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Austin Dispatches Day 2: Popped Collars & Cougar Bait [3/19/2009 04:29:00 PM]:

I awoke on the first day of SXSW's Music portion in the comfy confines of Wade Allen's living room, roused by the promise of a French-pressed cup of coffee and another 12-14 hours immersed in the pursuit of audial bliss. I engaged in a one-man dry oatmeal eating contest (i won after only a single round), rolled up my air mattress, and caravaned with the rest of Golden Cities through the utter chaos of downtown Austin in search of the first Human Party Virus location, a sports bar on the lonely end of 6th Street called 3rd Base.

As i greeted Jay, chief mastermind behind Human Party Virus, he informed me that they had already had to move the sound system inside and back out again, thanks to noise complaints from the brown brick business park tower across the parking lot and an impending poker tournament respectively. The proliferation of 35 yards of plasma screen tvs (2 yards of which were present in the men's room) all around the bar presented sporting events of all types. The omens were inauspicious, to say the least.

Happily, the bands were not swayed by such trivial setbacks as $4 Miller High Lives and proceeded to rock with aplomb. Woozyhelmet shredded through several instrument-swapping tunes, channeling my favorite memories of Drive Like Jehu and Shellac CDs in the receiving room of Bookstop. Bad Credit No Credit, arrived from the Brooklyn branch of the 8088 Record Collective, juggled woodwinds, pennywhistles, and most impressively, simultaneous euphonium and drumset, recalling nothing so much as a righteously pissed coed marching band.

After the cathartic theatrics of Bad Credit No Credit, it came time to route wires and drop samples with Narreme. Despite a lurking clipping sound somewhere in the mix, we were deemed sufficiently bangin' to warrant an interview with a girl from UofH's fledging television station. After fielding a few questions about the what and wherefore of Ableton's effects, it was back to the Explorer to retrieve the trusty drumset for a Golden Cities set. Although i deafened myself by placing a Roland keyboard speaking roughly twenty degrees to the right of my head, the loving support of our friends from Holy Fiction, Hollywood Black & Wood & Felt gave me the drive to listen in and continue to hit my drums absurdly hard.

We were followed by another sampling of Brooklyn talent in the form of Inoculist. Featuring two transplanted Houstonians (one of whom has at least one and possibly two famous siblings, if i am recalling my rumors correctly), Inoculist span a set that recalled the delicate gravity of Low and more than a little of one sibling's plaintive tunes. It was gratifying to see some of our own performing such thoughtful and, daresay, weighty music, whether the Texas Hold 'Ems inside bothered to glance up from their two pair or not.

A late dinner, yet again at Kerby Lane (where i was the unwitting victim of a cougar-pawing) spoiled my chances of catching School Of Seven Bells and getting within spitting distance of the black hole of hype in downtown. On the long and winding drive to our evening's accomodations, i reflected a bit on the almost polarly opposite dynamics at work between SXSW & the parafestival working itself out in sports bars & living rooms across Austin.

The latter is prefectly represented by the oppressive crush of people milling about within the confines of offical showcases and RSVPs. The goal seems to be as blindingly visible to as many strangers as possible. To do this, a band must render themselves as a object sufficiently contoured for the various organs of media, be they hot (radio play), cool (music videos) or utterly tepid (Twitter tweets). How does a band distinguish itself amongst so much noise? Invariably, there is a need to present itself as some above Joe Garageband--possessing that intangible quality of Fame. Unless one happens to pursue utter sycophancy as an aesthetic choice, it is difficult to keep from saying or doing things that might look a bit daft in the sober aftermath of the long drive home, to say nothing of the effects on music.

At the other end of the spectrum lies endless networks that fail to distinguish between public & personal space, composition & improvisation, and (most tellingly) between performer & audience member. At every single show, i've seen phenomenal examples of this kind of interplay. Promoters become band members, who in turn become merch handlers, who in turn become hustlers tapping away text messages to scrounge up support for the next band's set. Acts schelp their gear from the stage and return to comprise the majority of the audience for the next band. People pass between identities as easily as their riffs, working for nothing less profound than the outpouring of the collective joy of music. There's no place for the pedestal of rock stars here. Everyone has the same tag: Participant.

On a final note, i feel compelled to relate the worst band names i have seen so far. Tuesday's award goes to More Cowbell. Wednesday's "winner" is Cancer Bats.

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