SxSW Film Review: Science Fair (Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster)

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

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If I had wanted to start my scientific career with… correction: if I had known that people still consider it meaningful to launch one’s scientific career by going through a pageantry similar to the Westminster Dog Show, I could have marched on and decimated my cynical optimism much more effectively and quit a long time ago.

For those of you unfamiliar with Science Fair, the International Science and Engineering Fair, run by Intel, is an annual convention that plucks kids around the world, together with their nerdy chemical-volcano-equivalent and drop them in front of the relentlessly all-seeing eyes of Sauron. Um, I mean, real expert judges in their respective STEM fields.

I was of course only half joking about the LOTR analogy. Pragmatically, everyone knows that the Science Fair is akin to a gateway-to-Harvard lottery. Once you complete the task, the world is your oyster, and your life will never be the same. Only differences being that you shoulder only your future; an unspeakable evil will not stop taking over both your mind and the world if/when you fail. And like Mario, you have a few tries. And to be perfectly blunt, no one “sciences fairly” at science fairs, either. At least, not if you wish to place or win awards. I would much rather a PhD helms the science program in my school, instead of running a program that tutors elite students to specifically win science fairs. Yet the disparity between true experts and a teenage prodigy can still be devastatingly vast. A unprepared, raw experience can still recall being chased by the Predator, or cowering like the lamb in the jaws of the Jurassic Park T-Rex. So, kids do need guidance – but is it worth the cost of everything else?

All these conflicting lines of thoughts are what make this film so fascinating to watch. Co-directed by a past participant of the Fair (Costantini), Science Fair is an uproarious, hilarious, naive and yet aching look at how we glory in our own (apparent) success in preparing the next generation for the most technologically advanced society humankind has ever seen. While there are really no surprises given the current sociopolitical context, I won’t give anything away about the narrative, except to say that it is the wunderkind characters themselves who really drive the film. How can you not be drawn into the youthful energy focused 123% on curing malaria one moment, 314.159% on head-banging to trap music the next, while holding a religious certainty of your unique significance in the universe? Ostensibly, the film wants to promote the continuation of the Science Fair, as Intel has been decreasing its funding recently. What we should also do, besides rushing to watch this documentary, is to re-live and reflect on whether it is the best way to promote scientific learning. Just remember – your tube-full of all-3-meals each bedridden day at 98 could come with a side of shitty rave music (or perhaps we would all be reprogrammed to love rave music). Shudders all-round.

SxSW Review: Gordi, March 16, Blackheart

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

Gordi, March 16, 2018

Listening to the demo from Sophie Payten, AKA Gordi, you may jump to the conclusion that Gordi relies on a lot of voice modulations and overlay. And you may then surmise she was trying to cover something with technology. I am glad that I was of course completely wrong on this count. Having listened to her live, one would have to be a deaf, luddite curmudgeon to insist otherwise.

While not a soprano that would wow at first blare, her contra-alto is forthright and firm. Coupled with similarly solid and varied songwriting and a slightly stern yet forgiving stage presence, her performance at Blackheart was a convincingly complete package. I daresay no one expected to be transfixed in a sandy pit as she worked through most of the tracks from her 2017 album Reservoir. And yet there we were, fighting the oddly melancholy and triumphant melody with what lingered from the last. If that is what she can do with an outdoor set for 80 people at 5pm over a not insignificant hint of refuse wafting through the air from the adjacent apartment, imagine what she could sound like in the Presbyterian or Moody Theater.

I find “Can We Work It Out” and “Bitter End” to be two stand-outs. Check out the “Bitter End” video for some normal feelings – I find it comforting that these feelings still resonate with 24 year olds in this day and age.

SXSW Reviews: Casper Skulls, Sloppy Jane, High Waisted, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band, … And you Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, March 17

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

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My Saturday afternoon on the last full day of SXSW was taken up by a fair bit of aimless wandering and discovery as I didn’t have too much of a set agenda. As it turned out, just going with the flow led to several pleasant discoveries. Here’s how it all played out:

Casper Skulls
Starting things off early with an 11:30 set, we did our patriotic duty and caught one more Toronto act at SXSW after taking in sets from Greys, The Weather Station, and Yamantaka//Sonic Titan earlier in the week. Signed to Buzz Records (their latest, Mercy Works, came out late last year), Casper Skulls put on an impressive show despite it being before noon on the last day, starting the day off right with some Sonic Youth-inspired sounds.

