Basics. Or, “Why doesn’t any other ‘Survival Guide’ tell you these things?” Or, Not As Specific to SXSW as I Was Thinking Originally, But Still Things to Keep In Mind
Here is a little vignette that should start things off well. When I told Rachele that after my morning shower I dried myself with my dirty clothes, she said, “oh, it’s like camping!” which it is. Minus the tent and towels. Seven travelers were stuffed into a 7-person van, plus all our things, plus snacks, minus legroom. So we had to pack light. So will you. Unless you are staying in a hotel, in which case probably none of this will apply to you, because you are probably: money’d, old-ish (over 21), flying in, and wristband’d. Good for you. You’re all set. This is for the people who drove for a very long time, straight through the night, are sleeping on someone else’s floors for 4 days, and have a budget of about 100 bucks for the 4-5 days. The “I almost got thrown up on,” turned away from more shows than attended, “aww, I missed Gay Witch Abortion,” eating zero to one meals a day demographic. This is for you.
First thing is first. How to pack. I brought just my clothes, Nyquil (for the 22 hour van rides, there and back), and my computer. Wilmer brought enough earplugs for all of us, which turned out to be one of the more brilliant strokes of foresight I’ve ever seen. I should’ve brought paper and pencil, to take down info on concerts at the outset of the day, but I had my smartphone, which is roughly equivalent. Somehow I didn’t pack enough socks, which was dumb. 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of jeans, that is, “warm weather,” “shit weather.”
How to sleep. ‘til noon. No, seriously, get your beauty sleep. SXSW isn’t won by powering through it, we discovered on the first night. You likely won’t spend your time well if you’re hot off your travels. Take a nap. Sleep well everyday, even if you’re missing the 1 PM band you wanna see. They will play at 4 PM the next day and 6 PM the next.
But more really, find someone close to downtown (or very close to a bus-stop, like us) who will let you and your crew sleep on their floor. The total cost of floor-fare with 6 other travelers costs about as much as one night at a reasonably priced hotel. Do it. We managed to arrange this wonder-situation a mere month before our trip by asking an Austin friend to put up a flyer in their workplace. It can be done. Do it, and get creative, because it is worth it.
Woe Is Me, For I Am 20 Years Old. Or, Bar Capitalism.
Here is where I am a valuable narrator: How to under 21. Don’t do it unless you have to. SXSW is oddly unfriendly to the youngins. I understand why its like this, but it is sure is sad. Most of SXSW proper is hosted at bars, and most of those shows are free. That means the bars are making all (or most) their money off alcohol, and that means that I’m not allowed in. By the end of the 4 days I stopped looking at the official schedule entirely. Even the odd, unofficial day party – Brooklyn Vegan’s Hotel Vegan is the main culprit – was somehow 21+, even though we were trying to get in at like 4 in the afternoon. What gives?
Moreover, SXSW had far more of a party atmosphere than I was hoping. I’m still grappling with the number of attractive 20 somethings barhopping at shows I was going to. You’re ruining my indie cred, people. The heart of downtown, 6th street, was closed to traffic, and by the end of the week turned into a veritable Bourbon Street, minus the strip clubs. Ugh. I thought this was about the music! No?
Enough griping. Now I am going to be useful. How to spot a 21+ show a mile away: Are they giving out drinks? Not allowed. Is it at a bar? During the day: show up and give it a shot. At night: highly unlikely. Anything that doesn’t bother to advertise as All Ages/18+/21+? Likely 21+. BUT (and this holds true for pretty much any show you are planning on attending): always check out the situation beforehand. Maybe they are wristbanding, and will let you in the show with big, sharpie’d X’s on your hands, after paying a $15 cover. Show up at 5 when you have nothing to do at the bar where Maps and Atlases is playing at 11:15. It’s worth knowing what the deal is.
