So to the last day of our exodus into the heart of downtown of the Texas State Capital. There’s a saying around here – “Keep Austin Weird” that rings true. Maybe weird isn’t the right word for it. Maybe unique is better. State has never attended such a well-run festival. The SXSW organisers know their stuff. The people of Austin and its visitors for the deranged four days or so are polite, warm and friendly people. No-one is being a dick and certainly, there is a lot less staggeringly drunk folk than at your average Irish event (and that’s factoring in the free booze). One thing that no-one can prepare you for is the punishment you’ll give to your feet while you pound pavement in search of the next Vampire Weekend. Usually the decision to retire at night is based solely on the status of these vessels.
We rise later than usual on the Saturday and hop over to the relatively quiet environs of 4th Street or the Cedar Street Courtyard to be exact, where Grizzly Bear, Dinosaur Jr. and er, Razorlight played an outdoor set over the weekend. Flosstradamus are in full swing on the decks knocking out solid track after track from the likes of a beats-bolstered Animal Collective, Antony and the Johnsons, Daft Punk and Kid Cudi. A full scale on-stage dance party ensues and breakers start poppin’ off in the courtyard. This is a perfect 3pm on a Saturday vibe and with mojito in hand, you kinda wish it would go on forever. Next up is N.A.S.A, the DJ/producer duo who have enlisted everyone who has ever done anything in music ever to be on their debut album The Spirit of The Apollo. With that knowledge, a laptop/ DJ set consisting of a mix of their own material and the likes of Santigold was always going to be a slight disappointment but you can’t fault them for trying with the green dancers and spacemen suits. Ultimately, the sound is very tinny and is making us feel woozy so we split (but that could be the afternoon mojito).
A third attempt to see the iPod-assisted buzz band Chairlift in Red Eye Fly on 7th Street and pleasantly enough we arrive in time to see the last two songs of a fiery and fun Titus Andronicus from New Jersey. Brooklyn’s Chairlift have been playing plenty of shows at SXSW all packed but inexplicably so the live set witnessed consisted of fairly sporadic cosmic synth tunes with little meat on their bones. The singer Caroline shines as a performer but there’s an inescapable feeling that the band are lacking something.
The last night of the three Irish showcases is taking place in the Soho Lounge on a busy 6th street but it’s still a challenge to draw a portion of the large crowd when you are competing with roughly 60 other bands at any one time. Limerick’s We Should Be Dead do an admirable job of just that, bringing their power-punk pop noise to an interested audience. Diminutive singer Tara leaps on back sofas and harangues the audience with her microphone. The crowd love it and the band (who are now based in LA) are pleased.
The next hour or so is spent catching snatches of sets like indie-pop of Theoretical Girl at the British Showcase. The music is pleasant with the odd playful diversion but not enough to keep us there for more than a couple of songs. Another Brit (sounding) band The Little Ones channel some Brit-pop swagger into their better than average indie landfill tunes if you like that sort of thing.
State has to be honest, walking into Volume on sixth street for Iglu & Hartly we were expecting an Icelandic folk duo maybe but no, these boys with the tops off and their raucous tunes are anything but. Their sound is a rhyme-tinged rock hybrid and the crowd are going bananas for them. Clearly, one of the members was unable to contain himself later on when he was arrested for semi-naked fighting a security guard. State shits you not.
In the same venue later on that night, the New Orleans duo via LA hip-hop hybrid of The Knux are living up their go-see status while shortly after, on Congress Ave at the XLR8R party, LA electronic producer Nosaj Thing blows us away to the point where we can talk about little else for the remainder of the festival. Nosaj is a laptop electronic musician who is part of that LA-scene based around the Low End Theory club where Flying Lotus, Daedelus and The Gaslamp Killer all ply their trade. Nosaj Thing’s set is as suitably eclectic and as glitchtastic as his Los Angeles peers. Consider us impressed. It’s a lovely cleansing of the palette away from the guitars and pedal distortion of most of the festival.
A final attempt at seeing the rock ‘n’ roll party of King Khan and The Shrines is put to bed by a static 40 minute line and a packed to capacity shoebox of a venue. Resigned to never seeing KK, the thoughts of Marnie Stern in a church shredding intrigues us enough to make the long and tiring trip up to 8th street. Walking into the Presbyterian Church, surely, for the first time and last time in my life, I hear Marnie shout into the microphone Ã¢€Å“Vagina! Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!Ã¢€. The reason for such outburst is not tourettes but as Marnie rather wryly reveals is to do with her drummer taking off after a failed attempt at Ã¢€Å“trying to have sex with her vaginaÃ¢€ leaving a possibly inebriated Stern to solicit the help of a couple of members of Trail of the Dead and another band I couldn’t catch the name of to have an on-stage jam session. In a church. Under a holy cross. At an altar. Drunk. It’s utterly shambolic and ramshackle and not worth our time. At the very least, it’s proper rock ‘n’ roll behaviour if a little unhinged so we end our first official SXSW experience catching the end of Mr. Lif’s set in a friendly neighbourhood bar Back Alley Social. Lif plays songs from his new album I Heard It Today, plugging it at every opportunity. That’s OK afterwards he thanks every single person walking out the venue for coming and staying to the end. That’s a fan/artist relationship.
We still haven’t mentioned the egotistical elephant at the festival. Kanye West’s appearance at the Fader Fort was set on stone on the Wednesday so many queued up early to catch him. What transpired was a set of old-school reflective material from Kanye who was joined onstage by Common and Erykah Badu. The show also served as a showcase for his G.O.O.D label and featured appearances of rappers Mr. Hudson and Kid Cudi from the roster.
We also haven’t mentioned the pink queen elephant at the festival either. Yes, Perez Hilton’s party is kicking off with a divas theme, ice cream snowcones and yes, free booze. Little Boots, Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head, Ladyhawke, Rye Rye, a surprise slot from The Indigo Girls, Solange Knowles and Yelle all play. Perez is rockin’ ridiculous headgear, last seen on Aretha Franklin’s head on Obama’s Inauguration Day.
At about 3am on Sunday morning, still raring to go, there is one place we haven’t gone yet and there’s a considerable reason. Taking place in an abandoned Salvation Army warehouse, the Mad Decent party is kicking off with DJ sets from Diplo, XXXChange, Switch, Radioclit and others. Unfortunately, it’s about 8 miles outta town so via the amazing service that is Twitter, State manages to catch a ride out. After the car’s sat-nav “Bitchin’ Betty” gives my two cohorts some trash directions, we arrive only to see the lights come on, the place get shut down and a couple of hundred day-glo hipsters make their way into the parking lot. All within five minutes of us arriving. No matter, it was an adventure we were willing and glad to make as the journey was as much fun as being there (We’ve convinced ourselves. Seriously).
We’d kill to do it all over again. There’s so much we missed like Amanda Blank, Kid Sister, King Khan, The Death Set, Nite Jewel, and a gazillion others. Outstanding highlights of the week include Grizzly Bear, St. Vincent, Nosaj Thing, Solid Gold, Starfucker, The Low Anthem and P.O.S.. SXSW 2010 is only 361 days away. Don’t mess with Texas while I’m gone y’all.
Photos by Dan Dennison.