SXSW is perfect for those afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder. For those with focus and specific goals, it can be a miserable nightmare.
Conflicting schedule entries become a lottery of choices involving mile-long walks that often result in a rush to a venue just to wait for a tardy band. Or worse, you arrive to find that you have missed the act you’re trying to see because they decided to run early.
For those who are capable of just shrugging it off—or better yet, just naturally unaffected by the fact that ‘the trains don’t run on time’—the world is their oyster.
In Austin, as the whipping whirlwind of festivity gets to full force, it just is what it is; and there is no power to change this sheer and absolute chaos. Despite a good and productive start on Wednesday, today is proof of this.
I arrive at the Hilton Garden Inn a good fifteen minutes before the listening party for Atmosphere’s When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That Shit Gold and order up a Bloody Mary. Not sure where the session is taking place, I just post up at the bar and scout from the stool. Eventually the thud of hip-hop bass emanates from afar. Like Toucan Sam, I follow my ears down a hallway and find the man behind the music, Sean Daly, aka Slug, collectively Atmosphere, squatting unassuming next to the check-in desk. I don’t even realize it’s him until the table attendant requests to check my bag, and he mutters, “We’re trying to stop violence in the hip-hop community.”
Sarcasm aside, the security around the new album seems a bit over the top. Even Atmosphere’s publicist Dana Meyerson had to fly to New York to hear the record.
Slug is, as always, unabashed. Echoing Meyerson, he says, “What’s so crazy about not wanting shit leaked early?” He explains that as soon as the album is released, it’s going to be everywhere; but up to then, he’s trying to track the source of any leaks.
“If a shitty recording comes out two weeks before the release, then we know that someone snuck a recorder into one of the sessions. If a clean recording leaks a week before the release, it came from the plant.” It sounds like a scientific study, or an experiment, but Slug denies that it’s all that. “Experiment is a strong word. It’s definitely an experience.”
Meyerson asserted in a phone call that the secrecy is mostly a ploy to drum up attention; but Slug counters, “If that’s how she needs to view it, that’s cool. No matter what we do, she still has to do her job; so, however it makes sense.”
Sounds ballsy, but his explanation makes sense on some levels. “Of all of my friends, I’m the only person who can do something like this. I can come back and say, ‘Ali, do this.’ Or ‘Ali, man, don’t do this.’” In the ear where album sales are tanking and the recording industry is scrambling to figure out where its next dollar is coming from, artists like Atmosphere have a lot more stake in the game and can brainstorm and experiment on their own with distribution and promo concepts. At this point, anything is worth a shot.
All the distribution politics aside, let’s remember that there is an album at the bottom of all of this; and what a departure this album is. When Life Gives You Lemons… is Atmosphere’s first record that features almost all live instrumentation. “Everything except the beats,” Slug clarifies.
The style is off Atmosphere’s beaten path as well. The music is more relaxed, as is Slug’s vocal approach on most tracks. He comes across as a storyteller—which he has always been, but this time with more composure and no force. He sounds like he expects you to listen, not as if he’s vying for your attention. Check out “Waitress,” with beatbox backing from Tom Waits. It’s a song you’d have expected Waits to write, but Slug has done so—and done so with reverence.
With the music disc and an accompanying DVD nestled in a hardbound book with lyrics and credits as well as illustrations relative to the material from MK Larada, When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That Shit Gold drops April 22, 2008 on Rhymesayers/Epitaph… and good luck finding it before that!
After four hours and hoofing about six miles, I finally hear my first live performance of the day from The Wombats. This UK trio is packed with the youthful exuberance of rugby league. After four years of playing together, the ‘Bats are releasing their first LP that’s available in the U.S., Backfire at the Disco April 14, 2008, after the November 2007 U.K. full-length, The Wombats present … A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation and the self-titled E.P., which is available currently in the U.S. from Bright Antenna/The Kids America.
It seems a bit odd that these energetic sprites have been cultivated over time, but bassist Tord Øverland-Knudsen (Norwegian, if you hadn’t guessed) tells us that the band has taken its time because in the era of flavour-of-the-month musicians, they want to make sure they are taking an approach that gives them staying power. After four years, one could say they’ve already had a good run. But with the energy these boys unleash live, there’s no doubt they’ll be around a while, with all that, quirk and charm.
