By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Photo by Libby MolyneauxDAY 1: WEDNESDAY11:15 A.M., SOUTHWEST AIRLINES GATE 1
Overheard in the boarding tunnel:
"What's the difference between a record personnel and a friend?"
"A record personnel will stab you in the front."
THIS IS MY FIRST TRIP TO THE GIANT MUSIC CONvention known as South By Southwest. It's such a mandatory schmooze-and-be-schmoozed scene for A&R people, publicity people, managers, artists and journalists that over the past 13 years it's grown from 700 people and two days to 6,500 people and five days. Comparing highlights is like trading war stories for veterans of this business we call music.
In the airport's waiting area, it's not hard to tell who's SXSW-bound -- they're the people who are too old for their clothes, as well as their lingo. Women in their 40s wearing multicolored Doc Marten boots with skirts is an example. Gray-haired men saying "awesome" is another.
It doesn't take long to figure out that no matter what your role in the music machine, it's a business just like any other, and we're all just vacuum salesmen gathering to meet other vacuum salesmen of varying power and perhaps learn a thing or two about the next hot wave of hoses and suction devices -- although instead of sloshed businessmen with fake elk horns acting like the hotel is a college dorm, there are no fake elk horns.
6 P.M., AUSTIN CONVENTION CENTER
After checking into the Hyatt Regency, the first order of business is to register, where I receive "The Badge." It's a big mandatory laminated thing with your name and company affiliate in 36-point Helvetica. Experienced SXSW-ers can do the face-to-badge-glance with utmost subtlety to determine whether they want -- need -- to know you.
8:30 P.M., EMO'S
The SXSW contingent is swallowed by people in green-foam funny hats. It's St. Patrick's Day, and Austin is a town known for its rowdy reveling year-round. The first club I hit is Emo's for Austin's the Peen Beats, a punk band that covers commercial jingles like the Dickies used to do. They play the Dr. Pepper theme, and change the words of "La Bamba" to "You should be driving a Mazda." As an observant journalist, I jot down the "Texas Size Shit" graffiti I see in the ladies' room.
The Travoltas from Holland, produced by Marky Ramone, do a raucously fun version of Blondie's "Denis." They play good old speed punk with manly harmonies. If things don't work out for them in Austin, they can always become a Bad Religion cover band.
10:30 P.M., LA ZONA ROSA -- ELECTRIC LOUNGE
On my way to catch Daniel Johnston, I hear some riveting blues-rock coming from a club. It sounds like Jeff Beck. It is. So I go inside -- the power of the badge -- to catch the end of his set. He's still wearing the black tank top and Nigel Tufnel's hair.
At the Electric Lounge, it's packed for Daniel Johnston, but he quickly loses people who can't hack his mumbling acoustic drone. When he's joined by his band for some sweet, pure love songs, everybody comes to.
DAY 2: THURSDAY10:30 A.M., HYATT REGENCY
I sleep through Lucinda Williams' keynote address to officially kick off SXSW. Little do I know that later I will attend her show at the Austin Music Hall and feel compelled to sleep again.
It wouldn't be a convention without panels and workshops. At 1:30 p.m., there are six to choose from, including "Managing in the Red" and "Mind If I Tape This?" Since last night's Shiner Bocks are currently dictating my itinerary, I decide a good first panel is the 3 p.m. "Demo Listening: Rock."
3 P.M., AUSTIN CONVENTION CENTER
Harry Simmons (a band manager from North Carolina), Jonathan Weiss of Haiku Entertainment and A&R guy Bruce Duff of Triple X Records sit on a dais. We are going to witness professional listeners do what they do for a living: play a couple of minutes of a band's demo tape and decide on the spot if it has commercial potential. But in this case the artists are in the room to hear the feedback.
After Mr. Duff hits the "play" button, he and the panelists put on their most serious listening faces; occasionally they are moved to a rhythmic head-bop or two. Sample feedback: "Sophisticated chord structure" (Simmons); "Listen to 'I Need You' by the Who" (Duff); "I had trouble with the enunciation" (Weiss, who tells another band they should try to sound more like Korn).
At the "Writing Online vs. Writing for Print" panel, I learn that writing for the Internet is "like the wild, wild West," according to Jaan Uhelszki, the former Creem writer, now of Rolling Stone Online. Since she switched over from "dead tree media" (what you're reading), "the money has been rolling in." Keith Moerer, senior editor at Amazon.com, is pressed on the issue of not running negative reviews, since his company is in the business of moving product. Like a good vacuum salesman, he cites a negative review of the new Blondie album that was up on the site for one day.