What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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Our Band Could
Be Your Life

by Michael Azerrad

Field-Tested by David Gutowski

in Austin, Texas

When I arrived in Austin for South by Southwest this year, I was met with a seemingly endless parade of advertisements and corporate-funded events. In the past several years, the interactive, film and music conference has come under fire for abandoning its roots and selling out, and as a long-time attendee, I can only agree (to a certain extent).

I decided to approach the music festival differently this year. Instead of jockeying for the hot showcases and day parties, I would spend more time searching out new music, seeing bands in relaxed, alternative venues, like house parties. Last year, I battled the hipsters to wedge myself into the crowds, only to experience music I was already familiar with. Since I endeavored to get back to the SXSW of old, one of the books I took with me was Michael Azerrad's book, Our Band Could Be Your Life.

When I first started attending SXSW in 1988, the festival was filled with many DIY acts, bereft of the kind of instant hype and publicity the internet now offers. In those days without music blogs, many of my first impressions of musical artists were through their live shows and SXSW was truly a musical mecca. Fittingly, Azerrad's book covers influential indie rock acts from 1981 — 1991, so I thought it would make a good companion for my trip.

Not surprisingly, the musical highlight of SXSW for me was a one-day, unofficial festival, Psychfest, put on by the local indie rockers, the Black Angels. In true DIY spirit, ten bands gathered for a dozen hours of music, drinking, and unabashed fun. Bands stayed the whole day, supporting their friends and the camaraderie of the community when not playing the music they loved for the sheer joy of it. While I was downing a Shiner Bock or making the obligatory devil sign with my outstretched right arm, I often thought about the groups in Our Band Could Be Your Life. Like the Psychfest musicians, the Replacements, Fugazi, Sonic Youth and the like, not only enjoyed playing music, but also retained their integrity. That Saturday in March reminded me that, though hype is important, holding on to your credibility is even more so.

David Gutowski publishes the (mostly) music blog, Largehearted Boy from deep in the American south.

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