SXSW 2007 Recap

The Psychic Paramount @ Spiro's, Austin, TX 03-16-2007
“The Psychic Paramount @ Spiro’s, Austin, TX 03-16-2007” by nariposa on flickr

This is a blog about my adventures during the South By Southwest music festival this year. It’s long, bloated, and full of huge pictures. I post it here not because I think anyone is especially interested; I just want my record of the thing to be archived forever (myspace only stores a limited number of blogs). I had sooo much fun and I hope those of you in Austin got to participate in the festivities too.

Now onward with the blog.

This year I did south-by-southwest to the fullest, listening to music from noon to 2am and later every day for four days.  SXSW is an incredible time in Austin.  At any given time during the music festival you can walk through downtown Austin and hear music pouring into the street from clubs, shops, restaurants, hotels, churches, and even parking lots.  I saw 45 bands over 5 days.  I have to say that I weathered the marathon well, and that this is hands down the best SXSW I have been to yet. 

Here are the bands that I saw that were great:

Power Pill Fist, Experimental Aircraft, Ola Podrida, Alela Diane, Dana Falconberg, Peter and the Wolf, The Dodos, Marissa Nadler, Bark Haze, Blues Control, The Psychic Paramount, Warmer Milks with Shawn McMillen, MV+EE, Tall Firs, Jandek/McMillen/Carter, Bill Callahan, Amon Tobin. 

Here are the bands that I saw that were fan-fucking-tastic:

Black Moth Super Rainbow, The Dirty Projectors, Peter Walker, Tetuzi Akiyama, Tom Carter/Christina Carter/Thurston Moore, Magik Markers, Burning Star Core, Suishou No Fune, Boris, Kid Koala, Friends of Dean Martinez, Charalambides.

Pics I took: pics.

Videos I shot: videos.  The best are Boris, Marissa Nadler, and Bill Callahan.

If you want to know which acts I enjoyed the most, read this blog from bottom to top, because each day was better than the last.



First, the preliminaries.  You can’t spend one night on 6th street in Austin without seeing at least one local with a “Fuck Y’all, I’m FROM Texas” tshirt on.  Sure enough, within 5 minutes of hitting the street, I saw three.


I love this venue for its intimacy and comfortable seating.  There are plenty of chairs and tiny tables and the view of the stage is perfect from any spot in the house.  I decided to spend my whole evening at the Peek-A-Boo Records / Graveface Records showcase held there that night. 

PEEL – 8pm Blendar Bar @ The Ritz

[Pics] – [Myspace]

I understand that this band has a sizeable following, but to me they were forgettable korg-rock. 

PALAXY TRACKS – 9pm Blendar Bar @ The Ritz

[Pics] – [Myspace]

A touch of the post-emo-indie-rock with lyrics about love and twinkling broken chords.

POWER PILL FIST – 10pm Blendar Bar @ The Ritz

[Pics] – [Myspace]

I didn’t even realize this guy had begun performing at first.  I couldn’t see him hunched over his equipment on the floor, and the ‘music’ sounded like accidental noise.  But as the beats entered the mix I realized the show had begun.   

Once I got downstage I could see for myself the madman making this grinding, Nintendo-meets-industrial eletronic music.  He looked like an escape mental patient wearing a white headband and headbanging wildly to the beat of his own music.  It really did sound like 8-bit NES amped to the point of clipping and laid down over a pounding bassline.  He was also using handheld inputs that looked like and were played as if they were video game controllers.  Two monitors displaying simple vector graphics and a reel-to-reel both added to the retro-electronics vibe. 

DREAMEND – 11pm Blendar Bar @ The Ritz

[Pics] – [Myspace]

This group had all the elements that usually endear me to a band: banjo, vibes, slide guitar, and double drumsets.  And yet, after their soaring post-rock opener, obviously selected because it’s their best, they fell kind of flat for me — despite the buzz they’ve been getting in Brainwashed and the Aquarius Records newsletter. 

EXPERIMENTAL AIRCRAFT – 11pm Blendar Bar @ The Ritz

[Pics] – [Myspace]

Hooky indie rock.  Local.  I’ve seen them so many times already that even though they’re a nice band, I was bored. 

BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW – 1am Blendar Bar @ The Ritz

[Pics] – [Myspace] – [Video 1] – [Video 2]

They earned their title as showcase headliners several times over.  Setup consisted of no less than 5 keyboards, a bass, drums, and vocoder.  Songs were driven by snappy, snaking basslines and interlocking keyboard fragments of melody.  They know how  to expand on a groove and build it to a peak.  Their performance reminded me of Jet Black Crayon or the 90 Day Men.   


OLA PODRIDA – 1:45pm The Peacock

[Pics] – [Myspace] – [Video 1]

This band featured the lead singer from American Analog Set on backup vocals and bass, and that was the draw for me.  Their sound is superficially similar to AmAnSet’s too, in that they mix acoustic and electric guitar, use shakers and tambourines, and employ brush drumming on some songs.  And they have that same sleepy, relaxed vibe.  All and all not earth-shattering but a pleasant indie rock experience. 

ALELA DIANE – 2:30pm The Peacock

[Pics] – [Myspace]

This folk act was an appetizer for the Marissa Nadler show I saw the next day.  Alela Diane sings plainly and finger picks her acoustic guitar.  Half way during the show, she brought her dad, Tom, onto the stage to play mandolin with her.  The family that plays together stays together!   

DANA FALCONBERRY – 3:15pm The Peacock

[Pics] – [Myspace]

She is a singer-songwriter from Austin who, in contrast to the performer before her, has a sultry and powerful voice.  When she brought in a backup vocalist their angelic hamonizing sounded like Azure Ray — a fine compliment. 


THE DIRTY PROJECTORS – 4:00pm The Peacock

[Pics] – [Myspace] – [Video 1] – [Video 2]

I could live in a Dirty Projectors show. Their sound similar to Joan of Arc — very clean, “angular” guitar lines that jump around from note to note in a disjointed fashion.  On the second video, you can hear the sprightly cluck of their intertwining electric guitars.  They also experiment with vocals vascillating from barbershop harmonies to screams to hiccuping arpeggios–reminiscent of Animal Collective.  They have humongous stage presence and energy with a very aerobatic drummer. Their set was all too short.  Check them out!  

PETER AND THE WOLF – 4:45pm The Peacock

[Pics] – [Myspace] – [Video coming soon]

Peter and the Wolf are a unique and whimsical Austin band.  They recently finished a boat-based tour up the coast of the eastern seaboard.  The music has the same collaborative, innocent, unassuming quality as The Microphones.  This particular performance included home-made insturments and a small choir of female vocalists. 

THE DODOS – 5:30 The Peacock

[Pics] – [Myspace]

I had had so much free Newcastle at this point that I wasn’t too focused on this guitar/drummer duo.  I vaguely remember enjoying them but couldn’t say much about their sound, though they compare themselves to the Liars and Animal Collective on their site. 

WS BURN – 6:15 The Peacock

[Pics] – [Website]


Plucked electric guitar, deep, lounge-style female vocals, and wind chimes.

ARIEL PINK – 8:00 The Peacock

This band showed up over an hour late then proceeded to take a half an hour to setup.  After all that waiting, I listened to one song, didn’t like what I heard, and left to try to catch the Besnard Lakes instead (which I missed). 

MARISSA NADLER – 10:00pm Bourbon Rocks

[Pics] – [Myspace]

After listening to and loving her albums for a year, my anticipation was high.  Unfortunately, after 15 minutes of her interacting with the sound guy and repeatedly muttering “it sounds like shit” and “this is fucking ridiculous,” she played 2 songs, threw a fit and left the stage.  This is even though she sounded fine and the audience, obviously there to see her, was very encouraging with cheers and applause.  So disappointing. 


This coffeeshop on Congress has a secret room in the back with a tiny theatre that couldn’t hold more than 50 people.  This turned out to be the perfect intimate setting for the three following acts. 

PETER WALKER – 11:00pm The Hideout

[Pics] – [Interview] – [Video 1] – [Video 2]

As Peter Walker said, “a raga tells a story.”  As he alternated between solo flamenco guitar songs and full ensemble ragas, he told his own story, of studying in Spain and India and the similarities between the two music traditions.  The first video is him doing a flamenco piece, and the second is a full ensemble doing a raga.

