SXSW 2011 Reflections

For all of you who don’t know, South By Southwest (SXSW) is a major music and film festival held annually in Austin. Bands travel from all over the world to get a chance to play their music, even if it is for as long as 45 minutes. Record labels, film and music producers and almost every big name in music are in attendance to this event. It’s about a week long and you can basically find any genre of music, from virtually anywhere in the world, that might tickle your fancy.
Last Thursday I had the opportunity, for the first time since moving to Texas, to attend this prestigious and mind blowing event. This being my pioneer journey to the week long festival, I didn’t really know what to expect. Seeing that I was unaware that I would be making the journey to Austin on Thursday, I didn’t plan as well as I could have.
A huge portion of SXSW is free events that you don’t need a badge or wristband to get into, but you have to RSVP online and are only able to enter upon there being ample capacity. Many of these free parties and shows were closed by the time I was able to select which I wanted to go to because of the amount of people that attend and RSVP. After looking through page after page of event listings, I decided to try to respond to every event that was still open. So on a wing and a prayer,  I began my adventure.
With my iPod loaded with play lists to get me pumped for the night, a negligible amount of cash from a loan my dad gave me and a full tank of gas to get me there, I headed down I-35 on a perilous campaign to uncover new bands and get the opportunity to see some of my favorites as well. All I needed at that point was an old school red convertible rented from a shady man and a suit case full of nefarious paraphernalia and I would be Hunter S. Thompson.
My car stereo blasted tunes by Deltron 3030, Tom Waits and oldies like The Velvet Underground and Jacques Dutronc, and my head was filled with dreams of meeting magazine execs and music producers. I tried to keep my expectations under wraps, but the excitement of the day was overwhelming.
Through excessive traffic and annoying drivers, my feeling of anxiety and ardor kept my sometimes extreme road rage in check. I finally arrived at a friends place, with a list of hopeful bands to see. On this list were bands like, The Naked and Famous, The Strokes, The Cool Kids and Cee Lo Green. Aside from The Strokes, I accomplished little on my planned schedule.
The Strokes was the biggest free show of the week and was held at Auditorium Shores. For those of you unfamiliar with Austin, Auditorium Shores is an outside venue near Riverside and South Congress on the banks of the river than runs through the city. It’s actually an extremely big venue and can hold well over a thousand people. Although Auditorium Shores is a huge area, it reached capacity pretty quickly, with thousands of people crowded around waiting to get in.
When I arrived, only a half hour before the show started, the people running the event had already announced that the area was full and no one else was allowed in. Apparently, this didn’t sit well with a certain group of rabble rousers and a riot ensued. They began chanting “USA! USA!” and suddenly all ran into the fence, causing that section of it to collapse. People poured in, and I happened to be standing there as well, so I nonchalantly stepped through the fence and found my friends in the massive crowd of people.
After The Strokes played their set with fireworks lighting up the sky around the stage, I wandered downtown by myself to see what else was going on. I stopped in a bar that a friend of mine bartends at since they had a lineup of bands. Most of the bands that played there were a mix of punk rock, alternative and maybe even a hint of metal. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but I stayed to give them a redeeming chance.        My favorite of these small time bands was one that I happened upon on the street. They had an amp sitting on the back of their 70s style bicycle and were all older men with long, greasy hair, probably friends of Jad Fair. I didn’t catch the name of their band, but I stood and watched for quite a while. Although I didn’t see the bands I had planned, I felt fulfilled with my night of cruising solo about downtown Austin and observing a city filled with madness and sound.
If you didn’t get the chance to go this year, there is always the years to come, but if you are looking for some good new tunes to listen to, here is a list of some amazing bands that were featured throughout the week.
The first of these bands I would suggest is The Strange Boys. Native Texans from Dallas, brothers Ryan and Philip Sambol began playing music in high school.  This group mimics classic Texas psychedelic rock like The 13th Floor Elevators, with a new and hip twist. Its lo-fi sound and vocals draws strong influence from Bob Dylan and 60s American Bandstand. One of the most popular songs I would recommend is “Be Brave,” and another catchy and pleasing song by them is “Should Have Shot Paul.”
The second band I would recommend for a good listen is Diamond Rings. John O’Regan, from Toronto, Canada, heads up this solo project that has a pop, yet new wave indie, feel. Using a guitar and electronic beats, O’Regan, adorned with neon makeup and bleached hair, achieves an extremely David Bowie-esque style. “Something Else” is a song off of O’Regans album entitled “Special Affections” and is probably my favorite of his work.
Lastly, Deerhunter was a much awaited band at SXSW, recommended by The Temper Trap, Interpol and Metric via Grooveshark, an online streaming music website. Deerhunter has a definite indie appeal and uses soothing beats and melodious vocals. Their most popular song is “Helicopter” off of the album “Halcyon Digest,” and I agree that it is one of Deerhunters best. The vocals in “Helicopter” are of the likeness of The Cure and beats much like The Postal Service.
If you’re a first timer at SXSW, this is my advice to you: although there are huge headliners such as Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa, keep your mind open to smaller bands that may be unknown, you never know, they could be the next big thing and if this is the case, SXSW is the quintessential place to accomplish that success. Another thing is, schedule, but feel free to meander at will, you never know what gems you may stumble upon.

