SXSW 2016: an introduction to SXSW 2016, Polica at The Onion / The AV Club Present Another Manic Monday, and a visit to a metal bar – 14th March 2016

By on Wednesday, 23rd March 2016 at 2:00 pm

My Austin adventure for SXSW 2016 started 2 days before Carrie’s and involved an altogether too long trek by plane to the Lone Star State. Thankfully, after what seemed like an eternity, I touched down Saturday night at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, meeting soon enough with friends for a steaming bowl of ramen at Ramen Tatsu-Ya on South Lamar. At the time, it may have seemed a strange choice, as daytime temperatures on my first 3 days in town reached around 35 C (95 F), typical for a Washington, DC summer day. However, when you are tired, broken down and hungry, always trust in the power of a bowl of steaming hot soup. Preferably with noodles. Trying to explain how to make tea-stained eggs and describe this feeling of home to my Irish and English compadres was alternately disorientating and comforting…

But this is a music Web site, not a food one, so let me launch right into our coverage of this year’s SXSW. Even before the official start of the Music portion of SXSW – the music conference panel programming and the many daytime and nighttime music showcases – film and interactive conference attendees still had the opportunity to see some great bands before the masses arrived for 5 days of the biggest music banquet laid out to you, allowing for large scale gluttony. Musical artists who performed on Monday and earlier had the not as so much advertised in playing to audiences different than those present for the music festival proper, giving these artists an extra chance to make a good impression on an entirely different set of people and probably in many cases, tougher crowds who had never heard of them, forcing them to work harder to win them over.

At the venue known to previous SX punters as Red 7 before it was closed, rebranded and reopened in late 2015 as Barracuda, Minneapolis band Polica had no problem drawing in crowds to their early Monday night gig. The Mom + Pop Records act released their third album, the highly politicised ‘United Crushers’, on the 4th of March, 2 Fridays prior to SXSW 2016. They were arguably the biggest draw of The Onion / The AV Club Present Another Manic Monday afternoon-into-night party across Barracuda’s two stages. With the driving electronic beats of Polica’s singles, I expected to love Polica and for Carrie to absolutely hate them.

Polica Onion AV Club SXSW 2016 1

But wouldn’t you know, it turned out exactly opposite of this. Taking over the larger Backyard stage to a crowd of adoring fans, the heat seemed to have no effect on frontwoman Channy Leaneagh’s energy, She and her band busted through newer, upbeat singles ‘Lime Habit’ and ‘Wedding’ and its controversy-laden lyrics from the new LP, on which I felt the band shined. When the tempo was slowed to allow for the more considered numbers from second album and more feminist-focused ‘Shulamith’, it felt a bit of a let-down. That said, both Carrie and I succumbed to both the stifling and the all too ubiquitious cigarette smoke under the largely suffocating tenting of the Backyard, and neither of us wished to push through the already massive crowd to get pictures from down the front. Maybe under different, smoke-free circumstances, I might have been able to concentrate on the music and enjoy myself more?

the inside of Casino El Camino

Prior to Polica, Carrie was off to see Scottish band The Spook School, so it was up to me to find a place for dinner. (Sorry. Skip this section if you don’t fancy reading about food. But I promise this is at least tangentially related to our time at SXSW 2016.) Being so hot, I didn’t want to each much, so a loaded hot dog sounded pretty good to me. I had no idea what kind of bar Casino El Camino on 6th Street would be, but the security guy at the door should have given me a big clue: he had makeup on his face reminiscent of Alice Cooper (you know, that black eyeliner streaking down) or maybe one of the guys in KISS, but without all that white powder. He wanted to look in my bag and said he had to confiscate my unopened bottle of water. He asked me if I was here to order food and I said yes. I expected gruff direction from him into the bar, but what came out of his mouth was one of the nicest, most considerate welcomes I received all week in Austin.

When a sweaty Carrie finally turned up to order food and I was chowing down on my hot dog (which was very good, by the way), I started laughing when ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ by The Sweet started blaring over the PA. It’s not exactly the kind of music I expected at a bar like this. Further, I had to explain to her that it was a song from the ’70s played with some frequency on Radcliffe/Maconie. There were a lot of surprises for us along the way during our week in Austin, and I hope you enjoy reading our reviews of our time at SXSW 2016 in the coming days.

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