SxSW 2012 in Retrospect

Mid March seems like forever ago.    I have been to Scottsdale, Chicago and Indianapolis since then, but was able to retain enough brain cells to whip up a description of my time in Austin.  FYI you can go to earlier posts to see more pix.

2012 Sx, or year three for me, was one of diversity, camaraderie and discovery.   With Huichica coming into it’s third year, more music than ever before happening @ the winery, and my ever present desire to identify more ways for wine and music to mix, my mission was a broad one. I had a wine dinner, a long list of seminars to attend, people to hang with and meet, bands to see, and of course the over arching theme of spreading the word about GunBun and Huichica

The trip started Wednesday night with the “Jeff Bundschu Wine Dinner, Featuring Wintersleep” at Flemming’s Steakhouse in downtown Austin.  You heard that right- a wine dinner featuring a touring band.  It was indeed trail blazing, and it was awesome. Afterwards I caught up with most of team Sonoma (there were 17 people from Sonoma there together)  to watch Miike Snow.  Saw some of Snow but ended up hanging out in the VIP area with the guys from Pond, the band who preceded them in the line up.  Miike Snow seemed great, and ended up being most of team Sonoma’s favorite, but I was too caught up chatting Perth, wine and all things down-under with the Australian Pond.    Nothing after that except Korean kimchi burritos.  Yum.

Next day was spent in the conference. First up ended up being AH-HA #1  of Sx- The keynote speech by Bruce Springsteen.  By far the biggest surprise and the thing I want to remember the most.  Last year’s keynote was Bob Geldof, of Boomtown Rats and save-the-world-fame.   That speech was a call to action, imploring the artists in the audience to actually say something with their art.  It was provocative and I was impressed enough that I wanted to see Springsteen’s turn on the podium.  I am not a fan, but he had just popped up on my radar as an early character in  Will Hermes’ ‘Love Goes to Buildings on Fire’, a current read exploring the influential music scene in New York in the 70’s.  Half of the speech was a part poetic and part prose recall of the people that informed his early artistry.   He spoke of the Beatles, Dylan, Roy Orbison, and the Animals.  Occasionally he picked up a guitar and strummed a few chords and sang few verses of a particularly meaningful song.  It was incredibly moving.  The other half was a call to action of all the musicians in the room to go forth and create, using any and all tools available, be they guitars, drums, samplers or beat boxes.  He implored them to work tirelessly, be confident but to never lose the hunger, and play every song, every set, like it was your last.   Audience of 1 or 1000, leave your best effort on the stage.  I found myself referring to him in my mind with every act I saw afterwards, and wanting to heed that advice in my approach to life. 

Left that and saw a panel on the independent music manager featuring 4 big time managers (got to remember the guy from zeitgeist!), another on the use of tumblr, and two performances in the conference center, one from Delta Spirit, and another from Gary Clark, Jr.  In each case the music was good, and kind of somewhat related, though GCj is one man, one electric guitar doing deepseeded blues and Delta Spirit is a full band.  I also dropped some wine off @ the Riot Act showcase, and caught the band Brass Bed.  Joan and Riot and her company Riot Act are doing PR for Huichica so I was spreading the love.   

That afternoon was AH-HA #2.    I was enroute back to the hotel to gear up for the night.  (First a Sx primer: There are effectively two days for every 24 hours @ Sx.  Day one starts whenever you get up, and goes until 6ish.  Depending on your agenda you are at the seminars, or at day parties.  The day parties are sponsored by media or music or fashion companies and feature intimate performances by bands that usually play bigger places at night.  Day parties are where team Sonoma, minus the two of us who dabble professionally with music, spends their days.  Day two starts about 8pm and goes until the wee hours, and is spent going venue to venue to catch bands you have on your ‘list’, those predetermined as wanting to see.  As often as not you get distracted by something better enroute).  As hard as it was, I gave up most of my day party privileges to attend the seminars @ the conference.  So as I walked back to my hotel that afternoon I heard what turned out to be Dan Deacon, who was on my list, and who happened to be the last act for that day at venue near the hotel that I had no idea he was playing.  Sxenditpity.   He is an electronic musician who plays with live drums and was absolutely going off.  The crowd was jumping up and down and following every one of his directions to sing here, jump there, spin around and go.  It was magical for the 15 mins that I caught him.   I will for sure find him again.

Part two of that day went as follows.  From the hotel I caught Residual Kid, a power trio of teens, two of whom belong to my friend and wine broker Dan Redmond, and one of which is the best drummer in Austin.  I’ll stand by that even though he is only 13!  They were so good and so young that the band after them said they didn’t want to play on account of having to follow them!  Then things get a little trippy in the best kind of way. The Shins were playing a giant free concert across the river, and because my old friend and music hero Dave Burton was there as their tour manager I was off to meet him.  Most every show in Austin during Sx is small.  1500-2000 would be the biggest, but generally way smaller.  The exceptions are the big acts the conference brings in to play an open field across the river from downtown.  This is where the Shins, preceded by M. Ward, played- for 15,000+ of their friends.  For free. Pretty sweet.  Their set rekindled my love for that band.  You are not going to rock out to the Shins, and you won’t work up sweat dancing to them, but their songs touch deeply.  AH-HA #3 came just watching the people in the front few rows singing their hearts to the older songs, knowing and belting every last word.  These weren’t teens singing to Bieber, but earnest sudo-hipster kind of people in their mid twenties and beyond.    It was great to see that kind of fandom, directed at such good, thoughtful and provocative music.  It gloriously reaffirms what I know but like to be reminded of in the age of auto-tune and pop radio- Music can touch deeply. 

