Calling last week's South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, “a bacchanalian orgy of wine, women and song,” as one colleague did, is definitely an understatement. With over 500 bands, 60 panels and more industry shindigs than you can shake a stick at, year number nine of SXSW was the biggest yet, one that only New York's CMJ can rival on the national level. Austin doesn't bill itself “the live-music capital of the world” for nothing: With a population close to S.F.'s, Austin has three times as many venues, most of them clustered on Haight-like Sixth Street, which served as the epicenter of the event.
In the keynote address, Bob Mould lauded SXSW's dedication to “the variety in music,” shameless schmoozing and freebie-rustling aside. Still, many attendees grumbled that the conference is getting too big for its britches — more a showcase for the already recognized than a grassroots forum for young bands. “What's the point?” one registrant complained. “Most of these bands are already signed to big labels.” True, the biggest buzz was on the Atlantic/Matador showcase, with hundreds of people queuing up at the Terrace for Yo La Tengo, Bettie Serveert and Guided by Voices. But smaller bands still packed 'em in at Emo's, with an event featuring S.F.'s own Steel Pole Bathtub and Dieselhed the place to be Saturday afternoon. Also representing the Bay Area were Richard Buckner, 7 Day Diary, Timco, Chris von Sneidern and Box Set, to name a few. Berkeley's 4080 Magazine hosted one of only two hiphop showcases, with Oakland's Clever Jeff headlining.
“No one goes to the panels anyway,” said the invite to a miniature-golf rendezvous with Lois. Now I know why: They kinda suck. “The State of Hiphop” looked at production techniques instead of sociopolitics, and the “Building Your Freelance Career” and “Writing Critique” seminars were more about stroking the critic-panelist's egos than helpful hints. The jammed “Panic in the Streets,” a look at the recent shakeups plaguing major labels, was the most entertaining. “It's all about the artists,” said a Pollyanna-ish Jory Farr. “If I took a machine gun and took out 11 artists at Elektra, they'd go out of business.” “Well, they'd still have back catalogues,” joked Rolling Stone's David Fricke.
A good-natured party vibe ruled until late Saturday night, when four days of expense-account debauchery took their toll. But SXSW ended on a wholesome note Sunday, with Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection starring the Indigo Girls. “When the fuck are they going home?” some ticket-holding locals wondered as the last remaining conventioneers tried to push their way past the line. Even Southern hospitality has its limits.
By Sia Michel