Live: South By Southwest
South By Southwest
Austin, Texas 12-15/03/2014
Review: Amy Simmons | Photos: G Life | Adam Stanzak
Welcome to South By Southwest – a conference/music festival that completely takes over the bars, restaurants, car parks and streets of Austin, Texas. And by the end of it, your sanity, too. Literally everywhere you go someone is pounding out music of every genre in existence. It’s a place where people go to discover the “Next Big Thing”, see Green Day play a secret show in a hall, accidentally walk past The Hold Steady playing a corporate gig in a car park or find yourself standing next to Lady Gaga watching an instrumental thrash jazz trio at a dive bar.
This year SXSW saw over 2,200 bands play across 100 stages (well, officially anyway), so navigating your way from showcase to showcase is kind of like a game of The Amazing Race: Austin Downtown Edition to battle it out with 25,000 other industry types for a prized position at the front of the queue if you were too lazy to get your arse out of bed early enough to collect an express pass and spare yourself the nightmare. Hey, it’s Lone Star Tall Boy’s fault. We shouldn’t complain though, many bands who have made the pilgrimage to Austin in the hopes of kickstarting their career play ultra short sets through shitty set ups then pack up their gear and lug it across town to the next venue to do it all again. For some, it can be a punishing festival (just ask DZ Deathrays, pg. 18) unless you’re currently riding the hype wave and you’ve got a pretty relaxed schedule. We’re looking at you, Royal Blood.
BLUNT started our SXSW experience with a neatly highlighted schedule, a game plan and the very best intentions. We were determined, we were prepared and then after enduring line after line after line decided to just fuck it and go with the flow. Wednesday morning saw us start at the Live Nation showcase at the G-Pen Annex on Red River and Sixth, which became our home base for the duration of the festival. Sony’s latest heavy signing Nothing More were one of those “must see” bands and they had everyone intrigued by their “Bassinator” – a metal contraption they strap the bass guitar to so they can all stand around it and have a go. A winner for those who like their rock a little bit proggy, kinda heavy and a whole lot catchy. The solo artist that followed whose whole shtick was banging a tom drum to Beyoncé songs while rocking a feathered headdress left us confused, so we bailed.
Over at the House of Vans showcase at the Mohawk, Dave Hause opened the indoor stage with his blue-collar anthems and his little brother by his side. Earnest and sincere, Hause played one of the most entertaining solo sets we’ve seen yet. Surely he’s due for a tour of Australia soon (hint)? Next up, Chino Moreno (Deftones) seductively swung his hips while his other band, Crosses, distorted a bunch of genres with eerie electro trimmings on a much smaller stage than they recently rocked at Soundwave Festival. Sadly not long after we left Mohawk a drunk driver plowed his car into the line outside the venue killing two people on impact and injuring many others. Our condolences to all those affected by this horrible tragedy.
On the other side of town, Dine Alone Records’ inaugural showcase was in full flight. Home to BLUNT favourites Alexisonfire (RIP) and City and Colour, Dine Alone have a really diverse palate and tonight on the menu we were offered appetizers of Nashville rock sons The Apache Relay and Clear Plastic Masks garnished with indie flourishes from Tokyo Police Club and Sydney kids Glass Towers. It was a nice reprise from all the bludgeoning we had lined up for the rest of the week.
Thursday we started out our day by checking out our country folk over at the Sound Gallery (a baby version of the Aussie BBQ) hosted by the folk at Sounds Australia. B.D. Riley’s is your run-of-the-mill Irish themed pub and Melbourne’s favourite mates High Tension screeched and riffed away in the corner while the soccer played on the TV in the background and old men clutched pints of Guinness. Weird, and strangely indicative of how random SXSW is.
Back at our makeshift home at the G-Pen Annex, the scene tastemakers over at Pure Noise hooked up with the folk from Equal Vision for a very BLUNT-esque showcase. When we arrived, A Lot Like Birds’ schizophrenic post-hardcore was in full flight (sorry). They sounded a lot like Dance Gavin Dance, which makes sense given their current vocalist fronted said band once upon a time. The easy-on-the-ears punk of The American Scene was a nice primer for the oh-so-serious hardcore/post-rock mash up of Being As An Ocean. By the time Gameface hit the stage the annex was packed and for good reason. Recently reunited and with a brand new album, nostalgia washed over the crowd as they reminded us how rad ‘90s punk was. And on the topic of rad punk, The Story So Far closed out the afternoon with more bodies in the air than in the mosh. With this sort of momentum here and at home, it’s clear The Story So Far are on their way to scene domination.
