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  Jone Stebbins of Imperial Teen
Jone Stebbins of Imperial Teen
SXSW, Austin, TX, 3/16/02
Photo by Jeanne Fury © 2002 NY Rock

South By Southwest, March 13-17, 2002, Austin, Texas - by Jeanne Fury

Think of it as the yearly pilgrimage to Musical Mecca. People from all over the world haul ass to Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest Music Festival. It's a masochistic music journo's paradise. Over 900 bands showed up this year. So did Hilary Rosen, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). So did Courtney Love. So did Jeanne Fury.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Go to the convention hall to pick up my press pass. "Yeah, um, you're not in the system," was the greeting I received. Of course. Thankfully, the problem was quickly resolved.

First band I saw: The Boggs from Brooklyn, NY. My elementary school recitals had more savvy sound people than this show. It took over a half-hour before the Boggs played a single note. Worth the wait. The backwater-blues band combined deep wailing and moaning with some of the most impressive finger-pickin' guitar and banjo this side of the Delta. Give me grandpaw's sourmash whisky, throw me on a porch swing, and bring me these guys. O Brother, thou art from Brooklyn.

Tribe 8 from San Francisco, CA. The mothers of dyke punk turned the place on its, um, head. Lynne Breedlove's gruff, home(o)girl antics riled up the crowd of mostly straight white boys and a few eager dykes. After being treated to a little spanking from a lovely blonde, Breedlove whipped out her big strap-on and got head from two fellas (don't worry, she used a condom). However-many years in the game, and Tribe 8 are still as raw as your first French kiss. Goddess bless this veteran band.

Thursday, March 14, 2002

Hilary Rosen's discussion with Tamara Coniff, music editor for The Hollywood Reporter, was like a Saturday Night Live skit from the third circle of Hell. To try and explain the clusterfuck that is the music industry is next to impossible. Here's what's pissing off the RIAA: file-sharing, Internet piracy, and the Recording Artists Coalition (RAC). Basically, all they care about is money, honey. Hilary Rosen was spewing bald-face lies, and the follow-up questions to her were about as challenging as a game of Hi-Ho Cherry-O. Did she and Tamara Coniff go to the spa together beforehand? Granted, Rosen wouldn't be up there if she were going to be grilled by one of her detractors. Rosen babbled a lot. I don't think I heard one coherent, direct answer from her. When asked if CD prices are too high, Rosen casually answered, "Maybe." Well, I suppose if you make over a million dollars a year like Ms. Rosen does, plunking down $20 for a CD is no big deal. When artists' rights issues were brought up, Rosen looked at her lap and facetiously said, "I don't know what you're talking about." No one was amused besides Coniff.

And then there was music ...

Pretty Girls Make Graves (Seattle, WA). "This song's called 'If You Hate Your Friends You're Not Alone,'" said singer Andrea Zollo, before shakin' what her momma gave her. Band members were flying across the tiny stage, sweating and seething as they dropped whomping rock-n-roll energy with a heavy bass bottom. Their set was like biting into a live wire and riding it out.

  Selwyn Slop of Incense
Selwyn Slop of Incense
SXSW, Austin, TX, 3/16/02
Photo by Jeanne Fury © 2002 NY Rock
Incense (Delft, The Netherlands). This trio has the sad, angsty-melodic appeal of bands like Radioplay or Coldhead or something. The lovely swell and break of songs hit like an extra-frothy tidal wave against the White Cliffs of Dover. It's that whole coarse tenderness thing that skinny Euro boys pull off so damn well.

Kaito (Norwich, UK). It's Cibo Matto meets Bjork meets Elastica – Kaito had the most enthusiastic crowd of any band I saw at SXSW. Sweet, high-pitched vocals floated above a combustion of fuzzy guitars, whistles, electro bleeps, and the rapid beats of a spastic drummer. Singer/guitarist Nikki Colk and bassist Gemma Cullingford had a Bjork-y humbleness to them, and were clearly bewildered at the outpouring of support and fanaticism for the band. Better follow Kaito.

Gold Chains (San Francisco, CA). Wearing a New York Yankee hat, the bespectacled Gold Chains busted loose with some hip-hop laptop garage breakbeat (bear with me, I'm inventing genres). As he paced the stage, huffing and shouting "bap bop bop" and other such lyrical gems, the floor at Emo's main room filled up. I predict Mr. T proportions of Gold Chains in music's near future.