TETUZI AKIYAMA – 12:00am The Hideout

[Pics] – [Website] – [Video 1]

Tetuzi Akiyama is a guitar great who used textbook minimalism for his Hideout set.  Each song was just a chord or a fragment of riff or a bluesy lick repeated over and over again.  This sounds like a recipe for snooze music, but in fact the songs played out like energetic jams, and were ever-changing as he subtely altered the volume and style of attack. 

Even though his songs were made up of simple elements, they were an absolute endurance test to play, because they were so dense, without rests or pauses, and because they droned on uninterrupted for great lengths at a time.  Sweat dripped down his face as he swayed and bobbed his head in concert with the music, closing his eyes frequently. 

His finale was a purifying drone on a blaring major chord.  He announced that “The duration of this piece is 40 years, but I’ll just play a little.”  :)  This song was minimalist perfection, just a chord repeated over and over again for several minutes.  But even though the notes were the same, the sound was dynamic and evolving, as high harmonics and other hidden features of it emerged the longer you listened.  It was mesmerizing and wonderful. 


[Pics] – [Video 1]

Rather than lean on some music writing cliches involving apparitions and wraiths to describe this undescribable din, I will instead direct you to the 10 minute excerpt on youtube.  Enjoy.



It was perfect circumstance that the Arthur Magazine day party was held at a park-like historical estate with all the same features of the Arthurfest location, Barnsdale Park: soft green grass, open space, and people with dogs and children picnicing in the sun.  This set the mood perfectly for a nice afternoon of music. 

MAGIK MARKERS – Afternoon @ French Legation Museum


To quote a friend, Magik Markers are like “fucking whoa, man.”  Sloppy, crazed psychedelic pedal noise.  In retrospect, it was ironic to watch them setup so carefully, adjusting the inputs and outputs on their equips multiple times, because the resulting noise when they actually began the show was the most disorganized, random, chaotic mass of sound I heard during the entire festival.  It was a beautiful assault on the ears.  They opened with heavily echoed wanderings up and down a scale with scattered drumming and a harmonica drone.  Any semblance of order soon disintegrated though, until the guitarist was attacking her axe with whatever available–a pick, a palm, a broken compact disc shard, and a toothbrush (Reach, not Crest).  She gyrated all over the stage while creating a spaced out racket that defies description.  It was so rapturous that one of the hippier types in the audience was compelled to do his own gyrating dance stage right.  Very interesting performance, and this time they actually stayed on stage! 

SUNBURNED HAND OF THE MAN – Afternoon @ French Legation Museum

[Pics] – [Website] – [Video coming soon]

They didn’t leave much of an impression on me.  They played one 15 minute incoherent jam then departed the stage.  I guess I didn’t get it. 

BARK HAZE – Afternoon @ French Legation Museum


In another unexpected Thurston Moore appearance, he showed up to play with his band Bark Haze.  This was two electric guitars distored beyond recognition in a free-form improvised noise-fest.  They made an ungodly racket, shaking, banging, and generally abusing their vessels of sound.  In a cute twist, the second guitarist starting “bowing” his guitar using one of the guitar strings that he had just broken in a fit of vicious strumming. 

BLUES CONTROL – 7pm @ Spiro’s

[Pics] – [Myspace]

Here we have a unique duo hailing from “outside of New York” (Russ is adamant about not saying they’re from New York. They’re from Queens).  Their tools of the trade are 3 keyboards, cassette tape, and electric guitar.  Most of their songs had some sort of beat on loop, and keyboard improvisations around a vaguely Eastern sounding scale.  On their heavier songs, electric guitar enters with short, gutteral riffs.  Kind of hard to peg this one down but they put on a great live show.

BURNING STAR CORE – 8pm @ Spiro’s

[Pics] – [Website] – [Video 1]

The ear splitting noise heard during soundcheck rather than a mistake was a portent of things to come.  Burning Star Core is the project of C. Spencer Yeh.  After the lights dimmed, he got out his violin, rosined up his bow, and began with a gentle ambient loop.  The line out on his violin was connected to a mess of equipment filling the entire table, so that the sound that came out bore no resemblance to violin.  Instead, we heard dense, undulating noise so caustic and beautiful it’d put Merzbow to shame.  For the denouement, he settle into pitched noise and slowly turned down his boxes until the clear tones of a violin playing a perfect 5th emerged.  I couldn’t get the noise recorded on my camera mic, but check out the video of dual-bow action. 

