Well, folks, it's finally over. I'm hoarse from screaming, exhausted from 96 hours of straight partying at South by Southwest, still desperately hungover yet rejuvenated beyond my own expectations about music as a whole. We all know the music industry isn't exactly putting out quality material these days, and between ClearChannel and BET, there are times I'd rather shoot myself then listen to blinged-out/shoe-gazing material by the latest thug rapper or eyeliner-wearing indie band being promoted by major labels. Spending the past four days in Austin, Texas, was a blessing, as the essence of artistry was on full display and the stamp of greasy record companies was nowhere to be found.
I knew it would be a good four days when, before I even saw a single band perform, a tiny miracle occurred in my hotel lobby. Last week, I wrote about Brazilian singer Gilberto Gil's latest album, Gil Luminoso, and I was there in the hotel, reading a note that one of our readers had sent me about the review. No sooner had I closed the e-mail than Gil himself entered the hotel, flanked by a few handlers and security. I don't get star-struck, but my mouth almost hit the floor. For some reason, Gil walked right up to me without extending his hand and gave me a hug. Why, I don't know. I like to think it was karma. We rambled on for a few seconds, me in broken Portuguese and him in English, until the awkward moment was over.
As a new jack to the SXSW experience, there were five lessons I had to learn. The first was about planning. It's great that the Stooges, Redman, Girl Talk, and some obscure Tel Aviv band called Balkan Beat Box are all playing shows on the same night, but when they're performing at the exact same time, one has to make choices. You can't see everything and, of course, Redman won that competition hands down. Sorry, Iggy.
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The second lesson was that Tampa's all-female hip-hop group Yo Majesty is the truth. They might all look like black lesbian prison rappers with outfits to match, but these girls were the liveliest performers I saw all week. One minute, they had an entire club dancing around screaming "Fuck that shit, fuck that shit," then the next thing I knew, clothes started coming off, titties were flopping around, people were jumping on stage, and everyone started freak-dancing like we were at the wildest party of our lives. At one point, a fellow music critic (who will remain nameless) was licking his own nipples during one of their songs. The girls in the group, Shunda K, Shon B, and Jwl B, don't just rock parties; they are the party. And if they don't get a record deal after turning Austin upside down, then the music industry is as misogynistic as it seems.
The third lesson learned on this trip was that Pimp C from UGK (Underground Kingz) is no joke. The Texas rap legend was locked up for four years on aggravated-assault charges, and not surprisingly, he almost went back to jail at SXSW for the same thing. After his show with longtime partner Bub B was finished, a teenager went up to him, tried to hug him, and told him he was his hero. Well, Pimp C just got out of prison, and he immediately started yelling, "Don't put yo' hands on me I'm from the streets." Fists started flying, and Pimp C literally told someone in his crew to knock the kid out. The next thing I knew, someone was cold-cocking this poor guy. Maybe that's why they say it's better never to meet your heroes.
A fourth lesson was that the drunken reputation of Amy Winehouse is an understatement. While she has possibly the best voice of any white girl singer from London ever she had to cancel a show because she was so sloshed. We stayed at the same hotel, and I saw her stumbling around looking like a drunken mess I guess that's why her hit song is called "Rehab." I did catch her during a mildly sober moment at a Fader party, and she practically hid behind the microphone stand, seemingly full of nervous energy. On second thought, maybe that's why she drinks so much.
Finally, I learned this in Austin: It's OK to mess with Texas. I was lucky enough to stand front row at a Lee "Scratch" Perry concert a few nights ago but had no idea what to expect. He's easily the craziest and most flamboyant reggae singer in history, yet, for some reason, Direct TV decided to do a live broadcast of his performance and beam it into the homes of innocent bystanders. Luckily, Scratch took full advantage of this blunder. I don't know what the television producers were thinking, but Scratch came out and spent at least five minutes calling George Bush the devil. He also shouted lines like "666 Mr. Bush step back" and "Jesus is black" repeatedly in Texas, to an audience that didn't know if it was safe to laugh. The Dixie Chicks caught hell for far less. But after picking up the newspapers in Austin the next day, I learned there wasn't a single mention of it. I was a little angered to see that his words weren't taken more seriously. Then again, when the media are involved, it's all too easy to write off legitimate opinions of black artists as just the addled musings of a reggae loony, so I wasn't surprised.