FT5: Top 5 Austin Musical Fallacies
The last week or so has seen the Austin Interwebs go a little haywire, with Austinist vs. Michael Corcoran in a debate on the status of Austin as anything more than mediocre. We only talk about music, so we’re not going to worry about the discussions on traffic or eateries…we’re just looking at the music here. I grew up in this town, and I’ve been actively participating in the music scene since 92′, so I feel more than qualified to hold a discussion here. I do want to say that I actually think both parties make some valid points, which sort of leads me to think that there’s a lot of us in Austin, music or otherwise, that realize our town could make some improvements–whether they’re all the same or not doesn’t really matter, as we should be working together to unify the scene.
The following list is compiled of things that stood out to me in both articles (linked above), or that I just sort of came to on my own terms as an active participant in the “scene.” They’re ordered into a Top 5 to stick with our occasional Friday theme, but the order is irrelevant for the most part. Please feel free to comment on these things, as I think the best thing for our city and music is to have some actual discussion about it rather than make accusations–that’s just a dick move that gets us all nowhere.
5. The “Scene” and Scenesters
This, personally, is one of the most problematic issues in Austin, but it’s not as clear-cut as one would think. Yes, I’m a person that likes to work in the “scene,” but prefer to participate from the outside of it all. A lot of people in town see their participation as activists in the culture as a chance for increased socialization, and work less and less as time goes by on the discussion of the music. It’s become sort of a giant party where everyone scratches each other’s backs in hopes that it pays off when you have sold out shows like At the Drive-In. I get it; I scratch your back, you scratch mine (I give you free beer, you get me into shows), but it has begun to border on the social aspect, rather than on the promotion of music. When I go to shows and see people, sometimes they don’t even know/like the band, they just came to hang out. Seems sort of shitty, as I bet those spots could have gone to some young blogger or journalist who just wants to write about the music. At ATH, we try to always go through bands first, as we’re here for the music, and we don’t want to owe anyone anything, just ourselves and our hard work.
But, that being said, a lot of the socialites in the scene are really good people, and I know a lot of them have really defined tastes that could help make our local journalism/knowledge expand. For some reason, a lot of people just seem to have lost the plot…they’d rather go to a show as a hang-out session (then brag about it later that they were there) then actually focus on the music. I guess somewhere along the way a lot of us forgot that we started getting into this for the music and the experience live music. I think a big discussion we all need to have in Austin is whether or not we’re in it for the music or the cool? If you’re in it for the cool, I understand, just please stay away from me, we can be cool together some other time, I’m trying to watch the band.
4. The Great Festival Debate
A good question is how do our festivals really benefit our scene and Austin? Well, there’s not too many negatives on this issue, really. Sure, I’ll be the first to admit nothing grosses me out more than seeing drunkards at ACL passed out because they just came for the fun when an inspiring act like that of Yeah Yeah Yeahs is going down, but the festival does bring in a lot of national focus on bands coming to Austin…that only makes more bands want to come to Austin to play! Also, ACL has done a great job at trying to include Austin musicians and other Austin-centric businesses involved, so that’s great. Even if your anti-dude bro, at least by attending ACL they’ll get exposed to good music, and have less reason to like Creed.
Then there’s the infamous SXSW…growing year by year. Oh no, traffic is so bad! Really? Is it any worse than our normal miserable traffic? No, it’s not, and actually, it’s better if you know your way around town. Yeah, parking’s a bummer, but take a bus or a cab. If you do it, you’ll be rewarded with free shows all over the place, and sometimes an experience you’ll want to relive with your friends years down the road. To top it off, if you just wander, you’re likely to discover an act you never heard of but who will remain in your playlist from here to eternity. And if you’re going to complain about people coming to your town, then get over it…Austin has tourism year round, including sporting events for UT games. Oh no, someone came to visit Austin–at least in this case we’re not NY or LA.
And, we’ve also got some up and coming festivals that we should be really proud about, such as Fun Fun Fun Fest or Psych Fest or Chaos in Tejas. They’re all smaller festivals, and they don’t compare to the top of the list, but those of you that feel the large festivals don’t cater to your needs, try getting involved in those. Either way, it encourages bands to visit our town, and often bands that we won’t get a chance to see otherwise. So let’s stop complaining and be grateful.
Bottom line is that these festivals put Austin on the map, like them or not. They’ve encouraged the idea that Austin is a must play stop-gap on any national tour. And, usually they’re fun as hell.
3. Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Credentials
This is the one area that I completely disagree with in the Corcoran article, even if it’s intent upon being defined as satire. Austin’s never going to produce those sorts of bands, and for that I’m actually quite grateful. It’s like saying you want your child to grow up and be the manager of a Wal-Mart. Admit it, you’d be disappointed in them, regardless of the monetary status involved. Austin’s specialty is having mediocre bands rise above that level and become great, even if we’re the only ones that knows about them. We’ve got a rich history in bands rising from obscurity, and actually making it out-of-town. In the past 20 years alone we’ve had Butthole Surfers, Jesus Lizard, Okkervil River, Spoon, The Impossibles, Trail of Dead…and the list goes on and on. Now, we’ve got new bands kicking ass all over the city like OBN IIIs, Balmorhea, Literature, Neon Indian, Fleshlights, Pure X, Explosions in the Sky (see bottom of post for more bands to check out)…and on and on. All these bands are gaining in national fame, and while that may not equate to Rock n Roll HOF credit, everyone in Austin will still be proud–that’s all that matters. As long as our music is a representation of the spirit of Austin and the hard work these individuals put into their tunes, then we should all be happy.
