South By Southwest

SXSW Review: Illuminati Hotties, The Beths, March 12, Side Bar

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When you get right down to it, all you need for a successful show is good bands and a good crowd. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have some good hot dogs. This show had all of those. And perhaps some important life lessons along the way.

After taking the stage to the sounds of an audio sample from some sort of documentary on Adam Weishaupt and the Illuminati and how “they must remain hidden,” Illuminati Hotties took to the stage and, unlike the actual Illuminati, they had no qualms about making their agenda known – they came here to rock out and have fun. And to give props to the hot dog guy.

Yes, this day show had hot dogs and sausages provided by The Hot Dog King. Illuminati Hotties bandleader Sarah Tudzin mentioned how she spoke with the king earlier and asked exactly how one gains the title of Hot Dog King. Apparently by selling 10 thousand hot dogs at one event. The band then dedicated its next song “I Wanna Keep Yr Dog” to the king himself. Hot dog king? I Wanna Keep Yr Dog? That’s lot of dog references in there. Coincidence? I think not. Hot dog illuminati confirmed.

The band put on an excellent set full of Tudzin’s endearing and kind of goofy stage banter and some amazing Illuminati-themed synchronized dance moves during “Pressed 2 Death.” Before ending things off with “Better Than Ever,” the band also threw in a fun, high energy cover of Paul Simon’s “Obvious Child” that was only made better at one point when Tudzin forgot the lyrics and just kept going with some “na na na’s” as placeholders.

Following Illuminati Hotties on that stage was The Beths, who put on an equally fun show while also giving a shout out to hot dogs. “Can we get an update on the hot dog bun situation?” asked Beths guitarist Jonathan Pearce, referring to an earlier hot dog related emergency on-site when the King ran out of buns.

The band displayed some great harmonies throughout their set – it’s always impressive to see every member of a band singing together at the same time – as they ran through a set full of songs off of their brilliant and catchy debut full length Future Me Hates Me.

And perhaps inspired by Illuminati Hotties before them, the band also threw out a couple of conspiracy theories of their own. The first was that a “suspicious amp” (it was later cleared of suspicion) may have actually been filled with all those missing hot dog buns, but the major, possibly game changing, reveal came when Pearce detected a bit of music still playing over the house PA that was bleeding into their sound. And while singer/guitarist Liz Stokes just assumed it was coming from whatever band may have been playing next door, Pearce laid it all out for us, much like one might lay a hot dog out in a fresh, soft bun: there was in fact no other band playing.

“That’s the Austin effect. There’s only ever one band on,” he theorized. “So don’t worry about your fear of missing out – it’s not real.” Well said. But one question remains unanswered – did we ever get an update on that hot dog bun situation?

SXSW Film Review: I See You (Adam Randall, 2019)

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As Jackie, Helen Hunt leads a cast of secretive characters in their pursuit of a privileged, suburban American dream in Adam Randall’s I See You. That idyllic existence was recently disturbed by Jackie’s infidelity with her high school sweetheart, but this new dynamic also seems to have stirred up something much more evil, which begins to tear at the family’s life more fiercely than anyone could imagine. Bizarre and inexplicable things began to occur around the house. And it does not stop at their household. The eerie presence seems to spill into their community as a 10 year old boy goes missing on a bike ride in the woods. Under pressure to deliver results both at home and at work, Jackie’s police detective husband Greg must resolve the mysterious evil once and for all.

The soundtrack in Psycho famously made people jump out of their skins in discomfort. The music in I See You likewise brought a disquiet to the theater, but in a far more forceful and blanketing manner. As I am sure it was intended, it really did bother me. There was a malignant, pervasive dominance to it that gave the feeling that it could not leave anyone unscathed. The drum rhythm pushes the plot ahead, and the discordant score dissuaded me from being curious about what the disfigured instrument which produced the sound looks like.

As the film unfurled towards the inevitable end, like a red carpet rolled up with skeletons from the closet, the audience is forced to confront both the characters and their own expectations. As a midnighter, I See You is an excellent horror/thriller. As a matinee, you would be too alert to forget what you see. Either way, easily recommended.

SXSW Review: Death By Unga Bunga, March 11, Fareground

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Death by Unga Bunga
This past Monday afternoon, two of my favourite festivals in the world came together at the Meet The Nordics showcase at Fareground co-presented by Denmark’s Roskilde Festival. Yes, SXSW and Roskilde together at last – it was like a sort of peanut better cup of music fests.

To kick it all off for the evening, the organizers even brought in the Crown Princess of Denmark to give an opening remark of sorts. Of course, this being Austin during SouthBy … she was stuck in traffic. So before things officially got going, those in attendance were instead treated to some guy vamping to kill time by doing some pretty awkward crowd work while they waited for Princess Mary to arrive (“What is your name? And how old are you?”). Once she finally arrived, she addressed the crowd with a nice rundown on the state of the Nordic music scene and also managed to sneak in a nod to her Australian roots with a reference to Muriel’s Wedding after mentioning that ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus would also be appearing at SXSW this year.

Following her address, the music finally began with Denmark’s Lowly getting things off to a solid start on a bill that also featured Shitkid and non-Nordic ringers Black Midi. But the highlight of this show was easily Norway’s Death By Unga Bunga, who took to the stage with some not so humble opening remarks from singer Sebastian Ulstad Olsen (who was introduced by guitarist Stian S. Gulbrandsen as a “weird guy, weird fellow”): “Pleased to meet you guys. We’re Death By Unga Bunga. We’re the best rock and roll band in the entire world. You didn’t know?”

Olsen and his bandmates had many choice moves that made the case for this self-described “best rock and roll band in the world”, including the moment when Olsen ventured out to sing in the crowd, blocking people’s phones with his hand as they tried to take pics and the moment near the end of their set when the entire band, with guitars over their heads and behind their backs, played the riff from “The Boys Are Back In Town”. That’s some good rock and roll right there.

Best in the world? Maybe, maybe not, but Death By Unga Bunga are big, dumb, fun rock n’ roll at its best.

SXSW Review: Chvrches, March 9, Antone’s

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Poster art by Mez Data

One of the first things I did once I got into Austin for SXSW was attend a session on “The Women’s Evolution in WWE and Beyond” wherein the panelists (Charlotte Flair, Stephanie McMahon and Paul “Triple H” Levesque) discussed how women wrestlers were coming to the forefront within the WWE. And while it may seem like a stretch to equate the likes of Flair or Rhonda Rousey with diminutive Chvrches singer Lauren Mayberry, I got a similar sort of “this woman will take no prisoners” vibe from Mayberry’s performance at Antone’s as part of the Capitol One House later that night.

Aside from worrying about whether playing at a bank sponsored show meant she would have to do maths, Mayberry also commented on the size of the venue and how they can’t really play smaller venues like this anymore. “That sounds like a humblebrag,” she said, but it is also absolutely true – the band’s sound and their show seem much bigger than what the relatively small stage at Antone’s can hold. As Lauren Mayberry moved about that stage, making big dramatic gestures and occasionally twirling around, she proved that while she is by no means a pro wrestler, her personalty and energy while performing can fill much larger stages.

I’ve seen Chvrches a few times over the years, dating back to when they first played SXSW six years ago and in that time, they have only continued to get more and more impressive. They are always a delight to see live.