SXSW 6, The Search Closes, in the key of weird

Fiat had no problem donating cars to Austin artistsEditor’s note: this is the final installment of vignettes about SXSW from okc.net’s intrepid scout, Danny Marroquin. See his previous article and links to the ones before it here.

One of the most popular parties at SXSW was the Fader/Fiat Fort party across I-35 from SXSW proper, where a handful of unofficial festival parties irked original organizers with their big-money presence–capitalizing on what’s already been built, SXSW organizers complained. So the air of opportunism, or carpet bagging I guess, already surrounded this party though I didn’t know it at the time. My friends told me I had to see it. A friend worked in an office where a Hispanic woman prone to calling-in a lot and also saying “I’m Rick James Bitch” at absolute random had called in sick for her busted up knee. She came to work the next day with a Fader/Fort wristband. It was the kind of party everyone in Austin knew about. Some had stood in a line for 6 hours to get a wrist band. I happened across one fortunately in a way I’ll mention later. Saturday after Surfer Blood I crossed the interstate and walked into the dusty, rusty industrial realm where any lofty thinking conceptual artist will start feeling the blood in their pulses run with grungy possibilities. (In my flirting with film, old train tracks are gold). Smokestacks stood adjacent to the compound, an unused railroad guided me along, orange netting lined the wristband line and hundreds of kids walked to the expansive party. I passed a guy, virile black, young, capable of surely anything on this beneficent green earth and this country of resources, who was wearing a gray t-shirt that said: I Want to Be a House Wife.

There were shirts like this everywhere.

The Fort actually turned out being the kind of sluggish, effete, sun-blazed event reserved, I would think, for really good Sci-Fi novels. Let me just put it like this. Imagine a world where entry to a community is free, but in that community you are only fed certain things, all designed to do a specific thing to your intellectual and digestive capabilities:

Drink: Top shelf alcohol with mixers. Don Julio, Bushmills, Ketel One, and Bulleit Bourbon. Or vintage canned Budweiser. Or an espresso shot.

Eat: Cotton Candy, ice cream, salted popcorn…if you want pizza, which has dough and dairy, that’ll be $8.

Hear: People around you complimenting each other’s shirts to excess, the sounds of one of 12 (or so) DJs, the rap of Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All, or the kind of Brit Pop or indie rock repetition that’s amplified and swirled as thin as cotton candy to where you really don’t know who’s up there or what they are saying or if the bassist can hear the drummer who might be looking at the singer.

The picture I attached for pt. 2 of this story shows that the free top shelf liquor line took 20 minutes and did end up costing something, a sunburn. By the end of the wait I really wanted my Bushmills straight on ice, but they wouldn’t allow that so I went with the soda. I was completely part of this scene at this point and I felt spent. But, maybe I was just sick of music.

I sat down by a few ping pong matches and listened to the fashionistas, drank my diluted whiskey and read about Joanna Newsome; in the Under the Radar issue I managed to do a touch of scouting. She’d been inspired and awed by an old song Three Little Babes that I knew I’d have to find when I got home.


Joanna Newsome – “Three Little Babes”

The first thing one greets are the shopping options embedded into the fort. There was a converse store where I could get some new chucks. The very first thing you see is a barbershop, the two seats were occupied when I walked by. A make-shift active art space was set up at the base of the main hub. Hoods of discarded Fiats hang on the walls and sit on the floors around slick fully drivable Fiats. Artists are hard at work painting on them, even the cars not taken apart. One artist is painting on a car. This was kind of cool, but still weird.

Cute haircuts from the Fader Fort

Cute haircuts from the Fader Fort

I looked around. In the bloggers lounge there was all kinds of writing on the white washed wall. ALL PLAY, NO WORK. Indeed. I ask the plaid shirt, cowboy boot guy that looks a little like me if he’s in line to blog.

“No. I’m just sitting.”

The two glassy eyed girls in front of me in the blogger line spent 30 minutes first checking the Austin party page to see what else was going on, then they checked their Facebook, then the pictures from last night on the face book, then they check their Twitter. Then I read in my Austin Chronicle that high school favorite …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead was playing at Waterloo. I had to leave, and I would do it on one of those bike carts. I would tip him very well for getting me out of here.

I had got the same “I’m in the future, Now” vibe that I had going to the Belle Isle Wal-Mart at midnight. I’d been told Bon Iver was doing the secret show on the Sunday night. But I couldn’t imagine wanting to hear him in this crowd.

Why I Didn’t Have to Stand in a 6 Hour Wristband Line to Experience This

When I got to Jo’s coffee the day before to enjoy my one day in one place session I sat next to a guy in a faded biker rally shirt and comfortable Ray Ban shades. His left arm was tattooed in a mountain scene. His hair was slicked back in natural waves. He drank a Modelo and some sort of tea cocktail. He had the look of a guy who’d been at work and was finally relaxed. Probably thinking about nothing. Anything on that stage sounded good to him. We started listening to the UK’s Dry the River–one of my picks of the festival.

