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SXSW2007 on a budget…or without one – Anneliese Rix (Photos by Kim Owens)

All us journalists exchanging notes...

A few years back, SXSW was just as much of a taste-making music megalopolis as it is in 2007.

This year’s trip, however, injected me with a whole new philosophy about how to attack a four-day rock binge whose sheen of exclusivity rivals the unshiny layer of grime it offers during the harsh daylight.

On prior visits to South-by, I came to Austin fully loaded with business cards, paid work expenses, the knowledge that additional expenses would be tax write-offs, and, more importantly, I came badged up.

SXSW badges have been the golden ticket since the conference’s inception. If you’re an existent or aspiring music industry professional—hell, even if you’re a glorified intern at an unknown label out of a Midwestern town that’s not due to pervade the national underground hip-radar for another three-and-a-half years—you know that in order to see and be seen (and subsequently ignored) at SXSW, you or your company will be dropping at least $500 to get you that wee plastic pocket dangling coyly from a polyester lanyard.

 One flash at any door, any venue, any time of day, or day of week at SXSW and you’ve swooped past the line full of complaining fans who want to know why they paid $130 for an orange wristband that can’t get them in to see so-and-so, who’s like, the only reason they even came to this thing, man.

As a witness of such frustration, I was never the clueless fan in line showing off my passionate naiveté in practice.

In 2002, I was a badge holder, secretly reveling in the knowledge that I deserved this privilege: I knew the Icarus Line’s writhing would scare the pristine décor off the walls of the Hard Rock Café, even if I couldn’t predict the attempted seizure of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar out of its transparent casing; I made it a point to see Pleasure Forever, even though they played to an empty room that would wait at least another year before a precious audience packed it out.

Holding a badge, working in the office of a nationally renowned venue, and archiving a slew of useless punk rock knowledge collected during adolescence, I felt that there were few fellow badge-holders wandering around SXSW conferences who possessed tenacity equal to mine, especially not while balancing the ideal equilibrium of professionalism and passion toward all things music.

This year, my SXSW foray of 2007 told a different story. There was no fancy job paying my tab. There was no bottomless budget proliferating from my freelance work. There was no plane ride. No jaunty rental car. All of these things snowballed up to the most heartbreaking element that would determine my not-so-impending arrival at SXSW: There was no badge waiting with my name on it, and I had no funds for a wristband, either.

What was I going to do in Austin, TX during the music industry’s most notorious annual showcase of new (and old) talent without a badge?

The increased popularity of free day parties and day shows over the past couple of years handed me an easy answer: I’d go for free.

Catching free day shows and grubbing on comp’ed buffets at small parties has always been an option at SXSW, just not a very happening or well-attended one. Labels and mags willing to throw down cash for daylight product placement pumped their money out again this year, attracting crushing waves of unbadged and unbanded music fans.

In size and scope, day parties at SXSW kicked up a thousand-fold after 2006, when companies, running the gamut from booking agencies to Camel cigarettes, figured out that they could double-book bands for non-showcase-free-and-open-to-the-public day parties, as well as sanctioned nighttime showcases for industry execs.

Where attendees previously slept until late afternoon (foregoing panels altogether, unless they were newbies to the music business), 2007’s SXSW coaxed thousands to rise before noon and swagger where the sun does shine, seeing acts that—in some cases—managed to outshine their dusky doppelgangers:

Tom Smith & Alissa Noonan from OfficeOffice Romance
Emo’s Jr. (Free Day Party)

It must have been casual Wednesday for the Office staff as the Chicago band launched an aloof room full of rockers into a sunburst of hand-clapping and sing-alongs on the first day of 2007’s SXSW Music Conference. Despite the Office’s reputation for adapting nine-to-five witticisms and aesthetics into their presentation, the members of the Office splashed onto the Emo’s stage wearing bright colors and brighter smiles that didn’t let up, not even through the rain, mud, muck, sweat, humidity, and generally liquefied ambiance that sogged over the first day of the usually sweltering music conference.

Frontman Scott Masson and guitarist Tom Smith’s big sonic banter enveloped the Emo’s Jr. audience in lush power-pop melodies to rival Fountains of Wayne (which is fitting, given the Office’s home on the Scratchie/New Line label co-founded by Adam Schlesinger), while Jessica Gonyea’s creamy back-up vocals and keys texturized the gleeful machine of percussive sound pumped out by Erica Corniel (drums) and Alissa Noonan (bass).

Even James Iha (Schlesinger’s partner in prime at Scratchie) looked happier than a pumpkin as he kept a fatherly eye on the Office’s gear after their set.

Of course, pumpkins don’t generally exude joy, but surreal satisfaction will do.

Björn Dixgard - Mondo DiaoRocky Votolato
Mando Diao
Red 7 (Free Day Party)

Appearances by Rocky Votolato and Mando Diao on the same bill should be pretty unsurprising, particularly considering the forces behind this particular party: long-standing punk zine Wonkavision and Jersey-based radio promotion company, The Syndicate. As newcomers to the roles of gracious hosts for gratis shindigs, these two rags teamed up to throw their first SXSW event, despite years of involvement with CMJ.