Sloppy Jane
Intense art-rock that brought to mind everything from musical theatre to grindcore, Sloppy Jane delivered one of the most memorable and entertaining sets of the whole week. Frontwoman Haley Dahl (who spent much of the set wearing nothing but shoes, socks, and her guitar) was a commanding presence as she lead her nine piece band though their noontime performance.

High Waisted
Fun, surfy, poppy rock n’ roll out of New York City. I enjoyed this band’s set at Beerland (aka the most dimly lit bar in Austin) so much I went back and saw them again later that same afternoon. In fact, the band were playing 3 or 4 sets that afternoon, all of them around the same stretch of Red River Street. That’s SouthBy for you.

Sturle Dagsland
Sturle Dagsland caught my attention pretty quickly during an afternoon set at the stage on the corner of 7th and Neches – primal, wordless vocals, avant-garde sounds, a singer jumping off the stage, doing a front roll and attacking a folding chair that happened to be in front of that stage – and that was all just over the course of one song. I think I only caught about one and a half songs by Sturle and his brother Sjur, but the Norwegians definitely made an impression in that time. They get high points as well for some humorous stage banter, including making up titles like “Yiyiyiyiyi” (or something to that effect) for their songs and Sturle telling a story about a man he had seen earlier who spit on his own crotch while staring at a wall. “If you know this man … tell him he’s on the guest list for our next show.”

Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band
A Beatles cover band fronted by Miles Kane and Muse’s Matt Bellamy and featuring members of Nine Inch Nails and Jet among others? Sure, why not? Playing the headlining slot at Stubb’s for Rachel Ray’s ever popular Feedback day party, the Jaded Hearts Club Band played a fun set packed with the familiar repertoire of the Fab Four. Decked out in all black garb and leather jackets, the band paid sartorial homage to The Beatles’ early days in Germany (because really, wearing stuff more reminiscent of their late ’60s period might have been a bit harder to pull off) as they inspired many mass singalongs. And then Rachel Ray came out to thank the crowd and it ended in a bunch of people chanting her name, which seemed a bit weird, but whatever.

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… And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
“We were going to play a new song, but we ran out of time,” announced Trail Of Dead’s Conrad Keely at the beginning of their afternoon slot at The Mohawk. Instead, the band ran through a bunch of classics from earlier in their career, including the very first song they ever played live, which apparently happened at a little coffee shop not too far from The Mohawk. I don’t think any of the die hard fans in attendance minded hearing the old stuff one bit, although a new track would have been cool to hear as well. It’s always good to see an Austin act at SXSW and with Trail Of Dead being an old favourite regardless, this was a no brainer. I’ve seen these guys live a few times now and they never disappoint.

SXSW Review: Field Division, March 17, Parish

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

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On the final night of SXSW, Des Moines folk duo Field Division gave a preview of the mellow, ’70s-inspired tunes off of their upcoming debut Dark Matter Dreams to the crowd at The Parish on Saturday night for a showcase put on by their label Bella Union that also featured Tiny Ruins, Xylouris White, and Ezra Furman.

Singer Evelyn Taylor described her musical partner Nicholas Frampton as a one man band at one point as he paused to deal with an issue with his guitar. “We have a band actually,” he added. “They live in Texas – Denton.” Someone in the crowd responded by shouting out that Denton was only 300 miles away. “Yeah, they’re all like, dads and stuff. I’m not a dad, I don’t know how that is.”

As it turns out, this band of dads he was speaking of happens to be members of Midlake, which immediately boosted my opinion of Field Division. The songs sounded good in the live duo incarnation, but I can only imagine that having Midlake sprinkle some of their sonic magic onto the recordings would make it sound even better. I guess we can find out for sure once the album comes out in a few months.

Dark Matter Dreams is out June 22 on Bella Union.