SXSW Diaries – One fine Thursday at Todd’s Mansion…

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The banner at Todd’s Mansion.

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.
After limping from motel to bus, bus to 2nd Street Deli and Deli to convention center, I find a table for myself to eat my breakfast. I notice everybody’s faces looking a little grim and an increased police presence. Once I open my facebook and twitter, I see the reason. Everyone’s desperate to know if I’m okay and I read the terrible news. I spend probably 30 minutes writing to everyone I know that I’m okay. I skype back home, but can’t get through, so I leave a message on the answer phone. This is the type of news you don’t want to start the day to. For a minute there, I just want to go back to my place and call the day off. Instead, I just start writing up, hoping I’ll find some catharsis in word spewing.

I was supposed to meet Eric Pollard, aka Actual Wolf today and I managed to find his place. The interview is very relaxed; he’s a great conversationalist and knows well where he stands in the pecking order of music. This is a good starting point, because once you know where basecamp is, you can plan your ascent better. I also meet the guy running Chaperone Records and he’s a swell guy too. Both are dressed to go to another event and I would find later that it included Willie Nelson. This is the sort of surreal stuff that pushes me to keep writing.

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“No disintegrating pedals, Bobba.”

I walk back to the Convention Center, still undecided, in a strange fazed-out state. I walk inside an exhibition of gear. Pedals, tour vans, leather straps and instruments adorn the hallways. I’ve always liked how Zvex sounds and there’s a pedalboard I wish I could afford to own. Gear by Eventide and Big Ear N.Y.C. also catch my eye, sadly, I’m skint AND demoralised.

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Pedal porn.

Decision time: stick around town or go somewhere else. Or just go back to the hotel and think about in life. Oh, fuck it, music. Exploding in Sound has a special event in a place called “Todd’s Mansion” and knowing them, there’s a ton of salt needed to take that name seriously. Buses are diverted and finding one turns out to be a proper Ultima V quest. No Shadowlords to be defeated, only a bus re-scheduled that seems to have been fiddled with by the Mad Hatter.

The bus ride through South Congress Avenue shows some cool sights. Vintage shops, restaurants with enough neon lights to make the 80s trendy again and enough restaurants to satiate Galactus adorn South Congress Avenue.

When I arrive to Todd’s Mansion, I know it’s the right place: everyone looks like a disenfranchised soul that finally has found a place to belong to. Oh, and this happened.
Me: “Hi, I’m looking for Todd’s Mansion…”
Guy 1: “Uh, it depends who is looking for it.”
Guy 2: “Dude, he’s a narc, don’t let him in!”
Me: “I was invited by Exploding in Sound. I’m Two Inch Astronaut’s fluffer.”
Guy 1: “Ah, there’s Dan over there. Wash your hands before your job.”
Me: “Sure. Name’s Arctor, by the way. Bob Arctor.”

He says his name is Fred. The place, well, it’s a “mansion” in the sense that Keanu Reeves’ house in A Scanner Darkly is his abode, only instead of June of 44 posters and Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson lookalike degenerates, there’s music fans and hanger-ons.

I talk to Exploding in Sound’s Dan Goldin for a while. He’s an amiable chap, but has to run a label and do PR whilst making sure the bands run on time, least the po-po comes ‘round and throw us all into an Alex Jones’ nightmare calibre jail. A guy called Dom hands me a beer and a hot dog, I put some money in the tip jar and make my way to see Krill, who are raucous, chaotic and extremely tight. These are a series of adjectives I would probably put to every single band playing in the cozy, tiny garage were all the sets would take place. A garage illuminated by a window with steel bars and a lonely ghost light, precariously standing guard behind the drums.

Krill

Krill

This place reminds me of Tye Die Tapes HQ back in Sheffield. It was a place I always wanted to go to, but didn’t until late in my Sheffield run. Every time a band says “we still got time for two songs” I say “SAFE!” much to people’s befuddlement. Sets are quick and gear loading and picking up is too. Everything is on schedule and, yes, the cops show up but they say the show can go on as long as the plug is pulled by 10 pm sharp.

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Two inch astronaut

Two Inch Astronaut’s live set is probably fiercer than their records, with precise, loud breakdowns repeatedly bludgeoning your inner self. Was really looking forward to see them and I could’ve called it that day right then. But no, I needed to put my mind to rest and somehow I always find gigs great to put worries in the backburner. Top Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt too.

Grass is Green. Legends.

Grass is Green. Legends.

Grass is Green was a revelation and in hindsight, they probably took the crown. Equal parts Hum and Failure, their dissonant rock shakes the slacker we have inside us all, letting a fierce berzeker take over and charge forward. I purchased their vinyl straight away.

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Bloody Knives.

Bloody Knives were a strange beast. Someone told me they were missing two members, not that they needed anybody else to create a beastly racket. One bass player with enviable hair and a drummer rocking the double pedal and samples. It was as chaotic as the final shootout in Scarface, just with less coke consumption (that I’m aware of).

Goddamned drones...

