Note/Warning: My proper reviews for SXSW will be on La Pop Life and Gold Flake Paint soon(ish). For Sloucher, I’ll be posting diary-style stuff, mostly unedited (barring a few typos that had to go away, replaced by more typos. Most of these diaries were written late at night and honest to God, this is how they went. No clear cut narrative is intended, just general ramblings. Enjoy this Gonzo-style experiment.
I woke up with six toes. My right foot has “something” between my toe and the other four tiny dudes. It’s the biggest blister I’ve seen in my life and the whole “Texas sized” adjective suddenly makes sense.
People usually say you should pop them, but I’ve seen the movie Run, Fatboy, Run, so I know it’s not wise. I regret not buying blister bandages at Walgreens and I limp my way towards breakfast. Since I’m not done writing another “Sam’s terrible* decisions” (*upgraded from stupid), I walk towards a coffee shop that was highly recommended by a friend. 53rd turns into North Loop after a couple of blister-bustin’ blocks, and for a minute there, I get another moment of “wait, I’m back in Tampico” madness. This changes when I see a block of shops and restaurants, including a place called Monkey Wrench Books that I really want to visit, but still is closed.
When I get to Epoch Coffee, I notice that there’s a vinyl store. Alas, still closed. Food at Epoch is fine and whatever feelings of “overpriced” you might get, they do dispel away with the taste. The vegan breakfast tacos are good, but the coffee, dear lord, that Ethiopian coffee in a 16 oz mug was just manna from heaven. Same for that cherry Danish I sorta forgot at the counter, which the lady at the bar brought to me. “I waved, knocked on the window and you still didn’t see me” she says, half-angry, half-concerned. I apologise and wonder if this is some strange sign from Heaven; an obtuse symbolism of how I miss opportunities.
The vinyl shop, Breakaway Records, is now open. The guy tending seems bored to hell, although in hindsight, I think he was just tired. I browse everything, end up buying an original copy of The Moody Blues’ Days of future passed and Billy Joel’s Turnstiles. Both albums I gave away before moving out of the UK; both remind me of terrible but magnificent events. I somehow squeeze them inside the backpack, with my laptop reinforcing them so they don’t get bent. Whoa, time to listen to Matchbox 20!
“Sam’s terrible decisions” increases doubly. First, it’s past eleven and I should’ve been in the Convention Centre by now. I’m in a bus stop, surrounded by equally frustrated music fans waiting for a bus. 40 minutes pass and the bus passes without stopping, it was too full. I decide to walk and a minute later, another bus passes. It’s half-empty and the other people at the bus stop are probably laughing their way to the city centre. Second bad decision: I walk forward, wondering if I can take the express bus. I find no way of safely crossing and stagger back towards the stop and manage to miss another bus. My wait then lasts 40 minutes. I’m tempted by a comic shop, but I’m already carrying vinyls. No more spending for today.
Austin Convention Centre is full, full, FULL of people. Nevertheless, the volunteers are friendly and helpful, wearing the same shade of green as the old people that help you out in Dallas Airport. Is this green thing a Texas thing? While we are at it, the wristbands are green. I feel like saying “supergreen”, in Ruby Rhod’s voice. I try not to freak out when I notice The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn a few feet in front of me, also waiting for a wristband. I spoke to him once in London, when he launched his beer. I probably looked like an awkward fan and don’t want a repeat of that.
Camera tags were fast to get too, even if the two girls working there remarked that one of my cameras was worse for wear. It sure has: oil spills, two Rollerpaloozas, snow, a mastiff fight and even falling into the sea. Who says Sony doesn’t make good digital cameras?
Decisions, decisions. Eat or music? Music. The free wi fi at the Convention Centre gives me a few offers and the ones that entice me are all east of the I-35. “Sam goes to see lesser known bands” shocker. Selah.
I managed to get in touch with the fine folks of Austin Music Bazaar. I needed a voice recorder, a sleek Zoom H1 recorder with low pass filter, wav or mp3 format and x/y stereo microphone. They were also setting shop on that side of the I-35, so I thought that thing about birds and stones. Was it ortolan?
Oh, well. The walk is beset by people being towed in bicycle cabs (“pedicabs”, I hear many of you correct me – save it for the comments), drunk frats and droves of The Thin and The Trendy (TM). A particularly annoying group was a bunch of guys all wearing blue t-shirts. Every time they saw anyone wearing blue garments, they would chant “BLUE! BLUE! BLUE!” and point while walking. I want to think they had too many disco cakes and lager, but maybe I’m giving them too much credit.
Then it hits me: “Sam, you are bitter.” I retort “I was never like that when I was their age.” Then my invisible enemy said: “Yes, because you always fly solo, you sociopath.” Aye, I know myself well. My belly rumbles and I pass a whole garden beset by too many food trucks. “Choice, the problem is choice.” I decide towalk some more. I go into Bar Las Vegas and I get asked for my ID. They pull a weird face when I show my Mexican national identity card; they only care about age, which I point towards.
I’m in Bar Las Vegas and it’s a big yard with a small, funky bar. Two stages, people drinking and fairy lights dangling from roof to branches. Two metal looking dudes are setting up their stuff, so I just go inside. There’s a band playing in what pretty much amounted to a sweatbox. Thankfully, since the audience in the USA pulls that “half circle of emptiness” British audiences do, I manage to squeeze by and get a first line spot, getting some photos of the act. It’s a guy with floppy/straight hair, an electroacoustic guitar, a keyboard player and a drummer. They are pretty good, eschewing that indie sound for something more “Brooklyn bred.” Lo and behold, he does mention he is from Brooklyn, he is called Joseph King and he drops a swell cover of Roy Orbison’s ‘You got it’. His solo stuff is pretty good too and once he is finished, he’s very friendly to every single person that approaches him. He gives away his albums too, mentioning he’s got a new one out.