Whether it was the venue or the crowd milling about, The Syn/Wonkavision party had a less “sanctioned” SXSW feel to it. The crowd could have been wandering around just as zombie-esque in my parents’ backyard years ago while my best friend’s band played in the garage… And I was only slightly more thrilled by the performances at Red 7 than I was at my folks’ house.

Rocky Votolato has to be the nicest guy you’ve ever met. And, if you’ve ever gone to one of his shows, chances are, you have met him. He’s just that: a genuinely nice guy without a touch of irony or impatience, even when posing for endless photos with teenage boys, oblivious to their idol’s distilled delivery of faux-emo songs that pretend a misconstrued influence by Waylon Jennings.

After the Votolato set, Mando Diao took the indoor stage at Red 7, kicking out a solid set raw enough for mullet rockers and safe enough for Saves the Day fans. Mando Diao carved out a subtle niche this year at SXSW as one of the conference’s underground darlings, getting nabbed from a smaller party slated for St. Patty’s Day to jump on a prime spot offered to them during the three day Filter binge of early parties.

The Mando Diao fuss is understandable, if not questionably deserved.

Sounding like an amalgam of every rock genre you’ve ever heard, Mando Diao moves from ’60s blues-rock intros to pop punk sing-along choruses with a shoegaze-y bridge thrown in for good measure.

Did I mention the fifteen seconds of pure noise rock?

Even if all those genres strike your fancy enough to stay through a full set, individual songs may demand keen attention before you decide whether to jump on the bandwagon.

Pure Volume
(Free After Hours Party)

Spanning throughout all four nights of South-by in a prime location across from the convention center, the Pure Volume Tejas 2007 After Hours Party attracted badges, privately invited VIP guests, wristbands, and enough others to volumize a line of people around the block, hoping they’d get in somehow.

This party lay in the capable hands of Denver-based Adam Lancaster and Dan Rutherford, and read like the cool kids story of who-knows-who and who-was-there-first. It was a decidedly hip crowd, the kind of people who really were there first and sneer knowingly when their style gets appropriated into the mainstream.

Lori Photo Atlas played a brave set, despite buzz about Blender’s scathing review of their full length, a review that hit the stands just before they headed to Austin.

Nicole Atkins also delivered a poppy performance at one of the many Pure Volume after hours parties, layering her Norah Jones-esque vocals over bombastic instrumentation that would make Supergrass proud. As a female rarely into female frontwomen, Nicole Atkins converted me for a night into wishing that female songer-songwriters of the mid- to late nineties would have evolved past the aural rape that branded my gender during years of needless Lilith Fairs.

The Melvins
Stubb’s (Free Day Party by Vice)

Easily the best show I saw all week. The Melvins’ current lineup includes a combo of Melvins and Big Business members that meld together seamlessly.

Although many of the free day parties reached capacity, the Melvins show stayed packed without turning into a lock-out situation for genuine fans.

The Melvins are not the typical SXSW band, but this year’s conference was marked by nostalgic returns of legendary acts that already had their heyday. For instance, when I saw the Meat Puppets being billed all over the festival, I had to wonder if their agents realized the pointlessness of their resurgence.

But the Melvins were an entirely different story. Their heavy drives over King Buzzo’s signature robotic growl, backed by pummeling kicks pushed through the Stubb’s speakers so loud I thought I was going to vomit. With joy.

Les Savy Fav
Speakeasy (Free Day Party by CMJ)

This well-kept secret was a VIP invite event by CMJ, with room for only about 200 people. It was on my free agenda, but definitely not on the visible radar for thousands of others with my same plan for free music.

Having seen Les Savy Fav before, I knew what to expect, but had to wonder if it could be pulled off in a smaller room with just as many comforting theatrics as when hundreds are egging on Les Savy Fav’s energy.

The 1 1/2 foot tall stage allowed for immense audience interaction. Since seeing Les Savy Fav is like hanging out with an old college buddy who leans back on the couch and tells you stories, the tight-knit space worked, with only a little less craziness than usual.

True to form, Tim strolled onstage in white jeans and a tie-dyed shirt, bleating, “We’ve got the purple nurples and the slippery nips” as he cocktailed a drink tray around for his band mates before the set.

The subdued craziness of Les Savy Fav at the CMJ party included balcony dangling, spitting beer in some guy’s face, pillow surfing, and the devolving noise-chant of “LESS sav-ee FAV!” Okay, maybe it was just as crazy as their bigger shows…

Valient Thor
Apple Bar (Free Night Party by Viper Room)

Another technically free, yet covertly VIPed event, Valient Thor easily out-rocked, out-mulleted, out-sweat, out-screamed, out-thrashed the other Viper Room acts.

This was rock evangelism in the only way such a phrase should ever be used: without politics or religion, commandments boomed out to the crowd only for the sake of that slippery moment under a tent with beer-muddied floors.

SXSW 2007-Renegade Report, Wednesday, Mar 14
SXSW 2007-Renegade Report, Thursday, Mar 15
SXSW 2007-Ringing Ears, Aching Feet, and a Happy Heart – Thursday, Mar 15
SXSW 2007-Renegade Report, Friday, Mar 16
SXSW 2007-Renegade Report, Saturday, Mar 17


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