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
Thursday morning: Got in last night. Horrible drunk musician-esque English guy sat behind me on the airplane, using F-words, trying to impress the unimpressed female next to him. He was under the unfortunate delusion that everything he thought, and then said, was funny and compelling, and that being the loud drunk on the airplane was a daring, rebel move.
Ah, South by Southwest. Only been here a few hours and already I can feel the familiar misanthropy returning like an old friend.
The musical wing of the SXSW festival is very much about industry hype and band gossip. Example: At dinner last night, an English guy at another table was talking loudly (again) about Lily Allen. Not really saying if she’s good or bad or just okay. He was just talking about her: “She’s very British, really. Her dad’s a famous actor.”
Then there’s the game where you try to guess what band people are talking about by the things they say. Example: In the elevator later this morning, two English dudes (!) going to the whirlpool, apparently — one was wearing a bathrobe (ew) — were saying to each other, “Yeah . . . they signed to Merge. And there’s really quite a lot of them when they’re up onstage, isn’t there? Seven or eight?”
If you guessed Arcade Fire, I’m with you. Then again, if you guessed I Really Don’t Give, I’m also with ya.
Haven’t made any star sightings yet, but have seen a tragic quantity of leggings on the women.
Saturday: The Buzzcocks, at something like 86 years old, blast bands of 20-year-olds off the stage, and shame them. They simply rock harder, more full-frontally, than almost any band I’ve ever seen. They began their set at Stubb’s BBQ (closing the Spin party) with a bang — “Boredom” and a mix of classics and newer songs, including the highly romantic “Reconciliation,” which got me feeling very sentimental about punk rock and true love. And they put some effort into looking natty and cool as well, which I appreciate. White jeans are always a plus!
The energy did flag a bit in the middle (long set, about an hour), but they saved their best for last: ”What Do I Get?,” “Orgasm Addict,” “Harmony in My Head,” “Ever Fallen In Love?” And nuts! they never played my current favorite “Why Can’t I Touch It?” (Ever notice how the Buzzcocks have more song titles in the form of questions than anyone else?)
Anyway, it’s official: The Buzzcocks are the most soft-hearted romanticists in punk rock! Oh, and they also like physical pleasure — you can just tell they don’t have any tightass fear of sex/love/romance . . . Which isn’t classically punk rock but is, also, always a plus!
Sunday: One of the speakers at a panel on the Internet said: As music blogs and sites like Pitchfork rise in popularity and power, the quality of writing will become much less important in music criticism than the quality of branding. I would suggest that this has already proven to be true. The originators of rock criticism were writers to the core, and committed to music writing as a quasi pop-art form — writing as a form of joy, a genuine expression of the rock & roll spirit. Stylish, rhythmic, heartfelt, musical. Musical. When Lester Bangs typed onstage with the J. Geils Band, he meant it. And it wasn’t just Lester Bangs doing the Lord’s work.
But those values are rare now in the so-called “indie” media world. To the contrary: Humor and populism and style are often belittled as lightweight, shallow. Example: Today, I was talking to some people who work for a “tastemaking” public-radio station, and we were discussing Mika, the glam piano man who rocked the house here at SXSW. One person explained that she didn’t like Mika because he was too catchy. If music is too catchy, she gets it stuck in her head, and then she gets sick of it.
The consensus seemed to be, overall, dismissive of Mika as “candy.” If only they had the first clue how impossibly difficult it is to write a catchy song! And under these rules, what then of the Beatles, or the Stones, or any other catchy band that ever endeavored to write popular music? Why must music be uncatchy to be taken seriously? And why would you deny yourself the pleasure of catchy music?
Is this what poor Mika is up against? My God. If a classic, vintage-era Elton John were trying to break through today on the indie-radio outlets and blogs we’ve got, he’d be dismissed before you could say Captain Fantastic. They’d call him fluffy and pretentious and lightweight and — horrors! — catchy.
Reprint Andy Pratt
Sunday: Top Surreal Moment of the Festival: I’m in the coffee shop today at 1 p.m., waiting to meet up with a friend. The only available seat is near a lanky, white-haired man who hunches over his table and sways slightly, like one touched.