Whenever the lineups start rolling out for the insanity of unofficial SXSW, I’m still the kid in the candy store who is looking at all these great shows and thinking, “holy fuck, how lucky am I to get to see so many of my favorite bands and favorite people all in one city for a week of rocking and rolling and getting down?” This isn’t some overblown, overpriced reunion of sell-outs. This is the hardworking, the passionate, the folks who are willing to play 30 shows in 3 days for nothing and never (okay, barely) complain. And, well, you’ve just gotta respect that.
I mean, sure, SXSW has gotten so big. There’s so much going on that it can be overwhelming to navigate if you don’t know the ins and outs. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of these bands on the road, so I know which ones will make it worth your while. But there’s so much great music coming out of every corner of the globe that there are even more bands playing that I haven’t had a chance to see yet. And really, that’s the beautiful thing about SXSW. It’s become such a great meeting place for everyone to find common ground, and for those on one side of the country to see what’s happening in other parts. So maybe there’s a lot of official bullshit, long lines, and RSVP-onlys around Austin, but in that case, you’re just at the wrong show. So here are some of the right ones to be at.
TUES. 13th,TRASH CAN CITY TAPES SHOWCASE @ BREAK IT DOWN
One of the obvious downsides to the influx at SX is that Austin tends to get shoved to the side to make way for those that aren’t typically in the 512 area code. But just because they live here, it doesn’t mean they aren’t doing great things in the music world. Trash Can City Tapes is working hard to help out the local scene and represent it to the rest of the country. Their show will feature some awesome bands that you might not have heard about outside of the state, but that you nevertheless should see. From the psych garage rockers Unknown Relatives, to the groovy stoner sounds of Niall, plus the newly formed Pantyliners, which came out of other Austin bands like Queen St., Uppers, Dikkk Sexxx, and the Weepy Teens, and Neighbor, this showcase will be an introduction to some great locals, in addition to other up-and-comers like the powerpop Brooklyn-based band Hector’s Pets and Alabama’s Nightmare Boyzzz with their surfy gems. And on top of the music, the venue is a neat recycling processing and composting facility that works to reduce landfill waste. I even hear the stage will be partially made of compressed cardboard, so if you’re going to be in Austin early, make sure you stop by this Tuesday show for a glimpse at the city before the rest of the crowds flock in.
THURS. 15TH, SiiickXSW w/ CMRTYZ AND CASTLEFACE @ A WAREHOUSE
There are a lot of venues in Austin. It’s like coffee shops in Seattle or boot stores in Nashville—one on every corner. Which is part of what’s great about this place, but at the same time, there’s nothing that can quite compare to a nasty DIY party. It’s comforting to know that even though SXSW grows every year, there are still these pockets of homebrewed chaos. Well, no one knows more about that than the guys at CMRTYZ, who have been throwing the siiickest house shows for awhile now. It’s not their only SX show; they have two others at Cheer Up Charlies, and a drag show with Burger at Iron Bear, but if you want to be an on-the-edge kinda punkster, this is the one to see. And moreover, this is the one partnered with Castle Face, the John Dwyer-affiliated label out of San Fran that keeps putting out some top of the notch shit from the Bay (like Ty Segall before he was a thing). You can pretty much guarantee that with their powers combined, not to mention a solid lineup of class acts like Thee Oh Sees, The Fresh and Onlys, Bare Wires, Dead Ghosts, Xray Eyeballs, K-Holes, and more, this all-day show is gonna be the tits.
Trailer Space Records: part store, part venue
Trailer Space Records, Beerland, and Spider House
Now, if you prefer the luxury of plumbing and air conditioning,
backyards might not be up your alley. Fortunately, there are a few
notable venues that you can always rely on to show you a good time.
Trailer Space,Beerland, and Spider House are such institutions that, if
you want to be lazy and not bother figuring out where to be, you can
always just go.
Trailer Space will host shows by Burger Records, Trouble in Mind Records, 12XU Records, and more, but what’s really refreshing about that store is its attitude. Supportive with its allowance of free all ages shows, and always down to party, their slogan after all is, “Bring beer.” And sure enough, drop by and there’s gonna be someone drinking, smoking, and chucking dice.