SUISHOU NO FUNE – 9pm @ Spiro’s

[Pics] – [Website]

This Japanese act opened with the last track from their Holy Mountain release, “A Rose Bloomed.”  It begins with cleanly picked electric guitar and Japanese vocals so heavy with echo that neighboring notes blend together for beautiful dissonances.  As the song crescendos they add sheets of shoegazey fuzz with a high, triumphant melody ringout out above it.  It was bliss out material and a nice aperitif before Boris later on that night. 

MARISSA NADLER (reprise) – 11pm @ Rumba Room of Spiro’s

[Pics] – [Myspace] – [Video 1]

Much to my surprise and delight, I got another chance to see Marissa Nadler on the patio of the club hosting the Holy Mountain showcase!  Strangely enough, she still seemed pissed off.  Listening to her music will never be the same now that I know she has such a demanding personality.  The music, however, was redeemingly lovely. 

BORIS – 12am @ Rumbas Room of Spiro’s

[Pics] – [Myspace] – [Video 1]

Motherfucking Boris won the festival. I’ve seen them before and they still blew me away. Their song development, their sound, and their showmanship are all off the scale. They played 40 nonstop minutes of pure, blistering metalgaze, the title of which I believe is Feedbacker, but I’m not sure.

The piece begins with just the electric guitarist and bassist stating a slow, dark theme with dripping wet guitars. After several minutes of cranking out this wailing, moody theme while slowly growing the feedback and distortion into a dense wall of sound, the drummer finally enters the stage and holds up his mallet, gesturing with his other hand in a “gimme” motion while the crowd goes nuts. Uh oh- STOP! GONG TIME. In a scene of almost Spinal Tapish heavy metal theatrics, he crashes his mallet into the Gong repeatedly while the stage was obscured by a solid wall of metal signs flying up from the audience. CRASH! CRASH! CRASH!

Now it’s time for Boris to earn the name of their recent album: DronEvil. The guitarist breaks into heavy, trudging, fuzz-laden chords conjuring up the evilest Black Sabbath sludge train. The pace picks up and she breaks into a screaching, wailing guitar solo high up on the bridge while the drummer pounds away like a galloping heard, his long locks flying everywhere with each brutal slam. This ride goes on for an eternity, until finally he overturns his cymbal stand and crashes it into his drumset in a moment of rock n roll orgy.

Everyone in the audience was left stunned and transformed by the show. I was amused to watch the guy standing next to me just start screaming “YES! YES! YES! YES!” over and over again like he had just had a religious experience. Even Marissa Nadler recently posted a bulletin saying “Boris is my new favorite band.” I’ve been watching my video excerpt over and over again since the show. Best SXSW performance EVAR!!1


[Pics] – [Myspace]

This was loud, fast-paced psych rock with unusual, jarring rhythms and a drummer like a locomotive.  They bounced from time signature to time signature with crunchy, overdriven guitar and blindingly fast strumming.  These guys reminded me of Circle’s performance at Arthurfest, with their kraut-rock inspired repetitious jamming.  Highly enjoyable and I wish I had had the presence of mind to get their CD. 

WARMER MILKS – 3am @ a private party

[Pics] – [Myspace]

I was so exhausted I could barely hold conversation, so that’s probably why I can’t remember much about this band.  Luckily I saw them again on Sunday – more on that later.

BLUES CONTROL (reprise) – 4am @ a private party

[Pics] – [Myspace] – [Video 1] – [Video 2 coming] – [Video 3 coming]

Again, exhaustion, psueo-blackout, but I did have enough clarity to get several videos of this.


TALL FIRS – 2pm @ End of an Ear

[Pics] – [Myspace] – [Video coming soon]

Their set was so bland it didn’t inpsire me to write much about them.  Their music has such a somber tone to it that it reminds me of one of my favs, Windsor for the Derby.  Ironically the most memorable moment came from outside of the band.  A kid who looked like Harry Potter who couldn’t have been more than 7 years old came up to the stage and started dancing!  Sebastian (I heard his mother scolding him) told the crowd “I do this at every show!” while he energetically shook his hips and air guitared to the brooding indie rock.  Priceless.

