I’m off to SXSW in Austin, Texas for the very first time.
I am going to be covering it for both BSR, and fab UK music mag Drowned in Sound, and I am going with one of my best friends – a competitive and canny new music obsessive. Let’s call her Giselle, because that’s her name. Giselle has SXSW down to a fine art. She’s been going for years. She has no time for clueless arseholes like me so I have put her in charge of almost everything: she has booked us in to a really awesome downtown hotel and sorted our flight. She verbally pats me on the head when I ask dumb questions (like “But will you come with me for BBQ?” Answer: “NO”). She is awesome.
In the run up to SXSW, she has been holding my hand. But soon, she will let me loose on Rainey Street so that I can stagger on alone crying, zombified and covered in salsa.
She will let go of my hand because Giselle also happens to be interested in precisely 3% of the bands I am interested in. So we will be seeing each other on the trip approximately that percentage of the time. In fact, I’ll probably be seeing more of the random photographer she invited to stay on our hotel room floor.
However, Giselle is not heartless. In order to increase my chances of survival, she gave me some advice: make a spreadsheet.
And so, I have been staring at a spreadsheet for the past three weeks. An Excel nightmare of boxes. I’m trying to make sense of what I can realistically achieve in a city hosting, 1000+ bands over four days. The best laid plans – and carefully curated spreadsheets – could totally go to shit. And in fact, that’s kind of what they’re supposed to do.
Well, a lot of my friends and old faithfuls are in town. I’ll be trying to catch sets by Wye Oak doing stuffs from their upcoming elpee, Shriek, legendary legend Bob Mould and punks OFF! will be NAILING MUSIC TO THE WALL and Kurt Vile will be prepping for his upcoming European solo tour by…playing solo. Fresh & Onlys are doing a bunch of sets, and my dear pals from England, Turin Brakes, are packing up their sexy elegant folk pop and bringing it Stateside in support of their newest album We Were Here. Can’t wait to see those chaps.
And of course I’ll also be attempting to catch Gary Numan (who my friend Martin McCarrick has performed with), Bauhaus’ David J (whom I interviewed in the 90s), hopefully seeing former Sebadoh tourmates Octa#grape and lining up like a total loser full of hope that I will actually get in to see Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker (whom I used to end up seeing hanging out around London when I lived there) and locals Black Angels and Black Lips. (Side note: In November, I ended up in a text messaging convo with a member of the Black Lips one night after they said they were bored on Twitter. I still have no idea which member, but they thought my Halloween costume was pretty cool. But I digress.)
There’s also justified and ancients Mike Peters & The Alarm and Spandau Ballet (whom, as a Duran Duran fan I wish to throw tomatoes at) plus kids like Temples, Breton, Arthur Beatrice, Torres, Vancouver Sleep Clinic, HVOB, Speedy Ortiz, Thumpers, Honeyblood, Bloodgroup, Perfect Pussy, blah blah blah blah and 195 other bands I’d like to check out. But none of this reeeeeeally matters because ACCORDING TO THE SPREADSHEET, almost all of their sets clash badly with someone else more “important”. No matter how much I want to clone myself, it ain’t gonna happen through the magical power of free tacos alone.
Still and all, and aside from my mates’ bands listed above, these are the bands I’m going to try desperately not to miss and who I’m really excited for:
PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING – credit to Giselle for turning me on to this artsy, hyped UK duo who play instrumentals punctuated by sampled voiceovers from old-school British documentaries about one million years ago. Loved their album Inform Educate Entertain, their tour skipped Vancouver on this last outing, and am dying to see them live.
EAGULLS – Curious to see how these guys fare live, because their debut, self-titled post-punk album really impresses. Few bands have gotten me actually excited as much as this Leeds five-piece. Plus, I love seeing young Brits turned loose on chaotic American streets. If not Eagulls then at least 12 other UK bands will be pissed drunk by noon on Day One and physically green by Day Four.
CASUAL SEX – Not just a pain in the arse to search for on Google, an actual band from Scotland. Ridiculously excited to check out their mashed-up smart indie rock live – because their EP The Bastard Beat is GREAT. For fans of The Clash, Orange Juice and Bowie, glam rock, Brit rock, art rock, punk, post-punk, new wave, and fuck it…all of it. When I asked singer Sam Smith about his upcoming adventure to SXSW, he replied: “‘I’m looking forward to playing cowboys and Indians. I hope I find the real Roy Rodgers still on Trigger.” Okay, then.
DRENGE – “Drenge” means “boys” and Danish and that’s exactly what this band from the Peak District are. A bluesier Japandroids. Nothing complex here, but could really spark. No buzz this side of the pond, yet, but I’m intrigued. Fuzzy guitars.
JETTA - Another one of Giselle’s finds more than a year ago, Jetta blew my mind then and before last year’s debut at SXSW. She’s got a booming soul voice, looks fab and is being groomed up nice and slick, as you’ll see below. Here’s hoping her handlers are on the case this go-round: I tried several times to get an interview last year – when even fewer people had heard of her – without any response. Hope springs eternal.
THE FAT WHITE FAMILY – mega-hyped London band who turned to PledgeMusic and its fans to raise funds to get to SXSW, these guys do sleazy, fucked-up, weird rock and roll. Their album’s called Champagne Holocaust and one of their videos basically has a guy spreading his butt cheeks. Might be better or way worse than they’re being touted. Rooting for them.
FUTURE ISLANDS – Pretty unoriginal to have this Baltimore synthy soul pop band on my list, because, well, after Letterman the other night (see below), they’re on pretty much on everyone’s list now. But they were on my spreadsheet first, I’m sure There are few great, unique frontmen left (stop staring at your shoes, every band!) and the voice? Purr and then RAWR. AND THE DANCING? THE DANCING!!! Expecting a joyous set from this set of oddballs.
GULP – Am ridiculously excited that Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys will be playing SXSW, as well as this other Super Furry Side Project, Gulp. Gulp is Guto Pryce’s new joint with Lindsey Leven, and sounds super lush. Wahey for Wales!
INVSN – And speaking of side projects, you know how much I love seeing Sweden’s Refused live, right? Well,the band’s ace livewire Dennis Lyxzén has a new…ummm, milder, more earnest, sort of late 80s emo band now, called INVSN. But he’s so awesome so this has to be awesome, right? RIGHT?
So that’s what some of the what the spreadsheet says. Follow along on Twitter (@BackstageRider) for the chaos, and I will see you all at Southby! Should be easy to for you to find me, I’m sure. I’ll be the only music writer there, I think. #PrayforMikala\m/
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