– Liz Hitchcock
Reporter

British Invasion: SXSW wooed by transatlantic talent

Austin’s 24th annual South by Southwest is nothing short of a roaring success, complete with excessive foot traffic, eclectic garb and the guarantee that your ears will ring for days on end. With nearly every musical genre represented throughout the five-day festival, I was less than surprised to pass crowds of confused-looking 20-somethings trying to decide which show to attend. Oh, the choices.

Although South-By typically yields a strong return of homegrown unsigned artists, the international music pool was well represented at this year’s event. Up-and-coming British indie band The Vaccines did not cease to please as they charmed crowds with their hipster beards and enthusiastic tunes. Performing at one of AOL’s meticulously planned pop-up shows on Wednesday, the group inoculated the audience with their melodies, making them one of the most sought after South by acts in the ensuing days.

A refreshing blend of punk and pop, lead singer Justin Young croons out his tunes with poise. Respectably dressed and properly washed, Young instantly eradicated stereotypical notions of unruly, grungy Brits. Visibly influenced by the Ramones and nothing short of ear candy, The Vaccines’ music will keep your toes tapping time and a melody lodged in your brain.

Let’s move on to Veronica Falls: I simply could not get enough. Pregnant with undertones of Belle and Sebastian, songs captured that quintessentially British sound we Americans adore. Coincidentally, lead singer and guitarist Roxanne Clifford emits a captivating innocence, holding fans captive while listening to her balmy vocals. Keep your eyes peeled for these spunky popsters, as I’ll be shocked if we don’t see much more of them in days to come.

Similarly, London-based alternative rock band Yuck delivered powerful sets, leaving a strong impression upon fans. Don’t be fooled by the named – Yuck is simply delightful, aptly catering to that slightly grungier, more deviant side of us that unabashedly loves the Killers and Radiohead. Their popular single “Get Away” is a bit ominous; yet, a cheerful base line acts as the guiding light through the dark.

Whether it’s those cheeky accents, their impeccable sense of fashion, or the fact that they are ridiculously talented, South-By (and this writer) are quite smitten with British groups. With but a few precious days left before many bands pack up their gear and head back across the pond, there is still time to experience the delightfully bohemian allure of South by Southwest for yourself. If the music doesn’t appeal, come in search of an eligible Brit rocker – because we all can’t snag princes, can we?

-Bonnie Berger

Classic Reels: Sunset Boulevard

Sirens pierce the early morning hours and a dead body floats motionless in a swimming pool. Homicide detectives and newspapermen race to the scene. So begins “Sunset Boulevard”, a twisted tale of murder set against the bright lights of Hollywood.

It’s 1950’s Hollywood and struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis, is having trouble making his car payments. When the insurance men come to collect, he tries to weave a web of lies to hold them off until he can scrounge up some cash. He can’t hide forever, and when he crosses paths with them on Sunset Boulevard, he makes a break for it. A high speed chase ensues. He outruns them, but in the process blows a tire, forcing him to park his sputtering car in the garage of what he thinks is an abandoned mansion. Its owner is Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), an aging silent film actress.

In her heyday, Desmond was a star, but now she lives a secluded life, far from the spotlights of Hollywood. She’s planning a comeback though, writing an epic screenplay that will bring her back into the thoughts of her once adoring fans. When she finds out that Gillis is a screenwriter she hires him to edit the screenplay. He moves in to edit full time, but soon finds out that something isn’t quite right.

