"Resistance is futile, sleep is for wimps". So starts the massive 42 page Production Sheet for the 2003 SXSW Music, Film, and Interactive Festival. Over 1,000 bands and 20,000 delegates, industry practitioners, and punters flock to Austin's (that's Austin, Texas pardner) South By Southwest music festival every March. The festival, running since 1987, is now one of the biggest celebrations of international music and industry schmoozing in the world.
2003 saw a record number of Kiwi bands invited to perform there. The Datsuns, The D4, betchadupa, goodshirt, Evermore, 8 Foot Sativa, and Damien Binder all performed at one of the 53 venues that played host to SXSW.
Austin audiences are notoriously tough to convince, just given the vast number of acts and venues, regardless of the SXSW Festival, and this was plainly evident. The majority were there 'to watch' and with regards to NZ acts were basically there to see international trailblazers The D4 and Datsuns. As one of the D4 boys said, "We've come 20,000 miles to play, you can step four feet and move closer to the stage".
The D4 played on the Thursday night at Emos Main, a landmark in the Austin music scene, to a capacity crowd of approximately 500. Emos was the perfect venue for them; good reputation, semi-shit PA, young crowd, leaking roof, steamy sweaty jam-packed... however it was the outdoor Spin magazine party the following afternoon at Stubbs where The D4 came into their own and won over many. A beautiful sunny day, free beer, free barbecue, loads of industry management and great unpretentious rock and roll. Alan McGee, D4's manager and Creation Record Label guru, had a bigger smile on his face than usual.
The Roxy on downtown 6th Street is normally a dance 'meat market' club of the worst kind but during the festival transformed into something far more acceptable and hosted Evermore and goodshirt on the Friday night. Standing in the line to get in, it became apparent that there was real A&R interest from several UK and American labels towards Evermore. Drummer Dann Cobbe had apparently just had his 15th birthday yet played with controlled abandon and a showmanship that belied his years... and in the process created a buzz amongst those present.
One of the unfortunate things of the SXSW festival is, that given the overwhelming array of talent on offer, industry types and punters very rarely stay at a venue for longer than one band, and this was the case for goodshirt who followed immediately after Evermore. The small crowd of punters that stayed were treated to goodshirts' quirky infectious brand of pop played brilliantly.
Betchadupa played that same night on the other side of downtown Austin at an outdoor venue with sand dance floor and open-sided marquee. Jason Young, betchadupa's soundie, was fighting against a bad sound system and slightly apathetic local crew, but brought the boys a great sound in ultimately a great set. There's something to be said for jumping around in bare feet at 11pm on a Friday night listening to betchadupa with a bunch of people who had never heard of them before. Their set ended with an impressive slip (looked like a dive) that had Liam Finn falling into and over the drumkit and the rest of the band walking off to feedback and applause from the several hundred there.
The Datsuns played to around 2,000 at La Zona Rosa, one of the larger of the SXSW venues, their usual rawness now a polished rock sound. While it may have put off some people who saw their last NZ tour, it is evidence of their continuous touring, professionalism and desire to break into the US market place.
The scheduling of bands made it virtually impossible to see all the NZ bands that performed – unless you were Judith Tizard MP, who, sporting her 'RocknRoll Motherfucker' badge, managed to attend every NZ gig, making it alone to the 8 Foot Sativa performance for "...their impressive finale," as she put it.
And perhaps it's fitting that one of the best descriptions of the SXSW festival came from 8 Foot Sativa's Jack Hammer, standing outside the Radisson Hotel, having just left another industry party and waiting for the band's transport to take them to their Friday night show...