Photo: stevie BM

The cold facts and figures of South By Southwest are impressive enough – 100 venues, over 1800 bands (from 10,000 applications) and thousands of visitors stumbling from one musical discovery to another. What’s most refreshing however is that despite the organisation and scale it still feels amateurish, done for the love of music alone and refreshingly free of corporate sponsored soul suckers.

Its not the V festival, or the heaven forbid Wireless, instead the venues are regular bars, car parks, the street itself – every spare space becomes a venue. Even the “bigger” concert halls hold a couple of thousand at most.

The downside of being lucky enough to be sent to Sxsw for work is you actually have to do some (work that is)! Filming by day/evening then editing the rest of the time meant I didn’t actually see many bands.
It was almost a week into the trip before I made it out the hotel room for an evening beer. Even then so unaccustomed was I to getting out that I didn’t bring any ID, and was refused entry.
A kindly web developer I’d just met tried to help by loudly informing the bouncer I was clearly old enough “Look at his eyes” he pleaded.. “look at the all the lines“. With thanks for the assistance, Methuselah made his excuses and went back to the hotel for his passport.

A basic guide to the venues and general atmosphere of the Sxsw was a fairly obvious first video dispatch. Various local bands were contacted to “present” and to try and convey the broad musical spectrum. I was however slightly side tracked by heading off to Best Buy to film a Guitar Hero: Metallica edition competition the winners of which got a chance to be on stage on the off chance that Metallica just happened to play a secret gig at Stubbs… shhhhhh no one knows… oh really… everyone knows. On a side note, Best Buy are very good at putting up their logo in the back of shots… almost as good infact as I am at taking it down 🙂

Two of the original bands approached came good, meaning I had to reluctantly pass on Ninjatune’s Houston rappers DMG$. A real shame as they’d have been very entertaining and as the day progressed I lost one of my other bands.

Well I say lost, we were apparently no more than 150 yards from each other for a full hour, but inexplicably never managed to meet. Bluegrass band “Hotclub of Cowtown” first featured on this site last year as one of Warning Heat Rays “Listen To This” choices and as Austin locals it was a no brainer to ask them to cover the venues away from 6th street.
Even better they were playing a 4 hour set at the Continental Club on South Congress so I’d get the chance to interview them AND hear them play. Sadly neither happened.
Guitar Hero and some terrible traffic put pay to the former as I arrived 30 minutes after they’d finished. What happened with the interview though I’ll never know!

Arriving at the Continental half an hour early I rang the band to let them know I was outside. Unfortunatly there are subterranean mines with better mobile phone coverage than Austin, so 45 minutes passed before I received a voicemail saying they were sat out having a beer at a bar 150 yards down the street. By this time I had 45 minutes until I had to be back in central Austin to meet the next band.
What followed was the most frustrating 45 minutes ever as I traipsed up and down the same street, periodically exchanging unintelligible phone calls that they were still at the bar come and meet them. After an hour Id become something of a local curiosity… look at the sweaty Englishman with the camera wandering up and down the street looking increasingly agitated. At 8 I gave up and legged it to central Austin.

Thanks must therefore go to The Black & White Years, saviours of my bacon for not only being where they said they’d be when they said they would but also doing a bit extra to fill the gap. It was impossible to reach most of the quirkier, less central venues I’d planned but half a video is better than none.

Over the next two hours Billy Potts (Drums) and John Aldridge (Bass) patiently guided me round bands hanging out of stair wells, queues snaking down the street and bars on the roof of bars with 5 bands a night on each. Musicians performed impromptu kerbside jams, with a drummer and piano player in particular being absolutely bloody brilliant. Kind of a crazed boogie woogie number which I briefly squeezed into the finished video, but I wish I’d got their names.

The Black & White Years Myspace
The Black & White Years – Waking & Dream” (MP3) – more downloads from RCDLBL

Even Presbyterian churches play host to gigs during South By and so ended my tour as I bade a grateful farewell to the Black & White Years. I spent the next hour or two grabbing shots to cover up my shoddy camera work before ending up back at the Presbyterian church to get some inside footage and catch a few songs from former Dresden Doll, Amanda Palmer.

Taking advantage of the setting she sang her first track unaccompanied before explaining she’d torn up her set list as half the noisy tracks didnt work in a church.
Judging by the rapturous response to every number Amanda has built up a very loyal following who were more than happy to fulfil her decision to “take requests“. She did however turn down the chance to play the YouTube banned “date-rape” song “Oasis“… “Its really not appropriate.. babies are christened right there” she justified pointing at the fount.

The Ben Folds produced “whokilledamandapalmer” album has been one of those slow burn hits, its class gradually seeping through to the masses (Read how Ben got involved here). The sales haven’t matched the glowing reviews however leaving Palmer to jokingly bemoan that she’d produced an art book because people might actually pay for physical copies of that rather than all you lovely people who seem to have “heard” the album.

Of the numbers I caught, the Neil Gaiman penned bonus track “I Google you” gets better everytime I hear it.  A witty yet sad tale of modern love/stalking, the lyrics celebrate how easy it is to search her loves “practically unique” name, although there is one other…

it’s only you and a would-be PhD in Chesapeake
who writes papers on the structure of the sun…
I’ve read each one”

Margaret Cho performed a duet about being a dog which was described elsewhere as hilarious, but as I had to leave mid way through I cant vouch for the truth in that. Read Amanda’s in depth blog post on Sxsw, including unicorns and a pillow fight on 6th street.

Amanda Palmer Myspace / Blog / Twitter
Amanda Palmer – I Google You (Live)” (MP3)

And that was the end of my musical evening, reluctantly missing a chance to see a real favourite of mine “Busdriver” for a cab home and a few hours of digitising.

If you feel the urge to watch the The Black & White Years introduction to South by Southwest you can view it here (although obviously its now a guide to a festival that finished a few days ago!)

In other news The Rumble Strips released a free track from there forthcoming Mark Ronson produced album. If this taster is any indication Ronson hasnt altered their Dexy’s meets Joe Boxer sound radically (unlike the Kaiser Chiefs who’ve recently blamed poor sales of their new album on Ronson changing their sound).

The Rumble Strips – “London” (MP3)
The Rumble Strips Myspace