FILM AND MUSIC AT SXSW: Fish takes Austin up a notch

AUSTIN, TEXAS – Whatever doubts you have, stick them in a panty drawer.

This sprawling creature called SXSW (South by Southwest Music + Film + Interactive Conference) may not be what it used to be, as the ultra-hip above us claim, but that’s kind of like saying sex is no good. It’s always up to you to take it up a notch, dawg. And what could possibly be wrong with not just a block or neighbourhood, but an entire city turning on its wings in the name of culture?

Well, unless you’re a street-sweeper – but even the cops seem to be having a hell of a good time. And I have yet to notice a bouncer, I was going to say “being an asshole,” but actually, there don’t seem to BE bouncers. Just open doors, drums kits in every window, an incalculable number of – either physically or by nature of their personalities – attractive people, and all too much free booze. It’s heavenly in no religious sense of the adjective.

I’m down here in two roles, cinematographer and vaguely working music journalist. The High Level Bridge continued its North American tour (TIFF, AFI, Sundance). This is the part where director Trevor Anderson and I enjoyed Guinness milkshakes and chicken strips watching the amazing The Dish and the Spoon, starring Greta Gerwig and Olly Alexander as a pair of lost souls helping each other survive. Our friend Craig Douglas joined us halfway, as film and interactive gave way to the music juggernaut. Just so TV isn’t jealous, we ran into Bobby Elvis from Sons of Anarchy yesterday, and actor Mark Boone Jr.

The gigs we’ve seen have been just great. Jack White played a street concert the other day. Keith Morris of Black Flag and Circle Jerks tore the crowd to shreds with his new band, Off! Josh Ritter is worth checking out if you’re not already a fan. This Chicago brother and sister team of gingers called White Mystery will clearly be rising high with their insane Rowlf the Dog hair. I hadn’t seen Bad Brains since InFest in ’93 and that was pretty cool, largely because there was a girl in the crowd wearing a wolf-skin.

Which reminds me of this one drunken guy on the streets, covered in stickers, yelling for more. It was hilarious, but even on St. Patrick’s Day there was an impressive lack of fucking jarheads on the streets. This is not a backwards baseball cap festival at all.

Back to the music, Jim-E-O was a fly Texas rapper who followed Cadence Weapon (Edmonton’s poet laureate), filling his stage up with friends and family, including his rhyming little brother. At Jovita’s across town, we really enjoyed an afternoon put on by St. Louis’ Twangfest, including the Hobart Brothers featuring Lil Sis Hobart, my favourite Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3 and his pastime band, The Baseball Project with R.E.M. drummer Peter Buck. Cool shit, such a casual vibe. Find Wynn’s new album if you don’t have it.

What I love most about Southby is its unwillingness to ghettoize. You can follow a lunatic rap act like Das Racist with breakfast with Austin superstar Alejandro Escovedo without worrying about what non-existent plastic fences you’re jumping. I turned a corner chasing a klezmer “Moscow Nights” to find three Boomers dressed in black stetsons – The Yiddish Cowboys. That was ridiculously awesome, played with virtuoso skill, serious in its way.

And on it goes. Every second I spend writing about this in the lobby is missing more music, and Bob Geldof just walked by again, singing a jaunty little tune in the elevator down, as my buddy Craig put it. Raised in Edmonton, it’s hard to believe something this huge could be so chill, but I guess it’s always here for the taking whenever we feel like more.

Photos by Fish Griwkowsky