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

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


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


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
Playing 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 Rachael 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 Rachael 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.


… 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: Shame, March 15, Barracuda

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


There’s a scene in the recently rebooted 21 Jump Street where Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are going back to school. They look around at all the cliches and quickly identify what they thought were the cool kids. Now back in their days the cool kids were these rude kids who don’t give a fuck and smoke and drink and skip classes but when they happen on these kids, they are all about saving the earth and stuff. Times have changed. It was a weird, funny and true scene.

Which brings me to Shame. They are young, they are brash, they are in your face. When you take a look at them on stage, it’s not entirely far fetched to say they look like they came out of a time warp from London in 1979. Some bands just have it. Shame has that presence. They are awesome.

Lead singer Charlie Steen paces on stage, he sneers menacingly at the crowd. When you see him on stage, you really come to terms with the fact that some people were born to be singers. He is one of them. The way he carries himself, the way he grabs the mic as he spits out his songs, and the way he switches hands manically on the mic. It’s all mesmerizing and it’s incredibly hard not to get into it when you are there. His presence is intense and that intensity spreads throughout the crowd.

This is great, because Shame plays a really aggressive brand of post punk rock music. By the time the second song hit, the mosh pit was flowing, moving faster and faster to match the pace of the drums with the crowd feeding off the energy of the band (or vice versa). It was getting chaotic.

Which brings me back to the top. These kids seem like good kids – during a mid song break, Charlie Steen reminded the crowd that this was just all entertainment, but everyone should be allowed to have a good time, and that we shouldn’t all be that aggressive to each other. It was an odd thing for a band that incites such an intense crowd to say, but I thought it was pretty cool.

Anyways, Shame is awesome live. They have big loud guitar songs, a hell of a presence on stage and just this vital energy about them that makes you wish you were young and fun again.