There was no end of good music to be had at SXSW 2007 (March 12-16) in Austin, Texas. And lovers of electro rock, IDM, techno, bastard pop and turntablism would have found more than enough to get the endorphins stirring. If any trend surfaced, it was that the denizens of digi-pop had found their rightful place on the prestige stages and marquee showcases, no longer boxed into DJ booths around the city. And the variety of ways these artists manifested themselves was equally impressive. From Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) delivering drag-and-drop dancefloor burners on a single laptop to DJ Champion steering an entire ensemble (including four guitarists!) like a latter-day James Brown, unpredictable shows were the only constant.
In a venue more like a covered alleyway than a club, Norwegian newbies 120 Days schooled listeners in psychedelia's new wave. Equal parts Zeppelin, Stone Roses and Primal Scream, 120 Days fuses swelling stadium-rock stylings with rave-up trippiness. “When we started, we were lousy musicians,” says singer/multi-instrumentalist Adne Meisfjord. “A lot of effort got us to the point where we could play at all well. But the real turning point for us was when we had to choose between buying a bass drum or a drum machine. Choosing the drum machine pretty much set the sound.”
Another young act, Montreal's Call Me Poupeé, had difficulty affecting the full brilliance of its album Western Shanghai in a live setting. The album, which melds splashes of Morricone-esque compositions with French yeye, electro and rockabilly, is a hard transition. Keyboardist Fred Fortrel is still perfecting the transfer. “We're just two people,” he admits. “Some tunes that were heavily orchestrated are totally different. On the album, most of the work was done by musicians. Using sequences and samples live, we try to just use the bare essentials.”
Girl Talk's live manifestation takes this philosophy to an extreme, hitting the stage with only a mouse and a laptop with multiple instances of AudioMulch. “I keep things pretty straight,” Gillis says. “I usually just tell the soundman to make it as loud as possible.”
His music is like a survey course in the best bits of every anthem track since '84, stuffed into less than four arrhythmia-inducing minutes. It also has the not unpleasing effect of getting people to take their clothes off in public (Gillis included). “Dancing to music is about pretending that you're having sex. I stick to a 4/4 time signature so people can pretend they're having sex more easily,” he explains. “At my last show, I spotted three topless women onstage and two pairs of underwear on the ground after the show.”
DJs also managed to hold court at SXSW 2007. RJD2 and the aforementioned Champion both surfaced with full bands backing their celebrated sounds, while A-Trak and Thunderheist's *Grahmzilla* were rocking Serato Scratch Live's MP3 capabilities to great effect. “I basically run the album tracks off Serato, stripping off the lead lines and play those live with either a MicroKorg or a Korg MS2000,” *Grahmzilla* says. “All I tell the soundman is, ‘Make the bass displace peoples organs.’”
Not all had converted to DJing's new wave. Kid Koala, for one, has remained steadfast in using actual vinyl instead of the timecoded kind. “Audio records are just the medium I'm used to,” he says. “I like all the skips and pops and crackle and record wear.” Meanwhile, Koala's merch for sale didn't focus on records. “People seem to like to cook because we sold out of our Nufonia oven mitts. But for some reason, they expected to get the CDs and albums for free. What the…?”