By the time you get to Saturday at SXSW, everyone is a little frayed around the edges... After 4 days and nights of music, sunshine, constant walking, supping tequila-based beverages and very little sleep, even the hardened party animals are starting to look frazzled! Most people I talk to get around 3 or 4 hours of sleep to recuperate each night, partly because there's so much to see and do, you don't want to miss anything; and partly because your body clock is askew and in another time zone altogether. Having said that, this doesn't seem to inhibit the bands or attendees from giving it their all one more time...
2013 has been one of the hottest years at SXSW that I can remember, and as long as you're lathered in sun-cream you're probably OK. It's always hilarious bumping into unprepared UK bands who forget the sunblock, grinning sheepishly with that classic, red, shiny, rock-lobster effect... There are a few of them about, especially the Scots! Starting my day on South Congress relatively near to where I'm staying, I journey to 'Allen's Boots', a western store with 20,000 pairs of cowboy boots, flannel shirts, spurs and ten-gallon hats. It's a shopping experience like this that makes you realise that you really are in a different culture. Of course the Texans are always super-friendly and courteous, as they give you the tour and proudly describe the huge range of cowboy chic on offer. Passing various boutiques, vintage stores, ice-cream parlours, tattoo shops and cafes I head towards town and bump into Glasgow band Kassidy signing autographs for a Mexican fan who's travelled all the way from his homeland to see them appear in Austin... naturally they're flabbergasted! They oblige and young Ernesto is very happy indeed.
Flagging down a cab is almost impossible at SXSW, but by chance one drops someone off in front of me. After a few quick interviews with some locals, to add flavour to my BBC show on the festival, I speed across town to 'The Mohawk' on Red River Street. It's one of the best venues in Austin, retaining that homespun, DIY, punk-rock ethos whilst having a state-of-the-art soundsystem and meticulous stage crew. The people who run it 'Transmission' also book the tremendous 'Fun Fun Fun Fest' in November in Austin, another event I've attended and enjoyed. I arrive just in time for Selkirk's finest, Frightened Rabbit to hit the stage. They've been coming to SXSW for years, and know how to make the festival work for them. Playing as many shows as possible and connecting with as large an audience as possible is key to an artist's success here. This is their final show of this year's festival, and talking to frontman Scott Hutchison www.twitter.com/owljohn he explains that he's actually quite glad of this... Afterwards, he and the band can cut loose, see some other acts at the festival and maybe partake in a margarita or 2. They've earned it! As ever, they play to a capacity crowd with a short set mostly culled from the current 'Pedestrian Verse' album. There is so much love for this band in the UK now, but things really started for them in the USA years ago. The fervour and adoration the onlookers show them is a delight to see. Sounding louder, tighter and more professional than ever, Frabbit are now ready to take on the arenas and stadiums with the songs and delivery to back them up. After interviewing Scott and blabbing away to the rest of the band, we all swap 'cellphone' numbers with a view to hooking up later... That doesn't happen of course in the chaos of the night!
I hot-foot it to the excellent 'Hotel Vegas' complex again for a quick dose of garage-rock at 'Burgermania' (!!!), an all day all night celebration across 3 stages promoted by 'Burger Records' http://www.burgerrecords.org The venue is on East 6th street, which I'm realising is my favourite part of town now. It feels more like SXSW a decade ago, before the mainstream and populist sectors of music culture grabbed hold of it. This is no bad thing of course, it's just now there's a little bit of EVERYTHING in Austin at this time of year. Anyway, Burgermania is wall to wall rock'n'roll hipsters and looks great. The line-up is largely made up of bands I've never heard of before, but I enjoy Pharoahs and The Yolks rattle through some primal, 3 chord thrash and interview one of the highlights of the bill 'King Tuff'. Kyle Thomas is friendly and little spaced-out but chats away about Burger Records' patronage of his slacker-garage-power-pop and consequent signing to the legendary Sub-Pop label. With more than enough ramshackle fuzz-guitar in my ears, I saunter back to the centre of town for a slice of 'Hoek's Death Metal Pizza', a hole in the wall that serves delicious slices all night, to the soundtrack of gutteral screaming and detuned guitars!!
