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the insider one daily report

The SXSW Experience, Part 1: Waiting, Waiting And More Waiting

Neumu Senior Writer Jenny Tatone writes: I'm already drinking and schmoozing, and I haven't even gotten off the plane yet. Figures. I met somebody and we've been talking and downing Heinekens since we left Phoenix two hours ago. Even on the plane, you can feel the giddiness in the air. We land in Austin at 7:20 p.m., and everyone jumps to their feet as if an immediate exit is an option. Course it's not. It's another line. But that's the way today is. And that's the way my time at SXSW will be this year.

I check into my hotel and hurry off to the convention center to grab my badge — the glossy little laminate that's my ticket to, well, everything. The wind blows hard and cold, carrying echoes of Sixth Street's rock 'n' roll mayhem with it. The distant drum-crashes and electrified wails only make my heart race faster in anticipation of getting there. I've been waiting all day to get there. But first I must wait some more.

Last year, I strolled into the convention center, stood behind four or five people and, within about 10 minutes, had my badge in hand. This year, cruising in lackadaisically, I'm stopped in my tracks by a long snaking line at the foot of the escalators. I'm dumbfounded as I watch only four or five people allowed up at a time. Suddenly, I'm in a small group heading up the escalators. Hooray, after a half-hour of waiting, I can finally get my badge, right?


Convention center lackeys at the top of the escalator wave us to a longer line, which in turn leads to another, longer line, which then leads to the shorter (and final) line. Eventually my line-waiting comrades — a club owner from Nashville and a hardcore label owner from Oakland (you can learn a lot in long lines) — and I retrieve our badges, lunging at them, almost an hour an a half after first entering the damn place. If they're going to make us wait this long they should consider soundproofing the place, because being able to hear the bands playing a few blocks away but not see them play is pure torture. Or at least serve us some drinks while we wait.

Towards the end of the weekend I learn that the number of SXSW festival-goers this year is 20 percent higher than that of last year. In two years, SXSW will celebrate its 20th birthday. Surely, the festival has grown steadily over the years. But does this mean SXSW will someday become too big for its britches? I just hope, for the sake of the best music festival around, the pendulum will swing the other way to prevent SXSW claustrophobia. These are the things I ponder while standing in all those long lines.

And since I have so much time to myself waiting in line for entrance into the clubs, I think a lot about the culture of the music biz and band life too, especially on Thursday, when the contrast between two back-to-back interviews couldn't be greater.

Just as the members of Dr. Dog and I spot a nice patch of grass beneath the warm glow of the sun, I realize my mini disc recorder held no mini disc. There's a five-pack of them in my hotel room. Shaking my absent-minded head, I explain the situation and apologize profusely. The good news though, I tell them, pointing at a building two blocks from us, is my hotel room is right there. But I don't need to explain and I don't need to apologize. They laugh and tell me not to worry about it. They tell me they've been through a lot worse, touring and all. It's no big deal really; it happens, they say. They walk with me and smile and laugh and ask me how I'm doing and convince me they're the nicest, most laid-back people I've ever met. And I think they are.

They wait for me when I go to the wrong building. They come with me to the right one. They wait outside for me and, when I return, suggest a nice spot by the creek that runs just below Sixth Street. Surrounded by cement patios, the creek has a few concrete slabs sitting right in the middle of it, making it the perfect interview spot. Our background noise — the trickling sounds of the creek gurgling by — plays like a relaxation tape and fits the easygoing demeanor of the Dr. Dog guys perfectly. Dressed like a cross between hippie, indie and nerdy, the band, like their music, aren't easily pegged and are hardly associated with a trendy scene of any kind. They're just five casual, friendly guys who happen to make phenomenal sounds when they come together. Friendly and honest, each of them contributes something thoughtful to the interview (check back with Neumu in the weeks to come for a full report) and then we say goodbye.

Interestingly enough, the creek we sit on is adjacent to the Levi's/Fader suite, also known as the trendiest hotspot at SXSW, a spot Dr. Dog could care less about and — just to make the contrast that much more sharp — the location of my interview with Bloc Party. When you first step into the suite — a music venue whose stage is on the grass beneath a tent out back — all you see is a mass of faded hipster denim hanging on various racks. Out back a DJ spins sweet cuts (or something), Red Stripe is free on the table to your left, and Fader rags and Big Red (a sponsor) gum samples are scattered about. A couch, two car seats, a coffee table and an area rug give the outdoor area an indoor feel for the fashionable people with stylish haircuts who are mingling and schmoozing.

I locate the publicist who arranged the interview. A man at the bottom of some stairs wears an earpiece, gets clearance and then allows me up. Walking through the upstairs room, the VIP band area, I notice Jack Daniels fifths, buckets of ice cooling beer and soda, miniature candy bars and a handful of hipsters trying on Levi's — a kiss-ass gift reserved exclusively for the cool people (you know who you are). Nobody notices me. Nobody says hello. Nobody even smiles. But that's life in the Levi's/Fader suite, I suppose. I am directed to the back deck, assigned a band member and allowed 20 minutes. There are other journalists interviewing their respective band members. We are all standing. It's uncomfortable. I lose my train of thought and, consequently, my interest in the interview. So, turns out, I only need 15 minutes. I whip through the standard questions with guitarist Russell Lissack, who is soft-spoken, sweet and — given the buzz around Bloc Party right now — likely tired to death of interviews. Sporting jeans, a black T-shirt that reads "Go Wild" in hot pink splashy letters, a black sweatband with a gold star, and a rainbow-colored bracelet made of plastic stars, Lissack has an asymmetrical haircut that lets his angular dark-brown bangs fall into his eyes. He occasionally shakes the bangs away as we talk about life in a nostalgic yet of-the-moment band. (Again, check Neumu for a full story on this later.)

It's not that I don't like Bloc Party, 'cause I do. I think they have some very good songs. It's just that, for one reason or another, some bands are part of the machine and others are not. And it makes you wonder how being in it or out of it affects the way a band and their music are interpreted and received. It makes you wonder how the machine inadvertently affects its parts. I just can't help but feel more drawn to a band like Dr. Dog, who are more human than cog. The freedom and independence within Dr. Dog's music allows for a sort of passionate disenfranchisement from the ideas of "cool" and an intimate, human connection between fan and band — something that can get lost when you get caught in the machine.

To be continued

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