Types of events far more likely to let you in, and for other reasons (to be expanded upon later), better events to attend, all around: Day shows, and unofficial, perhaps even “secret” shows. Day shows are usually small labels and promotion companies doing a weird, smaller event for a weirder, smaller crowd. These companies have something to prove, need to motivate people to show up at all, and don’t have the power to book at prime time. So they tend to have free food, good bands, and looser age restrictions. Perfect, right? A group of us made it over to Hometapes’ Friend Island party at Papi Tinos on Friday, where we saw AU and Zorch (both get serious mentions in my music section), each for the second time. Great music, free Nachos, a free tumblr tote, pop tarts, and cheap merch, not to mention the fact that we got let in at all. I realized that the Terroreyes day party had happened on Thursday, which I’m sure was very similarly awesome. (I am a fan of Terroreyes, mostly because Sargent House, Tera Melos, and Zach Hill are all fans of Terroreyes, so I’m deeply sorry I missed it. And apparently both Zorch and AU were playing there, again again. Next time.)
UPDATE: Here is a very good video of AU playing at that Terroreyes day party I missed, but it looks pretty similar to that Hometapes day party I did attend, so, for illustrative purposes:
AU from TERROREYES.TV on Vimeo.
The best part of these day parties and their equivalent is that they are, as I put it, curated. Something sponsored by Doritos or Taco Bell will get a combination of big names and terrible, tiny bands, with no unifying theme other than the fact that they will fill the tent with noise while people eat free food and try to win t-shirts they will later leave in some other tent. A showcase, put together by a group with an actual musical identity is curated, man. Bands are booked for a reason. The lineup is crafted. A tiny label is putting art on display, not paying for background noise. You want to attend the “curated” events. It is pretty easy to guess which is which after having gotten suckered into one and then lucking out at the other.
Also, secret shows. These are hard to find, hard to figure out where they are, and hard to figure out the line up. And hard to get into, if you don’t show up very early, but Steph and I were lucky enough to show up very early, with Wilmer trailing not very far behind at all, with Rachele, Dylan and Landon waiting outside for an hour and half to no avail. I’m basically talking about 21st Street Co-op’s STOUH X SMES SHOUT 2 on Friday night, which I will give its own section.
Random thoughts, Part 1
Knife throwing. People hopping the fence into some huge concert. Accidentally sneaking into a show. Vermin Supreme. Donut Taco Palace. Someone misreading my ID as over 21 once, and I got a wristband for like 30 minutes and it was weird. Looking at Dan Deacon but not seeing him perform. Breaking up hipster mosh pit fights. Being in a hipster mosh pit. Asking for toilet paper and getting the response “I don’t steal it for nothing.” Telling the lady at Donut Taco Palace that they should sell t-shirts and she says “About what?” Getting preemptively kicked out of a bar because the bouncer thought my free designer lemon lime soda was a beer. The pedicab with darth vader sticking out of the back. “The Violin Monster.” The guy with Zebra gum tattoos. Tattoos. Everyone pouring out the free Brisk, because it sucked. The amazing sounding pedals that I still need to find the contact info for. How I realized the big awesome famous record store in Austin is basically a Newbury Comics. In fact, I caught myself thinking I was in a Newbury Comics. Zorch selling clearly Goodwill shirts with screen printed designs on them. Zorch selling “Al Gore Sexual Rhythms” concept albums. Zorch. AU. AU knows Why I Must Be Careful. Turning sparkling mineral water into normal water. Somehow running into Wilmer and Rachele basically everyday, without planning on running into them, despite the tens of thousands of people walking around on 6th. Catching a cab, somehow. Watching mild sexual assault/just really drunk people on St. P-Day while in the cab. Putting a mosaic cross air freshener in the car as a joke and it getting Dylan out of a ticket, apparently. Getting familiar with the streets, actually. Adventuring. Finding lots of really worthwhile things to do outside of the terrifying largeness of 6th street, the main drag of the festival. Not attending any shows I had initially planned on attending. Seeing Maps and Atlases but with such an annoying crowd I enjoyed it far less than I expected. People my age being pricks to one another. People my age being pretty cool.
