South By Southwest

SXSW Film Review: I Get Knocked Down [Sophie Robinson, Dunstan Bruce, 2022]

Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

If Brit-award winners are like SARS-CoV-2 in their ability to make multiple hit-singles, does it make us feel better that Ebola and measles are one-hit-wonders?

It takes just 18 seconds for “Tubthumping” to be irreversibly branded into your mind’s ears. One-hit-wonder or not, that’s next-level songwriting in my book. We should thank our collective lucky-stars that Dunstan Bruce and the 8-piece Chumbawamba were Anarchists first and musicians second. If they were Monarchist political hacks, we would almost certainly be brainwashed into wearing ponytails and mandarins for all eternity. And what is an anarchist commune? It sounds more paradoxical than an aging punk. Those defiant days, where have they gone? I get the strangest feeling they belong. Why did all the protests come to nothing? Is it because they wanted to shout like Crass but sound like the Beatles when they were seventeen?

This self-narrated documentary about the band opens as a chaise-lounge psychotherapy session for a silver-haired and depressed Bruce. This greying anarchist is ashamed for being merely superficially angry, and had to live with the fact that past hijinks, including the immortal “Tubthumping”, continues to project that anger as a brand. “I’m 48 and I’m still fucking angry” sounds more like a justification to Self than protest to The Man. Chased everywhere by the original angst/conscience of the band, that wide-mouth chumba-baby, Bruce revisits his bandmates and producer to gather nostalgia and summarily evaluates what was really accomplished. We are taken through the group’s beginning in a (post)punk commune in Leeds UK, the 7 albums that came before their “sellout” to a major label, the pilgrimage to a Wizard-of-old in search of absolution, and the home-roosting regret for having only angrily questioned single issues.

Chumbawamba was indeed privileged to have had the opportunity to select whether to preach from the outside or subvert from the inside of the music industry. Clearly, Bruce do not delude himself into believing that their political grandstanding was heard by all those who received a tubthumping between the ears. It was over everyone’s head, and the critics were only interested in cheap counterpoints. Sadly, in my mind, that’s why it was so interchangeable: no one listened to the lyrics. All the self-mockery in the world (plenty in this documentary) could never change the fact that people find in sermons only what they wanted to hear, and that’s if they weren’t sleepwalking through life. Now in his later years, Bruce seems more eager to mobilize the older generation who had long since tuned in. Through his new band Interrobang, he aims to wake up their younger selves despite the fact that the “drugs have all changed… it’s all prescriptions now”. But when you are young, part of being in a band is taking on The World. Now the act seems only to be meekly shouting at It from behind the corner where you’ve hidden, to show you’ve not given up just yet.

I’m glad for the film’s flow and composition. It is principled and intelligently reflective, not filled with inane narrow-minded slogans that typify “activist” documentaries. This is especially welcome in these dire times. But I am conflicted about what the duality of functions for the film… is it to relaunch a career, or a genuine renewed call-to-arms from an once-frontrunner? Or did I forfeit my right to ask in good faith from the moment I lampooned them with a simulacrum of lyrics that people do savor from one of the most mainstream songs of that era?

Despite appearances, I really enjoyed the film. Chumbawamba should take simple comfort that in “Tubthumping”, they have given the world a most perfect and infectious vehicle with which to deliver the joy, pain, anger, and the mundane. Please just get working on a durable vaccine against cultural indoctrination, because I’m afraid for the day when my zombie self will get back up again for white toast in pajamas.

You have a chance to catch Dunstan and the gang again on Mar 15, 2022 10:30pm at Alamo Lamar E.

SXSW Film Review: Skate Dreams [Jessica Edwards, 2022]

Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

I too was about 5 or 6 when I found skateboarding. Of course then it was considered niche and weird. Fast-forward 30 years and little has changed – skateboarding remains dorky and subcultural. I never dove into the community, because academia is in a sense even more dorky, sub-cultural, and hurtful than 1 deck, 2 trucks, and 4 wheels. And I also found snowboarding where with the help of gravity, I can be the bigger masochist.

