Published Mar 22, 2011Picture this: it's 5:30 a.m. and City and Colour's Dallas Green is sitting in an airport restaurant at a table across from singer Bobby Liebling and the other members from legendary metal group Pentagram. Green is nattily dressed in a vintage-looking suit and dress shirt, perhaps covering his tattoos as not to get harassed by airport security. Liebling, looking tired from his 1 a.m. show the night before and years of drug use, wears his unruly, shaggy grey hair with pride. While it's probably safe to say that the two camps didn't know each other, the image of the old and new seemed to be thematic of this year's SXSW music festival.
During the five days of mayhem in the downtown streets of Austin, TX, the usual plethora of indie bands performed, but this year, cynical industry folk and those who craved for the heyday of yesteryear were in for a treat, as it seemed that there were just as many new and talented artists as there were those who came to the festival to wipe the dust off their musical careers. With new artists like L.A.'s emerging hip-hop crew Odd Future and singer James Blake, there were stalwarts like Pentagram, Duran Duran and St. Vitus. Some bands, like the Strokes, Fishbone and Death from Above 1979 (let's ignore the riot, shall we?) used the opportunity to make a mini-comeback, testing the crowd's reactions (and patience) to prepare for the spring and summer festival season.
But it was evident that the festival is outgrowing the city. With too many bands and too many people (with March break coinciding with the festival, high school and college kids drank and consequently puked and fought their way down Sixth Street), downtown Austin was busting at the seams, not to mention overflowing with garbage and the stench of urine. Some bands were regulated to play outside of the pedestrian-friendly downtown core and on the other side of the I-35, causing some to trek across the city in 30-degree heat to see a band that, depending on how much they spent on promotions, were virtually ignored. But none of the venues on the more popular streets are particularly large. As the festival grew, the venues didn't, but because of their historic charm, they shouldn't have to.
Some of the best and most enthusiastic showcases consisted of artists who will never land on the pages of festival sponsors Spin and Billboard. Highlights included Thursday's Full Metal Texas showcase and Friday's Metalalliance show, with Kylesa, Red Fang, Howl, Crowbar and St. Vitus. Well, at least for those who didn't get kicked out or denied entry because the 250-capacity club actually had over 700 attendees.
Those who attended the Nanotear showcase raved over Portland, OR's Agalloch, Witch Mountain and YOB, as well as the band to watch, Wizard Rifle. Other notable performances included Winnipeg's KEN Mode and San Francisco, CA's Grayceon, who performed at Canadian Chris Bruni's Profound Lore showcase, opening for the legendary Slough Feg, whose flamboyant singer Mike Scalzi didn't let the cramped stage at Valhalla slow him down. Bruni, who runs the label just outside of Toronto, has a talented eye for picking and attracting both local and international artists who are stretching the borders of what is considered heavy metal.
While travelling to Austin (and escaping Canada's chilly weather) is always exciting, this year was an indication that the old -- the intimate venues, the time to really discover music and the beauty that lies within this wonderful city -- and the new -- the hyper-capitalism that forced the festival to overbook musical acts and venues -- clashed, hinting that perhaps even the greatest things might have to come to an end.