MV+EE – 3pm @ End of an Ear

[Pics] – [Myspace] – [Video coming soon]

As Matt Valentine said himself, “This band likes fuzz.”  Honestly I had hoped for an acoustic set or something more raga-like as on their Moses Jiggs and Alex Neilson record.  What I got instead was electric guitar and songs off their latest.  I got several videos of their buzzing, ramshackle folk though, and they do not disappoint.

My friend Lee made a remark that the MV+EE show must be cursed, because they missed their showcase performance the night before due to overindulging in alcohol, and the one we saw that afternoon was interrupted by an epileptic seizure.  So say a voodoo prayer for them. 


There’s something about the acoustics of a church that adds a touch of grandeur to any artist lucky enough to perform in one.  I was stoked that this location was selected for the legendary Jandek’s show. 

JANDEK – 7pm @ Central Presbyterian Church

[Website] – [Video 1]

Photo by beeez

Up to this point, every day in the festival had been better than the previous, so when I heard who was playing with Jandek I had high hopes that it’d be the highest point of all.  The audience at Jandek was a who’s who of underground music and included pretty much all the members of most of the bands I had seen so far. 

I would’ve been happy with a solo Jandek set, but instead he put together an experimental music supergroup to be his backing band:  Ian Wadley on drums, Tom Carter of the Charalambides on bass, and Shawn McMillen of Iron Kite on harmonium. 

Jandek came to the church dressed for mourning in full formal black with broad brimmed hat.  The dress suited the mournful sounds of the music.  Jandek’s electric guitar sounded like the most dissonant Sonic Youth riff you’ve heard played on top of the 2nd most dissonant Sonic Youth riff you’ve heard.  His vocals were tuneless, forlorn, and completely lacking direction or melody.  The harmonium totally worked as a drone instrument to add to the dirge-like sound of the ensemble as a whole.  Tom noodled around on bass while the drummer kept a steady if simple beat.  At one point he sang of dreams coming to an end, a lyrical mirror for the suspended nightmare that is his music.

BILL CALLAHAN (SMOG) – 8pm @ Central Presbyterian Church

[Pic] – [Video 1]

In one of SXSW’s many twisted scheduling jokes, pop singer Bill Callahan was set to follow Jandek.  Almost as funny as when The Hideout put Sheryl Crow on the PA following Tetuzi Akiyama.  However much I like old Smog albums, I wasn’t prepared to replace the haunting sound of Jandek with a singer-songwriter and piano (even if the pianist is Joanna Newsome).  However as he launched into his final number, “Rock Bottom Riser” from his recent Smog album, he won me over.  I caught this simple, melancholy love song on video and I’ve been watch-listening to it constantly all week.  I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do, cause it’s much better than the studio track on his album.

ONE UMBRELLA – 9pm @ Central Presbyterian Church

[Pics] – [Myspace]

One Umbrella are a wonderful experimental act from Austin who I’ve seen once before.  When they last played as a duo (Sarah and Carlos), they sounded like some of the guitar noise moments of Birchville Cat Motel.  Unfortunately, Sarah got stranded in New York and didn’t make it back in time for the performance.  So Carlos did some solo laptronica stuff, but as bad luck would have it, there was something wrong with the sound.  The show was a bust all around which was a huge disappointment since they were so great the last time I saw them. 

YPPAH – 10pm @ The Parish

[Pics] – [Myspace]

I happened upon some worthwhile indie rock at The Parish, a venue I frequent.  They sound like some of my favorite artists–Dntel or Manitoba/Caribou.  It’s indie rocktronica with a subtle hip hop influence.  And the crowd seemed to be loving it.

KID KOALA – 11pm @ The Parish

[Pics] – [Myspace]

This show was a suprise hit with me.  DJ Kid Koala had the whole house under his control.  He worked off a stack of vinyl a foot high and mixed pop, rock, hip hop and spoken word.  I heard samples of Bjork, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Ray Charles, De La Soul, Moon River and others.  He worked his turntables like it was an olympic sport.  The bass was so overwhelming I felt had four heartbeats.  The sweetest thing about the show is that he would grin a dimpled, cherub-like grin and laugh and sing along while he performed.

