SXSW 2011 perspectives of a first timer SXSW 2011 perspectives of a first timer

SXSW '11 Recap

Anyone who tells you that SXSW is a free-wheeling rock and roll endeavor, that you can see great music for free (once you’ve paid a few hundred bucks) at every turn, that the pork is free and the beer is cheap and time is an elastic standard to only be understood obliquely as you wander the streets of Austin footloose and ache-free is a dirty goddamn liar.

SXSW is a business, and a busy one at that. Any band that plays is a rock and roll machine, and if you’re going to get anything worthwhile out of the experience, you have to be prepared to regiment the ever-living shit out of yourself for four to five ENDLESS days.

You’re also going to need a few fundamental provisions and accessories if you want to make it to Sunday, walking and disease free.

Earplugs Kind of obvious, but incredibly essential. There are 1900+ OFFICIAL acts playing SXSW. That much music is hard enough to distinguish without encountering it with a screaming ring in your head.

Hand Sanitizer/Immune Boosters There are 100,000 people wandering the streets of Austin every day of SXSW. Being that most, if not all, of those 100K are going to be shit-faced, sanitation isn’t really the first thing on their minds. Piss, spit, shit, puke will be routinely encountered. Running water, not so much. Protect yourself or enjoy some serious Antibiotics when you return.

Advil/Vitamin B12 Chances are you’re going to be one of those drunken 100K. You might not be a filthy asshole, but you’re going to be drinking most of the time since beers are easier to find than water and you’re feeling rock and fucking roll. So can the bravado and accept that all that Lone Star is going to give you a hangover. Advil helps the pain. B12 tricks the brain into thinking it’s happy being killed slowly.

Tums/Cortizone If you’re a vegan, you should probably find another festival to attend. This is Texas, after all, and Texas loves herself some meat. She’s particularly partial to piggies. I ate pork 2-3 (on average) meals a day. You know what your belly feels like when all it gets is beer and pork? You know what happens to your asshole once it’s passed those things repeatedly? It’s special. Gurgling, burning, churning, prolapsed special. You won’t shit right for a week.

Comfortable Walking Shoes Vans are not walking shoes and neither are Converse. Most boots aren’t either, and if you think boat shoes were meant to carry you across miles of concrete, you’re fucking retarded. Leave the vanity at home and bring shoes with arch support.

Gold Bond Medicated Powder Standing in crowds and walking all day in the Texas sun is going to make you sweat. Consider where you sweat the most. Consider the effect of friction on that salty, salty sweat. Throw in an unsurprising lack of toilet paper by the end of each day, and you’ve got a hot, red nightmare for a crotch. Gold Bond will save your balls.

Notebook Not a computer, an actual notebook. I know we live in a digital age and everyone’s got their fucking iPhones guiding them through life and death these days but SXSW isn’t really the place for technology. Your batteries are going to die. Repeatedly. So save the juice for phone calls and furious texts to people at 2am so you don’t have to walk home alone and just write down the bands you want to see, when, and where they’re playing.

Pens Do I have to tell you to bring pens? Bring pens. Use them.

Disappointment The combination of 1900+ bands, 100K people, and a sprawling, unfamiliar terrain makes it impossible to see everything you want to see (especially when you factor in eating, shitting, sleeping and freakouts). And that’s okay. You should just be ready to not catch the hottest acts of the festival (this year’s buzz was on Odd Future; and they played a ton – we didn’t see them once) unless you’re willing to wait hours in line and missing something that might blow your mind and might be the indie darlings of next year. So when you’re making that notebook include some obscurities: some bands that sound “alright”, bands from overseas, and anyone who might not be playing your town in a week. Trust me. Sometimes, it’s better to spend thirty bucks on a ticket than stand behind a row of rock writers like me, trying to get that shot that’ll make Chuck Peterson weep. This is not, really, a time for fandom. It’s a learning experience. And learning, often, hurts.

And so, our excursion hurt as well. For a variety of reasons. We wore the wrong shoes. We kept shitty notes. We tried our damnedest to see Odd Future, even though we KNEW there wouldn’t be a snowball’s chance in hell of catching a bunch of teenage skate rats opine the glories of rape and murder, drugs…whatever, you know, Hip Hop – because they were the hot shit on every hipster’s lips. We even missed bands that we thought not so many folks would be frothing over. I missed Mean Jeans, Suuns, The Soft Moon, Tiger! Shit! Tiger! Tiger!, Descartes a Kant, The Black Angels, Kid Canaveral, Horse the Band, Casiokids, The Oh Sees, and (as one might imagine) a whole shitload of et cetera’s. Some bands we missed on account of interviews. Some bands were just improbably out of reach. Some bands just weren’t worth waiting an hour in line to see.

Some of them were impossible to see because the venue was at capacity hours before they went on; because Queens of the Stone Age was fucking playing Rated R in it’s entirety right after them, and lots of people really like that Craig Kilbornesque fuckhead’s take on secretly fat jock rock.

Seriously, I fucking HATE Queens of the Stone Age.

The only performance I’m really bummed I missed is Screeching Weasel. Not because whatever incarnation of a banking band Ben just had is done, which means I’ll probably never hear “Hey, Suburbia!” played successfully, but because I have romantic visions of being right up front when Ben decided the right way to respond to ice was to punch a girl in the face…and returning the favor.


I’ve done it before, and you’d totally do the same.

I also really like Christeene Vale and The Joy Formidable now.

And we had a big ass showcase, but Ben should be the one to speak to that. He made it happen. He’s our fucking guru, man.

Despite my complaints, however, and with what preparation we could arrange, we still did manage to catch a few acts. I even got to talk to some of them, which, despite my nerves and ignorance, now and then, proved pretty awesome. Other times, not so much. The chronological list of my gist to follow in part 2 of 2.

One Response about “SXSW 2011 perspectives of a first timer”

  • Lemon says:

    A very believable rundown of SXSW, and plenty of things i’ll be taking into account when I join you guys next year 🙂

    Still can’t wait, despite your description of the effects of constant pork and alcohol. I did laugh.