It's time again for a talking-to from a festival pro, ripped from our Guide to Festivals, which you can find if you're in Austin right now (and if you are you're not reading this so actually this is for everyone else). It's an interview with Spoon's Britt Daniel. Take it away, Andrew Earles...
If you don’t like Spoon’s terrifyingly hookful pop now, bet that your kids will look at it like you do the Beach Boys or early Pavement or the Smiths or some such pop-song Book of Genesis. Spoon’s leader, Britt Daniel, has spent a great deal of time in front of massive, scary, and drunken crowds, and can’t wait until his band gets to once-again follow Enter Sakiri onto a gargantuan stage.
Vice: What is the hands-down most ridiculous thing you’ve witnessed at a festival? You may have an arsenal of examples, just pick from whatever pops into your head.
Britt Daniel: We were playing at the Gorge in Washington, and it’s a pretty wide-open space anyway, the wind whips around down there, but there was a windstorm that day. All of the speakers that hung from the top of the stage, they were swaying wildly in the wind, and they had to shut down the stage for a while. They put us back on as the first band, so I guess they deemed it safe enough.
So you were the guinea pigs.
That’s a little troubling. They thought that if the speakers were going to crush a band, let it be you guys.
And they were probably wise to think that, because Interpol and the Beastie Boys were the two acts playing after us. They’d be able to hire way better lawyers than we could.
Even though SXSW is a different animal from Bonnaroo or Langerado, it often feels like a trade conference disguised as a consumer festival. Do you consider it antiquated compared to those festivals, or do you see it as an event that’s kept up and adapted accordingly?
I do think they’re antiquated, or at least in outer space, in terms of how they deal with the bands, because the bands don’t get paid to play this festival. Everybody there is playing for a) publicity, which is obviously important, and b) to sustain South by Southwest. As someone that goes to just see the bands, it is a totally different experience, obviously, it’s in clubs and spread out all over a town. As a viewer, I think it’s great, it’s chaos. It’s a smorgasbord, it’s intense, and it’s a blast.
Being from Austin, you have a certain point of view because it’s been a regional part of your life, and I imagine there was a stretch of time that you attended as a music fan that wasn’t in a band.
Well, I still attend as a music fan. If I wasn’t getting something out of it on that level, I wouldn’t go at all. It wouldn’t be worth the hassle. People know what they’re getting into, but I could see it being disappointing to a certain type of person who travels a long way and buys one of these expensive wristbands only to find out they have to stay in the same venue all night; they can’t move around. They may not be able to see the handful of things they wanted to see the most. It can be brutal, but that’s life.
SXSW has become a sort of circus, with people performing in the streets and all of these extraneous events and things going on. I mean, I realize that a mime performing in the street is not an official SXSW event, but do you feel like it’s become too chaotic over the years?
It has become very chaotic. I’ve been going since ’92 or so, just as someone there to see shows. It feels like it gets crazier every year. Sometimes I wonder if it can get any more insane.
Compare the SXSW of ’92 to today’s version.
Well, SXSW the organization didn’t want any events feeding off of it. Bands weren’t allowed to play parties if they were playing an official show. And you couldn’t play within two weeks before or after, regionally, if you were playing SXSW. I remember as recently as 2001, 2002, Guided by Voices got in trouble for that. Bands played something right before SXSW, then when they got to the festival they were told they no longer had a slot or showcase. In that way, there was no culture of day parties or afterparties, it was just a thing, it was a lot more like business, a conference. The panels were a much bigger part of the event; now it’s definitely a sideline, which is all the better, probably.
(photo by Jason Bergman)