Thursday, March 24, 2011

As Excruciatingly Long as SXSW

The day after the South By South West Music, Film and Interactive Festival (or, as we cool kids refer to it, SXSW) is kind of like a holiday. It’s the day when all the performers and speakers pack up with relief and everybody who worked the event sobs with relief and everyone who attended secretly sighs with relief because they can finally put the bottle of tequila back on the shelf. And it’s when everybody can finally sleep for more than 3 hours.
For me, (and I don’t know about everyone else,) it was kind of like the day after Halloween, except instead of gorging myself on candy, I skipped around the internet listening to all of my new favorite bands like a 6 year-old hyped up on pixie sticks and milky way bars. I decided it should be a three-day weekend to celebrate and so took Monday off. But I can do that because I’m unemployed. So no worries. Tuesday I made “happy end of sxsw” cupcakes. I am milking this holiday (like all other holidays) for all it’s worth.

And truth be told, we all deserve to relax, even those of us who spent the entire time partying. SXSW was a stretch of 10 days in which I survived on nothing but free hummus and tortilla chips, occasional bowls of oatmeal or trailer tacos and, of course, plenty of gin and tonics. I have 27 new mystery bruises and 4 or 5 scratches of which I have no memory of receiving. More than once I had to stumble home to collapse with exhaustion and/or dehydration for an hour before getting up and going out again. I got food poisoning, I cried, I got lost. Twice, I thought my bikes had been stolen. I had things thrown at me (specifically a Monster). And I wasn’t even in the worst of it, my SXSW wasn’t the bacchanalia that it probably could have been, if only I’d tried harder...

Some Austin natives might disagree (the festival has kinda sold out, gone mainstream. Check it out. ) but for me? Oh, it was all worth it.

Why? Allow me to tell you. (and hold on to your seats kids, it was a long week, it’s probably gonna be a longer post.)

So it’s almost cliché, but have you ever been to a concert in an old abandoned warehouse? A rave perhaps? I haven’t. But let me tell you, it is incredible. Walking into the abandoned power plant for a Diplo concert on one of the first nights, it hit me: the absolute magnitude of awesomeness that is SXSW. The power plant sits just outside the city center and is usually properly melancholy in the manner one expects of abandoned power plants. But that night it was like jumping into a LED display, a technicolored reality laced with adrenaline; even the air was throbbing and jostling. I remember it stilted, like it would be in a movie, flashes of people, so. many. people. all crushed together, teeming with life, pumping fists in the air and thrashing around, drowning in the music. It makes you feel like a part of something so Big and so Alive, so Real.

When I think of SXSW, I think music. But when I think of lots of things, I think of music. But for many people, SXSW is all about film and tech. Did you know that Twitter was launched at SXSW? I didn’t. I mean, even the Blogger dashboard is talking about SXSW. So anyways, the first half of the festival was ALL about film and tech, so it was naturally all about Things to Do: events, giveaways, sponsored parties with free food, meet-and-greets, and general networking opportunities. I mean really, that’s what people are there for; the networking. (I didn’t really network, unless you count pestering hard-working bartenders about whether or not their establishments might be hiring after the festival.) Music seemed inconsequential, or accidental.

I mean, we would stumble in to concerts that were half finished, or leave half way through. Long lines weren’t worth the wait, even if Prince did show up that one time after we left the line. And more often than not, if we made a concerted effort to see certain acts, we usually ended up somewhere else.

We did see Michael Cera and even that was an accident. I don’t remember why we ended up in the bar where his band was playing; but the point is, we all looked up and went “Huh. That skinny kid up there looks a bit like Michael Cera, doesn’t he?” Well, all except for me, because, of course, I know everything. “That IS Michael Cera, it HAS to be.” Then the guy standing in front of us turned around and said “yea, it is.” (But his eyes said “shut up, some of us are trying to listen to music.”)

***I’d like to take a moment during this transition to discuss something very serious.
This year, St. Patty’s day and SXSW coincided. Two reasons to party in the streets and drink heavily? Not a problem. Herein lays the problem: After making my way downtown, visions of Magners dancing in my head, I tripped up the stairs (as in skipped. Please, it was far too early to be stumbling, even on St. Pats) to the nearest pub I was stunned, STUNNED to see that there was a $15 cover charge at the door.
Now, my love for Ireland is well documented. As is my love for pubs. I’ve BEEN to Ireland, I’ve BEEN in Irish pubs. Let me be perfectly clear, a cover charge for a pub on St. Patrick’s Day is unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable. It’s contrary to the whole spirit of the holiday. It makes me cranky. Also I couldn’t find any Magners. So that made me cranky too. But really? A cover charge? Just to enter the pub? That’s just purely offensive. ***

Music eclipsed film and tech on the 15th, and oh baby, from there on in was like mainlining music. It was like living the Doppler Effect: before you could out of earshot of one act, you’d find yourself immersed in another. It was everywhere. Bands in the streets, bands playing in bars; just walking down the streets, you could just pause and listen to a song or two on your way.


