck. Her long bangs cover one eye and the other peers out from a ring of thick black eyeliner. She jumps up and down and strums in a fascinatingly fluid way, her long legs pressing together as she gathers herself and bounces. They use lots of little devices like toy phasers and toy instruments and such.

Later that night I see the singer and guitarist wandering around arm in arm, drunk like everybody else at the bars downtown. I am on my way to the Austin Music Hall, to see Starsailor again, because they invited me. At the door the bouncer throws away my water bottle with surprising ferocity, and I enter the cavernous, arena-like structure. There they are again, just like at the MTV2 party, except much higher up and far away, and better lit. I think there is a lot of fog coming from somewhere, and colored lights. I decide I don't want to loiter around this place for the rest of the night.

The singer dedicates the next one to all the "people in the front row," the real fans. Despite everything I have seen, I still can't feel sorry for whatever bitterness provoked that clumsy slap at the music business.

I take a bicycle taxi across town, see the Moony Suzuki rock the hell out of Emo's, and make it home in time to chat with Local Friend.

>> Day Four: In Which I Actually Make Myself Sick

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