South By Southwest festival roundup SOUTH BY SOUTHWEst 2005 in Austin, Texas. March 16-20.
Austin - Along with the sharp increase in the numbers of participating artists (there were over 1,300 registered acts, including 75 from Canada alone) and daily events at the annual South By Southwest music biz schmooze-fest, the attendance figures went through the roof this year.
But don't read that as a sign that the 19-year-old event is healthier than ever. The reality is that SXSW is quickly growing out of control.
The fact that all 14,000 wristbands - on top of 9000+ delegate badges - for the music showcases were sold out days in advance of the five-day free-for-all was troubling news in itself. Combine that with the two-hour-plus wait for badge pickup on Wednesday and you had a disconcerting portent of the club crowding and lengthy lineup problems that became all too common as early as Thursday evening.
The kids are alright
By 7:30 pm Thursday, swarms of people were converging on La Zona Rosa for the popular BBC Radio 1 showcase headlined by the Doves and featuring breakout acts Hot Hot Heat , the Futureheads , Kaiser Chiefs and wildly overhyped old men in tight trousers Louis XIV . So even though few came specifically to see openers Be Your Own Pet , the energetic Nashville teens were able to win over a sizable portion of the 1,000-plus people who came early to catch last year's buzz bands.
Fellow child prodigies Smoosh , on the other hand, had only their own buzz to thank for packing bodies into the smallish Maggie Mae's.
While most of the crowd was probably lured in by the novelty of seeing preteen sisters play rock music, 13-year-old singer/keyboardist Asya and 11-year-old drummer Chloe received resounding cheers for their tight set of crystalline, self-affirming indie rock with winsome melodies. They write better songs than most musicians three times their age.
No shows, late starts
For some reason, scheduled act Nigerian Afrobeat crew Seyi Solagbade & the Blackface Band were nowhere in sight at the Austin Music Hall Friday night. Instead, alt-country sad sacks Centro-matic were warming up for about 100 bored souls milling around the huge venue. No notice or explanation for the scheduling change was given, but the next day rumours circulated of visa difficulties for artists coming from Africa and Asia.
Meanwhile, SXSW veteran Robyn Hitchcock was once again ubiquitous with four (!) sanctioned gigs. How the cult curiosity got around the strict "one artist, one gig" policy is puzzling, especially when hundreds of outstanding, lesser-known acts were turned away.
Stacked and packed
A good two hours to go till Thursday's highly anticipated bill featuring both M.I.A. and the full-band version of LCD Soundsystem , racing over to the smallish Elysium seemed like a worthwhile gamble. Nope. By 9:15 pm, both the badge and wristband lines stretched down Red River and around the corner of East 7th, and a SXSW volunteer was saying "one in, one out," advising those lined up to go elsewhere. Clearly, a larger venue was warranted.
Likewise, Parisian pretty boys Phoenix could've filled a room twice the size of Antone's judging by the tightly packed room and long line outside. Even though the set happened an hour late, the brilliant studio project proved to be an even better live act. Just imagine how amazing they'd have been if singer Xavier Boyer hadn't been green with what he called the "Texas flu."
Go! Team go
Fearing that trying to see Brit buzz band the Go! Team at 11 pm Friday would pose the same queue dilemma as Thursday's M.I.A. show, we arrivied at Buffalo Billiards two hours early. Too bad lame openers Tom Baxter and James Blunt were part of the deal.
Luckily, the Go! Team made it worthwhile with a set that got the crowd shaking their collective booty so hard, the floor was literally bouncing. Think an Electric Company-obsessed S Club 7 crossed with Broken Social Scene, with two chick drummers, a healthy wallop of melodica and recorder, and a frontwoman who was like a charming (and less raunchy) Lil' Kim working a pep rally, and you still haven't even come close to imagining the sheer delight that is the Team.
The lineup hassles weren't confined to shows by buzz acts like Phoenix, Bloc Party , Stars and the Go! Team, and heavy-hitters like Elvis Costello , Robert Plant and Billy Idol . Even sets by lesser-known acts like Chicago garage punk crew the Tyrades and Tokyo's Electric Eel Shock drew heavy, leaving frustrated delegates scouring their festival guide for nearby alternatives.
The throngs looking to jump on the Montreal bandwagon who were turned away from Stars' Saturday-night show had only to head over to Caribbean Lights, where Th' Corn Gangg - the rap crew formed by two-thirds of the Unicorns and their new pals - played a surprisingly decent set of un-ironic live hiphop with guest toasting by Hasidic reggae fave, Matisyahu .
An early favourite to be the local discovery of the festival, the Arm were involved in a pre-set scuffle with New Zealand's the Mint Chicks, which threw them off their game, leaving the door open for the Winks . The well-tatted punk vixens stepped up with a delightfully reckless smash-'n'-bash display while beer suds soaked the frenzied fans in sniffer's row, reminiscent of magical Motards gigs past.
The afternoon outlaw events staged by record labels, media outlets and publicity firms are becoming a more essential component of SXSW than ever, particularly for journalists who can no longer count on a badge to provide access to the shows they need to cover.
Why line up in the hopes of finding out whether Bloc Party really were this year's Franz Ferdinand or how David Johanson and Sylvain Sylvain managed to turn the New York Dolls trick with a hired rhythm section when the SPIN party at Stubb's on Friday afternoon provided guaranteed access? Even better was the Saturday-afternoon party at Stubb's with the 60-piece daKAH hiphop orchestra and a sweaty Breakestra playing in the warm sun.
There are now so many great showcases involving SXSW artists (and non-participants alike) happening at club venues, music retailers and clothing stores - often more smoothly run than official events, with the added bonus of free beer and unexpected celebrity cameos - that a website with comprehensive listings and central reservation system could render the music showcase component of SXSW obsolete unless changes are made.
You couldn't get pissed about missing Stars' official showcase if you'd seen their Thursday afternoon set at Emo's. And the thunderstorm that caused fans like Elijah "Frodo" Wood and Ben Lee to snuggle together during Feist 's appearance at Saturday's Fader party made that solo set more interesting than her evening show.
This year the hot fashion trend was oversized shades, while Dinosaur Jr. and Coldplay had widely rumoured gigs which never materialized. However, Coldplay singer dude Chris Martin was spotted getting his mope on at Starlite Cafe with plus-one Gwyneth Paltrow , both trying hard to look like common folk.