2. Local Venues
This is a mixed bag, especially since we’ve wrongly claimed “Live Music Capital of the World” for some time. A majority of music on 6th Street is pretty standard and safe, proving that yes, 6th Street is becoming irrelevant to our music scene (aside from Beale Street Tavern), but spots are popping up all over that will continue to keep our scene blossoming, growing, and hopefully supporting the culture. 29th Street Ballroom is off the traditional map, but they’ve been pushing some great local shows and helping provide rock n’ roll shows to the masses. We’re expanding to Riverside, and while I’m not stoked on that at all, we can’t blame Emos or Beauty Bar, we’ve got to blame the city council that has slowly encouraged higher rent and various development projects. Plus, we’ve still got two of the best venues I’ve been to in the Mohawk and the Parish (and I’ve honestly been to the majority of the venues in the US). Sure, having to move our music to the East Side might not be the most ideal situation, but how often do you really venture into 6th Street anymore anyways? Instead look to the fact that with all these venues (and Belmont moving in) we’re still able to not over-saturate ourselves–that lone is a sign that the scene is still relevant.
But, that being said, these local venues, especially the smaller ones like the ND sometimes struggle. They won’t struggle when say Spoon comes to town, but when local bills come up, they’re not doing as well. That’s not their fault. In fact, we should be grateful to them; they’re trying to promote and encourage Austin bands and their survival. Honestly, we should look to ourselves…we’ve turned lazy. When was the last time you went to see a local band that wasn’t one of your friends (it doesn’t count if they were playing while you were drinking with your friends)? It’s the sad truth…we’ve stopped supporting these acts. I try to write about them as often as I can, and then follow up and go to their shows…then I grow sad when I see 20 people, and have seem to be hooking up with the band members. If you want to complain about the scene, then I suggest you quit bitching about it from your couch and go be part of it. It would help a lot of us out.
That’s right, you and me. I touched on this a little bit above, but the biggest problem I see facing Austin music scene are the people who claim to love Austin music/live music. We’ve all got to be more active in everything we do…honestly. There’s tons of music sources on-line you can check out on your lunch break. There’s us, Austin Bloggy Limits, Soundcheck Magazine, Sonic Itch, Ultra 8201, Covert Curiosity, Overload…and I’m sure there are some I haven’t even discovered. Read them, follow them, tell them you’re thankful for their work, tell them you disagree with them, just actively be part of it. Don’t say you love Austin and you love music and only read Pitchfork…that does nothing for Austin…and they sort of suck.
Go to shows. And by go to shows, I mean go to as many as you possibly can…the local and the traveling shows. But, if you do, here are some suggestive rules to make things better: Go for the opening act. My biggest complaint about people in Austin is that you never go for the whole show. I get it if you have to work, but I’ve been to several shows recently (especially at Stubbs or Antones) where no one shows up to see the opener. That’s dumb. Why did you pay $25 just to see the Kills? You missed out. Also, we need to get to the local shows more. There’s so many incredible bands playing all over this city, and I rarely see those sell out. Back in the day, you couldn’t get into an Impossibles show at Liberty Lunch, and now our local bands can’t even fill the small room inside Mohawk. That’s sad, and that’s all of our faults. We need to invest time and energy into the locals, then move up to the others. If we don’t, then we’ll fail our town, and prove that we are indeed mediocre, if we’re even that.
Okay, so these are just the rants of one person who has been watching all the discussion from the sidelines. I’m not trying to do anything than to look at things a little rationally, and I don’t want to call anyone out except the scenesters who go to be seen and party. Clearly we have room for improvement, but like all cities, music scenes are cyclical (even Corcoran must know that NY and LA disappeared during the 90s). Maybe this is our down time, so let’s work hard to make it rise back to the top. We’ve got to do more than complain and argue and call one another out; we’ve got to make it a community (a scene if you will). Until then..yeah, we’re sort of struggling with mediocrity.
Austin Bands to Watch: Orthy, Grape Street, Shiver Shakes, The Midgetmen, Literature, Black Books, Residual Kid, The Eastern Sea, Balmorhea, Pure X, Tiger Waves, Young Girls, Whitman, The Zoltars, Little Radar, Not in the Face, OBN IIIs, A Giant Dog, Golden Bear, Fleshlights, Oh No Oh My, Frank Smith, John Wesley Coleman, Sleep Good, Gentleman Rogues, Wild Child, Rayon Beach, Little Wesley, The Young, Burgess Meredith, Neon Indian, BOY, Belair, Deep Time, The Sword—and I’m sure there are hundreds of others I don’t even know about, but this is a great place to start!