Food. Or, Woe Is Me, For I Am A Poor College Student Or, How To Save A Fair Amount of Money
How to food. Buy Clif Bars in bulk. Bring a big cooler of water from your home place. (Side note, courtesy of Dylan: Apparently the reason people tend to get the runs when they travel is because they drink the local water, which contains local bacteria that you aren’t quite used to. Bring as much of the water to which you are accustomed as you can, and find a source of free purified water, which for us was provided by the Whole Foods tent, along with a water bottle. Thank you, WF. I drank gallons of your free water.) Buy a bulk bag of chips. Fruit snacks. You will wake up at 2 and you will eat these and you will like it. And then you will wander around downtown Austin and come across a free food promotion, and you will eat your one meal everyday there, licking off the stamp they give you as soon as the stamper is out of sight and before the food truck man gives you their delicious foodstuffs. Ok, fine, I will give you a plug: Squarespace sponsored the food truck that provided the majority of my meals. Thank you, beta.squarespace.com. I spent 20 bucks on food over my trip thanks to you. Track down opportunities like this. The Squarespace food truck was enough for me, but I’m sure there were other daily offerings that will get you through SX. There are of course parties you need to RSVP to, or have a press pass or something, which will occur pretty much daily and will get another group of people through the week, but you are not that group of people.
Or you can be like Jacob and only eat Clif bars, and maybe buy a beer at your punk show at the end of the day.
What Happened One Night. Or, Thank You, Zorch
How to Secret Show. We had been turned away from three or four shows already that day, from Tennis and Poliça at Hotel Vegan’s Day Party to Trampled By Turtles at Swan Dive, and we were ready to try anything. Maps and Atlases was playing at 10ish at the North Door, so we dropped by at 5 to check it out, but even the door guy didn’t know if we could get in, so we decided to invest all our time and energy in a place that would actually let us in – STOUH X SMES SHOUT 2 at 21st St. Co-op, a good 15 blocks away from where all the official events were going on. Zorch, this local two-piece weirdo band, organized it, which meant (though I didn’t know it at the time) that this show would serve as the classic example of a “curated” event. All the bands were different and interesting in their own right, but generally hovered around the weird-/experimental-/math-rock genres, and were all in all downright sweet. Girlfriends, Cartright, Caddywhompus, AU, El Ten Eleven, Zorch and Maps and Atlases were all great acts we got to enjoy thoroughly.
But the venue. Oh man. When we got there at 6:30, about an hour before acts were slated to start, we got to just hang around this pretty cool co-op/mini-village/commune. When we walked in, Steph leaned over to me and said, “there will be naked people here by the end of the night.” It was that kind of place, and that has both good and bad implications. The outside venue was a porch, essentially, and the inside venue was a well-mural-ed cave with terrifying spray insulation/fiberglass/asbestos absolutely covering the ceiling (that people later were grabbing on to sort of ferry about while crowd surfing, which was admittedly a pretty cool feature). I went to the bathroom and there was vomit covering the toilet seat, and no toilet paper to use to wipe it off. Later on I asked to borrow someone’s toilet paper that I noticed they had in their bag and they said “I don’t steal it for nothing.” It was policed by a bunch of the college kids who lived there, so we should’ve realized it would eventually get pretty out of control, but it got super out of control. I think there were about a thousand people there – I read somewhere that the line to get in itself was 300 people long (and then there was a line to get into the upstairs venue, on top of that.)
