by Doug Coombe
It's no mystery why there's always a big Detroit contingent at SXSW - we want to get the fuck out of cold Michigan and eat some BBQ.
I hit town with Chris Bathgate and band just in time to catch Danny Brown and his hype man Dope Head tearing it up/celebrating Danny's 30th birthday in one of the Austin Convention Center Conference Rooms as I picked up my credentials.
Credentials in hand I immediately checked out the Third Man Rolling Record Store. Fortunately Soledad Brother Ben Swank was there so I got to skip the impressive line and pick up a few singles, get a tour of the van (which ironically broke down on the way to SXSW like Chris Bathgate's and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s vans) and head over to catch Chris Bathgate's showcase.
Bathgate's showcase was at a comedy club called Esther's Follies which provided a surreal oasis from the insanity of 6th Street. The venue was air conditioned to near goosebumps, it had theater seating and some amusing underwater murals on the wall. As the band started their set it was clear a band hadn't played there in months. The bass unleashed a veritable snowstorm of dust from the rafters which was oddly beautiful and appropriate for a band from Michigan. Chris seems poised to become the next Quite Scientific Records success story. Even though his album Salt Year isn't out until April 26th it's been generating a lot of buzz, NPR named him one of 100 acts to catch at the festival this year.
Then I caught the Quite Scientific artist that's really set to blow up - Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Everyone of their numerous SXSW shows was packed and deservedly so. Not only do they have great songs and a full on indie rock classic in "Nothing But Our Love" but they also pull off a more balls out live show with the addition of David Vaughn on drums. If they aren't playing the Pitchfork Music Festival in the wake of their upcoming full length "It's a Corporate World" on June 7th I'll eat my Nikon.
One of the refreshing things about SXSW is that even though it's largely a rock festival there's always a huge Detroit Hip Hop contingent. I walked into Club Fuze as One Be Lo of Binary Star had all of the club bouncing. I got to hang with Metro Times music writer extraordinaire Jonathan Cunningham and One Be Lo for a second backstage where I learned that Lo has a number of musical projects up his sleeve.
Next I caught one of the greatest rock and roll vocalists ever to come out of Detroit, and (I bet) one of the last to ever be honored at the Detroit Music Awards - John Brannon fronting Easy Action. Granted his voice isn't for everyone - you either love it or hate it. But in terms of pure passion and brutal physicality, no one can touch him. I really would love for a vocal coach to explain why he still has a larynx after doing this for 30 years. If you haven't seen Easy Action, or listened to his ground breaking work with Negative Approach and The Laughing Hyenas do yourself a favor and check it out. It's some of the most terrifying, brutal and completely transcendent music to ever come out of Detroit. And Negative Approach songs are to hard core punk as Chuck Berry songs are to rock and roll - timeless blueprints for how it's done.
Next I saw Jason Stollsteimer's newest incarnation of The Hounds Below play a ballad heavy set at Maggie Mae's Rooftop. Though I was bummed not to hear some of the more uptempo jams like "She's Alchemy" all the girls taking over the front of the stage swooning over Jason and Ben Collins didn't seem to mind.
Every SXSW I go to I allow myself one non Detroit artist a night so I wound up my evening checking out England's Yuck. On one hand the Londoners have nothing new sonically to offer. Their sound is a combination of classic indie rock sounds - Dinosaur Jr., Teenage Fanclub and Yo La Tengo in particular. But I can't think of anyone better to rip off and they have killer songs to boot. Definitely one of my favorite records of this year, and they were great live. If you could see past all us asshole photographers up front.