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


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