Memoirs of a CityLifers SXSW Virgin

By Joss Worthington

The sun beats down on 6th Street Austin, Texas.  Droves of people start to appear from the side streets and sidewalks (no Pavements here, not even the band unfortunately), they eagerly and briskly walk towards their chosen destinations to begin a week of musical revelry. Cues start to form outside venues as the distant drones of intermittent kick drums thud in the background. The bars on 6th resemble the kind of saloons that you might recall from a western movie. The clock ticks towards high noon and the party is about to begin.

I make my way towards Emo’s outside stage in preparation for hotly tipped young Californians the Morning Benders. The setting is less than ostentatious (kind of like a cattle shed with a stage) but it is packed to the rafters with an excited and expecting audience. The band take the stage branded with X’s on their hands (meaning no alcohol for under 21’s) and proceed to play songs from their ‘Big Echo’ LP recently released on Rough Trade.

After 2 songs it becomes pretty clear why there is so much hype about this band and why they have gained the support of such a prestigious Indie label. The Morning Benders posses a sound that is way beyond their years, think Phil Spector Wall of Sound era being reinvented for the modern times, they somehow manage to sound like the ghost of music past and present and it is an intoxicating experience.

Florida’s Surfer Blood are another band who have been receiving critical acclaim and industry buzz surrounding their recently released LP ‘Astro Coast’. Like The Morning Benders their record also displays a penchant for immersing itself in vintage reverb, however, live they rock it out like an earlier version of Weezer trading slacker riffs with Pavement. Watching them play (in what is pretty much a converted parking lot with a stage) one can’t help but imagine them playing higher up the bill at the major festivals this year. Songs like ‘Swim (To Reach the End)’ and ‘Floating Vibes’ are likely to receive major airplay by the end of 2010.

There are plenty of UK acts performing here too. I watch Alvarez Kings from Sheffield go down a storm at BD Reilly’s, their energetic and hook laden tracks winning the American crowd over with ease. Their new single ‘The Sequel’ could well prove to be a summer hit. Elsewhere Manchester’s very own Ten Bears dazzle at Club Velveeta with their unique brand of skewed sex pop. Forthcoming single ‘Braces’ gets the crowd moving whilst their rather surprising choice of encore, a cover version of M.A.R.S’s ‘Pump up the Jam’ makes my day.

There are literally so many places to go and so many bands to see at SXSW that it’s often overwhelming. You walk off to see another band and are more than likely to see a number of excellent bands just busking away on the street. I pass a throng of people watching ‘Fucked Up’ playing ‘Bodies’ by the Sex Pistols on the pavement outside Beer Land.

As the week goes on the bigger name bands beam in to showcase themselves in venues that they could probably fill 20 times over. Muse, Hole, Dixie Chicks, Nas and Damian Marley show up and do their thing but SXSW isn’t really about them. SXSW is about being somewhere new and seeing some band you’ve never heard of do something amazing.

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