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A lot of the fun for me on the fourth day of SXSW this year was mixing and matching some of my clients with each other and taking them to see other bands.

JEFF LEVEN’S SXSW JOURNAL, DAY FOUR: LIKE A KID IN A CANDY STORE

Our Correspondent Makes the Most of the Final Day in His Annual Pilgrimage
One of the more exciting byproducts of SXSW is the development or strengthening of allegiances amongst bands. Compared to the film business, unionization in the music industry is obviously barely existent and particularly in this day and age the staggering diversity of business model options somewhat precludes a standardized response to deal terms offered by labels/publishers/promoters, etc. As such, inter-band networking generally concerns itself with what seems like smaller stuff—borrowing backline at an SXSW showcase or trying to figure out ways to package on a DIY tour. In the bigger picture, though, these connections can be psychically crucial, as the loneliness of being a touring musician is somewhat assuaged by the development of loose fraternity among bands. A lot of the fun for me on the fourth day of SXSW this year was mixing and matching some of my clients with each other and taking them to see other bands.

In the first part of the day after doing some real work, I went and caught my first of two Mixhell shows, which feature the great Iggor Cavalera (Sepultura, Cavalera Conspiracy) on live drums alongside an intricate mix of his and producer Laima Leyton's intricate electro beats and textured techno thrash lines. The exciting convergence of metal and electronic music is an area to watch, as groups like Mixhell and Genghis Tron bend seemingly incompatible genres into an edgy rhythmic helix. From there it was more electro with a stop at the Paste magazine/Stereogum party to say hi to the editors and see Fuck Buttons, who come off as essentially a less drastic tribute to Suicide, with a more ethereal Tortoise-influenced undertow.

The next concert stop was my client Monte Negro's SXSW Live/DirecTV taping at the Lone Star Lounge. Added last year, the two soundstages in the Convention Center are incredibly well done and feature elaborate backdrops that even include fake turbine fans a la Saturday Night Live. With floor cameras, boom cameras and great amplification, the technical results of these tapings are pretty stunning, and it's also a great show experience with ample room and a big bar. In addition to Monte Negro's scorching set, I later caught Carbon Silicon at the Lounge. While Mick Jones is balding and Tony James is long since gray, they have a buoyant, youthful energy that is completely infectious, and their guitar work flat-out rocked. Jones' voice hasn't changed a bit since his Clash days, and while they didn't indulge any requests for Clash or Generation X songs, their political black humor and clever hooks made the set feel whole regardless.

In the midst of the day I also made a stop at Flatstock, the poster show that at one point or another seems to lure in most attendees who make it into the Convention Center with any frequency. From a lawyerly perspective, it's hard not to be slightly bemused by a room full of posters that may or may have been made with appropriate clearances, but it remains a part of rock &  roll culture that few would practically wish to eradicate. It's also an interesting read on a band’s latent fanbase and cool factor to see whose names are most frequently stylized in these images. High on Fire in particular seemed to feature heavily in this year's Flatstock offerings, while, on the indie rock front, the Decemberists remain particularly popular. Given that essentially all of us in the music business are in some way or another doing A&R, SXSW provides a million little ways to do market research, and Flatstock is one of them.

I rounded out the rest of the daytime with client shows—a tightly coiled Run Run Run show (bested only by the band's amazing headlining set at a very packed Viper Room party later in the evening hosted by Casper and crew) and two Monte Negro shows, one of which was at the beautiful Mexican American Cultural Center near the river. My evening then began with a stop to see Calhoun, whose set built on their already ample strengths and showcase singer/writer Tim Locke's ability to embrace complex emotions in songs that are weightless in their ease and grace. The band sounded fantastic even in an unorthodox venue at the Hilton Creekside.

While generally SXSW has corrected its more egregious venue choices (did someone say Coyote Ugly?) there remain a few messy ones. Generally, shows in hotel rooms don't quite feel right, and you couldn't design a room with more exasperating crowd bottlenecks or screwy acoustics than the Wave rooftop if you were trying. Sometimes a stage, a tent and a parking lot trumps being too clever by half with interior spaces. Indeed, one of the night’s most intimate shows was ironically on the back lot of Cedar Door, where David Garza delivered a rousing and intricate set. An Austin stalwart and frequent resident at the Largo in L.A., Garza is one of SXSW's deepest talents year after year.

One venue gamble that worked was the use of Esther's Follies, a comedy/theater space, where Edison Glass used the amphitheater setup to great effect as their video show helped fill the space and create a larger story for the performance. Also cool was the revamped Volume, where two levels of revelers caught Chromeo dishing out ecstatic Vocoder medleys of ’80s hits (like the Outfield's "Your Love" and a handful of essential Journey tunes), as well as the band's own elastic jams.

After all of the main shows every night there are of course a secret-by-not-so-secret handful of invitation-driven afterparties ranging from Purevolume's downtown gig to Red Bull's impressive Moontower campus slightly further afield, where I headed with N.Y. Beauty Bar impresario Michael Stewart after catching Mixhell again at Vice's annual legendary late night throwdown. DJ Z-Trip was spinning at Red Bull long after his planned stop time and the crowd (which included party-starters Spank Rock) showed no signs of slowing down. It certainly takes a few energy drinks to keep you standing when you've been on your feet for thirteen hours on four hours' sleep with some Shiner Bocks (Shiners Bock?) thrown in to make the physical challenge of staying out that little extra bit harder.

It's strange—there's no real reason SXSW has to be the music industry's version of Navy Seal hell week, but most people seem to take it upon themselves to make it that way. This, truly, is what happens when you put kids in a candy store and there is more than you could possibly ever eat. I've got a little sugar shock and my stomach hurts a bit, but I for one can('t) hardly wait to gorge again next year!!!



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