Cultural Reflections, Or, I Am Glad to Be A Young Person Today, Or, Fuck Youth Culture
The Good. Here’s what I am going to call Kalnoky’s Lament: Tomas Kalnoky, of Streetlight Manifesto, strives to bring opening bands on tour with him that are distinctly different from his band. Streetlight can be called a ska band, and most other bands in his position would simply bring along other bands that could be called ska bands. They regularly bring along reggae, punk, and hardcore bands, sometimes even very weird bands. This isn’t without its flaws – Jacob and my worst opening bands of all time (actually, worst bands of all time) directly preceded a Streetlight set. But – and I’m totally serious about this, despite the approach’s rare successes – good for him. He’s trying to get people to appreciate a showcase of bands in a single night, like the supposed “good old days.” It largely doesn’t work in a we-are-paying-for-Streetlight-Manifesto sort of situation, but it totally does work in a you-are-getting-into-this-show-for-free-and-don’t-know-what-to-expect-and-all-the-bands-are-pretty-sweet-in-their-own-way sort of situation. And that’s what you get at SX – in the right situation. And – in the right situation – it feels like everyone is actually into the bands. And – in the right situation – you are into the bands. Things work out! At 21st St. Co-op, we saw a slew of weird, interesting, honest bands. They had many different musical goals and backgrounds and crowds they tended to cater towards. It worked. The same holds true for most of SXSW on the whole. It was sweet.
Also, there was this great DIY ethic thing going on that I haven’t really seen much of before. There’s not a whole lot to say about it, but I saw many examples of people my age putting things together themselves, whether it was the whole 21st St. Co-op event, or touring bands managing themselves or random things on the street, most non-sponsored events felt very real and honest. It was refreshing to see that happen.
The Bad. There was this word floating around SXSW, and it was “hipster.” No one wants to be it, everyone sees plenty of them roaming the streets, and most people would admit to having a handful of characteristics of “hipsterdom.” This is that culture. The majority of people attending SXSW are hipsters, in some understanding of that term. But one out of every 1,000 attendees are self-declared hipsters. No one feels a part of the culture that does, in fact, exist. Few punks would deny being a punk, few metalheads would deny enjoying metal, and few hip-hop enthusiasts would deny enjoying hip-hop. Yet there is this mass denial of a cohesive culture around this scene.
This seems a minor note – there is still a culture being developed and participated in, regardless of whether or not members are willing to admit it. What difference does that make? Turns out the 21st St. Co-op party showed how this basically makes people pricks to each other. At a punk show, if someone gets bowled over in the pit, they get picked up. People who are crowd surfing recognize that they are being supported by the necks and collarbones of strangers, and tend not to flail around while suspended in the air, lest skulls are broken through. Not so, here. When a group of people doesn’t feel like they all belong to the same community – in fact feeling quite the opposite – people don’t treat each other properly. I broke up a fight; felt like I was the only guy picking people up from being trampled; and was repeatedly (and more stupidly than usual) clawed at by crowd surfers. But mostly (because the set up times for the bands stretched on forever because people didn’t realize that the band members had to load and unload their equipment off the side of the stage, through the clueless, entitled masses) the chatter was self-righteous and inconsiderate and dicky. It was unfortunate. I’ll admit this sounds trite, but it was a lot worse than I was prepared for.
People need to unify, man. There is a culture here, and we all need to admit it and take pride in it. Otherwise there is this weird, underlying frustration that everyone has towards one another. We are the youth of today. Let’s stop pretending we’re not. Eh?
