If we’ve learned anything from our coverage of this year’s South by Southwest festival, it’s that you guys sure love Paramore and N.E.R.D. but don’t really know who Times New Viking or No Age are (don’t worry, lots of people don’t).
You also apparently can’t get enough of our 5X5 @ SXSW segments, in which we posed five pressing questions (sample: “Are you from Brooklyn? And if so, are you Vampire Weekend?”) to every person we spoke to down in Austin, Texas, a list that included everyone from Ice Cube and Rachael Ray to R.E.M. and, yes, even Vampire Weekend.
Of course, the idea of compressing more than 100 hours of live music, late nights, free booze, exclusive parties, delicious BBQ, skin-crisping heat and soul-crushing hangovers into just five punchy little items seems ridiculous — so we’re going to do it in 10. For your reading pleasure (and our recapping ease), we’re proud to present: 10 Things We Learned at SXSW 2008. Consider them your talking points for the week that was, because even if you weren’t actually in Austin, that doesn’t mean you can’t sound like you were. (Note: For maximum impact, consider smoking 400 cigarettes and shouting for 50 straight hours before speaking with anyone. That way you’ll actually sound like you were at SXSW.)
1. Dress like you voted for Ronald Reagan
That way, people will confuse you for a member of Vampire Weekend, invite you to parties, ask you for your autograph, offer you their sister and give you drugs. VW were the unofficial kings of SXSW 2008, riding a wave of pre-fest buzz (Spin cover, “SNL” appearance) into a wild week in which they played packed showcase after packed showcase, made girls (and guys) squeal and set some kind of record for “most blog posts about one artist that also found some creative way to poke fun at the concept of ‘backlash.’ ” Bonus points go to keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij, who spent the entire week walking around with a cable-knit sweater knotted around his neck despite the 90-degree heat.
2. Know your audience
If you are Paramore and you have spent most of the past month canceling tour dates, nearly breaking up and hammering out a series of much-discussed-but-little-understood “internal issues,” there is perhaps no better place to play your comeback show than at an SXSW showcase. That way, if something goes wrong, the only people who will be there to see it are a half-dozen snooty bloggers who don’t care about your band anyway. If you are the Cringe and you are performing at a party chiefly because your frontman is married to the person throwing it (celebrity chef Rachael Ray), the best way to win over the audience — and lend an air of credibility — is to somehow corral ZZ Top axe-slinger Billy Gibbons to come onstage and jam with you. This is primarily because Gibbons is from Texas, but also because he totally rules (and can teleport).
3. Pharrell Williams is a rock star, and it’s a good thing Britney didn’t show up
Sure, Skateboard P and his group, N.E.R.D., released a song called “Rock Star” a few years back, but watching Pharrell work the stage at Stubb’s was proof that he’s way more than just a hot producer. With a shout-out to club girls who love to party and get their drink (and other things) on, he killed during the live debut of the group’s new single, “Everyone Nose,” which, with lines about all the girls “standing in line for the bathroom,” might as well be about Spears.
4. Some people will listen to anything
It always blows our mind that with more than 1,700 bands in town playing at 60 official venues, plus dozens of free day parties featuring some of those same headliner bands, there’s invariably a line out the door or a crowd of gawkers outside the handful of 6th Street bars not participating in the festivities. And, for the most part, they’re watching crappy cover bands or second-rate blues acts they could see any day of the week. And don’t get me started on all those people who stand slack-jawed in the middle of the street to watch bucket drummers and glassy-eyed gutter punks playing bluegrass on guitars with three strings.
5. Some people will listen to anything (part two)
Sure, we get that there’s something delightfully liberating about the current wave of super lo-fi, ultra DIY artists like Times New Viking, No Age, Tyvek, Psychedelic Horsesh– and Jay Reatard, but that doesn’t mean we have to understand the tons of adulation being heaped upon them. And though it was a pretty cool move by No Age to play a SXSW show at 3 a.m. under a bridge on the outskirts of Austin, we still liked lo-fi better back when it was 1993 and Lou Barlow was doing it.
6. Do the math
Yes, $650 is a lot to pay for a badge, but considering that, a) those cheaper wristbands almost never get you into the hottest shows, and b) you have the opportunity to see dozens of bands a day, it’s a small price to pay for the biggest musical sampler platter you’ll ever experience. Think of it as paying full price for a pair of tickets to Coachella and Lollapalooza, but with 10 times the bands. Or just keep whining about it, you cheapskate jerk.
7. Dumb name, great band
I almost didn’t go see English duo the Ting Tings on principle because I thought their name was so ridiculous. But I was dead wrong. They were great, and singer Katie White is a star. I defy anyone to listen to their already-a-hit-in-England single “That’s Not My Name” and refrain from dancing.
8. It’s good to be friends with Perez Hilton
And not just because he won’t deface a photo of you with slurs and drawings of genitalia. Swedish pop superstar Robyn has certainly benefited from her friendship with the Queen of all Media, and despite the fact that she’s been without a record deal in the U.S. for more than a decade now, she still packed ‘em in at Hilton’s “One Night in Austin” SXSW party, which was covered by seemingly every media outlet in the country — though they could have all been there for the free gum and pink cupcakes.
9. Save the gimmicks and props for Carrot Top
Lots of bands come to SXSW with their game faces on. But with nearly 2,000 acts to see, you have to do something to stand out. Some hand out flowers to the lovely ladies, tell bizarre stories about alleged friendships with Steven Spielberg and Owen Wilson and eat lit cigarettes, wear pancake makeup and do interpretive dance (Heloise & the Savoir Faire), or wear that ridiculous furry hat all week, even in scorching heat (Lightspeed Champion). A spectacle and a signature look are a nice bonus, but the music is what really matters. Just ask My Morning Jacket’s Jim James.
10. Realize that none of this really matters
What do Persephone’s Bees, Love Is All, Jamie T, the Automatic, the Pipettes, the Ponys, the Fratellis and the Cold War Kids all have in common? Why, they’re just some of the acts we’ve been buzzing about after previous SXSWs who have gone on to … well, not all that much. Look, despite what you may have heard, bands don’t get discovered at South by Southwest anymore. It’s basically just a weeklong excuse for record-label publicists to get drunk on margaritas and for bloggers to score free lunches. So hopefully, if you were in a band that played down in Austin this year, you had a good time. If not, well, there’s always a chance you’ll get to do it again next year. Of course, whether you’re headlining a Friday night set at Stubb’s or playing to an empty convention hall on Wednesday afternoon remains to be seen.
And on that cheery note … see you next March!