“I actually read this backwards,” he says to me pointing at the list. At the top of the list is Wanda Jackson, The Cave Singers and Vetiver. He’d come to see the Cave Singers. They’d go on in 5 hours.


The Cave Singers – “Dancing On Our Graves”

It’s actually the Luke Perry look-a-like’s first free moment in two weeks. He was a creative director for the Fader/Fiat party, and he didn’t feel like hanging around there anymore. Sunday he wanted to get there to see one of his favorites, Bon Iver, but his firm was flying him out to work the Lady Gaga show in Utah, his home base. He’s displeased, but not visibly so. I’m intrigued by this guy the same way I was the taciturn, but very able kids in high school. The kinds of guys who kept the same girlfriend all the way through, and usually got their stuff done without complaining. He talks about his job as a kind of creative liaison. Essentially, Fiat, Converse, Levis and the other sponsors don’t know what to do but they do want to throw a bunch of money out at SXSW. That’s where Cody Derek comes in and starts telling them about the Austin art scene. It might be cool to have junker car parts for artists to paint. Here’s where this stand should go, and there’s where that stand should go. The whole thing is actually 8 months of work. The heaviest of this work was rounding up loads of trucks to empty the junkyard they used for the party. Stacks of car husks and scrap metal were loaded out. When the party is over they have to bring all of it back. He half smiles , saying it’s going to be a lot of work.

I ask him if he ever feels like Don Draper, and that’s the biggest laugh I get out of him. All of his friends tell him to watch that show, but he hasn’t yet. He reaches into his wallet, hands me a wristband and tells me this will save me 6 hours. We watch a few other bands. He leaves when he starts feeling the sun too harsh. I see him later rocking out to the last two songs of Cave Singers and Wanda Jackson.

Creative control and freedom at the Fader Fort, as envisioned by my Cave Singers friend

Creative control and freedom at the Fader Fort, as envisioned by my Cave Singers friend

Moments in Wait

I think I made the best of my moments in limbo. At Ezra Furman I met that Sleepy Jackson producer (Jonathan Burnside…who was actually booked once in Australia as a nephew to R.L. Burnside, the bluesman. Not true, but Jonathan went with it). I found out what one kid in the Third Man Records line thought about rock, and I recommended our Oklahoma band, the Pretty Black Chains in my pro-Okie rock move of the day. At the Buffalo Lounge I re-united with some film folks from OU. As I waited for a Ft. Worth showcase with the old editor I stopped at a patio and found these three Berkley kids playing acoustic guitars and harmonizing with a placid way that made me feel like I was in Hawaii. Keeping me from the patio was a line of planted cacti repeated along the wall, chest-high. It was near midnight and these guys covered the Fleet Foxes very well. Two different groups came up to me and excitedly asked who was playing. They thought it was the Foxes. The Cali kids also paid tribute to local legend Daniel Johnston with a quietly dense cover of “True Love.” Their manager, if I can call the blue-shirted easy going guy that, sold me an EP for a buck.


Song Preservation Society “Circus Time”

A guy with a dog starts dancing in all kinds of wrong steps with the group CSNY sing emanating from the wine dark patio. He keeps walking the same line back and forth, sometimes letting the dog go as far as the Austin Motel marquee, sometimes cutting the lines shorter, always confusedly, but happily wavering.

A Way of Summing Up Most Random Musicological Thoughts I Have at SXSW, in the key of optimism …

The idea of frontier is closed in many geographical respects, and it’s very violent and scary in other respects … but the idea of artistic frontiers is always expanding and replenishing. Even the older come looking for renewal in the talent of the younger.

Who knows what was going on in Moby’s mind when he came down to sample talent and deejay? What sort of aural frontier was he seeking? Or Jack White, or Cosmic Connor Oberst. Or anyone with a lyric or a set of strings.

The Tired Musician

Driving down 6th street, or parallel streets, you see white trailers with sweaty dudes hauling heavy amps or bundles of instruments. A drumstick falls out of a hand. A band squeezes away from their set looking for the guy to talk to who can help them out of their fix: their van is broke down, and they have 4 more shows to play. Who to call? So much human sweat and toil is heaped out of vans, into and out of hotel rooms, and onto stages.

One night, a single songwriter has carried his Martin guitar up and down the length of Sixth Street twice. He needs Dr. Scholls pads for his boots tomorrow. He reconstructs his day. At 5 p.m. while watching an Austin friend he doesn’t always get to see, enjoying a beer, he finds out one more venue would like to have him. He hardly wants to speak, his singing voice so worn from performing, and when not performing talking over crowds to achieve basic small talk. At that venue he sings as good as he did all day and the day before, and he wows the patio crowd. One wonders if it is possible for him to sing without all the effort in his mind and lungs. Every limb, really. The body eventually reacts against such a stage drive. As he sings at that last show of the day, the owner is smiling widely from the back. A 30-something at the bar inside is from Oklahoma talking to another Oklahoman about his drivers license and about Tulsa. He hears the voice and recognizes it. It just about makes his night that he gets to see, unexpected, a set from this singer from Oklahoma. He walks outside and finds a pillar to lean on and puts off the other show he had planned. The singer finishes and a new band starts to load the stage. On his way to find a quieter place to drink a Lone Star with a few friends, the owner lady asks him to sign the event poster for the patio party, which he does politely, respectfully.

