SXSW '09, Day 2: On Applying for Secret Canadian Citizenship, The Tidal Wave of Tastemaking, and Dirty Projecting
Last year was my first year in Austin, so I can't really speak to nebulous notions of the SXSW "good ol' days." Anecdotal evidence suggests that the place has expanded exponentially each year since the rise of the Internet, and the demolition of the quasi-mythological monoculture. In layman's terms, this boils down to: the web created a lot more institutions, some legit, some bastardized, and ultimately, all this tidal wave of taste-makers has led to is a lot more parties.
Right now, as I type this, I'm glancing to my left at a 65-page guidebook to day parties over a scant four-day stretch. If I want to, I can attend the "People In a Position to Know Recordings" Party (a label I'm unfamiliar with), "3rd Coast Magazine" Party (a magazine I'm unfamiliar with), the "Full Irish Breakfast Party" (a culinary delight I'm unfamiliar with), and the "Sonicbids" Party (a type of music-cum-real estate transaction firm I'm unfamiliar with)--and that's just half of the first page. With ankle-high bars for entrance, nearly anyone can come out here, throw out a welcome mat, and cross their fingers that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart will play their Aloha Ice Cream Social, sponsored by Urban Outfitters.
Dealing with these sort of enviable options requires a sort of cosmic resignation to the whole ordeal. Even if you wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, don't have to incinerate mornings blogging, and RSVP'd to Rachel Ray personally, chances are you'll miss 95 percent of the cool stuff on tap this weekend. With everyone bucking after that turbid idea of tastemaking, it's probably best to stick with the proven winners. Besides, as I mentioned yesterday, few things seem more patently ridiculous than a bunch of music herbs networking in the Lone Star state at overpriced parties, as the nation teeters on the edge of insolvency. Not only is the fiddler rocking while Rome burns, he's wearing a wispy mustache and huffing down Sparks and Parliaments at the Fader Fort. Don't even get me started.
Wavves & White Denim--The Gorilla Vs. Booze Party @ The Peacok
So yesterday, simplicity was the schema--after all, the smoke was scored early, meaning no need for histrionic gestures towards street pharmacists, no scavenging for stems and seeds among the flush. I could afford to relax like my name was Frankie, and I made my living off of a nascent New Wave outfit based somewhere in Hollywood. My first stop was the Gorilla Vs. Booze party, sponsored by Chris Gorilla Vs. Bear, the man singlehandedly responsible for scooping me on practically every new band ever. In the no longer-new blog order that has entrenched since the wide open free-for-all of 04-05, the Gorilla (and Justin "Aquarium Drunkard" Gage), have emerged as perhaps the two most consistent blogs for discovering new talent (I also attended a fine shindig from AD and My Old Kentucky Blog yesterday, but don't have time to write it up. Sorry)
Unfortunately, due to that whole "having to write to justify my badge" thing, I missed opening acts Harlem and Girls, who my sources informed me were pretty excellent. Lamentably, this also meant that I missed my chance to convince both bands to merge to form "Harlem Girls", and thus, become a new Charles Hamilton song--except better. Instead, I arrived for Wavves, nee Nathan Williams, a San Diego-based one-man-noise outfit who records in a bedroom that I imagine to be filled head-to-toe with Tony Gwynn baseball cards and candid snapshots of Williams and the San Diego Chicken.
Over the years, San Diego hasn't exactly proved to be the finest incubator of musical talent. I'm still sour at our tranquil neighbors to the south for birthing Louis XIV, an atrocity that not even a re-watching Jayo Felony's "Whatcha Gonna' Do," can provide restitution for. Sadly, Wavves fall closer to the aforementioned pomposters than they do to Jayo + Meth + DMX. Psychedelic Horseshit have been walked around all week in "Wavves Sucks," shirts, and I'm inclined to agree. Nothing against Chris, or my fellow blog brethren who ride for the kid. I can see him developing into something in a few years, but as it stands, he slathers his songs in white noise and maximum volume to make up for the total absence of craft. Understandably, the intensity and energy, Wavves bring to the live show, helps paper over William's songwriting shortcomings--but basically, if I were No Age, I'd call up Wavves on his Dave Dravecky flip phone and recite the "Shark Niggas" sketch from Only Built for Cuban Linx.
