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SXSW Film Review: Under The Volcano (2021, Gracie Otto)

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Can a specific place affect the sound of a record? I’m not talking about regional scenes, or Sufjan’s Illinoise album, or how every single Chili Peppers song is about California in some way, or even how the equipment at a certain studio can elicit a different sound than another. What I’m talking about is whether just the simple act of recording in a certain geographical space can effect one’s state of mind. According to Under The Volcano, Gracie Otto’s documentary on the history of AIR Studios, it would seem the answer is yes.

Opened in 1979 by famed producer George Martin and located on the island of Montserrat, AIR studios was responsible for some of the top records of the 1980s from the likes of Elton John, Dire Straits, The Police, and several other notable names. So what was it that drew all of these top tier artists to this little island? For one thing, George Martin and general word of mouth, but for another, it seems that just the atmosphere of the studio environment and its surroundings had a lot of appeal. As Midge Ure notes in the film, “This little island had a heart you can feel.”

The film features lots of great footage and interviews with the many stars who recorded at AIR as well as the studio staff and others. The tales of how classic albums like Synchronicity and Brothers In Arms were made will be of definite interest to fans while stories of Elton John and Stevie Wonder playing shows at tiny local bars definitely give you that “wish I could have seen that” feeling. Other notable moments come in the form of stories like that of Jimmy Buffett wanting to buy up an entire bar just so that he and his band wouldn’t have to wait so long to get their next round of drinks. And the archival interview clip of Lou Reed talking about how he didn’t really care for the peaceful environs because “I need to hear traffic” is extremely on brand for Reed.

And of course, just like Chekov’s gun, the titular volcano, which for most of the film is pushed aside as just another passive inhabitant of the island, eventually does go off. By that point, Hurricane Hugo and the general drop in recording budgets over the course of the ’80s had already effectively put an end to AIR Studios Montserrat, but the volcano put the proverbial final nail on the coffin.

Still, while AIR Studios is no more, its legacy lives on, and Under The Volcano does a fine job of exploring that legacy.

SXSW Film Review: Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break (2021, Nick Gillespie)

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Paul Dood is weird.

Paul Dood is likeable enough, but also prone to making you a bit uncomfortable.

Paul Dood starts out with relatively good intentions but eventually goes off the rails.

All of the above statements describe the character of Paul Dood, the protagonist of Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break, but in many ways, they also work as descriptions of the film itself.

Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break tells the story of a man on the edge, a hapless loser who just wants to be famous, but who, through a series of misfortunes, ends up bumbling his way through a lunch break full of bloodshed and general mayhem. It’s a strong premise and one that holds a lot of potential for dark comedy even if the end product does come out a bit uneven.

When his dreams of becoming famous through a reality TV singing competition are dashed, sad sack Paul Dood comes up with a plan for vengeance that ends up sort of working even though nothing quite goes as planned. The film tries to keep things fairly sweet and lighthearted while also dealing with some rather gruesome subject matter, resulting in a film that comes off as a combination of Falling Down and Eurovision. And yes, that blend is as odd and incongruous as you might think.

Tom Meeten is great in the lead role and is surrounded by a talented cast of players who all seem to be having a lot of fun with the material, but the story does fall a little short at times, culminating in a resolution that doesn’t feel entirely earned in the end. Also, why cast Katherine Parkinson in your film and then give her so little to do?

Still, there are enough likeable moments in the film (the tea ceremony scene and Kris Marshall’s role as an absolutely terrible priest are good for a couple laughs) and thanks to a pivotal scene, I had “Together In Electric Dreams” stuck in my head for a good while after viewing it (definitely not a bad thing in my books) so I guess Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break ultimately gets a tentative thumbs up from me.


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Every year without fail, the British Music Embassy showcases at SXSW have been a constant fixture in the Panic Manual crew’s agenda. Year after year, the showcases have been a reliable source for discovering great new music.

And while SXSW 2021 was obviously quite different in many respects, in one respect it was no different – we may not have been able to cram in to Latitude 30 (or Cedar Street Courtyard, the Embassy’s new home had the festival taken place last year) to check these bands out in person, but the Brits still put on a stellar series of online shows all week, culminating in Saturday night’s final showcase featuring performances from IDER, 404 Guild, Afronaut Zu, and Penelope Isles. Of all of the acts that played on that final evening though, the one who made the biggest impression on me was also the one with the most stripped down and intimate set.

London duo IDER started off the night with a three song set of songs which explored themes of 20something melancholy and ennui, though that probably should come as no surprise given that the duo, made up of Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville, named their debut album Emotional Education. This theme was evident from the outset as the duo started things off with the lyric, “I’m in my twenties so I panic in every way” off of “You’ve Got Your Whole Life Ahead Of You Baby” but it carried through as a common theme throughout their three song set.

To close out the set, they ended things off with “Does She Even Know”, its lyrics dealing with anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty over a relationship that’s ended. Not necessarily the most uplifting stuff, but it’s certainly relatable to many and definitely quite easy to connect with when delivered over warm synth sounds and via the voices of Markwick and Somerville.

SXSW Review: OZAS, Oter, I See Rivers, Heave Blood & Die

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We have already already noted that one advantage of SXSW being a fully online festival is that with the prerecorded aspect of it all, some have really stepped up and produced some amazing content. The Taiwan Beats showcase was the first one to really impress, with unique filming locations making the performances that much more memorable and having the added bonus of the showcase almost doubling as a tourism video. Not that anyone’s going anywhere anytime too soon, but eventually, hopefully not too far in the future, we can travel again. In the meantime, we can still watch videos.

For their short showcase video, Northern Expo did something quite similar to Taiwan Beats with a video directed by Carl Christian Lein Størmer that not only highlighted four talented acts coming out of Norway and showcased the beautiful scenery, but threw in the added layer of including transition scenes that acted as a bridge connecting each performance. Does this mean that OZAS, Oter, I See Rivers and Heave Blood & Die are the Avengers of the Northern Expo Cinematic Universe? Sure, why not?

Starting things off were OZAS, a duo performing traditional Sámi music. The duo, made up of Risten Anine and Sara Marielle, harmonized beautifully, not surprising considering they are sisters. Following them, the camera moved to Oter, who put on a solid performance while riding in the back of a car. Keeping the theme of performing inside a vehicle going, we were treated next to I See Rivers performing inside of a cable car as it moved up a mountain. Finally, from atop that mountain, Heave Blood & Die let loose with a powerfully heavy performance that seemed like it was tailor made to be played on top of a snow covered mountain. Great scenery, great cinematography, and great music.