Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

SXSW 2008 – it’s a wrap

(1) On the night after SXSW finishes, Austin’s main music drag, Sixth Street, is one eerie place. There’s nothing happening. I mean, there are a few shell-shocked stragglers and members of various drunken bands walking around trying to get their …

Tue, Mar 18, 2008, 03:17


(1) On the night after SXSW finishes, Austin’s main music drag, Sixth Street, is one eerie place. There’s nothing happening. I mean, there are a few shell-shocked stragglers and members of various drunken bands walking around trying to get their bearings, but this is veritable tumbleweed terrain after the last few days and nights. The buidlings have stopped shaking, the streets have been cleaned and the madness has faded.

(2) Naturally, I’ve forgotten to mention in the course of the various daily updates about a dozen other acts seen and heard over the last few days and nights who impressed me, so here goes. Bodies Of Water got better and better as their set went on, Born Ruffians play colour co-ordinated pop which much pizzazz, No Age redraw the hardcore book, Delorean are probably the best Spanish disco-punk band you’ll ever come across named after a former automobile tycoon, Yeasayer know more about bliss than your favourite masseuse, Vampire Weekend are every jot as impressive as a band of preppy kids from NYC should be and Man Man are having a whale of a time on the new-school cabaret tightrope.

(3) Then, there are the acts that people are telling me I should have seen. A chorus of “doh” then for not getting in line for The Dodos, Fleet Foxes, Care Bears On Fire, In Case Of Fire (see, another theme developing here) and Oppenheimer, all of whom apparently rocked like beasts.

(4) Of course, there was also the convention centre. In years past, I’d have spent many happy hours feeding my brain at panels and interviews as well as checking out the trade show to see who was buying and selling. This year, though, I was more interested in bands than panels and it seems I wasnt alone. Those manning trade show stands were grumbling about the lack of footfall as people abandoned the convention centre to hang out in the heat at daytime parties and gigs. As far as those trade show people were now concerned, SXSW has become about the live music.

That perception is not helped by the fact that the panels are lazy and tokenistic, with too many featuring jaded time-servers who’re just there to collect their free badge and talk about the good old days. There’s no sense of owning up to the fact that the business has moved on and new problems demand new solutions and new players.

Then, there were the interviews. The sparsely attended chat with Seymour Stein was unfocused, with the interviewer clearly over-awed by the great man and leaving too little time to go through the Sire story. And do I really need to sit and listen to Lou Reed grunt and groan for an hour about his career at this stage of my life?

The best convention centre event by a mile was former Nirvana manager Danny Goldberg yakking with Jim Fouratt. As always at these panels, Fouratt is good value for money and gave it his best Nighty Night With Vincent Browne as he quizzed and propped Goldberg about his career and various political projects. Goldberg was more than a match for him, though, and the stories and opinions flew back and forth with great gusto for an hour.

(5) The growing problem for SXSW is that the festival has become a monster success story, but without any direct guidance from SXSW. To those who run the shindig, it’s still an industry event. Indeed, last year, there was much local fuming when one of the directors dissed the idea of SXSW becoming a consumer festival. In reality, though, SXSW is now a huge global brand which attracts punters who view it as an opportunity to see hundreds of bands playing in Austin over a few sunny spring days. It has become indie rock’s spring break.

But that audience don’t buy the badges SXSW need to sell to pay the bills. Instead, SXSW continues to focus very much on those parts of the music industry which are now in decline – I heard one figure touted last weekend that there are now barely 70 full-time A&R men at major labels instead of the 500 employed a few years ago. There were certainly far fewer major label folks in circulation these last few days.

Meanwhile, the kids and bloggers and tech labels who want to check out new music and take things forward are staying the hell away from the convention centre and working the daytime party scene for all they’re worth. Why pay for a badge if you can do all that for free? Lets hope SXSW doesn’t replicate the mistakes which the record business made and shuns the goodwill which is currently there in abundance.

(6) What I’ll miss most about Austin: the food. Truly, there is great eating and drinking in this town. You start with the best Mexican breakfast in the world at Las Manitas (we recommend the huevos rancheros with a side-order of chorizo) or a posh one at the Driskill Hotel. Later, when you’re peckish again, try the tacos or burritos at Guero’s or some explosive rock-your-world chilli from the Texan Chilli Parlour. The best slices in town? That would be at the pizza from Whole Foods.

(7) What I’ll miss least about Austin: power-tripping doormen demanding ID at every turn and then stamping an inky ident on your paw. Give a man or woman a clipboard in Texas and he or she becomes an instant asshole.

(8) Still want more SXSW coverage? Check out the New York Times SXSW blog and Jon Pareles’s fine round-up for that paper. There’s also extensive coverage from Johnnie Craig over at State, particularly on the Irish stuff. The Guardian were also blogging like crazy, while music industry tipsheet Record of the Day set up a seperate blog for SXSW. And for the first and last word on the real-deal parties and underground buzzes at the fest from an Irish blow-in living in Austin, Cubikmusik is the man you need to talk to.

(9) Time for some sleep. SXSW kicks off again on March 18, 2009.