Monday, March 19

We Play the Songs and You Do the Talking

Really, I'm not dead. I just didn't have anything to say for a while, then I had a serious work deadline to deal with, then I was sick, then SXSW came along. I'm not planning on posting a detailed description of my SXSW experience. If you're really interested, you can check out the daily recaps over at my wife's blog.

One thing on my mind throughout this SXSW was how difficult these gigs are for the bands, and how well most of them deal with the madness. For starters, many bands travel far out of their way to get to Austin. Obscure Japanese bands fly here to play one or two shows. Bang Gang flew from Iceland to Baltimore, then drove to Austin. Au Revoir Simone finished up their short set at about 1AM; they were scheduled to play in California the next day. And then we have the shows themselves: horrible sound mixes, tiny cramped stages, people walking out to get to another show, tons of people ignoring the band while texting on their phones, drunk people screaming at the bar. You must always remember that SXSW is primarily an industry event, so the audiences are not necessarily stocked with fans of the band. All of this for the hope of a bit of media coverage, maybe a distribution deal, or a mention on a blog. I'm impressed with the professionalism of most of the bands, carrying on through all the annoyances and indifference. Most of them do try hard to put on a good show, and many appear to really enjoy themselves. I think it has mostly to do with the exciting carnival atmosphere of the festival itself and the excitement of mingling with other musicians from all over the world. I suspect many of the bands couldn't care less about the industry people and are just there for the party.

During the four days, I am also reminded how much I hate people. I don't mean specific people, just "people" in general. I lost count of the number of times I was shoved, elbowed, and stepped on, all so that somebody could get three feet closer to the band and then spend two minutes staring at their phone before forcing their way back to the bar. Why would someone go through the effort of shoving their way to the front, only to spend the entire gig talking to their friend? I even saw one person right up against the stage with his back to the singer. By day four, you're just happy when someone says "excuse me" before pushing you out of their way.

What else? I suffered seemingly endless boring sound checks. I tried not to touch anything in any of the venue restrooms. I searched for food in a district full of shot bars. I paid double and triple parking fees. I got food poisoning. I saw a guy literally pissing in the street.

So you might ask why I do this every year. It may sound trite, but it really is all about the music. It's always the music. I complain about these exact same things every year, but I come back again for the bands. When I think back on past SXSWs, I don't remember any of the obnoxious people. I do remember the great shows. In a few weeks, I will stop ranting about the 53rd person to bonk my head with their digital camera, but I will still be ranting about the excellent sets from Nellie McKay, Fujiya and Miyagi, Vashti Bunyan, Asakusa Jinta, and Blonde Redhead.

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