DC9 at Night spent four days in Austin at SXSW, along with another three hundred thousand or so people. It was never going to be a normal experience akin to spending the night out in Deep Ellum, but there were constant reminders that this is a very special event taking place in a city that prides itself on being weird. The whole effect was therefore kind of amplified weirdness. We found our twitter feeds descending into reports of totally incongruous things that were happening right by us right now. Here are some of the best/worst.
1. Walking into what was, I think, a falafel shop (how very Austin) I was confronted by a six-year old posing for a photo with two Iron Mans. Iron Men? There's only meant to be one, right? Either way, these costumes were serious business. It was probably actual Iron Man and his stunt double, who had a slightly less fanciful costume, in that it was blue.
2. People walking through the throngs holding banners with declarations of some sort, despite the fact that they were just hitting a lot of people in the face with the banners. The best of all banner declarations was Yung Nation's "I AM A FUCKING GENIUS," complete with a demand to follow him on Twitter. And they say satire isn't possible any more.
3. Several pedicabs weaving in and out of side streets were sponsored by HBO, and as such had actual Iron Thrones instead of comfortable chairs. Impressive as this spectacle might be, I have several reservations about such a concept, two of which I will lay out here. One, the Iron Throne is supposed to be hugely uncomfortable. That's the point of it, in a way. Second, several jutting poles with spikes on the end are probably not the best thing to leave hanging over the side of your transportation method meant for use in pedestrianized areas. They could've just made a pedicab look like a dragon, but then it would never have turned up to the main festival. HEY-OH!
4. Looking back at reports the day after, you realize that hundreds and hundreds of people lined up for hours to watch a pop star be vomited on, on a stage shaped like a Doritos vending machine (or that might have been last year, I've got no idea, I've no desire to look at a giant Doritos vending machine stage ever in my whole life) in the backyard of a barbecue restaurant. Parts of this festival are fundamentally not designed for me, and that's fine.
5. I met five music industry people while waiting for three separate buses, thirty blocks north of the city center. The odds on that during any other week, in any other place, are astronomical. You'd think they'd be able to spring for more than the $2 a bus in Austin costs, for a start. I guess times are hard.
6. Events unassociated with the festival are almost uniformly more entertaining and nourishing than events under the festival umbrella -- these are where you'll find the people who are just there to have a good time, not the people who are in Austin to be seen, infesting every major party with networking talk. Give me a hardcore band destroying their equipment in front of a crowd of thirty over any artist playing to a room full of people who smell nice having conversations about their jobs.
7. On Friday night, you could find Gary Numan doing a set in a pool hall. Other incongruous sights include Power Trip playing in the daylight, Buzz from the Melvins driving around totally lost, Les Claypool trying to remain incognito in a crowd despite clearly being Les Claypool, and the paparazzi, descending on mega-stars in alleys in Austin as if this was LA or something.
8. There are several festivals within festivals taking place under the umbrella of SXSW - you can stick to wandering around looking for showcases without lines to get in, which was my favorite tactic. I discovered a lot of new bands to enjoy using this method. You can pick out a schedule in advance and try to follow it to the best of your efforts, which is surely folly. You can pick one mega-artist a day and spend hours in line just to see them, in which case you should probably try one of those festivals that take place in a field. Or you can eschew your credentials completely and wander between bars unassociated with the main festival, all of which are still pumping out live music fourteen hours a day, and drink your evening away. The first and last approaches were definitely my favorites.
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