Ah, Big Star’s Ballad of El Goodo blasts from the speakers. I’m warming up to this place.
I hear some loud noises from the backyard and I make my way to the back. Again, “half circle of emptiness”, so I close in and take a few shitty pictures of the band. Their sound is heavy, lots of riffs, very precise. The band is called Kadavar, and every time I take a photo, their manager is staring at me, in every single shot. Need Proof?
The gig continues and I notice that the vocal delivery is like Black Sabbath’s Children of the grave, only with a deeper tone. An overtattooed guy seems to know them well and headbangs to every single note, even headbanging whenever the band talks to the audience. It’s unnerving.An audience that was a mixed bag, ranging from “lookin’ the part” metal heads to a lady with a sweet Powell Peralta skateboard. It stinks of weed here and I assume that’ll be the norm around. Maybe the cops are more lax during SXSW?
I check on Twitter if the Austin Music Bazaar got back to me. They’ve sent me an address and I make my way, but the place is closing down and I can only see DJ equipment inside. I sit down to rest my aching feet and this guy walks by, says hi and opens up a guitar case. He starts to play outside a joint called Knox Photographics. I think it sells old timey photographs, the ones you dress up for. I dunno, do I look like a proper journalist to you? If you’ve made it so far into this tirade, you know I am not. Anyways, MUSIC. The busker, well, he’s got a good voice and it’s pretty entertaining.
Remember what I said about the five oh? Well, a cop car stops and out comes the cops. One of them sternly tells the busker dude to cut it out, while the other one talks to the people inside the vintage photo joint. Busker dude takes it with stride and improvises a song, making fun of what just happened. He’s earned himself a tip from me. He gives me a CD and I tell him that it’s a bit shit the police are telling him off. “I’m not making money for the city, I gotta go” he says, while finishing packing up. And not a moment too soon, as the cop squad passes again. They glare at me and I strike a pose that I wish it had been Vic Mackey in that episode of The Shield were he looks badass (‘Hurt’), but I think I ended up looking more Rob Thomas in the video for Bent. I walk away, whistling that ol’ Rob Thomas classic song. Hey, if I sang it, I might’ve been fined for not contributing to the city, right?
I’m starting to get a little antsy so I go back to the food garden and decide to go for a food truck that sells chicken strips wrapped in waffles. It sounds strange but I was hungry and the lady working the place had a nice smile and nicer tattoos. It was all chicken breasts, with fresh herbs giving the batter a nice flavour.
All benches are busy and one even sports a poor girl who’s completely passed out. Where the fuck are her friends? I spot two truck seats precariously balanced near another food truck. They are comfy as hell and I just sit down, trying to massage my feet against the grass. A couple asks if it’s okay to share the table and I agree; some sort of social interaction is more than welcomed.
They obviously ask where I’m from. The guy mentions that my accent doesn’t sound “that Mexican at all” and I explain that I lived in Sheffield for a while. When I say I lived a long time in Tampico, the girl tells me how she was studying in Monterrey and some friends of hers had a house near the lagoons. That place used to be remote and peaceful, now it’s remotely peaceful. Fucking drug cartels. They excuse themselves after they’ve rested enough. I never ask them their names, they never ask mine. I’m gonna die alone, aren’t I?
Have I mentioned the street art? I mean the unsanctioned one. There’s a poster a lot of people should keep in mind, pictured here:
I pander my inner child by taking a photo of some graffiti shaped like ALF. I’m pretty sure that show fueled my lifelong depression, but let’s not get lost into specifics (or novel plot twists), eh? I check my twitter mentions again and the Music Bazaar people are at the Swan Dive. I make my way there, watching human stupidity at its worst: an ambulance is blasting its horns, making its way to the I-35 and people cross the street without even looking or caring. Goddammit, let the fucking thing pass!
Damn, I’m cranky. I make my way through 6th street and portly dude and his posse (they are dressed as rappers) asks me if I know where “Fiddy cent’s secret stuff is at, yo!” I tell him I have no idea, as I’m only a meat popsicle. He looks confused, I walk on by, wondering when did I turn into a pop culture junkie spewing classic movie references instead of talking like a normal human being. And no, I don’t mean Quentin Tarantino.
I wait for 30 minutes outside Swan Dive. When we are finally let it, it’s a DJ night and nobody inside looks “music gear selling”-type, so I walk out, all in less than 5 minutes. I think about walking somewhere else, but there’s a throbbing feeling in my foot, so I slowly make my way towards the bus stop at Lavaca.
6th street is a flood of humanity. “De noche todos los gatos son pardos” they say and yes, every cat was out: calico, turtleshell, hep, cool, tabby and Siamese. I start feeling panicky and make my way into a bar, any bar. I can hear a guy smashing a nasty drumbeat in the top floor of a bar and that becomes my choice. IDed again, I make my way upstairs. The room is full of people who don’t really look over 18. Audience is easily 75% women and I feel like I just crashed a private party. Shit! The band is looking at me. I take out my camera and pretend to be a pro. The camera tag reassures them and I try to do a few “photographer at concert” poses. You know the drill: bend your knees a little bit, do a super zoom of the most photogenic band member, pretend to focus when your camera has automatic focus, ah, you get the drill: basically what I always do. They play 2 more songs, to thunderous applause and I make my way to the door.
A girl with black curly hair half-blocks my way out. “Leaving so soon?” she says as her head moves slight to the right. “I, ah, have to return some videotapes.” I pick my bag and run away. I swear I can hear Talking heads in the distance. I walk faster, trying to lose myself into the first night of SXSW, when dreams and hopes are still high and we know that no matter how bad we fuck up, we can still make up for it the rest of the week. Or excel at it.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López