With the passing of the silent film era, Norma Desmond and her mansion seem to go with it. She continues to live in the glory of her younger years while her house crumbles around her. Her living room is covered with old photographs of herself and an old organ lets out an eerie note with each passing breeze. As Gill and Desmond watch her old silent films, smoke hangs over the flickering light of the projector. Everything is dark and secluded inside Desmond’s mansion, creating an eerie background throughout the film.

Although the film delivers outstanding performances from its entire cast, Gloria Swanson’s portrayal of Norma Desmond was a little over-the-top at times. It isn’t that her acting is bad, in fact, most of the film she genuinely conveys the sadness and tragedy of her character. But every so often, when a scene could have used a more subtle portrayal, she tends to over act.

There is an air of mystery throughout “Sunset Boulevard”. Things aren’t always as they seem, and plot twists are layered throughout, resulting in what feels like a very long film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. The story is completely engrossing, but at times it feels as if the film takes the long way to tell something simple.

Throughout the film, Gillis provides no-nonsense narration of the events around him. His quick one-liners and insights into a colorful cast of characters are what make “Sunset Boulevard” so enjoyable. He tells the story as he sees it unfold, and it is through his eyes we see the plot thicken. He’s not the greatest person, he’s flawed and has his own motivations, but he serves as a good filter to tell the tragic tale of Norma Desmond.

Hollywood is known for its glitz and glamour, but what of the stars it leaves behind? No matter how bright they become, most will not shine forever. It is here, on a quiet street lined with the mansions of stars of old, that audiences discover that not everything is as black and white as it seems on Sunset Boulevard.

Grade: B

– Brian

Classic Reels is a weekly blog by Lariat contributor Brian Sanders. Sanders reviews old movies for those looking to brush up on their historic cinema or those that are looking to reminisce on old flicks.

Classic Reels: Blade Runner

It’s 2019 and Los Angeles is a dark and rainy, urban metropolis. Fire shoots from the tops of factories surrounding the city, the sides of skyscrapers are now used for large video advertisements and a large blimp constantly crawls across the night sky, shining eerie spotlights below. The Tyrell Corporation specializes in creating androids for slave labor in the outer colonies of space. The androids, known as Replicants, are identical to humans and possess super human skills, but lack the ability to feel emotions. In an effort to prevent the Replicants from developing any sort of emotions, the Tyrell Corporation has put a four year life span on all of them.

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a hard drinking, no-nonsense type of guy. He is a blade runner, a man whose only job is to hunt down illegal Replicants and kill them. When four Replicants hijack a ship, kill the crew and land it in Los Angeles, Deckard is assigned to “retire” them.

Blade Runner is not merely a science fiction movie. It’s a movie that uses science fiction as a backdrop and integrates stunning, atmospheric visuals to reveal the emotions of its characters. The world that Director Ridley Scott creates is one of a bleak, hopeless future. Los Angeles doesn’t even resemble the Los Angeles of today. Instead, it is more reminiscent of a run-down Tokyo, where technology is completely integrated with life. Crowds are everywhere, steam hangs on the streets and everyone seems to have an ulterior motive. It’s not a pretty place.

Instead of being completely science fiction, Blade Runner is birthed from the classic, Hollywood noir movies of the 40’s and 50’s. Deckard resembles a private eye more than he does a killer. He sports a trench coat while other characters wear suits, dresses and fedora’s. Rachel (Sean Yong), Deckards femme fatal, dresses like a movie star from the 40’s, clothed in black dresses and white fur coats.

Most films use music to set the mood for a certain scene; rarely do they set the mood for the entire film. The score for Blade Runner can only be described as futuristic jazz. Low hums from synthesizers and notes from a distant sax can be heard throughout the movie. It’s mostly sad music, adding another layer of darkness to Blade Runner.

With sparse dialogue and a nod to the detective novels of old, Blade Runner is a tour de force in the science fiction world. It was released when science fiction films were extremely popular and box offices were dominated with classics such as Alien and Star Wars. Blade Runner is cut from a different cloth, though. Its world is one that doesn’t involve space battles, aliens or a colorful cast of characters. What makes it so great, is that it is a believable notion of the future. It is not like some bright and shiny idea similar to the predictions that Americans in the 50’s had of the millennium. Yes, there are robots and flying cars, but instead of an ideal, perfect future, Blade Runner predicts one of constant darkness. Just like any good detective novel, characters are flawed, people are hurt and lessons are learned. And what’s scary, is that its notion of the future, just might come true.

