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
But I capped off my visit to Austin with Spin magazine’s annual “private” bash (must’ve been a thousand people stuffed in there), where the Meat Puppets and Supersuckers did their own white-trash shticks, and by this time I was growing tired of being strapped into someone else’s cornpone rock nostalgia. So by the time Supersuckers came on with their super-ironic hard-rock/cracker bullshit, it began to stink really, really evil in there. I mean, it was depressing — besides the fact that the room reeked of Jim Beam rotgut, there were all those groupie girls around the stage, the singer’s mirrored shades and cowboy hat — the fatalism, I mean. We’d come full (small) circle — you know, Supersuckers did a very poor-quality cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak,” and basically just want to beat Foghat at their own game, for crap’s sake. I can tell you something: In 1973 it sounded like shit too.
Nostalgia everywhere: I did check in on Doug E. Fresh, who made sort of a comeback in an outdoor pasture kind of setting. Tons of people showed up to hear him jam with the once-crucial Big Daddy Kane. Doug E. always did have a weak voice, and he just talks about a lotta nothing, basically, but he was sort of nice, which these days means star power, and the crowd ate it up.
It’s a question of who gets to inflict his nostalgia on whom, the way I see it. All over the world, American music twists the aspirations of daydreaming youths. Take Scandinavia. I saw this Danish/Swedish trio called Tremolo Beer Gut, pound for pound probably the best “rock” band I saw in Austin for their exacting scrapes at the bottom of the surf/spy barrel. It was as if by focusing with blazing intent on one very, very stupid thing — surf music — they made smart music, witty too. Scandinavia was also fairly represented by Norway’s Locomotiv, whose pop was played with drama and dynamics, and a textural complexity that absolutely didn’t dichotomize between punk and progressive rock. They also seemed to take enormous pleasure in their playing, a good thing to see.
No longer human: Much-hyped music from Japan pulled big crowds. Why? I saw Puffy, a brutally efficient pop machine fronted by two near-look-alike young women whose tag-team/tandem voices pecked at the eyeballs like a thousand cranes. Their songs were perfectly played and peppy and perky, and they were singing about boys they have crushes on, in Japanese, and most everyone in the house (I looked) had this really lame benevolent grin on their faces, and many guys had their hands in their pockets. It was gross. By the way, I received CDs from sixAmerican bands that used nonsensical Japanese writing as a design element on their covers — because it looks neat-o.
But you should’ve seen Ninja Tune’s Cinematic Orchestra. The young English band w/DJ in a Miles/’70s electric vein took it into fantastic realms by exploring the juxtapositions of keyboards and sax with samples in extended compositions, and did it with imagination. Liquid Sky’s Yellow Note, too, pulled off a marathon set of seditious drum ’n’ bass, like a combination athlete and master juggler of diabolically compounded sound worlds. Carl Craig, sans his revolutionary Innerzone Orchestra, delivered one of the most mentally and physically dense house sets I’ve ever heard.
Rock iconoclasm is far from dead, and San Diego’s Upsilon Acrux delivered an uncompromising (irritating) non-rock free and composed art-music set of squawky angularity and noise on just bass, drums and guitar, and appeared to enjoy playing to about eight people. I thought, well, good on yer, chaps, but you ought to dig beneath the surface of the noise. Isn’t weirdness for weirdness’ sake just more reaction? . . . sheesh.
Meanwhile, down by the river at night, swarms of bats flickered out over my head. I sat by the water in the dark and soaked in quiet. Earlier, I had stopped in at a place called Ruta Maya for iced coffee, and to observe the nu-style country-folk ’n’ laptop mellowness, rough-hewn front porch and modern punky art. Round the corner and up the street grandly loomed the Texas capitol, with its polished patterned floors and dark panels and portraits of political luminaries past. It’s a peaceful place on a weekend.
So, sitting there with my iced coffee, jotting down my little pearls, I began to weigh the futility of carping on the tapped-out black gold of American music, the pop dream as perpetuated by the majority of the hopefuls who’d graced the SXSW stages the last few days. I had wished to return home with the feeling that I’d experienced something that suggested a small shift away from the more familiar American music paradigms. But I didn’t, and it could have been a visually biased impression: Many of the acts I saw were forced to perform under huge banners advertising Jim Beam. In effect, it was like “Jim Beam Presents American Culture,” and it was a bit sickening.