SXSW Day 5: “God Bless You And Welcome To Austin”

19 March 2012 | 2:33 pm | Cambell Klose

God Bless You and welcome to Austin!

Cambell Klose spends his final day at SXSW with Goldfields, Busby Marou, Pond, Jonti, The John Steel Singers and a man dressed as a bottle of Guinness.

The final day of the SXSW festival has arrived and all signs point to it being a good one. On the way to the bus a middle-aged lady with frizzy blond hair stops me and asks me where I am from. When I mention Australia she touches my arm and says, “Well, god bless you, and welcome to Austin,” before continuing on her way. The morning gets even more bizarre as my bus seems to contain every conspiracy theorist in the US and they go through topics ranging from the end of the world to a secret plan by the US government to introduce humanoid robots into the society. Then driving through the city I notice that an uncommon amount of people are wearing green. Thinking the world has indeed gone crazy I eventually realise it is St Patrick's Day… everything makes more sense now.

Busby Marou fire up the Aussie BBQ

Today is the day of the Aussie BBQ, the highlight of the Australian calendar at SXSW. Held at Maggie Maes it is already at capacity just after 1pm as people cram in to hear some fantastic Australian music and score a free snag. There is a veritable feast of music on offer and the only problem is deciding which acts to see. Walking into the venue there is a weird sense of being transported back home. There are giant triple j posters and banners plastered all over the place and the whole venue is awash with Australian accents, flags and paraphernalia. There is a huge line for the BBQ serving free sausages and burgers. Busby Marou are on stage in the Gibson Room as I walk in. This is a good thing because after seeing their show at Whole Foods I was dying to see them again and am pleased to discover they are equally as good today. Busby is being his charming self, cracking jokes while Marou et al are casually going about playing some fantastic music. Suffice to say there is a large crowd assembled enjoying their pleasant tunes and good humour.

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Outside on the rooftop stage Perth band Pond are playing a scintillating set to a rather awestruck group of lucky punters. There is such a diversity of Australian acts at the festival but the one constant throughout seems to be that the Aussies know how to put on brilliant live shows. These guys are amazing. Their psychedelic rock sounds as though it is being dredged up straight from the '60s, mingled with some dirty '80s synth and spat out through the speakers at Maggie Maes. Their lead singer sounds suspiciously like David Bowie and when not singing spends most of his time aimlessly wandering barefoot around the stage, occasionally hitting things or straddling other band members. Their fast, feedback-fuelled show is punctuated by amusing intermissions. At one point they pretend to be a British band that crashed the Aussie BBQ. “I don't know what the fuck we are doing at this fucking Australian event with all the fucking convicts,” the bassist calls out at one point, getting laughs from the Australians in the crowd (and nothing but bewildered looks from the other nationalities in attendance).

Satellite Sky is playing in the Gibson Room, pounding out some pure unadulterated rock. They definitely look like a rock band, and their energy is incredible. There was so much chemistry between the band members it was no surprise to learn later that they are siblings. There appears to be genuine warmth between them and they interact well on stage. Kim Kicks is absolutely lethal on the drums and I've never seen anyone drum quite so passionately. Shortly after, the outside stage plays host to another Melbournian act, Electric Jellyfish. Their set is a strange blend of punk and electronica. The percussion is exceptional with two drummers and, at times, is so intense it sounds like tribal war drums frantically beating. This seems to cause an awakening in the more primal instincts of the crowd and some fairly chaotic dancing ensues.

There is just such a fantastic vibe at the Australian showcase. It is the best event I have been to all week (I swear I'm not being biased…) and everybody is having a great time. The New Zealanders in attendance spend a lot of the time joking about how their best artists are being called Australians. The Twerps continue the afternoon of fine music and their infectious indie pop draws generous applause from a large crowd in the downstairs band room. At times they almost sound a bit Velvet Underground-esque, only with much less distortion in their sound.

The John Steel Singers sans trombone

I had heard a lot about the Brisbane five-piece The John Steel Singers, from a variety of people, but had not been able to see them up until now. It's definitely been worth the wait. They are unlike any other act I've seen. With four singers all lining up at the front of the stage, they cast an imposing presence. With the exception of the drummer the rest of the band members change instruments so regularly it is hard to keep track of who is playing what. Percussion instruments come and go, as does a trombone, the only constant is the incredible amount of energy they exudes. Their lyrics are insanely catchy and it is the sort of music you can't help but dance to. Speaking of dancing music, the Voltaire Twins are again charming people with their sweet indie electro pop. There is just something so likeable about them. Singer, Tegan, is electric on stage and her vocals shimmer over the crowd (that by this stage includes a man dressed as a giant glass of Guinness).

The most humble person at the festival would have to be the South African born artist, Jonti. He is so appreciative to the crowd in front of him and seems to be free of the ego that can sometimes come with being an artist. In fact, all the Australian artists I've experienced here at SXSW are so much fun and easy going. Jonti plays beautiful experimental electronica. It loops back and keeps building on itself without getting too intense. His vocals compliment the sound perfectly without actually taking attention away from the actual music.

Andy Clockwise racing against time

The contrast between the humble, quiet and well-mannered Jonti and Andy Clockwise could not be any greater. He looks exactly like a cross between Frank Zappa and Beetlegeuse, it is freaky. He prances about the stage dripping with sweat in a tacky, semi-tucked-in suit that looks as though he has slept in it for the past four nights (he may well have) and is coated in sweat stains. It is a bizarre performance and I still am unsure how I feel about it. Maybe violated? But it is definitely entertaining. He storms into the crowd and grabs the most beautiful women he can find and drags them up on stage with him. On a later trip into the crowd he grabs another girl and starts grinding her and nestles his head in her groin. On his way back to the stage he steals a photographer's camera and takes videos of the crowd. All his antics take a lot of focus away from his music which is actually catchy and pleasant synth-driven rock. Towards the end of his set he calls Cookie Barnes up to the stage and they sing a hilarious song about open relationships. Complete with interpretive dance movements, it is pure entertainment.

Goldfields have a lot to live up to after Andy, but they do it with ease. The venue is packed and there is only one stage open as the band from Ballarat start their set. Their sound is based in rock but has strong elements of dance music and pop weaved into it. It is a blinding set and they are flawless the whole way through. A brief intermission is put in midway through to get the obligatory chant of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi” out of the way. As the gig continues, Mark Fuller's vocals has a desperate edge to them. By the finale no one wants them to stop and the band even plead with the angry looking security guards to let them play one more. A raucous crowd side with the band, but to no avail. Like a particularly nasty Grinch the security guards kick everyone out until 7pm when it will re-open as a wristband-only venue.

The Aussie BBQ is a fantastic finale to the best festival I have ever attended. I can guarantee I will sell almost anything (how many organs do I have again?) to come again next year.