The Bass Beat at South By Southwest

By Contessa Abono The 25th Annual South By Southwest Music Conference was held March 16–20, 2011 in Austin, TX. Sifting through the thousands, yes thousands of bands and navigating through the 100,000+ showgoers is challenging—although having access to the SXSW
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By Contessa Abono

The 25th Annual South By Southwest Music Conference was held March 16–20, 2011 in Austin, TX. Sifting through the thousands, yes thousands of bands and navigating through the 100,000+ showgoers is challenging—although having access to the SXSW App, Twitter and Facebook was helpful.
?Walking through Downtown 6th Street of Austin during SXSW has to be one of the most colorful experiences. It's the Mardi Gras of music, and the range of folks there goes from your run-of-the-mill city hipsters to the out-of-towner dance club goers who are half-naked and celebrating their 21st birthday. So you’ll want to do your best to find sidestreet acts, unlisted events and industry hosted parties to beef up your chances of getting into more shows and catching new music.

Judging from the small percentage of bands I was able to fit in between Thursday through Saturday afternoon, I believe this is going to be an awesome year in music! Here’s a few groovin’ bass highlights (in no particular order):

Mike Watt & The Missing Men played at Ginger Man on Friday. Watt took the stage and looked back at the backline bass amp. You could hear a chuckle, almost as if to say, “Will anyone even hear me with this?” A few moments later it was loud and clear this was going to be a cool show. The 3-piece band (Tom Watson on guitar and Raul Moraleson on drums) kept things going as Watt grabbed the beat by the horns.

The Sheepdogs
travelled to SXSW from Saskatoon, Canada and had a full bar at Paradise on Friday. Bassist Ryan Gullen added a great feel to each song with classic ’70s flair—almost like a C.C.R. melting into modern rock. Part of the band’s buzz is due to the fact that they are finalist for the inaugural Rolling Stone Contest, where contestants choose the cover artist for an issue of Rolling Stone.

Stubb’s Bar-B-Q has some kick-ass food and with a 4000-capacity outdoor venue, this was for sure one hot spot for many acts. For bassists, one of the shining moments was when O.M.D. took the stage with surprise guest Moby. Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys performed a special two-man act playing their music from the well-known British synth-pop group, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Toward the end of their set Friday afternoon at the Spin's SXSW day party, they decided to welcome a third member. "Our new bass player is going to take over for us," McCluskey said, calling Moby -- who'd already introduced the group. "This is the first time we've ever had more bass guitars on stage than synthesizers," said McCluskey, who plays the bass guitar in addition to singing lead. Moby played bass on 'Souvenir,' a song he remixed back in 1998, and stuck around for closer 'Enola Gay,' a single from O.M.D.'s 1980 sophomore album, 'Organisation.' The Moby guest spot came after O.M.D. had played its best-known song, 'If You Leave,' a Top 10 hit from 1986's 'Pretty in Pink' soundtrack.

One venue, the St. David's Episcopal Church on E 8th street, had some of the best live acoustics. I caught a New Zealand singer/songwriter Brooke Fraser, who had a great backing band. The touring bassist especially was playing some super catchy lines. I later found out that Fraser has worked with some talented guest musicians who have added their music on Brooke’s album include infamous New Zealand muso Godfrey de Grut and Spearhead bassist Carl Young.

At Rusty Spurs, Tapes n’ Tapes played a freaking loud set! The bass was so intense that the entire floor was shaking like an earthquake. Bassist Erik Appelwick gets his bass sound noticed in the songs and turns it up a notch in his live performances.
You can find an interview with him here.

A band to watch out for in ’11 is the Head and the Heart. Recently signed to Sub Pop, this Seattle band is catchy as hell and played some packed shows at SXSW. Bassist Chris Zasche offers a lot to the music with great Fleet Foxes/Beatles/CSN influences.

Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman's has a new project, La Sera, that played Friday at the Red 7. The sound is very sunny California surf pop. Makes sense now that Goodman calls L.A. her home. See video of music here.

Reluctantly, I missed many a bands I had hoped to see. Although discovering and exploring Austin was rewarding on so many levels that I don't feel like any time was wasted.

Now my 2011 hit list is full. Here’s just a small few I’m digging: Puro Instinct, the Vaccines, Sleeper Agent, Superhumanoids, the Dum Dum Girls, Dinosaur Bones, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Ice Black Birds.


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