Beerland, on the other hand, is in the heart of the downtown bar hoppers, but despite how many drunken assholes show up, they keep chugging along with what they do, and that’s not give a fuck. When you’re talking about punk rock, that’s the best possible place to be. Get down, get dirty, and never have to worry about spilling drinks, stage diving, or any of that other “we’re a classy establishment” ego trip. So it makes sense that the no-frills labels like Goner and Tic Tac Totally are set up for their shows at Beerland. And if you’re gonna bother fighting the swarms on 6th, you should at least stop by for a cheap drink and some of the highest octane bands around. A little sweat on you won’t hurt.
Then there’s Spiderhouse/29th Street Ballroom. With 8 stages set up, it’s becoming its own fest within a fest. If you go nowhere else during SX and just post up there from 1pm to close, you are going to see almost every band you could ever want to see. In fact, the schedule there is so exhaustive, I don’t really know where to start. So instead, whenever you have that brief window between whatever you were planning on doing, stop by, eat some tasty sandwiches, drink some good taps, check out the thrift store style decor, and get slapped in the face by rock n' roll.
Hozac Records, Aye Aye Aye Tapes, and other labels
But if you don’t want to sit at one bar for 3 days (and you really shouldn’t), and you don’t know a lot of bands you want to see, you can always go by label. Many choose to host a show (or five) that feature bands whose record they’ve put out. Since many labels develop a distinct sort of flavor, it’s a great way to explore new bands based on ones you know you already like. And in my mind, getting to know a band through their live show is more rewarding than painstakingly hitting the listening booth at your local record shop.
Hozac Records out of Chicago is one such label that just won’t quit. Putting out a slew of records every year from bands that no one’s generally heard of until they’re taken under wing, they’ve got their finger on that beat because they’re not just following amazing bands, they’re enabling them. Covering a wide selection of rock that swings from dreamy pop to fuzzed out noise, they’ll be at The Liberty Bar on Saturday night with nine bands that will destroy whatever’s left of your brain by then. I mean, is there such a thing as too much awesome? Well, go hang with Puffy Areolas, Ketamines, Heavy Times, Rayon Beach, The Band in Heaven, and more, and find out. (The answer is no.)
Aye Aye Aye Tapes’ Friday show at Eastside Bikini Company will feature some of my favorite Southern bands. Growing up in Alabama, the region will always have a soft spot for me, but it was living in Nashville last year, where I was fortunate to fall in love with the emerging scene there that features a laundry list of bands that if you haven’t heard of yet you will soon. With bands like the good ol’ rock n' roll boys Natural Child, the upbeat pop tunes from Turbo Fruits, and the razor sharp punk snarls of Heavy Cream, this show is an excellent opportunity to see several of Tennessee’s children tear it down with licks so fierce, those bikinis will be taking themselves off. On top of that, there’s my favorite Memphis band that no one seems to know about, Modern Convenience, who put on such a blistering live set, you’d think they were playing to a crowd 10 times as big, and the noise synth group Destruction Unit, featuring former members of the iconic Reatards. And of course, there’s more, but even though I’ve had the opportunity of seeing those bands on countless occasions, I’ll never get tired of them—they’re that good.
In addition to these labels and others I’ve mentioned already, there are always more, like Captcha Records, Dirtnap Records, Suicide Squeeze, not to mention the booking behemoth Panache. So not only do you get to see some kick ass bands that probably don’t tour as often as we’d all like, you also have a chance to learn more about these industry folks and their perspective on what they do. Are the bands putting on a show or focusing on their instruments? Are they pretty boys in skinny jeans, or leathery, wizened dudes who obviously have a drug problem? Sure, it’s not always that black and white, but watch the bands someone endorses, and you can find the heart of them.
Well, now that I’ve shared some of the exciting things to look for at SXSW, if you’re not as out of your mind with barely contained teenage girl level squeals, then you might be a robot. You should get that looked at.