By Jeffrey V. Smith
Unlike any other music event in the country, the increasingly trendy yet vital annual South By Southwest Music Festival and Conference, in Austin, Texas is to the music industry what the Sundance Festival is to Hollywood.
It’s where up-and-comers go to get exposed to industry insiders and the insiders come together to feed and fuel each other in the “Live Music Capital of the World.” With hundreds of band showcases featuring thousands of musicians from around the globe, conference panels with the likes of Neil Young and the Beastie Boys, a trade show, demo listening workshops and more, it’s clear this event is different.
From March 15-19, Austin’s many music venues along and near its infamous 6th Street nightlife district will run non-stop with bands of every genre looking for a break and some exposure. With each of the venues, and the rest of the town for that matter, filled with everyone from record execs to publicists to music fans looking for something different, SXSW is the perfect place to do just that.
Quietly becoming one of the most celebrated bands making music today, Denver’s eclectic and eccentric four-piece DeVotchka mix influences as strange as they are interesting. Cabaret, spaghetti Westerns, and the immigrant dance music of Eastern Europe are all thrown into a mix of American folk and punk roots. The band, which has toured with a burlesque and fetish entertainer as an opener, includes Nick Urata on vocals, guitar and trumpet; violinist/accordionist Tom Hagerman; sousaphone/bass player Jeanie Schroder; and drummer Shawn King. Supporting musicians rotate in and out of the highly original group’s line-up, contributing such sounds as strings and bazoukis. Its latest recording How it Ends was picked by Westword as 2005’s best and they called it a “delightful mind-blower.” Devotchka also recently scored the film Little Miss Sunshine, due for summer release. Even NPR’s “All Things Considered” called the band’s offerings “everything music should be.” Devotchka’s next tour includes Europe dates in April and May.
The “fabulous” indie-pop act Dressy Bessy, formed in Denver in 1997, incorporates power-pop chords, a thundering rhythm section and the stunning vocals and witty lyrics of lead-singer Tammy Ealom. The act’s latest release Electrified reflects the band’s bombastic songwriting and lyrical cleverness. Live, the band adds an additional, infectious element of overt spontaneity while creating an atmosphere of being party central. According to Spin Magazine, “the heart of power-pop is still beating and Dressy Bessy are holding the stethoscope.” The band will be featured on Late Night with Conan O’Brien March 6 and heads to Europe in April and May.
Formed in 1997 under the name Eiffel, Denver’s indie-rock band Vaux started to find success in 2003 through never-ending tours and the critical success of its album There Must be Some Way to Stop Them. The CD prompted Alternative Press Magazine to name the act one of “100 Bands to Watch” and propelled them onto tours with bands like Thrice, My Chemical Romance, Coheed & Cambria and The Used. The sextet signed with Atlantic Records in 2004 but left before releasing its debut recorded in England with U2 producer Garret Lee. It’s now available on-line and on tour. The band’s current sound is a lighter departure from its early days in the Denver punk scene.
Erin Roberts & Porlolo
Known as one of Denver’s most compelling musicians and a maven of the local scene, Erin Roberts and her act Porlolo plays trumpet-inflected, dark and rustic indie-folk. Porlolo’s recent release Storm and Season boasts a “wide-eyed and melancholic sweetness” and highlights Roberts’ breathy, mysterious style. The musician is known to fans of local alternative music as the host of Radio 1190’s “Local Shakedown” show. Roberts plays a SXSW send-off party at the Hi-Dive March 10.
The modern, old-time string band Uncle Earl, featuring Lyons-based K.C. Groves, is a five-piece, all-female powerhouse brought together by a love of American roots music. The band’s national debut She Waits for Night is both contemporary and old-fashioned simultaneously and appeals to fans of folk, old-time, alt-country, bluegrass and jam-band genres. The act started in 1999 when Groves needed a band to promote a recording. The CD release shows went over so well that the band decided to stay together. Uncle Earl, which also includes Kristen Andreassen, Rayna Gellert, Sharon Gilchrist and Abigail Washburn, has since become regulars on the Colorado music festival circuit and are gaining national attention.
Purveyors of “Rocky Mountain hydro-grind,” Denver’s outlandish Cephalic Carnage fuses its blast beat grindcore with death metal and left-field jazz breakdowns. Formed in 1992, the act, which is no stranger to SXSW, set out to break down musical barriers by raising both expectations and “extremity” in heavy music. The group intermixes passages of hypersonic grindcore, slow-motion doom-metal and far-out rock and roll. It toured Europe heavily in 2004 and released its latest disc, Anomalies, in 2005. This fourth recording by the band continues its trek toward being one of the world’s most creative and challenging bands. The Alternative Press called the band “insanely gifted” while The Village Voice calls it “remarkable.”
Goodbye, the latest LP from The Czars, marks not only a farewell to lost loves and tough times, but a new beginning for the Colorado-based quartet. The Czars started in 1994 when vocalist John Grant and bassist Chris Pearson met at Rock Island, a club in Denver. The Czars became the first American band to sign with Bella Union and grabbed a string of opening slots for high-profile groups like Low, the Dirty Three, and Ween. The band then locked themselves in their studio for six months to record what would be their most ambitious album to date, Goodbye. Goodbye’s U.K. release on Bella Union in 2004 cemented the group’s status as a critical favorite and outranked works by The Shins, Morrissey and Bjork on Mojo’s Top 50 list for 2004.
Born in the Flood
Denver indie-rock quartet Born In The Flood continues its ongoing evolution and transformation into one of the region’s more powerful, sophisticated and emotive bands. The group has performed in Denver since 2002, but its roots run back over a decade to a small Missouri town where the band’s singer and songwriter, Nathaniel D. Rateliff, and bassist Joseph Pope III were childhood friends. When their band outgrew its small-town location, the pair headed to Denver, where they added guitarist Matt Fox and drummer Mike Hall to the mix. Born In The Flood released its second and latest disc, The Fear That We May Not Be, in 2005.
The Great Redneck Hope
Colorado Springs grindcore act The Great Redneck Hope have been producing music and a live show that is unrivaled in “wit, power and often bizarre quirk” for over five years. The act’s brand of “technical violence” is generally thought to put most others in its genre to shame.