If you happen to watch the film, I HIGHLY recommend the “Final Cut” version. Usually, I feel as though director’s cuts are gimmicky, but this is the first that I have seen with a noticeable difference than the theatrical version. Although the theatrical version has different ending, the great part of the final cut is that it omits the horrible narration by Ford. The final cut creates an ending that is more debatable, and in my opinion, far more enjoyable than the cookie cutter ending from the original.

Grade: A+

– Brian

Classic Reels is a weekly blog by Lariat contributor Brian Sanders. Sanders reviews old movies for those looking to brush up on their historic cinema or those that are looking to reminiscence on old flicks.

Classic Reels: The original Rocky

One consistent notion that runs through American ideology is the fabled “American dream”. It’s the idea that if someone works hard enough and posses enough determination, they can achieve whatever they set their minds to. If one movie were to personify this idea, it would be Rocky.

It’s 1976, America’s bicentennial, and world heavy weight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), agrees to fight an unknown fighter on national television for a shot at the title. On the mean streets of Philadelphia, small-time hustler and amateur boxer, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) spends his days collecting money for his boss and boxing in his spare time. He’s kind hearted, never hurting the people he collects money from, and everyday he flirts with his crush, Adrian (Talia Shire), a shy girl who works at the local pet shop. Rocky’s life isn’t going anywhere and he seems to have accepted the monotony of his future until the opportunity of a lifetime comes along.

Chosen simply for the catchiness of his boxing name, “The Italian Stallion”, Rocky Balboa is picked to fight Apollo Creed for the heavy weight title on New Year’s Day. He is the underdog, everyone expects him to lose and Creed is predicting an early round knock-out. What Creed doesn’t expect is a man willing to “go the distance”.

After seeing many of Sylvester Stallone’s movies, it’s easy to place him in the same category of actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mr. T. However, Stallone gives a surprisingly believable performance, showing off his acting skills. He is so believable as Rocky that it is hard to separate Stallone from the character to this day.

Surprisingly, it’s the lack of boxing that makes Rocky so great. Most of the film is spent following Rocky in the weeks leading up to the fight. It’s much easier to become more emotionally invested in Rocky, to see the obstacles he has to overcome. One of the most memorable scenes in Rocky, is his early morning training routine. He runs through the cold, early morning sunlight of Philadelphia as pedestrians stand and stare. At the end of his run he sprints up the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum, and raises his hands in triumph.

Although Rocky is a movie about boxing, its love story plays just as an important role. Rocky, the loveable loser, and Adrian, the shy, plain sales clerk he falls in love with, are an extremely believable couple. Rocky never does anything too extravagant or unbelievable that seems to occur in most Hollywood films. Instead, he tells jokes, treats her with respect and takes her ice skating. Through this simple romance, both become more human, no longer just characters on the screen.

Over the years, Rocky spawned five sequels, but none has ever come close to the magic of the original. Rocky is still as classic and as relevant today as it did the day it was released. It remains an ode to the American dream of doing things on your own. By the end of the film it’s obvious that Rocky has class, he’s no longer a bum anymore, but instead, he’s finally become a contender.

Rating: A+

— Brian

Classic Reels is a weekly blog by Lariat contributor Brian Sanders. Sanders reviews old movies for those looking to brush up on their historic cinema or those that are looking to reminiscence on old flicks.

Before the game, chow down at Dutch’s

Dining blind at away football games is often a hit-or-miss venture. This Saturday, you should visit 3009 S. University Drive by the Texas Christian University campus and sample a little joint called Dutch’s Hamburgers. While many businesses along TCU’s “drag” may have come and gone, Dutch’s is likely to stay for decades.

Less than two miles from the PGA Tour’s oldest non-major tournament site sits the TCU campus. University Drive, which splits the school’s buildings, was for decades the campus’ eastern boundary, with undeveloped land on the other side. In recent decades, the east side of University Drive was developed as the “drag,” the popular place for students without cars to spend a weekend shopping and eating.

