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Big star rising: SXSW 2010
by Brenda Schumacher
2010-04-07

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The 24th annual SXSW® 2010: Music + Film + Interactive took place in near perfect weather, March 12-21, in Austin, Texas, and once again distinguished itself as one of the most important—and thrilling—music and cultural gatherings in the world. Although the interactive festival attendance eclipsed music attendance for the first time, the music still reigned as king, drawing industry power-houses, musical legends, indie programmers, producers, fans—and most importantly, eager new bands, exploding with creativity and vying to be the next big thing.

For music lovers and industry pros alike, it was an exhausting and exhilarating week of sampling from more than 2,000 artists showcased on 80-plus stages throughout the city. Exacerbating the pleasant problem of wanting to be at 10 different places every hour were the hundreds of day parties, house shows, concerts at unofficial venues and guerilla-style performances. ( Many were more buzzed about than the "officially sanctioned" showcases. )

Underground phenomenon Sissy Bounce created an early buzz and rode it all week. This queered-up version of the '90s New Orleans' Bounce is driving a wild post-Katrina revitalization, with hypersexualized, bold gender-blending and provocative rap. Sissy Bounce features the same athletic, enthusiastic butt-jiggling as the Big Easy's Bounce, with updated beats, more flamboyant and politically charged rhymes, and fierce drag, trans and androgynous performers. Although famed Big Freedia missed SXSW due to injury, the venerable Katey Red; DJ Rusty Lazer; and dancers Altercation and Red incited audiences into a frenzied call-and-response, with the performers and audience blurring into one huge bounce party.

As always, SXSW was a great opportunity to see queer favorites, including JD Samson and Men, Margaret Cho, Girls in a Coma, Sandra Bernhard, Hesta Prynn and dozens of other acts. The infamous underground GaybyGayGay party, hosted annually by Austin drag icon Rebecca Havemeyer, was once again a major highlight of SXSW. Hundreds of queers and their fans gathered on blankets for a day of performance by Kid Congo, Gretchen Phillips, Shunda K and the New Orleans Sissy Bounce troupe.

The Joan Jett biopic the Runaways, starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart, was one of the most anticipated premieres at SXSW. Lines stretched down both sides of the block at the historic Paramount Theater, and fans strained and pushed ( in a polite Austin kind of way ) to get near the red carpet for a glimpse of the glamorously styled Fanning and Stewart, and Runaway's front woman, Cherie Currie.

After the premiere, Fanning, Stewart and Currie jumped into the SXSW scene, and were spotted daily at parties and showcases. In one remarkable surprise appearance, Currie, flanked by Kristen Stewart and entourage, quietly arrived at a Girl in a Coma show. Within moments, the leather-clad Currie jumped on stage and delivered a full-throttle rendition of the Runaways hit "Cherry Bomb" backed by Girl in a Coma's Nina and Phanie Diaz and Jenn Alvaross. It was a poignant homage and, perhaps, a passing of the torch.

Loved/hated queer blogger Perez Hilton returned with his One Night in Austin—a heavily sponsored showcase featuring rising talent Alphabeat, Marina and the Diamonds, VV Brown and comeback kids Macy Gray; Snoop Dogg; and Courtney Love and Hole. Reviews of the comebacks were mixed, but the thousands waiting in line for his party would indicate that Perez's annual show is here to stay.

Huge lines and capacity houses were common at the showcases for the big-buzz bands. Surfer Blood, the Florida foursome credited with driving the new "indie" surfer rock, turned away disappointed fans night after night. The super-hot Broken Social Scene lived up to the mega hype, and thrilled their celebrity-filled audiences. Neon Indian, XX, Broken Bell, Japanroids, Memory Tapes, Dengue Fever and Antler also created a rush for tickets and whispers that they might be the next big break out band.

Moving far beyond their "indie rock" staple, SXSW has become a renowned international music festival, presenting hundreds of bands, genres and musical forms from around the world. To keep the international offerings relevant and groundbreaking, SXSW now has offices in Ireland, Germany, Australia and Japan fueling a brilliant and diverse annual line up.

Among the international acts that turned heads this year was Telephunken, a super-charged Euro-electronica rock band from Madrid that infuses funk, rock and breakbeat with Latin rhythms, and arguably put on one of the best shows of the week at legendary Antone's. 60 Tigers ( from Monterrey, Mexico ) shared the bill, and kept the crowd dancing late into the night with driving beats and soaring harmonies. Latin garage rockers delivered big at SXSW, with Buenos Aires duo Capsula throwing down a driving mix of acid rock, punk and old-school psychedelic guitar rifts.

By the week's end Columbian electro-pop band Bomba Estereo and Nigerian hip-hop artist Nneka had risen to the top of the international fare, leaving rapt audiences blown away by the raw energy of the performances and grateful to SXSW for presenting these amazing new artists.

SXSW closed out with a solemn and moving memorial to Big Star's Alex Chilton, whose unexpected death March 17 stunned festival attendees, performers and organizers. Hundreds crowded into Antone's to join Evan Dando, M Ward, REM's Mike Mills and Big Star band members in honoring one of rock's most beloved and inspiring musicians. As friends and fans bade farewell, there was comfort in the knowledge that Chilton's spirit and influence will return to SXSW year after year in tomorrow's emerging artists.


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