Goddamned drones…

While waiting for Palehound, some strange planes were writing in the sky. It was a sequence of numbers, and they were supposedly advertising something. Or were they? What if they were spewing chemtrails all over the place? What if Alex Jones was right? Now, before you think I’m obsessing here, I got to make clear these were questions I overheard while resting on a couch, with a cold beer in my hand and getting that “you’re the party that makes me feel my age” vibe from the crowd. Wish I had attended this sort of party when I was their age.

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Palehound.

Palehound are straight shooting and whatever you heard on the album is what you’ll get. I like how their sound appears to be sweet, but there’s some bitterness nebulised around every single note. It’s like a night out with Jenny Lewis and a bottle of good rum, with a meaner set of chord progressions.

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Hamburguesa. Or hamburger in Spanish for los cuates.

Hamburguesa reminded me of that old tale that the first time Helmet took a stage, people were surprised to see “normal looking dudes playing so badass.” Two bass players, one technical, slightly funky, the other just pummelling the shit out of the strings. A drummer, keeping them both on their toes. It was a straight punch in the gut; raw, unfiltered and with no chaser to affect the aftertaste.

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Big Ups

The lead singer of Big Ups reminds me of a spider. He’s lanky, has a frantic stare and skulks around in flexibility-testing acrobatics while singing punk with his band. The set is unforgiving to anyone who doesn’t like punk, so a few peeps sit this one out. Not me, chum, I’m getting to that age when I know festivals will become a memory and I got soak before I croak.

Disco Doom

Disco Doom

Ever felt your body stops pumping blood and pumps battery acid? All the walking and standing started to take its toll and no matter how much I rested between sets, standing was starting to get excruciating. When Disco Doom starts, I’m resting my back near one of the speakers, fixing some earplugs to protect myself from something I know will be punishing. In a good way. Disco Doom drone a lot and very loudly; no easy way to describe their set, so, uh, mint lollipops. They are a one winged angel of
destruction, tactically destroying every cell in your ears like God absent mindedly destroying Sodom and Gomorrah.

Bad History Month

Bad History Month

Bad History Month is a change of pace; groovier, richer and moderately mellow. The one man band plays a brisk set to a disappointingly empty garage. Guerilla Toss, however, pack the place in and I hide way in the back. I know it will get messy and if you’ve ever witnessed Rollo Tomasi, you will understand how apocalyptic it can get. The lights were off for most of the set, so all you could see were other heads and the occasional crowd surfer.

Guerilla Toss

Guerilla Toss

I was ready to leave, but was (easily) convinced by both Dan Goldin and Todd (THE Todd) to stick around for Pile. I couldn’t stand anymore and I ran out of earplugs. Bah, no one lives forever. Pile’s show is like the sum of every single band that was on that garage. Dissonance, complex structures, heavy moments, raw punk, math rock and furious drumming, all encased in a musical torpedo that kept punching holes in the audience. People started to mosh heavily and a drugged out girl behind me thought I should join by repeatedly punching me in the back. I did the decent thing and just left the place. It was well past ten pm and if the five oh came around to disperse us, I wouldn’t be able to outrun them.

PILE!

PILE!

I wait for the bus and some weird vagrant comes by. He rambles about red lights, mind control, McDonald’s and “those filthy beaners fucking our daughters.” I’m too tired to argue and just when a bus is going to stop, the vagrant motions it to go away. I really want to tell him off, but just mutter “I needed that bus, buddy.” He shrugs and keeps muttering to himself. A taxi stops and just when I was going to get on, he screams the taxi driver to “get away, save yourself!” and he speeds off. I feel like clocking him out. 40 minutes pass until a bus passes and I pretty much beg the driver to stop. The vagrant gets on too. He babbles to some trendy people in the back. Me? I just want to defenestrate the idiot. I somehow manage to miss my stop and it’s too late to switch buses.

I recognise where in North Lamarr we are and I know the walk back will be a bitch at this time of the night (near midnight). There’s a 7 Eleven in the corner and I saunter inside, looking for some food and wondering if I could parley my way into getting a ride from the customers. They all look like middle aged women who dabble into ritualistic killing, so I just browse for food a little longer. When I finally make up my mind for what food to buy, a guy with a hot dog piled with tomatoes and onions says he is “a quarter short.” I don’t have any change and excuse myself. The cashier is eyeing him up, and then eyes me up.
“Hey, do you know if I can get a taxi around here?”
“No, you have to call them.”
“Do you have the number?”
“No. Hurry up and buy.”
I slide my credit card for the food.
“Can you change me a dollar bill for quarters?”
“Sorry, no. “
“Look, could you please call a cab? If you want to charge me for the call, go ahead, but I really can’t walk anymore, my cell phone has no credit and I don’t have the numbers for cabs.”
“No, and you just paid. I can’t charge you anymore.”
“But…”
“If you don’t leave, I’ll call the cops. Leave now.“

I don’t say anything else and leave. I see the guy with the hot dog has now eaten it completely and is non-chalantly preparing another. I leave the place, singing Roger Miller’s King of the Road every painful step back to the Motel. Two taxis pass by without stopping and now I understand America’s love of cars. With a public transport that actively hates people that walk, the alternative is driving. It is a peaceful walk and the blood will come off my socks.

Words: Sam J. Valdés López

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