Monday, March 24, 2008

SXSW Recap

I'm finally getting back in the swing of "real life" after 6 days in Austin, TX at SXSW to start the writing about 6 days in Austin, TX at SXSW. My friends told me getting readjusted would take some time and they weren't kidding. What they forgot to mention was how jacked up my sleep schedule would get.

I should explain a little about Southby first for you folks who haven't been part of what my friends call "rock n roll spring break". SXSW Music is basically a conference held every year for music industry types in downtown Austin, TX in the week leading up to St. Patrick's Day (roughly). Bands submit applications to play; many are unsigned, some are already on labels but just go to play. Most all types of music has representation, from country to rap to DJs to rock. Someone (a committee I guess) decides who's playing, who isn't. In the October beforehand, badges go onsale and their price goes up incrementally as March approaches. Badges are super expensive (like $500) but worth it because folks with those can get into SXSW venues before wrist-band holders. (Wristbands are another way to get into SXSW venues. Wristbands go onsale later, there are only so many sold, and only cost about $150-200, but a badge is definitely the way to go.) The other nice thing about badges is when venues are at their capacity, they sometimes go to being "Badge Only" events, which means though badge owners may still have to stand in line and wait for someone to leave to get in, they still stand a shot. This came in very handy during the Lucero show at the pretty small Red Eyed Fly venue and during Nicole Atkins show at Pangea.

Ok, so once the schedule of bands is announced, roughly a month or so before Southby music starts, the work for a person going begins. On the schedule, each band has a blurb about them, what style of music they play, a link to their website, and if they're smart, an mp3 to download. Your task is to go through the 2000+ bands listed and pare them down by music type, then take a listen to what's left, being sure to add what you seem to like to your "schedule". After that pass through, you go back and look at who you like the best to the least in each time slot (it's important to have a few options just in case), and who's playing where.

The "where" each club a band is playing is an important thing to take into account when creating your Southby band schedule. Day or night, bands play 40 minute sets. A majority of the venues are on E. 6th Street, one long street with bars and clubs, a few obligatory 24 hour-paki stores, tattoo shops, and a "Cowboy Oriental Massage" parlour (boom chicka want waaa). There are also clubs further down on W. 6th Street (Congress Street is the dividing line between the east and west sides), and in many clubs on streets that surround and span out from 6th. During Southby, the city blocks E. 6th Street, some of the streets that intersect and cross E. 6th with lots of clubs (Red River Street, Trinity, etc), to accommodate all the pedestrian traffic. Basically, you walk. A LOT. For example: 214 E. 6th for your 8 pm band and there's a band you want to see at 8:30 but it's at 715 W. 6th, and your 9 pm band is at 217 E. 6th, you have two choices: see two songs from the 8 pm band and walk really really fast to the 8:30 venue, see 2 songs there and then walk really, really fast back, OR try to see your 8:30 choice at a day party (more on those in a minute). If a venue is far away (there are some that require a shuttle), you stand to spend more time traveling than seeing bands and that's the whole point of going.

Day parties go on from roughly 12 noon to 6 pm. Some are open to everyone with badges/wristbands like the Utne Reader party and some are invite only and held every year, like the Spin Magazine party. The invite-only ones typically have free food and drinks from whatever sponsor they got, and you get goodies like t-shirts, tote bags, etc. To get into those, you typically have to show a laminate pass for that particular party; my friends informed me that the kids with multiple laminates are typically the pretty connected ones (these laminates are attached to the same lanyard as one's SXSW badge). So while the night schedules run from 8 pm-1am/1:20 am, schedules for days can be just as jam packed. Course, it's like anything else, it can be as packed or as sparse as you want, but day parties typically fun and allow you to probably catch those band you couldn't fit in the schedule elsewhere. More than once I'd gone to day shows coffee in hand (then switched to beer of course).

All in all, if you're a music fan it's a blast. You kind of eat when you can (walk up tacos anyone?), and you stand a lot (like waiting 90 minutes for Kate Nash to go on with Billy Bragg as her special guest), and sleeping, well...like I said your sleep schedule will be sufficiently fucked for a good week after (up at 10:30 am to get to wherever by noon/1 pm, day parties, back to the hotel for a quick catnap at roughly 7, out to catch the night schedules, back to the hotel at 2 am usually, up having beers and comparing notes with friends till 4 am or 5, then off to bed for a few winks until you get up to start all over). But kids, it's all very much worth it.

I actually kept notes on the bands I caught and took a few good snaps here and there, all of which I'll be writing on here shortly. As well, I've got a rather loooong interview I did upon my return with one of the best bands we all caught and loved there, the Airborne Toxic Event. The best part of it is, most every band we caught is available on Emusic for your listening pleasure. What you don't know about Emusic?? Run fast! Go right now! :)

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