AMON TOBIN – 12am @ The Parish

[Pics] – [Myspace]

Photo by fuzuoko

I was hoping to hear some of Amon Tobin’s chill stuff to wind down the evening, but instead it sounded like dance music, so I left. 

FRIENDS OF DEAN MARTINEZ – 1am @ Habana Calle 6

[Pics] – [Myspace]

I have such a soft spot for this band.  Like Calexico, they make dusty instrumental music that could be a soundtrack to a Western.  The main guitarist acts as the melodic voice of the band, using a languid, sweet sad sound that is dripping with reverb.  The backup guitarist uses a lap steel that sends curling tendrils of wet sound wafting out over the audience.  This band makes wistful, gorgeous music, and their 45 minute set was the perfect wind-down for a long and tiring 4-day music marathon. 



SALON MIJANGOS, San Antonio, TX (venue)

The Door of the Salon Mijangos pictured here.  Photo taken by scrilldadoolittle.

I slept in until 5:00pm Sunday afternoon, waking up just in time to shower, get dressed, eat, and get out the door to head to San Antonio for a unofficial SXSW after-show.  The Salon is a super small space used for art exhibits and occasionally, underground music shows.  There were seats for maybe 40 people in the room, and only half of them were filled.  So the following show felt like a gathering in a parlor, for some evening music and tea.



While this was undeniably “avant-garde” music, it wasn’t anywhere near the bad rap that term usually gets.  Far from being unlistenable, this piece was pleasing, engaging, and imbued with a quiet warmth that is like a soothing whisper. 

When Tetuzi took the stage, the room fell into a dead silence, so quiet that you could hear him place his finger on the string.  The musicians took advantage of the quiet, using it as a fourth member of their ensemble, and pausing frequently to let the heavy stillness of the room sink in.  It was those moments that I loved the most, as the ambient sounds of exhales, shuffling feet, and distant trains carried on the phrase of the music during rests.

The music itself was composed of gently, purposefully plucked random notes or chords, laid out in a very sparse arrangement.  Chris, the drummer, was amazing.
He played abstract percussion and used tinkle bells, tiny tuning forks, marbles, sticks, a fork, a bow, cymbals and other random objects to create a huge palette of sound.  They all three seemed to be playing free form improvisations without regard to each other, but the indepedent lines came together for a hair-raising concert experience.


[Pics] – [Myspace] – [Video 1]

Banjo + harmonica + slide guitar = woot! Warmer Milks teamed up with Shawn McMillen for a set of folksy, front-porch music.  Shawn’s hoarse, bluesy howl fit perfectly with the pastoral sounds of the acoustic instruments.  All I needed was a stem to chew and some wood to whittle to make the performance complete.   


[Pics] – [Video 1] – [Video 2]

The Charalambides played a set of moody, piercing, emotionally intense duets.  They have been described as neo-psych rock, though they resist a label that does justice to their unique and otherworldly sound. 

The cornerstone of this performance was the synergy between Tom and Christina, two seasoned performers who know each other better than they know themselves.  Tom’s playing was unhinged, with his passages of rumbling, thunderous fuzz and his soulful electric guitar solos.  But it was Christina, queen diva of experimental music, who stole the show.  Her vocal arsenal includes ghostly, ethereal utterances, plaintive singing, chanting, moaning, screaming, and most notably here, a range of echoes, warbles and other effects to distort her heavenly wail.  At one point, she belts out a long, powerful note while she fiddles with nobs that twist and distort her voice into a stabbing staccato.  In another moment, her voice fluctuates in and out while it is looped on top of another note just microtones apart for a dissonant, palpable vibration. 

But even when Christina’s voice is unfiltered, it’s charged with a deep urgency that is jets forth like pressured water from her vocal fountain.  It is that intensity combined with their free, semi-improvisational form that makes a Charalambides performance so affecting.  And I can say without a doubt that the setting, mood, and the right muse all came together to make this one of the best Charalambides performances I have seen.

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