With some much-needed food in my belly, it's back to the UK Music Embassy to catch the krautrock-psyche of Toy. Well received over here and playing the kind of music that has a natural home in Austin, they've been busy at SXSW with more than a handful of shows. They remind me of 'La Dusseldorf' and Neu! in places and that is never a bad thing. Current indie favourites back home, Peace then perform to a packed crowd and genuinely put on a show. Again their psychedelic side seems to emerge further when playing live, and a friend actually remarks to me that they actually sound like Pink Floyd in places. Somehow they are quintessentially British in what they do and certainly hark back to the indie of the late 1980's and early 1990's in places. The Americans take to them immediately, especially as guitars are thrown across the stage with bad-boy, rock'n'roll abandon towards the end of the set.
With so much on offer on tonight's line-up, it's rather annoying when you have to stand in a queue to actually get in somewhere. But on Saturday night, not only do the registrants, badge-wearers and music-nerds all cram into the venues; the locals come from all around the ever-growing city of Austin to experience a piece of the action. It seems bigger, wilder and crazier than ever. Central 6th street is mobbed and even walking from club to club becomes quite a task. It is nothing less than a carnival though, and truly inspiring to see people from all around the world partying together with no trouble in sight. I decide I won't suffer any queues, so if there is one I'll move on. Luckily enough, a band I interviewed briefly the day before, K-X-P are playing 'Empire Control Room' on East 7th Street and I walk in without any problems. They are an experimental trio from Finland, much loved by Optimo in Glasgow, who encorporate electronics, bass and live drums to make an all-encompassing, polyrhythmic mash of sound. At times luscious and sweet, at others violent and visceral, they engulf you with their left-field fanfares and metronomic work-outs. They receive a deserving ovation from the amassed crowd and I look at the time to realise it's almost the end of the night...
So who to finish with? I scour the programme and see about 30 separate shows I'd love to see. It's almost impossible to decide... Having bombarded my eardrums with indie, rock, electronics, acoustic songwriters, hip-hop, dubstep and more, I feel the need to sooth my soul with some original ska. 1960's legends The Skatalites are performing at 1am on 'The Stage on 6th Patio' - it's a done deal! To be honest there is only 1 original member left by the looks of things, but close your eyes and you're instantly transported to Kingston, Jamaica for the sweet, soulfull sounds of reggae, rocksteady and lots of ska. I let my limbs hang loose, and dance the remaining hour or so away with a skanking, cheering, whooping throng all around me. I made the right decision,
Well, it's been eclectic this year at SXSW, that's for sure. Although I haven't spent much time in the 'Hype Hotel', 'Fader Fort' or 'Viceland'; and I haven't seen Puff Daddy, Jay Z, Justin Timberlake or Prince (I did see Snoop Dogg in the street though!) play exclusive, secret shows; I have explored the length and breadth of central Austin to the north, south, east and west and gobbled up as much new (and occassionally classic) music. Helping the Scottish entourage and hosting the 2 showcase gigs, collecting interviews and records for my BBC show www.bbc.co.uk/vicgalloway writing a newspaper article for the Sunday Herald www.heraldscotland.com and of course bloggin for Clash each day has kept me very busy indeed... I think I need a holiday!
In all seriousness though, there is nowhere else like SXSW on earth. I've been to many festivals across the world and had a great time. But this is on a huge scale and nowhere else comes close to the diversity on display. In 2013, there's been more pop, hip-hop, r'n'b and electronica than ever before; and of course there's more than a liberal dose of indie, punk, metal, American and garage-rock'n'roll which is the lifeblood of the event. There are legendary names and unsigned bands from across the world all vying for space and attention. You can get lost in it all, or you can go with the flow and enjoy every second... I've done mostly the latter. As I've said before, everyone's SXSW experience is different and totally unique. If you're a music fan, I'd highly recommend the journey over here if you can afford the trip. If you're in a band, think carefully about whether or not it's worth your while... remember the competition is stiff and the sheer size of it all can swamp you if you're not ready.
But, like my previous 10 years here... I've had a ball and I hope I've brought you a little flavour of what I've been up to and SXSW can mean. Check my twitter ww.twitter.com/vicgalloway for more photos and daft moments. Thanks for reading, y'all...
Vic Galloway... SXSW 2013... over and out!