He’s staying at the home of a bachelor lawyer who loves his music and has a giant TV set on the base of a fireplace. It’s about midnight, 4 hours before he usually gets to sleep. He rests on the couch, hardly able to drink more than two beers before falling asleep. Before that though, he lowers his head to his chest and tells a friend,

“It is not easy to sing when you are this tired.”

Good-Bye from the Whole Foods Patio

The last night I experienced the kind of placid moment that I needed. I had just seen …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead rock along taut lines of hardcore meditation. They were still so fierce, skinny and confident. I was satisfied. I had to sit. I posted near the artificial creek dividing the patio of Whole Foods to eat a spicy spinach and chicken soup ($5.20). I was feeling a bit tender and remembered a few of the wind touched moments of my stay here. The sun was going down, and these loud industry guys were talking at the table behind me about how many bands they’d worked with who deserved to make it but didn’t. Two couples leaned over unvarnished wood-railed tables. One sat despondent. Singles were strewn along the shin-high wall. Inside Book People across the street a clerk tells another he’s in a good place where there are no deep philosophical doubts in his mind and the other says, Well I’m I’m glad we could be a part of this time in your life.” In the poetry section a pale, young girl is deeply crunched into a corner, one Converse-footed leg scouts outward. She has a notebook and a book that’s not hers but is (artistic frontiers to be created). Walking down the street were three young guys in cool shoes saying they had everything they needed, dude, but we just gotta get the lyrics, the music, the production…Off of Lamar three high school age kids on cheap bikes pedaled, the middle one hopped into the air and came down with a hard blunt rubber Plomp, to churn legs down a decline into breezy twilight. In Austin even when you aren’t drowned in sound, there’s passion and movement all around you. Like the river of people on 6th there’s a surge toward some sort of aspiration. With the right thinking, it’s helpfully contagious.

I experienced enough. And may go back.

(c) Danny Marroquin All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce photos or written words without Danny’s permission – you can reach him through the emailz!

3 Comments
  1. Hey friend,

    I’ll be honest; I haven’t read this whole post. However what I did peruse has compelled me comment here, something I rarely feel the need to do. I actually work at the Fader Fort. Firstly, let me apologize for the sunburn you received waiting for free top-shelf liquor and the time you wasted waiting for internet access to post what I’m sure was the blog entry your legions of followers were waiting for. I also apologize for the manner in which your intellectual and digestive capabilities were so terribly effected. Considering you ‘make the best of your moments in limbo’, I suggest you hang out there, rather than the Fort next year. Lastly, on a totally personal level, Joanna Newsome? Really? That explains a lot.

    • Finally, someone responding to my SXSW Opus. There’s nothing worse than no reaction, and usually my stories for my former employer didn’t get much reaction. So no, the legions weren’t too many. I write in a language I learned from some old dead guys and continually find it hard to act my age of 26, or enjoy parties such as the Fader, where I won’t be next year. I tried to reserve some space in my story to appreciate the creative concepts behind the building of the Fort, it certainly was something to see. Only when I was inside I got the unmistakable Brave New Worldish vibe that someone from without, somewhere didn’t want me to do a lot of critical thinking. I’m responding to your post. It was written in a sort of charming and amused way where I can sense some decency behind the words. Comments make me glad that i won’t be the pretentious blogger forever, or that it’s only part of my identity. But surely, when the party is over…you have to ask what it is we are going to accomplish as a people? The narcotic, the cotton candy, the fuzzy music, the instructions given to the bartenders not to let people drink the liquor straight up (that is to tame the burn going down) it all seems to be masking with soda or margarita mix something dangerous lurking beneath everything to me. This isn’t new of course, there’s always been the yin and yang … I ask myself this all the time and probably a reason why I’m not the best guy to be writing about indie rock anymore, which was where I started.

      Anyway, I’m glad you responded, and it’s never my intention to hurt feelings. I love music, just find myself conflicted about the culture of it. I’ve attached one of the reasons I’m a Newsom fan. It’s the song she covers on her first album, from Alan Lomax’s travels. Her superabundance of lyrics, emotion, the presence of a harp all speak to an excess. But there is an integrity to her singing searches I think. In her voice I hear the sound of a sort of spiritual longing. The myth behind the record Ys, as she tells it in an interview, is that this mythical land in the back of her mind was an affluent society, decadent, and it eventually gets washed away. So she knows she’s probably too much but she plunges in anyway. She’s clearly the James Joyce of indie rock, a human still capable of experiencing epiphanies, at any rate. She’s not zombified yet. So one must be glad that such people are out there, in all their pretense and tangents. You haven’t been the first one to poke fun at this interest of mine.

      Best,

      Dan

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