Megababe (Tokyo, Japan). With plastic jewelry and a spun-sugar demeanor, this metal-punk trio sliced through their headbangin' set with some serious bass-slappin' action. To my utter delight, Megababe covered Offspring's "Pretty Fly for a White Guy" and the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb." To hell with pronunciation, just keep screaming "I'm your ch-ch-ch-cherrybomb!!"

The Bad Wizard (Brooklyn NY). All these innovative spins on rock 'n' roll, sound tweakin', and what-have-you are really exciting, but hot, greasy r'n'r still rules my schools. The Bad Wizard's lead singer Curtis Brown had a hair pick in his back pocket, and yanked off his belt before the first song was over. Bad-ass guitars howled along with this mad dog's yelping. If AC/DC had written the score to that movie The Apostle, Brown could've played Robert Duvall's part. He was like an egregious, shit-faced preacher throwing himself to the almighty. For a while there, I thought the Wizard was going to whip out his wand a la Iggy Pop, but that didn't happen.

Citizen Bird (Gothenburg, Sweden). I think I've just about had my fill of charismatic frontmen. But what the hell, give me another. This lead singer's eyes were so huge and bizarre, he looked like a baby monkey staring at the crowd gathered before him. When the band first plugged in, you could hear laughter and chatter from the bar area. By the second song, it was silent; everyone was mesmerized. Citizen Bird's trippy, atmospheric rock and whispery vocals held the room by the throat. Every 15 minutes or so, the singer would lose his mind, scream, fall to his knees, or leap aimlessly. Yay charisma. Following Citizen Bird was Sountrack of Our Lives (Gothenburg, Sweden). The place was packed for this band. The singer was very Christ-like with his dark hair and beard, hippie tunic, and a penchant for mini-processions through the audience while psychedelic sounds flowed from the band. Yay yay charisma.

Saturday March 16, 2002

Notice you're not reading anything about Robbie Robertson's keynote speech. Why? Because I didn't go, that's why. Love her or hate her, Courtney Love was the highlight of SXSW. Fact: Love has already spent $2.4 million of her own money in the lawsuit against Universal Records. Hole has been trying to get out of their contract with Universal ever since it scooped up Geffen Records, Hole's old label. As it stands right now, California Labor Code Section 2855 limits the length of personal service contracts to seven years, with a specified exception for recording artists. "Recording contracts read like the Koran," Love said during her discussion, describing the difficulty it takes to interpret all the legal blind spots. She called the record industry "the most Machiavellian and disorganized" industry one could imagine. As for her tougher-than-you exterior, Love admitted, "Sometimes I get scared," when taking into consideration all that's at stake for her and every other musician. Just as it took actress Olivia de Haviland to stand up to Warner Brothers Pictures and fight for similar rights in 1944, so it takes another woman to do the same for musicians.

The Helio Sequence (Portland, OR). I'll admit it. I'm only at the District Bar & Grill this early because I didn't want to get shut out of the Imperial Teen show happening here in three or so hours. But serendipity just sat her sweet ass in my lap. The Helio Sequence was a duo that sounded like a beefed-up garage band that just spent a year in exotic corners of the earth. Drums, guitar, a few distortion pedals, and a laptop fused into a sonic hologram. The sound was reminiscent of Kula Shaker, with more ambitious, intense vocals, and the music, while a bit frenzied, bled warmth.

Imperial Teen (San Francisco, CA). Roddy, Jone, Will, and Lynne – like the Peanuts gang, but sexual. Wearing collared shirts and ties and nearly melting under the hot spotlights, the band played old tunes like "Lipstick," "Water Boy," and "Yoo-Hoo" and a slew of new ones from their new CD ON. The crowd jumped up and down in whatever little space they had, shouted out requests, and thoroughly amazed the band with their manic form of affection.

Lords of Altamont (Los Angeles, CA). First glance – skinny white boys with dyed black hair and matching black leather jackets with the band name emblazoned on the backs. Stooges meets Trent Reznor's rock 'n' roll charm school. They sounded just like that, too, only with a taste for scream therapy. But the sound system at Beerland kept blowing in the middle of their songs. The crowd was patient, and the band apologetic, but after the fifth time, people started to get pissed. At least I ended my SXSW with greasy r'n'r.

Closing notes: You can't get a decent slice of pizza in Austin. But you can get a can of Tecate with a full wedge of lime for $2.75. There were enough tattoo parlors on one strip to ink the entire state. Sadly, there weren't as many weird people as there would be at, say, a Lollapalooza show. Amazing, isn't it, that the same city that gave us George W. Bush also gives us SXSW? It's that charismatic frontman thing. Or not.

April 2002

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