Check out an extended Kaffeine Buzz interview with Øverland-Knudsen in the coming days.
Rolling on with British Invasion’08, I stumble upon Fanfarlo at the Levi’s/Fader party. I popped in to scoop up a signed copy of Punk Is Dead—Punk Is Everything from author Bryan Ray Turcotte; and, at first I thought I was hearing Clap Your Hands Say Yeah in the foreground; but in fact, it’s Simon Aurell and company—aka Fanfarlo. Another ex-pat from the great north, the London-based Aurell hails from Norwegian origins and is a vocal dead-wringer for David Byrne—which is why I thought of Clap Your Hands… CYHSY vocalist Alec Ounsworth also has a remarkably similar vocal quality to Byrne, whose tenor majesty seemed unmatchable until these woodwork indie-rock replicates started showing up. No dis, though, for certain. Anyone who can hold a candle to the stylings of Byrne can hold a candle to my ear.
As the sun is setting, the frustration over traipsing around to see bands that are late or have cancelled subsides. Eventually you have to ‘let go and just rock.’
I head into the Beauty Bar to cash in a couple of free drink tokens I brought from San Francisco and catch a few numbers from Chuck Treece feat. Dubtronic. Treece is a Philly skate enthusiast who founded a punk band back in the day, McRad. Since then, Treece has worked as a studio musician with acts like Sting and Billy Joel, to name but a few. Tonight, Treece performs as a four-piece, emanating chilled out funk-rock.
I make a quick hike to Elysium for Japan Nite, a touring entourage of six Japanese outfits. When we arrive, we catch Avengers in Sci-fi, a three piece who do a masterful job of creating wild electro-noise rock. The information pack they we picked up doesn’t have any info on Avengers, for whatever reason, so it’s good that we caught them. Other acts include Detroit 7 and the apparent favorite, Ketchup Mania. Japan Nite rolls through Denver Wednesday, March 19th at the Hi-Dive.
Just up the street at Emo’s, our growing favorites, Does It Offend You, Yeah? are just setting up for their set. They go on to rock the packed house with a ferociously energetic blend of electro- hardcore. Think of an English version of The Faint with more hardcore, less arty, Fugazi-like vocals. Hardcore hip-shaking to the max.
After another stunner from DIOFYY, I hustle over to Stubbs to catch a bit of MGMT who have come highly recommended. The venue is stuffed to its gills, and we absolutely can’t make out a thing visually, but the sound it a swirling, sort of psychedelic pop, reminiscent of Swervedriver.
The Cool Kids are to be playing back at Emo’s, but we arrive early and take in an entire set from the dynamic DJ duo, Flosstradamus. These guys turn four turntables, two iBooks and a few mixers—not to mention an occasional microphone—into an ass shaking machine that churns out the best live-mixed onslaught of crowd-stoking, jamming mashes out here. So moved is the audience tonight that an ongoing string of crowd surfers starts landing on my head, with a Floss member taking the final dive at the end of the set.
The Cool Kids are coming on soon after Flosstradamus, but we only catch a few songs as we are trying to make it to the Venue Pangea to see the Vines; but the Cool Kids reputation seems solid and accurate as they take a mesmerizing effect over the crowd as soon as the first beat drops.
The Vines frontman Craig Nicholls is a little, denim-clad smoke machine as he comes out of the green room in a plume, cigarette dangling from his face, and goes straight into “Ride With Me”—the bands biggest hit to date.
Like England’s counterpart, Pete Dougherty, the Aussie Nicholls is an animated sprite of a man; a bit disheveled, but wholly adorable, as his gesticulates spastically and shrieks howls like a crooner banshee. His antics may not be for all, but we are all over it. They belt out a full set of energetic hard rock anthems and ballads and easily make themselves the highlight of the day.
I hike over to Cedar Door to round out the night with Minneapolis’s Tapes ‘n Tapes; but they’re played an hour ahead of schedule. I end up seeing Nada Surf take the stage; which is honestly not my bag. At this point it seems best to just call it a day and get some shut-eye.