The problem with mainlining, is sometimes you can end up in the hospital. Fact of life. Have you ever been to a Strokes concert? They’re fun, energetic. I’d say peppy, but mostly just for spite. They played at one of the free outdoor concerts at Auditorium Shores. Luke Rathborne opened, I stood up near the front and he was fantastic. Here’s the thing about the Strokes that I forgot. They burst onto the scene back when my peers and I was 14 or 16. They were great. They’re still great, but their core constituency is still 14-16. Fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, but let me tell you, you don’t want to accidentally end up ANYWHERE close to the front at a Strokes concert. While whassisface is standing up there with a leather jacket and sunglasses on a night when it’s 80 degrees outside, you’re down in the pit with a bunch of teenagers and they are trying to kill you. They are trying their best to crush you to death and blow out your ear drums with high-pitched screams. Does that make me sound old? I don’t care. Do you know what it’s like to feel like you are going to die by teenager crushing? Absolutely terrifying. That’s how it feels. You’ll find yourself hoping beyond hope that security will kick you out if you crowd surf your way to the front because it may be your only chance of escape and survival.

Don’t worry, I escaped. There were riots after the concert. There were a lot of riots at SXSW. People tore down the fences and stole from the vendors. I bolted through what may or may not have been a new, hooligan-created exit and managed to get away before the police called a state of emergency. You see, I was late to The Kills concert, the only concert of the whole festival that I absolutely HAD to see. When I got there and saw the line stretching back from the door, I panicked. And when the doorman walked down the line and told us all that the chances of getting in were slim to none, I started to cry. I mean, not really of course, I just furiously blinked back tears. I was stunned, like a deer in the headlights and I stood there anyways, dwelling. Good thing I did too because 15 or 20 minutes later the line moved and I made it in for the last few songs of their set! Oh, I was SO happy, I almost cried again.
Then something seemed off. Here’s the thing, though I’ve tried three times to see the Kills, I’ve failed each time. So I’m not 100% sure what they look like live. It wasn’t until the set was over that I realized that I’d been in the wrong room and hadn’t been watching the Kills at all, and they hadn’t sorta changed their sound. I’d have cried again (no I wouldn’t) but She Keeps Bees are fucking AWESOME.

She Keeps Bees

And I’ll tell you a secret. Those are the moments that made SXSW worth it. The serendipity of stumping on a band you’d never heard of that was incredible and perfect and became your new favorite band.

Like when, one morning, I was browsing through the schedule and decided I liked the name of the band Fang Island. Long story short, I ended up standing outside their concert along with other intrepid fans, unable to get in but still able to hear the music. Like true, die-hard fans, right? (Except let’s be honest, true die-hard fans probably would have shown up an hour and a half before the show and waited to make sure they got inside and up front.)

Or how wandering aimlessly down 6th street one night, I heard something that fit my mood, slid into a bar and watched the second half of Stella Rose’s set. The drummer was wedged in the back, shirtless, dripping sweat and thrashing like Animal from the Muppets. The bassist was this little blonde pixie of a girl who was dressed like Olivia Newton John in the last scene of Grease, except minus the stilettos which somehow made the whole outfit sweet and who spent the entire show high-fiving the audience. The lead guitarist and singer wore Buddy Holly glasses and joked around like he was everybody’s best friend, but in a sincere kind of way. And in fact, you ended up feeling like you DID know the band, like they WERE your best friends and you found yourself pulling for them, wanting to see them do well, wanting them to succeed.

Or this one afternoon when I was wandering between outdoor shows in bar yards on the Eastside and stopped for lunch at a trailer park. I chatted with the guys at the juice trailer, I ordered French fries from a school bus and questioned the guy at hot dog stand about boiled peanuts. That’s about when I realized that I’d been totally digging the band playing in the next lot. And that’s how I found that I liked TV Girl generally and their song On Land specifically.

Trailer Park Lunchtime

You know how, on the last day of vacation, even if you’re absolutely exhausted, you feel like you have to cram everything that you did and didn’t do in? Yea, that was my Saturday night. Besides great music, I danced, I sprinted across the city to catch this band or that band, I met great people and made new friends, I ate fantastic late-night Vietnamese tacos (you thought Korean BBQ tacos were awesome? Yea, just you wait). And then when it was all over, I found that someone had locked their bike to mine with a U lock. After a solid 20 minutes trying to pick the lock with my bobby pins (because I can do things like that) I was rescued by a friendly pedi-cab driver. We rolled over the South 1st bridge at 3:30am with the reflections of the street lamps dancing on the water, and there was not a soul around. It felt like city was asleep for the first time in weeks and it was such pure relief.

Sunday couldn’t have been more perfect for a hungover holiday, couldn't have been a more perfect end. The sky was grey, not too bright, the warm Austin air coddled and everyone and everything moved slowly. In the late afternoon I made moves to a local coffeehouse and met a friend to see a recommended band. We lounged on a bench against the fence under palm trees and crossed strings of garden lights and listened to The Steelwells, and were lulled into a calm and harmonious peace.

The Steelwells

1 comment:

The Monster said...