The middle part of March is South By Southwest time in Austin. There are tons of visitors in town, checking out films and music. There’s always something happening down there. One of my favorite times of year. On the downside, getting a badge or even a wristband is pretty expensive, and getting into shows without a SXSW badge — especially the popular ones — is tough.
Fortunately, SXSW is not the only game in town. There are many, many shows and parties going on, a lot of them free. You can still have a hell of a good time and hear some great music without going to any official SXSW show. Last Saturday was a case in point. I went to a little underground music/digital art festival called Y.East 2, held at Cheer Up Charlies, at 1104 E. 6th Street.
It featured numerous electronic music acts and video artists. FM Campers (mentioned before on this blog) invited me to the show via Facebook. It started at 12:30 p.m. and went on till 3 a.m. I didn’t stick it out till the end, but I saw and heard some awesomely weird, cool acts and found a few new favorites. The ones who really stood out for me included:
They have a great electro-psych sound. Along with their singer (Anthony) and synth player/programmer (Shaun), they have a very energetic drummer (Jason) – not just programmed beats. The place was small, but they really packed it. Doing the visuals for their show was Wiley Wiggins, the guy who played the long-haired little freshman kid from Dazed and Confused. Apparently he’s really big in the underground video scene in Austin.
I predict FM Campers are headed for the big time, however hard they might try to stay underground. Their tunes are just too good. Just check out this song:
How I Quit Crack
Along with FM Campers, this is the girl I went to see, based on videos I’ve seen on Youtube. She didn’t disappoint. The singer’s name is Ernestina Forbis (though everyone seemed to call her Tina). It’s hard to describe what she does, but basically… It’s a kind of electronic goth music. Very unique style. Black lights, with makeup and decorations that glow. She usually has some kind of cross on display. Lots of distortion and feedback, plus vocals. She has a great voice, but it’s essentially an instrument. She’s a bit like Cocteau Twins in that respect. Accompanying her on guitar last weekend was a Chris Cones, a guy from the Bay area who calls himself Skullcaster.
Really, you’d have to be there. Here’s the next best thing (I didn’t record this and it wasn’t from Y.East 2 – my pics didn’t come out either, maybe next time…):
A guy who sang and screamed while playing what I would refer to as chiptunes – what sounded like video game music. Maybe a cross between Nine Inch Nails and Devo? Chris Yatagarasu told me he creates his songs using a program called Famitracker. Very cool.
Very good chiptunes music, pushing the boundaries of that emerging genre. His songs were complex and funky.
This guy was playing really cool electronic music using a virtual reality glove he converted to a MIDI controller. Really fun to watch. His sounds reminded me a bit of Ronald Jenkees.
This guy was a real hoot. He had a Mexican Wrestler-style mask, and had a little plastic mask stuffed in his waistband above his crotch. He did some great cut-and-paste type music, much of it hip hop but not all. He had Queen singing, “We are the losers,” and had DMX rapping “Y’all gonna make me suck my dick.” He had everyone cracking up including me.
I got to meet quite a few musicians in between shows, including Tina from How I Met Crack, Bradford Kinney from Ghost of Electricity and Matthew Armistead of Aurora Plastics Company. They were pretty fun to hang out with. Friendly and funny.
Go East Young Man
I have to admit I haven’t ventured into the east side of Austin very often. Other Austinites who never go there will tell you it’s nothing but a lot of crack neighborhoods, but it isn’t the case. I’m sure those can be found, but East 6th Street was like a blast from the past. Young people strolling around or hanging out at stores and eateries. Little yards full of food trailers with picnic tables between them, selling cheap, but tasty food. The area had that bohemian vibe that I was afraid had disappeared when the rich people came along and started putting up high rises. It was like Austin, 20 years ago. I loved it.
I really liked the vibe at Cheer Up Charlies, by the way. Kind of a seedy-looking dive that somebody got hold of and turned into a cool place. From what I’ve read, they consider themselves a “queer bar,” which is distinct from a gay bar in that both gays and straights, hipsters and squares intermingle. They make some unusual cocktails – I had the habanero pineapple margarita. Damn good I must say. They also sell kombucha tea, a fermented beverage that I never tried before (and probably won’t like). I was willing to try it just to say I had, but they ran out of the stuff.
They have a couple of trailers in back selling vegan food. I got a Southwestern vegan dish from Iggi’s Texatarian called a “Hail Seitan” mainly for the humor value, but it turned out to be damn tasty. I never would’ve known it was vegan if you just handed it to me. One of the guys working there turned out to be a fellow Reddit user. Hell of a nice guy. I never met one of those in person before.