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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.
Pardon any hoarseness in my voice. I've just come back from the South by Southwest music conference and festival. Physical recovery takes a few days.
It's difficult to accurately describe what I've witnessed. Even the most expansive recounting is sure to miss a lot. South by Southwest is a cacophony of bands, business and bravado, beginning at 9 in the morning and ending well after 2am. Most of it takes place within ten square blocks. Multiply that equation by five days and five nights, add 10,000 people to the mix and you begin to get a sense of the mayhem. It's completely impossible to get a handle on it as the event challenges even the most able bodied. This year, the intensity was heightened, with more concerts, events and parties than ever before.
South by Southwest sponsors a conference, a music festival with about a thousand bands, daily onsite TV show tapings, a poster art festival, a music trade show, films, barbeques, dinners, afterhours parties, and baseball games. In addition, there are a few hundred unofficial events going on simultaneously.
Frankly, it's just too much stimulation. What started out as a peaceful gathering of music tribes has grown into an unmanageable sea of sound and noise. It's like Disneyland on Speed.
There seems to be an unspoken theme and this year was no different. Personal empowerment was the overarching sentiment. Fans and trade stopped on every street corner to film their personal diaries for YouTube. The trade show was brimming with companies boasting new opportunities to manage your own business.
Everyone comes to SXSW to see the bands play. Some, like myself, opted to dash from show to show, trying to drink up as much music as our bodies would allow. We all came home weary and exhausted.
There were plenty of heritage acts to see. While everyone was rushing to see The Stooges, Pete Townsend and the Buzzcocks, I opted to see bands I never have seen. Discovery is what the festival is really all about.
Sometimes, my bets paid off. The SoftLightes, from San Diego, played in the local church at 1 in the morning for 20 people. Homemade videos accompanied each song perfectly synched to their music, giving vision to the beautiful songwriting. The sound was pure and magnificent. It was a classic South by Southwest 'aha' moment.
But the act that knocked my socks off was actually not a band at all. It was Kid Koala, the maestro of vinyl. . I have never seen a show more exciting and entertaining at South by Southwest. He performed solo, with no headphones, just hitting the vinyl at exactly the right spots. Three turntables, and a video camera recording his every move on a screen behind him. The guy played inidividual notes by needle drop. He was out of control Kid Koala is the Fred Astaire of Scratch. If you have a chance to see him, go.
Only a few artists at SXSW, gave solid, uncompromising live performances, but the chance to see one more great one will bring me back to Austin every time.
This is Celia Hirschman for On the Beat on KCRW.
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