SXSW 2010: The band who wasn't there

Beach Fossils, Tanlines, Best Coast, and a wave of minimalism at SXSW
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  March 24, 2010

FAR EAST, SOUTHWEST: Japandroids, who are actually from Vancouver, detonated their deafening punk at the Red Fez.

The Phoenix's complete coverage of South by Southwest 2010.

This past Saturday around noon, about a dozen of us were cracking our first Lone Stars of the day at Peckerheads, one of scores of dimly daylit venues lining Austin’s teeming Sixth Street. On the small stage, LA’s one-man future-soul force DÂM-FUNK was making some final tweaks to his setup: a couple turntables, a mixer, a laptop (only the latter of which he ever touched), and a little Korg perched on a stand, ready and waiting to vocode.

It was hard to say for sure, but dude seemed kind of pissed. He muttered “[something something] shithole” into the mic during line check, and opened his short set with an unhinged improvisatory soul-howl about not giving a fuck about Internet smack talk. (Looks like someone had a bowl of Twitter for breakfast!) It was a risky, rocky opening purge, with catharsis and aggravation spilling all over its slick (and presumably Madlib-forged) track of crisp, neon digifunk. But as Dâm clawed to the top of his damage (and his range), swatting at the air, dropping rhymes and raspy runs, dancing his ass off, and taking on a robot voice to pronounce himself the “realest shit you’ll see all week,” the slim horseshoe of our gathering drew in tighter and tighter. A big smile split his face as everyone’s knees unlocked, and he didn’t let go of us until his time was up. “I don’t need no band,” he sang to himself. Then he darted up on stage to slap the space bar and end the show.

While Dâm-Funk’s stage show pulls much of its power from its peculiar built-in loneliness — sometimes it feels like man against world, other times dude against mood — he’s hardly alone in his reductionist sentiment. A hefty portion of the bands I saw, enjoyed, and heard the most about in line for chili dogs this year at SXSW were bands who’ve significantly sublimated — or altogether subtracted — the band itself. If this year’s highlights were indicative of anything, it’s that the purported underground of today prefers essence to excess — and compacts to vans.

‘Recession-era music’
Thursday night on the Wave Bar’s rooftop patio, the smart blazers, tousled hair, and inoffensively beige alt-rock of Austin’s own QUIET COMPANY seemed positively old-fashioned sandwiched between Portland, Oregon’s EXPLODE INTO COLORS and Brooklyn’s waify BEACH FOSSILS. (Quiet Company’s painfully faithful cover of “Monkey Gone to Heaven” didn’t help matters.) Explode into Colors made more happen with two drum kits, three voices, a baritone guitar, and a purse full of good ideas than some bands can pull off with two trailers worth of gear. Sparsely bashed-out beats dovetailed over the utilitarian grind of Claudia Meza’s basslines and beneath the ghostly chorus of the girls’ voices, which left little contrails of delay hanging in the air. Beach Fossils were equally pared down: a jumpy drummer with a floor tom and a snare, two guitarists, and a bassist with a black eye and no amp. On record, their near-perfect indie-pop sits comfortably in its cushy textures and tempos; but live, it’s like the songs are fighting for their lives — an arresting mix of the feral and the adorable. Not a thing was missing, and the band was barely there.

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Related: Beyond Dilla and Dipset, Various Artists | Casual Victim Pile: Austin 2010, Review: In Search of Beethoven, More more >
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