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Tuesday, March 29, 2005


March 27, 2005

Adventures in the Lone State

With 1,300 bands to choose from, a visitor to SXSW,
the world’s premier music festival and industry
gathering, can either make lots of plans (and see most
of them go awry) or rely on serendipity. What seemed
like all musical creatures great and small rode into
Austin for 2005’s event, from Robert Plant and Elvis
Costello down to the unknowns who were hoping to be
discovered by the hungry packs of A&R scouts roaming
the bars of Sixth Street and Red River. By day, you
could venture forth without fear of encountering the
snaking and often defeating queues that were a feature
of the night. Venues such as the semi-open-air Emo’s,
rammed later on, were chilled during daylight, the
hours when the festival got things most right. By
sundown, problems — those queues again; the unsociably
shut-up-shop licensing laws; the major labels’
increasingly strong grip on the plum venues; the
incident where a top UK music manager was reportedly
assaulted by a bouncer — stacked up.

Personal highlights among the truly unknown: local
band the Octopus Project, fronted by a
theremin-playing chick with a bob and white plastic
boots, wearing giant Styrofoam masks daubed with
smiley faces; and Hitch, a Belgian trio with a
sectionable drummer, who forged a link between Muse
and the Black Keys.

Most left-field act? Matisyahu, a Hasidic Jewish
reggae artist from New York.

Best band name? I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness.

Best sets from new Brit bands: Nic Armstrong, Dogs,
the Duke Spirit, Hard-Fi and the Magic Numbers (theirs
was so good, they played it twice in one evening).

And from new US acts: Ambulance Ltd, Film School and
Pitty Sing (should all be huge).

Best venues: Jackalope’s, Club De Ville and Emo’s.

Worst: the one that employed that bouncer.

Best thing about Austin: the taxi drivers.

Worst (for Brits who packed only T-shirts): the
unseasonably wretched weather.

Best festival moments: walking down Sixth, bumping
into excited UK bands having the time of their lives.

Worst: bumping into them again a few hours later, once
they’d had a gallon or two of tequila.


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