Later that night at Sumerian and Friends we arrived ready to catch Thy Art Is Murder do their thing in Texas. No sooner had they wheeled their gear into the annex, the hate crew were carrying it back out again with no explanation why. Disappointing. Volumes filled the void with a dose of djent and more grooves than a 12” and I See Stars’ electro-metalcore concoction was so beyond terrible that we abandoned the showcase to go see Touché Amoré keep it real, raw and poignant at Red 7.
Because one Touché Amoré set is never enough, we went for seconds on Friday morning at Beerland (hey, you gotta take these opportunities while you can). Playing in a space the size of your lounge room to a handful of their most dedicated Texan fans, it was a battle of the mic grab to shout Jeremy Bolm’s earnest lyrics right back at him. A truly underrated band who needs to come back to Oz really damn soon.
Way on the other side of Austin, our own noisy party-hard duo DZ Deathrays played to around four people in an absolute shithole, while back at the G-Pen Annex The New England Metal and Hardcore Festival was at capacity by the time Counterparts started. Within The Ruins possessed some really interesting fretwork amongst very forgettable songs before Veil Of Maya destroyed the tent with their techy deathcore. Comeback Kid are still one of the most solid and consistent bands racking up the kilometres in hardcore today and frontman Andrew Neufeld was a force when delivering vicious new tunes from their fresh banger Die Knowing. Pretty sure we will never tire of throwing our hands triumphantly in the air during the bridge on “Wake The Dead”.
Next on BLUNT’s schedule was the Artery Showdown and Get Scared. These guys dabble in the same sort of pop rock My Chemical Romance built their career on, which was helped by the fact frontman Nick Matthews sounds like Gerard Way with a Skrillex haircut. They were a bit theatrical, slightly dark and very, very catchy – there were some seriously great hooks carrying their songs. We approve. Afterwards Like Moths To Flames set the dial to brutal and slayed the annex with their hefty breakdowns and monster choruses that lingered in the air well after they stopped. Next up was the atrocity known as Attila. It was every bit as horrid as we imagined it would be. There was nothing enjoyable watching a douchebag rap woeful lyrics about “suck my fuck” or whatever over trite metalcore. But what do we know? Chris Fronzak was rocking some chunky Versace bling, so being a complete arsehole must pay dividends somewhere.
Come Saturday, it was a battle of the will to get out of bed and trek to Maggie Mae’s for the annual Aussie BBQ. If we didn’t, we’d probably have our passports revoked. The biggest showcase of Australian music in the US, the BBQ boasted over 30 bands across three stages; it was no surprise the rooftop hit capacity by midday. Downstairs in the club room, Dune Rats looked like they stepped out of Anthrax circa-‘85 but played the kind of summery indie jams best enjoyed on the beach with a cold beer and a bong.
“What the fuck is this?” asked a terrified Texan in a cowboy hat. “Why sir, that’s King Parrot,” we answered back, and that pretty much sums up King Parrot’s set – absolutely scaring the shit out of anyone who was brave enough to walk into the room, which, sadly, wasn’t many. Not to worry, Youngy wasn’t gonna let the hipsters lining up to go upstairs off so easily, casually strolling up to them, semi-naked, and squawking in their faces. Even if you couldn’t get down with the grind tunes, the casual comedy from Slatts was more than worth getting out of bed for.
High Tension may have started out with an empty room, but there was a possessive draw to their volatile punk that ended up packing out the venue by their last song. Frontwoman Karina Utomo may be tiny, but she was every bit a banshee as her murderous shrieks capped off an explosive set from a band worth every ounce of hype that’s been thrown at them.
Over at Rusty’s it was a prog metal showdown with Animals As Leaders and Periphery duking it out for the title of most mind bending, complex composition on all of Seventh Street that was as taxing on our minds as the entire festival had been on our bodies. A fitting end to another truly amazing SXSW festival. And that’s a wrap from us. See ya next year, Austin. Make sure you’ve got a Lone Star Tall Boy chilling for us on arrival, will ya?