SCENE I: THURSDAY NIGHT
[Standing in a balcony overlooking a venue beneath the cool Texas night. A stranger approaches a music writer (myself) and a group of friends, all in a band the stranger has just signed]
Band Friend 1: Grayson, [Redacted.], have you two meet?
[Writer extends hand.]
Stranger with Record Label: You’re dead to me.
[Writer extends hand again and smiles in what he is sure is the most disarming Southern way ever, right?]
Stranger with Record Label: Nope, we’re done.
[Without smiling, Stranger walks away.]
Three Hours Pass. More alcohol is consumed. The group reassembles on the balcony after the club has closed.
[Writer extends hand. Stranger shakes it, grimaces.]
Stranger with Record Label: You’re still dead to me.
[Stranger walks away.]
SCENE II: FRIDAY NIGHT
[Standing under a tent, with a large man with long hair and a beard draping his arm around same music writer (myself) with a beard and a notebook]
Writer: Hey, [Redacted.], it’s great to see you again.
[Redacted.]: I’m glad you’re here, Grayson. Grayson, man, [Redacted II.] is going to kick your fucking ass tonight. Seriously, I wouldn’t put it out if it wasn’t good. The new stuff is so much heavier. Stay for ’em, I promise, they’ll kick your fucking ass.
[Writer smiles and agrees, silently wondering if the whole “kicking of fucking ass” thing is literal or figurative. As it were, he stays. With a great deal of bittersweetness, he’s happy to report that the ass-kicking was neither literal nor figurative.]
No foolin’: These scenes were highlights of my Thursday and Friday nights, and they both resulted from fairly recent reviews of records I’ve written for Pitchfork Media. For the onslaught of laments about corporate sponsors and how their day parties spoil South by Southwest and all the derision regarding folks down here either hoping to make some scene or stay loaded for 96 hours, this annual Texas gathering maintains a bedrock of very intense music fans. For good reason, too: There’s a band that’s probably pretty great playing somewhere in town for at least 18 hours of every day, and this is likely considered a business trip. If you don’t see ’em, you’re ruining your own day.
But these extreme conditionsvolume overload, standing fatigue, alcohol availabilitytend to exaggerate the main propensity of very intense music fans, which is to argue about music they love or hate. As a critic, you (hopefully) are often arguing about music, but you’re generally insulated from arguing about someone’s record with the person that either made or released that record by a few things: First, there’s distance, meaning that most music media relations are conducted digitally across state lines, giving the vexed a chance to relax before firing off a philippic or, like, punching you. Then, of course, there’s the notion that if someone doesn’t like one record, maybe they’ll like your next one. If they know your band, why make them hate your band on principle by being an asshole about something they once said somewhere? Just do what you do, and see if you can meet in the middle.
On a day-to-day, stress-level basis, that’s probably best for everyone. But Thursday and Friday nights’ events were a jolt of honesty abetted by alcohol and exhaustion, a reminder that people can take the records they love very personally, even if they’re working them professionally. Amid talk about “independent market shares,” “digital domains” and people passing out flyers for fucking everything (seeing storm drains clogged with handbills for indie rock bands is seriously obnoxious, dudes), industry types not mincing words about your unwillingness to do the same is refreshing.
More on yesterday’s music in a bit. Some highlights: Mi Ami, Absu, J. Mascis with Earthless, a Dan Auerbach house party and Woods. For now, time to catch Blank Dogs.