AUSTIN, Texas – Every March, the music industry throws on a pair of shorts, slathers on the SPF 45 and heads on down to Austin for South by Southwest, a weeklong celebration of bands, BBQ and (sometimes free!) beer. It’s a brutal bacchanal and music marathon powered by thousands of acts playing in hundreds of venues – at all hours – plus an unreal number of open-bar tabs and fancy private parties.
Sleep is not exactly a top priority, so MTV News has dispatched three of its most tireless reporters into the fray. They’ll be filing reports a few times each day, which will chiefly serve as a way of keeping you up to speed about what’s going on deep in the heart of Texas, but also double as a convenient way – for us, anyway – of making sure everyone’s still alive.
James Montgomery, MTV News writer : I only have two real goals here at SXSW (you know, aside from completing the whole “seeing bands/ waiting in lines/ sweating” trifecta): to eat BBQ every single day and to avoid decking one of the 55,679 dudes wearing eyeliner and girl jeans. So far so good, but it hasn’t been easy.
The misanthrope in me was awakened before we even hit the ground in Austin on Tuesday, as the terminal at New Jersey’s Newark International Airport was teeming with raccoon-eye guys in peg-leg pants, all hammering away on their SideKick 3s, all hyping their record labels that no one cares about, and – unfortunately – all looking to board the 1:55 p.m. flight bound for SXSW (um, dude, it’s barely lunchtime; do you really need to be working on your inner Pete Wentz already?).
And then, when we arrived in Texas, we were greeted not with the traditional South By sunshine but with gray skies and a steady downpour … which made the prospect of my annual trek to Iron Works BBQ seem all the more uninviting. Still, I am a man who believes in the accomplishment of goals, so as spidery lightning darted across the evening sky, I dodged raindrops the size of goobers and made my way to the corner of Cesar Chavez and Red River, where I totally killed a pound of BBQ Brisket and then began the long wait for my impending food coma. Seriously, if I keep this up, by Sunday, I’ll probably be like one of those dudes in “Awakenings.”
Highlights from Wednesday afternoon (March 14) included negotiating the Byzantine process known as “SXSW Registration”; eyeballing acts like Beirut and Girl Talk as they waited for their artist credentials; snagging a sweet promo poster for the White Stripes ‘ upcoming Icky Thump (it’s got a badass penguin on it); downing a plate of pork ribs and some blackberry cobbler at Iron Works; and then, finally, heading out into the darkening night to catch my first spate of shows. More later.
John Norris, MTV News correspondent : Some 10,000-15,000 people are expected to converge on Austin for South by Southwest this week – among them around 1,300 bands. A few of those bands, not surprisingly, were on our plane ride down from up North – not that I could identify them. I told James they really ought to wear name tags. It would make this a lot easier.
There was at least one Scandinavian band onboard. I may not know my Danish from my Swedish, but I know Norse-speak when I hear it. No doubt those guys would not mind some of the attention currently being heaped on Sweden’s Peter Bjorn and John – who play the hot-ticket show on Wednesday night, plus several other Austin gigs throughout the week. Apparently not everyone likes their P, B and J though: One blogger has taken the time and the trouble to organize a campaign and event to “Stop the Spread of Peter Bjorn and John.”
Proclaiming the harmless trio to be “manufactured, over-cute and vacuous,” this dude wants people to rally in the street on Friday against the Swedes. Sigh. Please devote this passion and apparently free time to something that matters. I hear there is a war going on.
Landed in rainy Austin and saw Razorlight outside baggage claim – no Johnny Borrell though. Probably have a special holding room for lead singers/heartthrobs. But on to something really cute – bats ! I love ’em and upon approaching our hotel, our driver informed us we were right at the edge of the (apparently) world-famous Congress Bridge. It’s home to the largest bat colony in North America and star of a daily ritual in which, at sundown, all 750K-1.5 million of ’em fly out to begin their nightly search for food. Missed the bats today but I will see ’em tomorrow. Holy South By, Batman! Should be quite a week.
Gil Kaufman, MTV News writer : I haven’t been to Austin for SXSW in at least six years, and as much as people complained back then that it was getting, like, way too commercial, man, it’s amazing to see what a gigantic machine this thing has turned into. Imagine your city being overrun by the aforementioned girl-jeans-wearing hordes and having every restaurant, clothing store, camera shop, bar, hospital and homeless shelter try to horn in on the action. (OK, maybe not the last two, but still.) I mean, even my room key is sponsored by Interscope Records (no, really, it is.)
What’s even more amazing is how many truly awful, stupid, bizarre and just plain lazy band names are on this year’s roster. Oddly, quite a few of them are locals, but a quick rundown of the best in show proves that it doesn’t matter what you sound like, sometimes a lame name is enough to get badge-jockeys in the door. A sampling from Wednesday’s roster: Kiiiiiii (Japan), Best Fwends (Fort Worth, Texas), the Faceless Werewolves (Austin), Die! Die! Die! (New Zealand), When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (Austin), Busty Duck (Belgium), Fatal Flying Guilloteens (Houston), Holy Sh–! (Milwaukee) and my personal favorite, I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House (Portland, Oregon).
How much more BBQ can James handle? Will John see those bats? Can Gil find a band with an even worse name? Check back all week for our SXSW coverage!