Final thoughts on SXSW 2008.


As you can read on the print side of things, I spent most of my time at SXSW checking out the rock that'd made its way south from Detroit City. This was the plan, obviously. But from the moment on Wednesday afternoon when I found myself standing in line for credentials in a convention center chocked with types who one notable local musican characterized as "professional haircuts," designing my daily SXSW roadmap around the appearances of Detroit bands became a method for staying sane inside the festival's built-in havoc.

I missed a lot of stuff. A lot. I even missed a bunch of Detroit music in Austin, including such notables as Dennis Coffey, The Singles, The Gore Gore Girls, and Blanche. But with 1400 artists performing and over 30 of them from the D, it was comforting to see at least a few of them, and enjoy their music from a different perspective. Different clubs, different audiences, different vibes.

And yet, there's also the inevitability of South by Southwest. The festival's sheer size -- it consumes most buildings in downtown Austin, from traditional music venues, regular old bars and taverns, and restaurants to the weaksauce brown-on-brown "lounge" on the top floor of my hotel -- is such that I often found myself checking out music I might have either missed or ignored if I hadn't just stumbled into it. (Or gotten sick of waiting in a line somewhere else. Lines and waiting are another thing SXSW has a lot of.)

Thursday afternoon was Emo's for the Onion party, and my first time encountering Brooklyn duo Matt & Kim. (I'd see their set three more times over the course of the festival; M&K had the showcase-jumping bit down pat.) As for their sound, well, as Matt said from the stage, paraphrasing another critic somewhere, what he and Kim lack in talent and consistent melodies they make up for with enthusiasm. With smiles throughout and a joyous lyrical sense that seemed to draw equally on grammar school, The Dead Milkmen, and chillaxin', Matt & Kim were fun in the sun and a little bit roughhouse, as far as keyboard-and-drum-driven lo-fi punk goes. So I guess they were sort of like recess. And who ever gets sick of recess?

After missing ("missing" meaning "the line was too long so I said 'fuck that') their Stubb's set Friday night, I finally caught The Good, The Bad, & The Queen Saturday afternoon at the Fader/Levi's party. And wow, they convinced me. We've all heard about it and read about it by now, the supergroup tag, the "we're not a band or an album we're an experience" or whatever (which sort of reminds me of John Brown's entity shtick now that I'm writing it again). But Damon Albarn, Tony Allen, and their mates -- including an additional string section -- transformed the somewhat underperforming songs from their debut into the perfect dub, soul, and post-post-Brit-pop (?)-inflected sound for a beautiful spring day in Austin. Plus, maybe I was swayed by Fader buying my Budweisers, or the party's very good-looking, multicultural crowd, but there's something in GB&Q's style-on-shuffle music that connects us in ways the average blah Starbucks "world music" compilation couldn't possibly do, despite those comps' eager, yet usually misguided claims.

Saturday night the plan was to hit Stubb's early for barbecue and the enormous line forming outside to see Spoon and the Stooges. (Spooges?) But that shit was even stupider in practice than it sounds on this blahg. C'mon man, the last night of SXSW? And it's also St. Patrick's Day? And it's also the Stooges at this tiny, legendary outdoor venue? We took a look at the line -- I think it ended somewhere near Oklahoma City -- and looked elsewhere for our entertainment. And hey, here it is, one of those great SXSW ass-backwards discoveries everyone's always talking about. Take it away, Lesbians on Ecstasy.

The Montreal quartet was playing at a venue that felt more like a cavernous, deserted wine cellar of a post-apocalyptic near-future. Which, as it turns out, was the perfect forum for the groups' electro, drum trigger, and gigantic distorto-bass-fueled jams. Vocalist Fruity Frankie easily mixed femme-powered lyrics with dancefloor provocations, and the music obscured its clever references to ghettotech, techno, and even pop by overdriving a 303 booty bass line behind everything and cranking the bass to the rafters. It was party, it was awareness, it was a band with totally awesome trucker haircuts. And it was the perfect closer for a SXSW Saturday night.

Oh, and an aside to Junior Senior: you looked cool setting up your gear, but you just took too damn long. I can't wait to hear your new album, but at that point we had to get out of that weird near-future wine cellar before the green beanie vs tight pants mafia street riot started right outside.



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