After the show, I went with Dave to the Secretly Canadian (label) Showcase, though in so doing I was abandoning my list to hang with my bud.  But as does happen @ Sx, the first band at the showcase ended up being top 3 of the week and I hadn’t planned on seeing them- War on Drugs.  They were awesome to see and I have been in deep in since returning home.  Sharon Van Etten played afterwards.  Cool too, but not my shindig.

Because I was hanging that night with music people, who were actually there to work, it meant that I came home fairly buttoned up.  So I had zero problem getting up early to see the underbelly of Sx- The 6am KUT show @ the Four Seasons.  I call it the dark underbelly because it is where all the clean, well rested, working and family people go to see great music in the midst of their normal lives.  I think Sx sanctions this event in the dungeon of the Four Seasons along the river so none of the rocker kids and hipsters on Red River get scared off by all the normal people.  I wasn’t there at 6 mind you, but they play music all morning.  In that venue between Fri and Sat morning I caught James Mercer, Trampled by Turtles and Nada Surf.  Good stuff.  After that I met up with team Sonoma to see Of Monsters and Men, a good band from Iceland that will likely break out soon.  It is clean fresh indie pop, and their shows got more buzzed as the week progressed.  I then split from the group to go to the Spin Party at a venue called Stubs.  I had a pass for all day but only could stay for 2 bands before heading to a seminars- Chairlift and Main Attrakionz.  Chairlift-I’ll call it dreamy girl-sung Brooklyn pop.  Good enough. But a little mellow.  That was remedied with the next band.  When I first got into the main venue, there was a line to get into the small stage room.  I asked a kid what he waiting for, and he said Main Attrakionz, and qualified it by saying he was there to see them and nobody else.  At a hard to get into party like Spin’s, with a day-long roster of killer bigger name music, I immediately decided that was endorsement enough for me to check them out, and made my way to the small stage in time.  MA ended up being a hip hop collective from Oakland who delivered #2 of my Sx top 3. They rocked the stage trading rapid fire rhymes and jumping all over the place.  The dj had a broad packet of samples and rhythms that went way beyond radio stuff.  They had the crowd and me in a heated frenzy.  Awesome.  When you see an act go off @ Sx, you feel energized.  A buzz driven by the fact that you had just seen something super cool.  Chatted them up afterwards and hope to catch them in Oaktown.  Booking them in Sonoma may be a stretch.

Next to the convention center where I caught a conference led by some food and music podcasters.  Snacky Tunes is what it’s called. They are on to something. Check it out.  Before leaving I saw for songs from Blitzen Trapper in the ballroom. 

After that I caught up with Austin Friends Dan, Melinda and Mike and Annette, and a group of us went to the next Shins show.  From there, after a reboot at the hotel.  I met up with part of Team Sonoma to check out Little Hurricane.  A two piece with a pounding drummer and guitar/keyboard player.  Sounded more like Black Keys, looked more like White Stripes.   They had a big buzz and I thought they were pretty good.  But I was even more stoked to see that Pond, the Australian band I chatted with at Miike Snow,  was playing right after.  Total chance had it that Pond was there and I hadn’t seen there set before Snow.  They ended up being best show of trip for me.  No kidding, more of that Sxendipity. Heavy 70’s rock and roll sound played by handsome young Aussies and sung by a waif of white haired androgynous fellow.  It was he and the drummer that I chatted with at Miike Snow.  In show mode they were totally different.  The singer was either lit up on some sort of hallucinogen or did a great job acting  like it.  He was self destructive up there, swinging mikes, stage diving and pulling cords out of monitors.  He looked wrecked, until I noticed that he never hit anyone else on the cramped stage with his swinging mike, and never stepped on the elaborate floor pedal set up.   And the set itself was super tight.  It was a masterful show.  Like best of the year for me.  This year’s Pulled Apart by Horses, but more listenable music and better players.  And they played with passion.

As soon as it was over though, off to see St Motel we went, where we rendezvoused with more Sonomans.  SM was more indie pop, with really good melodies and catchy songs.  A big favorite of Team Sonoma.  Okay for me too, though it is clear I like my ears bleeding a little more.  I took off from there to catch Dave Burton at the Jack White show, but not before stopping off to see the South African rapper Spoek Mathambo, one of the few artists on my list that I actually got to see.  Super cool set up. Live band full of brooklynesque hipsters and an African sidekick playing a guitar keyboard sounded really good.  Spoek sounded a lot like his US brethren though.  Yelling and screaming all over the place.  Good though, but not good enough to miss Jack White.  The super cool Third Man van was parked outside the venue and the crowd surrounding it on the street ended up being bigger than the one inside the venue.   It was apparently the place to be.  Luckily DB found someone to let me in.  The first set, which I had just missed, had been with a supporting band of women. The one I saw had all men.  He was awesome.  Just plain bad ass.  Conducting his troup through all sorts of familiar songs from all his bands shredding on guitar all the while.  Totally worthy of the hype outside, and the frenzy of too cool for school people inside.  Fun to see him in a small place and we will check him out if when the road show hits our hood.

Alas after Jack White I peeled off from my old bro Dave to find my bro’s from other mo’s from Sonoma.  That night, our last, ended perfectly.  All of team Sonoma was surrounding the Korean BBQ truck, eating burritos, rehashing our night, and hassling passersby with our camera crew.  Oh…I didn’t tell you that we had one with us the whole time?  Maybe some day you can see the video!

Can’t wait until next year.