Thankfully, Austin garage-psych rockers White Denim, came through hang-gliding, holding on strong, hard to capture. Inside the oppressively dank sweat box of a club, they delivered a barbarian barrage of hard guitars: Gordian knots of noise, glistening irridian clumps of sound--enough to spur laments about the paucity of good blotter acid available on the open market. White Denim don't do anything new really, they're playing out of the classic Nuggets playbook, three-minute burners morphing into six-minute workouts in the live setting, but it's jaw-dropping in person, wigs pushed back, knees-buckling, sound and fury [insert another cliche here].
Nite Jewel @ Todd P's Party @ Mrs. Bea's
Despite wanting to see Vivian Girls, I decided to hoof the seemingly endless expanse back to the 6th strip, partially because I couldn't find a cab, partially because I wanted to drop in on fellow Occidental graduate, LA resident, and Randall Roberts-approved Nite Jewel. If you aren't familiar with Nite Jewel's music, I'll quote Randall because I'm pressed for time: "lo-fi cheesy dance music coming out of one corner of LA's art community, one that has connections to the Italians Do It Better world of New York City -- but way more oblique and interesting...semi-clumsy dance funk that feels like it was discovered in the disco trunk in your parents' attic."
In person, she's a sardonic girl just out of her teens in too-large red shades, a gray American Apparel shirt, and a pair of tats on her right arm that look crudely etched in Magic Market. Haunted vocals drenched in distortion, an 80s cocaine slink to the noirish rhythms, and a Roland SP-404 machine that could teach a lot of hip-hop producers how to make their snares pop. Maybe you should forget all that shit I babbled about yesterday. Sometimes, 10 years in the Gulag isn't necessary. Sometimes, you're preternaturally disposed to writing catchy pop songs out the gate--if Nite Jewel can keep it up, they'd account for one of those anomalies.
The Dirty Projectors @ The Windish Agency Party @ Emo's Annex
One of the reasons why Dark Was the Night was one of the best compilations in a while, was the curator's logical pairings of like-minded groups--none more so than the teaming up of Dirty Projectors with David Byrne. A few years ago, the blogosphere was rife with comparisons between Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! and the Talking Heads. Yet the analogy was facile, a comparison of sonics but not spirit. If Byrne & Co. truly do have a rightful heir, it would be the Dirty Projectors, currently vying neck-and-neck with Grizzly Bear for the title of Brooklyn's best band.
Their recorded material can't even hint at the power of this band's live show right now. Always a visionary, front-man Dave Longstreth has finally got a worthy backing group behind him. Upfront, he's a guitar hero for indie kids, delivering souskous-laced lines buoyed by his crew's halting funk. Think Vampire Weekend who everyone can agree upon--led by Longstreth's inexorable impulse to incorporate new sounds and ideas, attacking everything from obtuse but interesting angles. I don't have time to do their set justice. Like they did at the Pitchfork Fest, Dirty Projectors again delivered an unmistakeably memorable performance.
The Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans Showcase @ The Mohawk
In the nonstop litany of effusive epithets ascribed to Day two, none can match this showcase. Worst of all, there's no time to really get into it, so forgive this rambling bullet-pointed stream of information (I'm sure you're used to it by now, anyway).
But confirming what I'd long suspected, SC/Jagjag/DO proved that they're the best label in indie rock. Sub Pop, Merge, Matador, Warp, et. al are all strong labels, but none of them are fucking with the Bloomington-based outfit right now. Every band I saw last night was better than the next, as I not so eloquently told a friend: it's like awesome after awesome. Right.
- Phosphorescent can carve sentiment out of stolid terrain like few others and no fast food blog entry nor quick quip can conjure that feeling of 3 a.m. desolation that this band inculcates. Few band names are more apt: the refulgent glint of steel guitars, a force brighter and more powerful than their albums would intimate. Glowing praise.
- Blk Jcks: New South African band on the label. Think Love with afro-beat influences. Serrated guitars.Rasta hats, dreads, headwraps. Plus, rumor has it that they spent the entirety of their fall recording their album in Bloomington, drinking heavily, and scoring with any and all single white girls. Lustily approved.
- Akron/Family: How are these guys so much better live than the album? How come nobody told me this would be my new favorite band? Borderline obsessed after last night. Lead singer looks like Teen Wolf or Walton on the Trail Blazers, which come to think of it, was the obvious inspiration. Already making plans to see them tomorrow at the Don't Mess With Texas Party. Biggest surprise of the week, and along with DP's, the best I've seen thus far.
- Dinosaur Jr: I don't need to tell you how Dinosaur Jr. was, they're fucking Dinosaur Jr. You know this, man.
We'll talk tomorrow.