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Buy one of the following Rapture CDs from amazon.com:

'Mirror' (1999)

'Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks' (2001)



Buy Kaito's 'You've Seen Us... You Must Have Seen Us...' (2001)



Buy one of the following Kinski CDs:

'Be Gentle With the Warm Turtle' (2001)

'Airs Above Your Station' (2003)



Buy Hang on the Box's 'Yellow Banana' (2001)



Buy 'The Best of Blur' (2000)

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Photograph by Todd Inoue

Big Chops: Jimmy Christmas of The D4 gets loose at SXSW 2003.

Austin-tatious

If the music industry can survive recession, digital downloading, war and club tragedies, it will roar back with a vengeance--a special SXSW report

By Todd Inoue

TALK ABOUT opening-night jitters. In downtown Austin last Wednesday night, a tangible air of angst and desperation lingered up and down the Sixth Street corridor. Whether the result of wartime tensions, the music industry slump, gas prices going through the roof or the Rhode Island and Chicago nightclub tragedies, America's biggest music industry showcase, South by Southwest (SXSW) reflected the mood of the times.

Fire department officials enforced codes to the letter; labels sought answers to downloading; bands shouted out for rock and peace; and music fans plodded through a dizzying bracket of choices from rock and pop to alt-country and hip-hop.

Ironically, the weather was on its best behavior, awarding visitors with four days of toasty 75-80 degree temps. In response, bands were pulling out all the stops, either mentioning their peaceful stance (Austin resident and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines was a frequent dedicatee) or aligning themselves with the Funkacratic Party. As the Jungle Brothers' Afrika Baby Bam reminded everyone during its Wednesday gig at Emo's, "There's war, gasoline prices, the situation in the Middle East, but we're all here in Austin because we're ready to paaaaarty!"

However, the beautiful weather couldn't push away the gloomy clouds that formed inside the Austin convention hall, where label execs were searching for the magic styptic pencil to halt the bleeding.

During a panel with label heads that drew longtime exec Jay Boberg, Judgement Records' Joe "The Butcher" Nicolo, V2's Andrew Gershon and Beggars Group/Matador CEO Lesley Bleakley, fingers were pointed all around at the demise of CD sales and the rise of digital downloading. Some wanted radio to pay labels for playing their music. Others bemoaned the Clear Channel and Infinity radio stranglehold.

The most obvious problem was putting out decent product. Boberg said that the music business model went from manufacturing to production; instead of mentoring stars and building careers, the industry is going for who can sell the most albums with the least amount of work in the shortest amount of time. Perhaps Gershon said it best when he watched the recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction awards and wondered, who will be inducted in 20 years? Chevelle? Puddle of Mudd?

They could all agree on a couple things: DVD sales will dip for the first time next year. Apple's personal-music device iPod is the most exciting and innovative platform to come through and could transform the way we buy music. Labels and artists need to look into other forms of media besides radio to be heard. Basically, use the Moby Method: If radio won't play you, there's a car/soda/clothing company that will.

Thus, SXSW was business as usual, with organizers attaching the event to hot trends of the previous year. New Zealand's Datsuns and the D4 hitched on the Vines caravan and brought the thunder from down under. Finland and Norway each held a showcase night, while Sweden had two, capitalizing on the Nordic rock phenomenon of 2002.

Detroit had 30 bands registered in the festival, no doubt runoff from the success of the White Stripes. It was also another big year for the The: The Rapture, the Fags, the Datsuns, the Dirtbombs, the Kingsnakes, the Quails, etc., etc.

If there was an overall message emerging from SXSW 2003, it was: just wait till next year. If the music industry can survive war, economic frailty, club disasters, copycat bands and Britney, it will rebound stronger, heavier and screaming for vengeance. The answers were blowing in the muggy Austin crosswind, as the streets clogged with attendees and music poured out of club doors and speaker cabinets. As Polyphonic Spree vocalist Tim Delaughter invoked, during the band's thunderous closing-night set at the Austin Music Hall: "Have a day, celebrate--soon you'll find the answer."

Hype Machine: The Official Hyped Band of SXSW 2003 was the Rapture--a New York quartet playing danceable rock music generously tweaked to fit Pornography-era Cure. It brought a level of indifference not seen since the last Yahoo Serious movie. The real deal buzzes, from strength of performances, went to Kaito and Kinski. More so Kaito, who managed to have everyone genuinely raving about its shows. Kaito's guitars were rocket launchers squeezing out all manner of sparks, confetti and ammunition. Kinski was an amazing find. The Seattle band's set didn't start promisingly when one member pulled out a flute and the other a viola bow, but rather than fall into arty pretensions, the four-piece played variations of manic build and release, somewhere between the Pixies and BRMC, and rocked the house.

Beijing Calling: There was something inspirational about watching two punk bands from Beijing, China, playing in an Austin record store under the watchful gaze of an oil-painted Billy Joe Shaver and Hank Williams. Brainfailure and Hang on the Box were two groups who flew 25 hours to Austin to make the festival. Brainfailure had an Operation Ivy sound and gutter-punk aesthetic. Hang on the Box was more of a sweet pop band cloaked in thrift-store duds. You think it's tough for punk bands to break in America? Try making punk rock in a country where the media is state controlled and flaunting societal norms can get you locked up. Hang on the Box and Brainfailure both deserve awards for most courageous bands of SXSW. They play San Francisco and Berkeley at the end of the month.

Woo-Hoo! Blur Is Back: Blur's "secret show" was the worst-kept secret of the festival. The band performed at the spacious La Zona Rosa without guitarist Graham Coxon (who left the group ) or its bassist, Alex James (due to visa problems). So Blur V.3.0 had Damon Albarn picking up guitar duties, a hastily recruited bassist, drummer Dave Rowntree, a keyboardist, three backup vocalists and two percussionists. New tracks showed the influence of Norman Cook, the Clash, Curtis Mayfield and the country of Morocco (where the new album, Think Tank, was recorded). The band swept through its back catalog on "Beetlebum," "Popscene" "Song #2" (derisively introduced as "Fuck All" by Damon) and "Girls and Boys." It was all ragged, jagged and jet-lagged.

Could It Happen Here? The differences between Austin and downtown San Jose night life are truly astronomical. On Sixth Street, the main drag was closed down to auto traffic every night of SXSW, and police sat on their bikes at 2:30am, watching people eat pizza, walk, talk, mingle and flirt. When there's trouble, it's handled discreetly with a minimum of fuss. There's no huge police sweep; people are allowed to linger without being forced into their cars to drive home drunk. Every year in San Jose it becomes clearer: downtown night life, like the music industry, is built upon an antiquated business model and needs a serious rehaul.


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From the March 20-26, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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