Random thoughts, Part 2
Lots of cyclists. Interesting graffiti. Winning a Burton shirt out of a 100 ft tall stage of a vending machine from the Doritos party and giving it to a lady who was clearly going around and around in the line, collecting crappy shirts, skate decks and Doritos promo stickers. Walking by a family holding armfuls upon armfuls of promo Doritos. Wilmer falling asleep for 2 hours in the Taco Bell party. Homeless people collecting free Brisk cans. “That guy from Das Racist” at a Whataburger. My first Whataburger. Delay pedals everywhere. El Ten Eleven totally rocking out but getting cut off because the previous band had gone over a bit, and the management had yet to realize that everyone else was going to run over their allotted time not only while on stage but also while setting up and while packing up, and so El Ten Eleven are really the only band whose set time suffers the whole night, even though Japanther makes me displeased with existence and should have ceded their set time to El Ten Eleven. Three delay pedals on El Ten Eleven’s part, alone. Saying names of bands that the music on the car stereo clearly isn’t responsible for. Slowing down from 100 mph to the speed limit like 20 yards behind a police car and awkwardly sitting behind it for a little while until it exits off the highway. Someone spotting my Zach Hill shirt and me not having been in that situation before and not knowing how to handle it. Hip clothing. Getting really tired at 10:30 pm. Figuring out how to get home on buses. Seeing people with press passes and badges and VIP and stuff and not understanding what their world must be like. Everyday doing the same thing – dinner at Squarespace truck and water refills at Whole Foods’ tent – it started to feel like running errands, for a second, there. Getting accustomed to saying “south by” rather than “south by south west” because that is how the locals say it, and it’s all about blending in with the locals, isn’t it? Enjoying myself. Already planning on coming back next year, armed with knowledge and hopefully a press pass and a get-me-into-shows 21+ ID and (more) hair on my chest and a bone to pick. Feeling simultaneously that I know far too many and far too few musical acts. Looking up shows on the internet and getting a lot of false positives from last year’s SXSW, and going to the venue to see Colin Stetson and it turns out that, in fact, Pennywise is playing at 10. Showing up very early to shows, and it being worth it every time. Austin turning out to be a fine city to walk around in. Not going to Graceland after all, for all sorts of reasons. Probably narrowly avoiding all sorts of heavy rain induced traffic accidents. Dylan driving like a very deliberate, somehow safe, lead-footed maniac. Rental car holding up amazingly. 20 hour car ride “not that bad,” everyone somehow agrees. Being almost totally unable to fall asleep in cars. Dylan kind of just choosing not to fall asleep during either leg of the journey. Underestimating the value of a good mixtape. Incredible, vomit-threatening heartburn in gas station bathrooms. Humidity. Not really feeling like we’re in Texas, cuz we’re in Austin. Seeing I think zero non-Texan license plates, despite everyone supposedly traveling to get there. Did everyone fly? Are there that many locals? Really? Getting nervous about the thousands of people milling about 6th street on St. Paddys day and it turning out that, in fact, 3 people were killed that night. No longer sure at all how hip I am, in any meaning of the term.
Music. Or, I Wound Up Seeing Almost No Bands I Planned On, But Found A Bunch of New Ones
I’ll make this short because not only is this getting (has gotten) long, but also because you should judge them for yourself. But don’t think that just because I don’t go on about how great these acts are, it doesn’t mean I don’t love them. Because I do. Easy listening links are provided, for your easy listening pleasure.
Of course, Maps and Atlases – Look for their new album out April 17th. Gonna be good. http://mapsandatlases.org/
AU – Caught them twice, once at 21st St. Co-op and at the Hometapes day party the next day. They are awesome and know Why I Must Be Careful, who I’m talking with and I’m trying to get an interview or something like that posted up here. UPDATE: Here is the interview with Why I Must Be Careful! Watch for that. But in the meantime – http://au-au-au.com/
Like A Villain – Holland Andrews played with AU (and apparently is gonna stick around with them) and was great with them. This is her solo project. Another looper, she lays down some great clarinet lines and sings on top, with a whole lot of variation to that already interesting formula. Honest and experimental and pretty great. http://likeavillain.bandcamp.com/
Zorch – mentioned a number of times, very cool and loud and weird. Here’s that DIY ethic I’m talking about. Cheap, good music here – http://zorch.bandcamp.com/
El Ten Eleven – super awesome, I kind of am still surprised we got to see them. http://www.elteneleven.com/secret/watch_and_listen/
Girlfriends – one man act from Portland, OR. Loops some great guitar riffs on a baritone guitar, and then rocks out on drums. Personally I could do without his brand of screaming (okay, shout-screaming), but I’m very much into it. http://girlfriends.bandcamp.com/
Cartright – Singer/songwriter heartfelt acoustic-ish punk with the occasional “math-y” tangent, played on a classical guitar. Good stuff. I recommend their first album, I’m pretty sure. http://cartrightmusic.com/