Tuesday, March 22, 2011

(In a Texan drawl) Good JOB!

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0, hurrah!
Listening: new Battles song, 'Ice Cream'
Hair Day: Quiff, hairsprayed to the max
What I can see from my window no. 11: Battersea Power Station

Off with the furs and on with the bikinis (well, in spirit anyway….)! We had arrived in balmy Austin for the world’s biggest music expo, South By South West. We were put up by Kathy and Ron, who had nervously signed up for the SXSW Housing scheme for the first time, and probably expected four slobbering Yorkshire youths trashing their telly and vomiting in the sink. Ha, they were probably disappointed to get three house-trained classical girls in their early thirties…
We were there to represent our label, Nonclassical, for Gabriel’s showcase at the brilliantly central Velveeta Room, located right in the thick of the noisy action on 6th Street. I was sadly fever-ridden and mucus-addled and was gulping single malt between songs, but we did a ‘good JOB!’ as EVERYONE in Texas says and certainly went down pretty well. The rest of the gig was without a hint of bias (ha), easily the best music I heard at the festival, which was swamped with thrashy MOR rock and jingly-jangly guitar boys. Matt Haimovitz and Uccello were an all-cello quartet performing relicks of classic big band tunes with wood-thumping funkiness. The Calder Quartet can be added to the Kronos, Ethel and the Elysians in leading the charge for contemporary string quartet repertoire; Sissy-Eared Molly Coddles had a touch of the DOLLYman in their off-kilter chamber songs (though some were more successful than others), and Graham Reynolds, an Austin-based composer presented his rampantly driving triple concerto, with his white spinet and nine strings crammed onto the tiny stage. My favourite act was a curio before this, a composer whose name I didn’t catch who performed a sort of phlegmatically-hallucinating-Tom-Waits act; every cough and splutter would erupt onto crazy glisses in the strings, and he ended by caressing the piano and proudly displaying his a half-torn suit. Hilarious.
Bloody hell, there’s so much music at SXSW. You walk down 6th Street or Red River, the two main drags, and slightly distorted yowlings bleed from every bar, shoe shop and cafĂ© as you munch your jalapeno hot dog with sauerkraut in the 84-degree heat. More fun were many of the buskers on the corners, with Anna’s favourite being a trio of girls with ukeleles, and Memphis’ Star and Micey, whose sunny-strummed loveliness was topped by the guitarist’s mid-song backflip. As fun as watching the buskers was the constant tattoo-watch; it was as if the Great Tattoo God had gathered his most willing converts to one town and liberally splattered them with a cornucopia of inky imagery: Hello Kitty, Where The Wild Things Are, Peter Pan, owls, birds, spiders, flowers, names, poems, hamburgers and milkshakes (hhm), it was all there. It made me want to get indelibly blitzed from head to toe in bluebirds and dolphins and roses right away.

I SHOULD have caught James Blake, Emmylou Harris, Wu-Tang Clan, Sam Amidon and many more. But tearing round after Gabriel and our US record label cohorts Megan from Naxos and the boys from indie classical label Innova, or strolling more sedately the day after our gig, we simply dipped in and out of many a band. I got madly excited by Glasser, filling the rafters of the Central Presbyterian Church with her ice-cool voice in an opening unaccompanied folk song, but quickly got bored as it turned into a droney electro-bore. We hung around the British Music Embassy’s day parties quite a lot, and caught the likes of Jonquil, Dinosaur Pile-Up, thrash-thugs Pulled Apart By Horses (who in classic Brits-abroad style, were still drunk from the night before and apparently vomited copiously into the audience upon finishing, ha ha) and Little Comets, who were jingly-jangly guitar boys in the best sense, a sort of Geordie Vampire Weekend.
Outside of the Nonclassical night, there were two main highlights:

New Musical Crush no 1: Paper Bird
   Recommended to us by a Denver-based hipster DJ, our female trio radar was turned on full whack when we heard there were three singing girls in this band for said DJ’s afternoon party. And right scrumptious they were too, harmonies as sweet as mountain air, on top of quirky arrangements with trombone and rhythm section, irregular time signatures and handclaps lending them a touch of the Dirty Projectors-meets-Sufjan Stevens. Super-lovely.

New Musical Crush no. 2: David Thomas Broughton
   I had been meaning to catch DTB for a long time, hearing of his prowess with a loop station, but I wasn’t quite prepared for his highly-strung physical and gadget-theatre! On top of some cool experimental looping of his guitar and Antony Hegarty-like vocals, he bashed the mic against his head and the drum kit behind him, posed very strangely with elbows akimbo, used a Dictaphone and played rape alarms which he then attempted to eat. Irresistibly magnetic and bonkers, Sarah and I caught him afterwards to swoon, swap CDs and (hurrah!) agree that juice and he must collaborate sometime.
A lovely last day was ended with a stroll to SXSW’s unofficial fringe up on Congress, a dream-road of indie boutiques and thrift stores. We bumped into my ex-student (erk!) and many a Sound of 2011 star Jamie Woon, who was preparing to play his 5th gig at SXSW; so fab to see him becoming a star with his gorgeous brand of indie soulfulness. We were taken to Magnolia for a gluttonous night of blueberry pancakes drenched in maple syrup by our new Texan Mom And Dad; Kathy and Ron’s arty and supremely liberal vibe, dust-dry humour and ridiculous generosity was an invaluable part of our Texas trip. And now we plan to build on this and go back to unleash the anarchic a cappella Brit-sounds, in New York, in Chicago, in San Francisco; anywhere that'll have us...

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