Fully Tessellated: alt-j

Behind the scenes at SXSW...

As his band members went in search of real Kentucky Fried Chicken, in the real Kentucky after their SXSW dousing, Gus Unger-Hamilton from Alt-J was left holding the rather exhausted baby as we asked him for a series of statements that could collage coherence into the chaos of playing eight shows in fours days as the Mercury Music Prize winners.

Soaking Up The Fan Love
I always imagined SXSW to be loads of industry people, chin stroking at best and at worst just live tweeting on their iPhones but there was a surprising amount of genuine music fans there so it was a real pleasure to play most of the gigs because we weren’t expecting so many real fans.

Finding Our Way Around
The cool thing about Southby is that you do feel like a local quite quickly, like you know the predominate street names like; ‘I’m just gonna hang a left on Red River to get to Mohake’s’ and I got really into this by the end of the week. Giving directions like a local. Also getting the bike taxis was very entertaining, though I think a lot of them are actually drug dealers. But fair play really.

Queuing Like Englishmen
This is a fundamental observation about SXSW. The good places have queues and the bad places don’t have queues. I always seemed to be with people who were of the school of: “let’s walk round for ages trying to find this amazing place, oh look there’s a massive queue, ok let’s go into this place with no queue that’s rubbish!” Quality it seems still breeds queues.

The Monster That Is 6th Street
I have no idea what this is like the rest of the time. It’s pretty intense. It’s just pedestrianized for the week, then filled full of crazy people peddling their musical wares. Buskers and freaks. Over the week it just gets more and more wild until Saturday night when it’s just a beast of humanity. It’s a great atmosphere, we tried to avoid it, but there’s people that love it, or people dressed up in 30 degree heat as a mascot giving out beer cozies. I mean, that’s hot work.

Bantering with Fans
On the first night I greatly revelled in: ‘Thank you! We’ll be here all week! Actually for real’ I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, as I’d wanted to say that forever. Apart from that it’s hard to figure out whether people actually know who you are half the time so it’s hard to plan banter.

The Disparity in Sound Quality
SXSW teaches you a lot of humility. It takes you down a peg or two and it whisks you back to that world of no sound check, very little onstage monitor action and a crowd that’s, not indifferent, but they aren’t your fans. We’ve been pretty spoiled in the US, we normally play sold out venues to adoring fans. So going to South By was like, yeah, just remember who you are! But it’s all character building.

Sizing up the competition 
It's really weird, you get these huge acts that are all playing really small venues. We played at Stubbs with Nick Cave and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And now SXSW seems to be about massive acts playing secret shows as it does about the smaller breaking bands it’s meant to be about.

Watch Those Measures
American spirit measures are a lot bigger than English measures. I should have known this already but it was brought violently home to me by the free bar vibe in Austin which we only really cracked into on the final night. It seems constantly that everyone was constantly at a free party with a free bar. And we weren’t. Then on the last night we managed to get into this Twix VIP lounge where there was a lot of free booze and I definitely over indulged.

Being Vegetarian
This wasn’t that great. I ate a lot of ‘sides’. I ate a lot of potato salads. And fries. Mainly potato based dishes. I also noticed we get a lot of raw broccoli on our riders which is weird. I don’t like raw broccoli very much. I’m not sure what the insight here is apart from don’t be a vegetarian at SXSW.

The Rise of the Brands
The whole thing was extremely corporate. And I wasn’t prepared for that. Brands have become very aware of what they can do to get something back from the bands. Gone are the days where you could just get stuff for nothing. Now if you get anything for free then they want to take photos of you, and they definitely want to tweet about it. We’re not that into it. We accidently ended up in a gifting lounge and before we knew it we were being given things to hold and then explosions of flashes as they took pictures of us. We were given even everything from throat sweets to headphones. It was very disorientating.

Doing it all over
I feel like I want to go back and do it all again, because next time I could do it so much better. I hope I go back there because by the end of the week you are only really hitting your stride, but you’re also absolutely knackered because you’ve walked for miles and drank way too much free beer. You’ve just about found out where all the cool spots are but then it’s Saturday and it’s time to go home.P

Photo Credit: Laura Coulson

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Check out ClashMusic's SXSW coverage HERE.

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