SXSW Day 4: Dum Dum Girls are ready for their close up, No Age gets bigger and Sleigh Bells hits hard
The likes of Perez Hilton and Rachael Ray threw in-demand parties on the fourth and -- for all intents and purposes -- final day of the South by Southwest music conference and festival in Austin, Texas. With just under 2,000 bands, many of them on the hunt for next-big-thing status, plotting a show-going schedule can be an arduous task, and it's easy to see why designer quesadillas and flavored drinks can be a welcome distraction.
Yet after the guest lists have been tossed and the music industry has retreated from the Texas capital, it won't be the VIP parties that made a lasting impression. It will be the artists.
Los Angeles has a worthy contender in the Dum Dum Girls, the '60s-tinged fuzzed-out rockers who take old-fashioned melodies and make them streetwise tough. All sporting different variations of black, the Dum Dum Girls have a look that could be ripped from a vintage film noir poster, and a sound that mirrors that femme fatale image.
Though based in L.A., the Dum Dum Girls have felt a bit like outsiders. The band's rapid ascent began last fall in New York at the CMJ Music Marathon, and their hometown shows have been few and far between. The band's first SXSW comes near the eve of the March 30 release of the act's Sub Pop debut, "I Will Be," and in Austin, the band was more assured, confident and simply downright cool than it had been at its smattering of L.A. gigs.
Opening with a slowed down and droned-out version of the Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire," the Dum Dum Girls offered the song as if it was a dare. The band stood largely in place, with a glare affixed out above the audience, lending a detached, effortless and old-fashioned rebellious rock 'n' roll attitude to its songs. Girl group harmonies grace the racing "Bhang, Bhang, I'm a Burnout," and drummer Frankie Rose, ex-Vivian Girls (a more 21st century reference point for the group), brought a defiant kick to the more moderately paced "Rest of Our Lives."
Time will tell if such vintage trappings have a life outside of SXSW. Yet even if the Dum Dum Girls tap a rock 'n' roll sound that may live outside the mainstream, it's one that never really goes out of style. And speaking of style, it probably won't have hurt that the Dum Dum Girls have it in spades.
Other notes from Day 4 of SXSW:
A wandering find: On the final night of SXSW, I tend to spend some time peaking in and out of clubs along 6th Street. With my colleague Ann Powers attending the tribute to Alex Chilton -- certainly the hottest show of the night -- I was free to roam. Sometimes it was a bust, as I completely missed well-liked rap newcomer Yelawolf -- his set, apparently, was about all of 20 minutes -- yet also discovered what quickly became one of my favorite shows of the week. The Bay Area's Sleepy Sun was heretofore unknown to me, and the act specializes in hard rock of the more hypnotic kind. There's a definite metal backbone -- the thick, slow-building kind -- but singer Rachel Williams could easily be fronting a soul band. She shares vocal duties with Bret Constantino, and highlights the warmer side of the act. One got the sense that Sleepy Sun could easily devolve into a lengthy stoner metal jam session, if it so desired, but just when things seem to pick up, Constantino pulls out a harmonica and Sleepy Sun shows that it has some pretty deep folk roots as well.
They definitely ring: At 4 a.m., it's now been about eight hours since Brooklyn's Sleigh Bells kicked off my evening at the Levi-sponsored Fader Fort, and I still can't decide if it was the most brilliant set I saw this week -- or the most infuriating. At times, Sleigh Bells is a mess, a collage of glaringly loud guitar streaks and rudimentary hip-hop sounds. Derek Miller can write some fast, Andwer WK-styled guitar riffs, and also spends plenty of time wielding his instrument to create air-raid-siren-like distress calls. Alexis Krauss can sing, but she's better off not rapping, and she spends most of her time creating a stir. It's a post-apocalyptic version of the Ting Tings, with equal nods to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Beastie Boys. On tracks such as "Infinity Guitars" and the shout-along "Crown on the Ground," the Sleigh Bells hits fast and hard. The duo grabs your attention, no doubt, and here's hoping the act's debut album, to be released in May via M.I.A.'s label N.E.E.T., can hold it.
No Age gets bigger:Deep into the planning process for a forthcoming album, Los Angeles duo No Age performed an SXSW set heavy on new material Saturday night. Except the band, also signed to Sub Pop, is no longer a duo. Saturday night marked No Age's third performance in front of an audience as a three-piece, as guitarist Randy Randall and drummer/vocalist Dean Allen Spunt have added Cundo Bermudez to the mix. Much of the new album, Randall said after the gig, was written without Bermudez, who handled all sorts of digital and sampling equipment. Yet nevertheless he helps thicken the band's sound. Now a permanent touring member, said Randall, Bermudez with No Age still offers fast, reckless and sometimes abrasive takes on what were probably at one point rather pretty melodies, but there's a greater denseness to them. Atmospherics were never overdone, and instead play-out like an extension of Randall's guitar work. I would quote some of the new lyrics, but Spunt's vocals at the SXSW club were deeply buried behind rhythmic rush, and Spunt said the new song titles were too much works-in-progress to share. Enticing, however, is the band's willingness to greater explore shifts in tempo, making its punk rock attack all the more forceful.
Stay tuned to Pop & Hiss for a complete wrap of SXSW bands watch, and some tidbits from afternoon panels I didn't get to earlier. Chief Times music critic Powers will have a full wrap in Monday's Calendar (online Sunday), which will include coverage of Satuday's tribute to Chilton. For now, good night from Austin. Here's a shot of Austin's 6th Street about 2:15 a.m.
Top photo: The Dum Dum Girls. Photo credit: Jack Plunkett
Middle photo: Sleigh Bells. Photo credit: Todd Martens
Bottom photo: Austin's 6th Street. Photo credit: Martens