Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

SXSW 2012: it’s a wrap (part one)

Our guest writer for SXSW Leagues O’Toole looks back at what happened last week deep in the heart of Texas. SXSW Music very much echoed that slightly surreal sense of suspension that hangs heavy over the global music industry and …

Tue, Mar 20, 2012, 08:07


Our guest writer for SXSW Leagues O’Toole looks back at what happened last week deep in the heart of Texas.

SXSW Music very much echoed that slightly surreal sense of suspension that hangs heavy over the global music industry and the questions it has yet to answer concerning its future direction. There was an air of hesitancy on the streets of Austin, and a palpable lack of buzz-bands. Love them or hate them no one quite brought the ruckus Odd Future did last year. Sure, Alabama Shakes put forth yet another case for retro-rock and every house party in town shuddered with the wrath of Trash Talk’s Californian powerviolence. In contrast, SXSW wasn’t light on sponsorship this year. Jay-Z played a concert exclusively for a visa card’s customers. Oh, and Wu-Tang star the GZA performed in a giant vending machine.

It was looking-great war-horse Bruce Springsteen who addressed the festival with a keynote speech that was witty, poetic, honest and insightful. Quite simply, Bruce’s personalised story of rock’n'roll was more eloquent than any I’ve heard from a so-called real pop critic. That night he sealed his dominance for SXSW2012 with star-studded, guns-blazing rock and soul revue like no other at the ACL Moody Theatre.

If SXSW Music had a somewhat directionless feel, its film counterpart knew exactly what it was doing. SXSW Film has become a key festival on the circuit and its excellent curation, well-structured panels, not to mention the city’s beautiful  array of cinemas are all keys factors. Familiar names like Joss Whedon (premiering The Cabin in the Woods), Willem Dafoe, Richard Linklater and a host of others were all in in town.

But it was the new faces that provided the real inspiration. The inspiring Fat Kid Rules the World, the oddly gripping Compliance, the small-budget Boston caper Booster, and the hilariously candid Bad Brains documentary were some of the many treats.

Thousands of movies apply for this festival and only 120 or so make the cut so it was fantastic to see the Irish produced and directed scary-as-hell psychological horror Citadel feature so strongly on the programme and win the Audience Award for Midnight screenings. Congratulations to director Ciarán Foy, producer Katie Holly and Brian Coffey – and congratulations tooSXSW for not shying away from genre movies like other film festivals.

There was TV too in this year’s programme: A new US TV sitcom based on the trials and tribulations of a group of twentysomething girls in New York navigating their careers, romances and complex friendships implies some sort of horrific vision of a Sex in the City for hipsters. In one of the early episodes of HBO’s new sitcom Girls, which premiered at SXSW, the lead character Hannah, arguing against her parents decision to cut off her allowance and leave her high and dry as a post-collegiate, aspiring novelist cum unpaid publishing intern, she says to them “I think I could might be the voice of my generation or, at least, a voice… of a generation.”

The role is played by Lena Dunham who also created, wrote and even directed much of this show. The reality is that Dunham herself could well become a voice of her generation, if these first episodes are anything to go by. It’s a sardonic, witty, gritty, no-taboo-unturned, (genital) warts’n'all look at living in the city circa NOW, with real characters, winsome sex scenes, genuine tummy flesh and the sort of hilarious everyday humiliation we can all relate to. It seems to go against the grain of every rule of modern American television drama. Dunham had previously made a splash at SXSW 2010 with her feature film Tiny Furniture, but this time she is centre-stage of HBO’s well-planned assault on the festival. 

If Dunham represents the new talent, the show brings some real pedigree and the presence of executive producer/director Judd Apatow at SXSW had TV buffs in a real tizzy. The former Larry Sanders Show writer, producer of cult TV shows Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared and producer of endless list of box office and cult comedy hits of the last ten years appeared on panels and Q&As and had them sniggering in the aisles.


A final word should go to legendary filmmaker William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection) who premiered his brilliantly violent trailer park massacre Killer Joe, marking a massive return to form with a brilliant screenplay from actor/writer Tracey Letts and a knock-out deadpan performance from Matthew McConaughey. In a post-screening live interview link-up, Friedkin was a delight, although he seemed perturbed at the MPAA granting the movie a stern NC-17 rating (formerly known as X-Rated!).