Monday, September 14, 2009

I Left My Heart at Reify Dot Org

Austin Music Blogs
On the Internet

So, I moved to a new city recently. The last three places I worked in Colorado all went out of business last year, which seemed an ill omen. Also, the "economic downturn" wholly killed a Denver/Boulder music scene that was never all that robust to begin with. All the bands I used to make a point of driving into the city to see, like CAT-A-TAC, Everything Absent or Distorted, the Hot IQ's, and many others, split up. I couldn't even find a halfway decent band to join myself, after months of trying. So I packed the records, the cat, and the girlfriend in a U-Haul and find myself now some 1,000 miles south-southeast in Central Texas. I like it. Haven't gotten a job yet, but at least there have been plenty for which to apply. And everything's cheaper here (save car insurance) -- groceries, gas, rent, movies, shows. That last thing is a big deal. Boulder's indigenous combination of engineers and upper-class college students, two groups with lowbrow entertainment tastes and way too much disposable income, had driven the prices of even indifferent concert bills up to $25, $30 a pop. And God help you if you want a beer once you get there.

Price isn't the issue here. There's five-dollar shows and free shows every night, weekends even. The surplus of bands and clubs here means there's a number of pretty decent venues (from the look of things) that charge a token cover or nothing. If you're not in the least discerning, you can park by the river downtown and just walk around waiting to hear something catchy. But I'd like to accomplish a little more than heckling bar bands for playing "Feelin' Alright" or silently counting the time it takes the average weekend-warrior blues trio to reach their fourth chord of the evening.

So how do you find local shows worth attending? Since we settled on Austin as our new homebase about six weeks ago, I've been trying in vain to find local music coverage on the web that's both reliable and well-written. Clearly I'm not the only person who has sensed a void, as a daunting number of blog projects started and abandoned litter the link tables I hit. Austin Sound is updated fairly regularly and has led to me discover more interesting local bands (Invincible Czars, Band of Heathens, Haunting Oboe Music) than any other. But the writing quality is not great, the interviewers persistently ask stupid and ignorant questions (which in turn causes the bands being interviewed to give unserious answers), and the album reviews constantly say more about the writer than the band. This reviewer, for one, hates that style. There's also a fixation on music that's more weird than good, which I suppose is all down to taste. And their show reviews are simply terrible, slavish fanboy tripe.

The Austin Chronicle's Earache! blog does a disservice to its community by concentrating some 60-70% of its attention on big shows by out-of-town artists, probably because the Chronicle has enough pull to get its writers into the big shows for free. You'd think Austin's alternative newspaper would have better local coverage than Denver's, but you'd think wrong. Then again Denver has a small enough scene that it's genuinely feasible for Westword to review every local CD it gets and go to see every area band that agitates for it enough; the Chronicle would have to have 40 music writers to accomplish that.

Then pickings get slim, fast: Side One Track One has a great name and a great concept if it would stick to it, but it doesn't; like a lot of blogs it's been totally destroyed by YouTube. Every post is two sentences and then a video clip. I watch too much TV on television already; I don't want to watch more TV on the Internet, particularly crappy-sounding digital music clips. Austinist is pretentious, has an ugly design that hurts my eyes, and also spends way too much time parroting the outside hype of non-local bands that don't need any more exposure. Covert Curiosity is barely even a blog, just a bunch of ads for festivals and albums. Doesn't anybody have an opinion any more? Or do these kids all just buy whatever Pitchfork tells them?


  1. Hi Mark. Interesting news! I'm not sure what the proper sentiment to express is. Sorry about the economy in Boulder? Congrats on the big move? In either case, I wish you the best in your new hometown.

    It's certainly a very American thing to do: if the times are tough here, you just load up the wagon and head elsewhere. Austin certainly sounds like an interesting choice.

    Although you're what, three hours away from any major league baseball? Given your penchant for distressed franchises, homebasing near the Astros' AAA team could give you plenty of baseball suckitude to follow, I guess. Or are you avoiding baseball for now?