Dutch’s Hamburgers opened in 2007 across from the Bailey Building, TCU’s former bible college building. Its prime location, coupled with all-around excellent food, have made Dutch’s among the most popular college food locales in Fort Worth. When I visited Dutch’s on Aug. 28, I was treated to a menu mosaic. Although I personally ordered only the Bacon Bleu Cheese Burger, I got to sample the Dutch Burger, Honey BBQ & Bacon Burger, Frito Pie, Country Cobb Salad, and Crispy Chicken Salad.

From the first bite, I noticed the burger was a good size and juicy; with minimal spices, the beef’s natural flavor shone through. And in Cowtown, U.S.A., only the best beef is worthy of such praise. Yet that was not the burger’s most praiseworthy feature. The thick-cut bacon, buttery and grilled, would be the envy of Oscar Meyer. Yet that was not the best part of the burger. The bleu cheese was slightly sweet, and not too crumbly, lacking the pungency that dissuades many Americans from enjoying the moldy curds; the onions were grilled to mild sweetness, but still had their sharp bite; chipotle mayo, shredded lettuce, and sliced tomatoes cleared the pallet. Yet these, too, were not focal points.

In every bite, I noticed the buns were dense and sweet, akin to hawaiian sweet bread. The sugary sweetness was both the first flavor to reach your taste buds and the last to leave. Furthermore, the density ensured that most customers could fain walk away from their baskets without packed stomachs. Eventually, however, I did reach the end of my burger, and turned to the neglected fries. The french fries themselves were enjoyable; they appeared fresh-cut and were low in grease. Large-crystal salt seasoned the fries; though the side was enjoyable, it was not exceptionally special. Similarly, the onion rings were good and not great, though it was enjoyable to have an original-recipe batter.

The other burgers were similarly spectacular, owing mostly to the unique buns and high-quality ground beef. The salads were very good, but certainly not noteworthy. The Frito Pie was surprisingly delicious; I was initially skeptical of the bowl of mixed nacho cheese and pico de gallo, but my tongue overruled my mind after the first bite.

My only complaint about the restaurant: there were way too many purple T-shirts. Unfortunately, I doubt that’ll change any time soon.

– Jonathan

To Be Discovered: Pandit

Pandit is a 23 year-old from Lumberton, TX named Lance Smith. He learned to play music from his mom when he was six, starting with the piano and expanding to the guitar shortly after. After being in a few short-lived bands, he decided that going solo would be the best decision.

23-year-old musician Pandit grew up listening to The Beach Boys among others.

He grew up listening to The Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Motown, Jim Reeves, Elton John, Elvis, and Buddy Holly. As he got older, he was introduced to bands such as Bright Eyes and Arcade Fire. His current biggest influences are The Beach Boys, Atlas Sound and Deerhunter, Beach House, Caribou, Radiohead, Neil Young, and Jimmie Spheeris.

Lance chose Pandit for his stage name because that was his great-grandfathers name, who was from India and was a close friend of Gandhi. Lance appreciates the fact that his great-grandfather lived life with no regrets and that he was at peace with life. He played folk music for a few years but eventually decided to branch out and continues to evolve musically.

His latest music has an ambient, yet full of life feel. His instruments of choice are an old Fender Telecaster an 1976 Ovation Viper electric, two Martin acoustic guitars, a Korg R3, a Microkorg, Korg, a MS2000, a Roland D-50, a LinnDrum, a Roland TR-707, an Omnichord Autoharp, and a few others he has collected throughout the years. As Pandit, Lance writes all his own music and is inspired by the outdoors and the people and relationships in his life.

There is a creek near his home that he likes to visit for inspiration. When other artists release new tracks, he feels motivated to work harder. Lance has recently collaborated on a song with Darren Williams, also known as Star Slinger.
The song will be available on his upcoming debut album with Lefse Records. Also available on that album will be collaborations with Warren Hildebrand of Foxes in Fiction and Rachel Levy of Kiss Kiss Fantastic. He would really love to collaborate with Bradford Cox from Atlas Sound/Deerhunter because they have similar, yet different styles. He’d also like to someday work with Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Neil Young.

Lance’s debut, full length record will be released in January 2011 on Lefse Records. He plans for it to consist of 13 tracks. Until then, his self-released EP is available at http://www.last.fm/music/Pandit for free.

-Makenzie