And just like in academia, women have long been held back and fed token opportunities for which they were expected to be thankful. In the “early days”, prize money was nonexistent for women unlike the sponsorships, endorsements, and PS2 game franchises that followed the male heroes of the board cultures. 2003 was apparently the first year when women were allowed to skateboard competitively in the X Games – in 10am contests without audience. The momentum for women skater communities started to gain traction with the popularization of the internet. That same year blogs hosting skateboarding news grew the reach of the sport and expanded its cultural influence. Fast-forward 19 years, Insta and TikTok blew open the floodgates and so, a phenomenon that first started because suburban Californian kids saw the potential in the dried up round-bottom pools of their parents’ homes now has international resonance. Serving a similar function as the surf clubs in Bangla Surf Girls, there are organizations like Skateistan in Cambodia that imparts life as well as skate lessons to empower girls.

Skate Dreams teaches you about these things. But it also presents its subject through an idealized lens, where skatizens of all classes, young and old, seem only driven by the thirst to connect via tricks and merit. Despite showing a thousand spills, this is a film that never lands a heavy punch. And I’m quite grateful for that. The quote “I ate shit everyday to learn how to Ollie” cements the goal of the film, I think. This film is the showcase for the lifestyle and culture of several pioneering and upcoming women skateboarders, not an emotion-sapping blackhole of hardship to the top.

It is only in the last quarter of the film when such a soul-sucking ogre made its brief appearance. What other sporting party-pooper should we expect but the (Tokyo 2020) Olympics? The IOC would welcome cornhole (not to be confused with cornholing, but perhaps one day) if it came with sponsorships – and women skateboarding has now grown sufficiently for the Olympics to want to sink its fangs into new blood.

I have always admired the self-restraint of surfers/boarders, whose culture inherently grasp that fame and trends are pointlessly transient. Theirs is a solitary pursuit and one to come together if just to admire and learn what is possible – so you can go away and try even harder the next day. Myself, however, tried very hard not to bring in an Avril Lavigne line – but it is just so difficult to resist when mere 96 hours ago I heard that song for the first time in 19 years.

If you are in Austin, Skate Dreams will be playing: March 14, 2:45pm at Rollins Theatre; and March 16, 5:30pm at Alamo South Lamar.

SXSW Song Of The Day: Spoon – Lucifer On The Sofa

Posted on by Paul in Song of the Day, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

SXSW 2022 is just one day away! And while it has definitely been too long since the last time SouthBy happened in person, it also feels a bit like it’s crept up on us all. But it’s nice to get excited about going again and there’s a lot to be excited about. So one more preview before the whole thing gets going tomorrow in Austin for the first time since 2019.

Today we’ll turn our spotlight to Spoon, one of the great Austin bands of the last 20 years or so. The band just came out last month with Lucifer On The Sofa, their first album in five years, which they’ll be promoting with a hometown appearance at this year’s fest.

And aside from the fact that it’s a great tune, the album’s title track also helps those of us returning to Austin for the first time in awhile to get in the mood with its lyrical references to Dale Watson, Lavaca, and West Avenue. Check it out.

SXSW Song Of The Day: Tallies – Wound Up Tight

Posted on by Paul in Song of the Day, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

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Dream pop outfit Tallies will be one of the several Toronto acts making their way to Austin for SXSW and for me personally, they’re one of the local acts I’ve been meaning to catch live for a few years now. This means chances are fairly high that I’ll break my unofficial “don’t go out of your way to see bands you could see back home” rule and check them out while I’m in Austin. But I break that rule pretty much every year, then go see the bands again when I’m back home too, so no big deal.

Check out the video for Tallies’ latest single “Wound Up Tight” below.

Tallies will be playing the following shows during SXSW:
March 17 – Try Hard Coffee – 4pm
March 17 – Mohawk Indoors – 11:40pm – 12:20am
March 19 – Lazarus Brewing Co – 5pm