  2. I've been following the Rockies through Gamecasts, but I haven't been to any games since my Opening Weekend trip to Kansas City. At some point I'm sure we'll get up to the Metroplex for a Rangers game; as for the Astros I actually lived briefly in Houston in 2005 and have no desire to ever go there again. I know Round Rock is right there (we actually live closer to downtown Round Rock than Austin proper, although we have an Austin address) but the one minor league game I ever went to made me sick to my stomach. The wall-to-wall "audience pleasing" stuff just isn't for me. I remember watching some guy trying to pitch golf balls onto a little fake green and hitting Wiki Gonzalez (Colorado Springs was playing Tacoma) like three times as he was trying to warm up his pitcher. Sure, it was Wiki Gonzalez, but he was a major leaguer at one point! Is there no decency?

  3. I think you're right on with your commentary here.

    I agree that Austin Sound does a pretty good job. In spite of some of the ramblings of the other writers (who are surely unpaid), Doug Freeman, the founder of the blog, is the real thing and really knows/cares about local music. He is a freelance writer here and often writes for the Chronicle. He did a pretty good piece on the Live Music Task Force last November. I think you're right that some of the writing does say more about the writer's lack of knowledge or interest in a topic than about the topic. Don't have your pop/singersongwriter guy review a metal album.

    I think you're also right about the Chronicle. Austin Powell is the best thing to happen to the paper in as long as I've read it (10 years) but he's just one guy and can only cover so much. Danny Mee is also good but he's just freelance as well. It's long been argued that the Chron doesn't pay enough attention to rap or hip-hop (and there's plenty of it here). There are even debates as to whether or not certain writers even attend or watch the shows they review for many years - the best of which was told to me by a friend: SxSW in the 90s and my pal was behind a Chron writer in line for a show at what is now Elysium. The show sold out before they got in. Next day, there was a review of the show by this writer. Just last week there was a letter in the chron claiming the same thing. I don't know how true that is but my own band performed a show recently reviewed by the Chron and they had all the facts wrong from the host of the show right down to what we performed (I think they confused Also Spracht Zarathustra or Ride of the Valkyrie with the theme music to Star Wars - which we didn't play).

    These are, in my opinion, results of the fact that Austin is HUGE in the minds of music fans and creative people that don't live here. Austin has the number 1 public radio/AAA station in the country. Austin has the biggest and most successful independent record store in the country. Austin is home to C3 - one of the biggest concert promoters in the world. Local bands have to compete against every indie/major record label, national/regional booking agent and (sadly) even each other to get any attention from radio or press here.

    The Austinist has become THE music blog in town. Paige Maguire is a very, very smart young lady who likes all kinds of music, but I'll agree that the site does have a bit of that Pitchfork pretentiousness (is that a word?).

    Ultimately, Austin is a city in transition that is slow to change - just like most places. We want the music industry to thrive, but we don't want outside people coming in and telling us how to do it. As a result, stuff doesn't change. Musicians want to be paid more by clubs, but they don't want to have to deal with the trouble of actually learning to run their bands like businesses. Venues want more support from the city but most aren't willing to actually run their businesses like businesses either.
    audiences want bigger shows with lasers and amazing sound but they aren't willing to pay more than $6 for a local show. That's the same price that I paid for shows 15 years ago when I was also paying $0.89/gall on for gas!

    Welcome to Austin. PRepare to hear/see the best bands anywhere that will never be "discovered".

  4. Hooray, readership! At the very least that was a good reason to move, since most in Boulder couldn't be bothered to read anything about a local band unless their pot dealer was the drummer. I don't suppose it's any different here for committed creative types in the final estimation than Denver 2005-09, Chicago 2003-05, or the SF Bay Area 1998-03. You have to work four times harder than everybody else and you can NEVER assume that anybody will remember who you are or care unless you grab them by the scruff of the neck and give them a reason to.

  5. Although you didn't like his blog, the guy behind Covert Curiousty (Lawrence) is a sincere music lover. Maybe you'll get to meet him at a show one day.