Thursday, 16 April 2009

south by southwest: the tale of a week in the lone star state

OK. Time to spill the beans all about South by Southwest.

Well there are no two ways about it: it was an amazing week, but it was so jam packed full of stuff that by the end we were most certainly three exhausted band mates, a week older but much wiser as to the ins and outs of life in the chaotic milieu of the music industry. So much to take in: the temperature, which of course is always the first innate sign that you are somewhere new. The food, the accents, the scale of things.

The first time we walked onto Sixth Streeet (the main street of the SxSW festival, with practically every premises hurriedly turned into a music venue) we were met with a tidal wave of noise unlike anything i've known before: a hundred bass drums beating different rhythms, endless guitars mixing up into a cacophony; singers and keyboards and notes flying about with such velocity that they almost knocked you over.

And from that moment on it was a non-stop riot of running from one gig to the next, trying to make sense of the layout of the city and the timescale of each day. I saw a brilliant array of bands, from the gentle folky aplomb of Laura Marling, Mumford and Sons and Slow Club, to the weird and wonderful shreiks and swerves of Wild Beasts, and We Have Band's robot anarchy. I sneaked into the last 2o minutes of a Masterkraft set, which was crazy, and the British Music Embassy (where we played our showcase set) always had a good array of bands, and here I caught marvellous Yorkshire young'uns Sky Larkin and also witnessed Gallows and Frank Turner, both of whom I'd been keen to see live.

This list of bands is made up noticeably of Brit acts. I don't think I was being xenophobic in my enthusiasm for seeing home-grown talent: we caught many American bands too but it struck me that the British contingent really was an incredibly strong force to be reckoned with, both in the variety of the music that was produced, and the skill and infectious enthusiasm with which it was played to the crowd. They certainly lapped it up. I heard many impressed noises coming from almost every audience I was part of.

Our own gigs went extremely well, the first being in a bar called Friends, and the second in the BME. This second fell on Mikey's birthday, and high spirits were in the air (and strong spirits were soon in our systems once we'd left the stage) and we played one of the best gigs ever. There's nothing like a great sound system, a good team behind you, and genuine euphoria buoying you up when you're playing your hardest. It was reflected in the reaction we got which, of course, only served to power us along the better.

There's a short clip of our smaller Friends gig here:

Our two gigs done and dusted, we were free to soak up the atmosphere, and any other imbibements that came our way. This included hot chilli sauce. BBC Scotland decided to torture Come on Gang! by interviewing us while feeding us the stuff, in a shop on 6th street called 'Tears of Joy'. They were all set out on a long table, from 'Mild' all the way to 'Inferno'. The labels on the bottles got scarier further down the table, until the imagery was all skulls on fire and screaming people in agony. If that was just the illustrations, what the hell would the taste be like?! I for one was particularly fearful considering my wimpish stance on hot food. Usually ginger tea is about the limit of my range. But we worked our way along, and by the end, teeth smouldering, eyes watering but soldiering on, we felt unconquerable. Until we tried 'Holy Shit', one drop of which made us go haywire and grab bottles of water off anxious kids. And with that, the BBC chuckled (they decided to shun all sauce tasting opportunity) and went on their way.

Trev, Mikey and I spent the evenings doing our seperate things, meeting up as and when our plans came together. I heard stories of Proclaimers rolling eyes at their enthusiastic sing-alongs, and close shaves with wayward taxis driving the wrong way (luckily Trev survived to tell the tale). While I adventured on my own I found lovely old vintage clothes shops, an amazing van which sold giant pots of delicious smoothies, a downcast boy on a bench who was accosted by a girl giving 'free hugs' (they ended up walking off hand in hand together), not to mention many friendly people, in bands or just wandering about, who always had a friendly word. Once I was rooting around in my bag for my passport, starting to get a little concerned, when an old homeless bloke walked up holding it open. In the middle of a crowded street, whilst drunk. It was a minor miracle and I still can't really believe how he found me before I even knew it was missing.

We also found time to get a proper Texan barbecue in. To sum it up in one word: Huge. Like everything else in the lone star state.

And with that, the week was over, and it was time to go back to the antique closes of Edinburgh. We packed a taxi to bursting point and headed off down the freeway.

No comments:

Post a Comment