SXSW wrap

To try to get a grasp on what SXSW was like this year, I asked a few attendees how they felt about the week.

Matt Solomon – drummer for the Brooklyn band Darlings

Over the past year, The Darlings have been written up in a number of eye-catching publications, including L Magazine and The New York Times.

There were more bands at SXSW this year than ever before. What did you think? Was it too much to take in? Did the quality suffer due to the quantity?

SXSW is absolutely overwhelming–both as a musician playing multiple shows and as a show-goer. But in a good way, I think. It was my first
trip down to Austin and I had no real expectations. I was thinking, maybe sorta like CMJ but bigger, and in Texas. But they are nothing alike.

At SXSW there are literally thousands of bands playing everyday, mostly within walking distance from one another. It’s madness. If you’re trying to see a bunch of bands, you have to have realistic expectations. To see a really big show (like I dunno, the Hole reunion or the big blog showcases) you need to plan your whole day around it. Because you will wait in line for a long time. I didn’t want to do that (or see Hole) so I mostly stuck to smaller bands and venues. I also spent a lot of time just walking around, stopping into random bars if it sounded cool from the street. Most of the bands playing come to NYC often enough, if they’re not FROM here, but it’s still cool to see them play for free in a room much smaller than they’d normally play. That being said, I saw Broken Social Scene by accident. That definitely wouldn’t happen at CMJ or anywhere else. But to answer one of your questions simply: there were a million good bands and a million bad bands. That will always be the case. Because of the overwhelming scale, you just have to make a slightly greater effort to seek out the shows worth seeing.

How was your experience as a musician?

Playing SXSW was an interesting experience. My band played four shows, three of which were pretty demoralizing. We played at a bar, an auto-repair shop, a tattoo parlor and a thrift store. For some of the smaller shows there simply wasn’t a big enough crowd to fill the venues, and that’s to be expected. The buzz bands get the crowds, and the remaining 97% have to rely on free beer to entice the passersby. My band is not really riding a wave of indie-hype (our album got a good review from The New York Times and Spin, but nothing from Pitchfork–the real paper of record for the indie set), and most of our shows didn’t have free beer. So there you go.

What were your favorite shows/bands? Were they new to you or ones you already knew you liked?

Thee Oh Sees/Woods/The Fresh and Onlys/others @ the Impose Magazine showcase at the Longbranch Inn on Thursday
Thee Oh Sees/JEFF the Brotherhood/YellowFever/lots of others @ the Panache showcase at the Mohawk on Saturday

I’d already seen all of these bands except for the Fresh and Onlys

and of the shows we played: Darlings/JEFF the Brotherhood/Turbo Fruits/Grooms/Sisters/Tony Castles/The Beets @ the Famous Class/Impose showcase at the Longbranch Inn on Wednesday

Dominick Mastrangelo – photographer for Brooklyn Vegan and Stereogum

On Saturday alone, Dominick saw 18 artists perform. Here’s what he had to say about the festival:

What were some of your favorite shows/bands? (Feel free to list both new and ones you already knew).

The biggest surprise for me was Fitz & The Tantrums. I had heard their name once and stumbled upon them at the KCRW Showcase which was running way behind (I was actually there for Miike Snow.)

I saw The Antlers twice in less than 24 hours. Which makes it four times in less than six weeks. Their live show is something else.

Standard Fare from England were great and definitely one of my favorite bands right now.

The Middle East I was excited to see and I caught them twice in less than 24 hours, too. Their live show is phenomenal.

Sharon Van Etten was heartachingly beautiful. Best Coast were excellent. The Black Keys blew me away and Broken Bells were surprisingly tight for only being a full band for a couple of months.

Fanfarlo, Band Of Horses, Miss Li, You Say Party! We Say Die! were all highlights as well.

So many more I’m forgetting right now.

Given the sheer number of bands at SXSW this year (more than ever before), did you think it was too much to take in? Did the quality suffer due to the quantity or is more always better?

It was definitely way too much to take in. That was the meme among my photog and writer friends down there. I kept saying that I wish I could clone myself. I did the next best thing and saw 18 bands on the last day.

Everyone I saw were excellent musicians. Sometimes the music didn’t grab me or the performances were unimpressive but I don’t think it was for lack of musicianship. There were a lot of talented people down there.

How were things for you as a photographer? Do you think it affected your perception of the week?

I was surprised at how easy it was to get in to shows and move around. People were accommodating if you squeezed in to try and get a shot (I always try and be as nice as possible when winding my way to the front.) It’s not like that at CMJ.

As a photographer you never enjoy it as much as you would if you were just hanging out watching the show, drink in hand. That said, I made sure I tried to take at least a couple songs to just watch the show and not make a picture. It’s hard though. It was my first SXSW but I knew from covering CMJ kind of how it would be. It was fun to be there and be a part of documenting it all. Or as much as my uncloned self could get to.

*Be sure to check out Brooklyn Vegan for photos and a taste of the madness.

Robin Hilton – NPR Music producer, host of Second Stage

Robin is actually paid to be an expert on music. Here’s his take on this year’s SXSW:

What were some of your favorite shows/bands?

The Bewitched Hands On The Top Of Our Heads, Sharon Van Etten, Malachai (duo from Bristol England), Villagers, mini mansions, Admiral Radley, Sleigh Bells, Smith Westerns, Broken Bells, Spoon, Local Natives.

Given the sheer number of bands at SXSW this year (more than ever before), did you think it was too much to take in? Did the quality suffer due to the quantity or is more always better?

It’s always too much to take in. But SXSW isn’t about an evening’s worth or afternoon’s worth of entertainment; it’s about discovery. It’s amazing and wonderful to be able to bounce from venue to venue, all day and all night, and find something new at every stop.

How were things for you as a radio guy/producer (as opposed to say as a regular attendee)?

Well… being a producer got me a badge which got me into more shows more easily, so I suppose I could see more in a shorter period of time. Can’t really think of anything special about my job… just that I had to take notes and be ready to talk about everything at 3 in the morning. SXSW is for music lovers so I guess that’s all I had to be.

Thanks to all those who participated in the survey. I’ll be checking out the recommended bands in the next couple of days, and I suggest that you do, too!


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"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being


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